The Travel - The Mormon Train - The Court-martial - One Hundred Miles in 42 Hours - Proceedings at Court-martial - An Officer Court-martialed - Return to Cottonwood - The Dance - The Preparations for the Trip - July 18, 1864
IN THE mean time the travel along the road bad been very much interfered with; trains were consolidated, and sent through with military escorts. About half of our post was continually on the road, every day escorting stages and trains. The trains went in a consolidated manner with many armed men, and at night they were corralled and regular picket guards established. Indians were seen around at all times, but in small numbers and nothing of particular event took place except theft and stampedes of loose stock. During June we were constantly on the go. Among one of the caravans that passed us was a Mormon train that must have been five or six miles long, twelve yoke of oxen to each wagon. It was a train the like of which passes belief, except to those who have seen one of them. Large bull-wagons, loaded to the top of the bows with merchandise of which no outsider knew anything, passed slowly up the river at about the rate of a mile an hour. They said the freight ran 7,000 pounds to the wagon. It was all day passing us, June 23rd.
The most ignorant of foreign immigrants composed the train. Among them was a large proportion of women -- old, coarse-looking, cruel-looking, and ignorant, and with the features and appearance of being persons who had had an exceedingly hard lot in life. There were but few young women, and these were of an ignorant, coarse-looking class. The persons who were in control were smart, intelligent-looking people, who handled the others with apparent ease. Everybody was carrying something. Some had large and bulky loads. There were push-carts in the train, and wheeled light vehicles pulled by men and women. The oddity of the situation, the altitude, the exhilaration of the climate, seemed to have infected them all with good nature, and a sort of coarse happiness. I went out and looked at the train, and marveled greatly that there should be a religion which could make absolute slaves out of people, and that the slavery would be such a change of conditions as could be enjoyable. It did really look like a big missionary scheme that had some sense and some reason to it. These Mormons paid no attention whatever to the Indians. They traveled along as if there were no such thing as Indians. They even seemed to be dissatisfied with being protected by us, but we rode with a squad in advance of them, and a little squad in the rear of them, which, together with a flank patrol, could rally on a bugle-call, if necessary; but to the Mormons there never seemed to be any such necessity. There was a sort of Masonic understanding of some kind between the Indians and the Mormons which we never understood, and which will be noticed by events further on.
On July 1st, while everything was excitement as regarded the Indian scare, I got word to go to Fort Kearney immediately as a member of a court-martial. General Mitchell was there, and some officers had been doing improper things, and there were several soldiers that needed trying for desertion, murder, and other offenses. So the General desired a court-martial to meet there, and quickly clear up the docket. The General was a man who was quite firm, and decided. It was told of him that during an engagement down in Kentucky he was not pleased with the way a Lieutenant acted, and as soon as the skirmish was over he called up the Lieutenant, and hailing an orderly sergeant who was passing by, made the orderly sergeant cut off the Lieutenant's shoulder-straps, escort him out to the edge of camp, and tell him to "git."
Knowing the Indian custom of not doing any fighting at night, I started for Fort Kearney and rode down fifteen miles to Gilmans' ranch that night, with an escort of two men; the next day I rode fifty miles, and sent the escort back. The next day I got into Fort Kearney promptly, and very much to the satisfaction of General Mitchell. Coming down the Platte, the mosquitoes and buffalo-gnats were very annoying. They seemed to be suddenly rising from damp places along the river; but as the breeze was from the south we did not get the full force of the inconvenience. When there was a lull in the breeze we suffered considerably, and our horses much more. I got into Fort Kearney before noon, having made the hundred miles in about 42 hours. The road was on the south side of the river, at that time.
Immediately after dinner the court-martial convened. Lieutenant Schenck of Company "C" was Judge Advocate of the court. Captain O'Brien, my captain, was already at the post, having been summoned there for consultation before I came. The president of the court-martial was a Colonel from somewhere, and the number of the court was nine besides the Judge Advocate (Lieutenant Schenck), which made ten. The court-martial was not a particularly eventful one, and I would not undertake to describe the method of the proceedings if it were not for the change that has taken place in those matters since then. The court-martial as then held was held on the old-fashioned plan, and the proceedings were somewhat as follows:
The indictment against the officer was framed in the shape of "charges" and "specifications." For instance, charge first -- "Conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman." Specification first -- In this, that he did so-and-so, Specification second -- In this, that he did something else; and so on and so forth. Then charge second -- "Insubordination." Specification first -- In this, that he spoke so-and-so to somebody. Specification second -- In this, that he kicked somebody; and so forth and so forth.
It was the rule that the court-martial should have a majority of its members of a higher rank than the accused, and that they should sit around the table in the order of their rank on each side in full uniform. So in this case the Colonel sat at the head of the table, and the officers tapered down in rank right and left until at the end was the junior officer (myself), and the Judge Advocate opposite me. In those days there were no shorthand reporters nor typewriters, and all the evidence and proceedings had to be got up in long-hand, certified up to the commander, so that appeals and arguments might be made thereon. The accused was brought in, the charges and specifications read to him, and to each of the specifications he pleaded "Not guilty," and then to the charge as a whole, "Not guilty"; then to the next specifications and to the next charge. Then the accused was asked to become a witness, and to be sworn, but was told that he was under no obligation to give any evidence against himself if he did not want to, and he might refuse to be sworn, and might refuse to testify. In some instances the accused said he preferred to testify, and then he was examined like any other witness. The Judge Advocate was the prosecutor, and in the condition of the art as it then existed, he had a large tab of blank paper in front of him, and began writing down the questions. Every question must be written down, and then the answer must be written down. And around the table sat the court in full uniform, nothing being left off of official decorations. As to cavalry officers, they even had on their spurs and silk sashes.
If there was any officer who had neglected any portion of his official dress, the accused had the right to challenge him until he got himself properly clad. But he had no right to challenge any of the party otherwise except for cause, which very seldom happened. The slow progress of writing out questions and writing down the answers was most aggravating. Then the witness always took plenty of time to answer, and often flanked the question. Then the prosecutor would write out another question, and as fast as these questions and answers were made they were stuck together by paste into a long roll, to be transcribed. Ever and anon some member of the court who thought he was gifted with superior intuition, would object to one of the questions put by the Judge Advocate, and the court would look around to see whether anybody seconded the objection. If nobody seconded it, the presiding officer would say, "Do you insist upon your objection?" and if the officer said, "Yes," then the court would order the accused to be taken out of the room by the man with a bayonet who had him in charge. Then the door would be closed and an executive session would begin. Then the officer would fully state his objection, and the objection would be voted upon, and the youngest in rank voted first. It just happened that I was the youngest in rank, most of them being Captains, and I generally had the first say, and I was always delighted when my view was concurred in. And if it was decided that the question should be put, the accused was brought back, and the question put and with deliberation answered.
The result was that we made slow headway, but the method was in all respects observed. There is generally in every court-martial some simple, meager, vain fellow who wants to show off, and be conspicuous, and take a great deal of a part in the proceedings. He makes a court-martial as irritable and petulant a proceeding as can well be imagined. And for slowness there is nothing equal to it as carried out under the old régime. Every once in a while some member of the court would want to ask a question. So that a member of the court would write out a question, and hand it to the presiding officer. He would stop the proceedings so he could read the question, and if he did not want to have it put he would ask the member if be insisted. If the member said, "Yes," out went the accused, and the question was read and voted on by everybody present. At times every member of the court-martial would be writing questions, and they would be flooded onto the Judge Advocate. If the presiding officer thought a question all right, he would send it down to the Judge Advocate to be asked. Then somebody on the court would object, having the right to object, and then out would go the accused, under guard, and the matter would be discussed. Besides this, there was always somebody who wanted to make a show of philanthropy, and thought his principal duty was to be humane, and impede the prosecution. Then the Judge Advocate would lean to the other side, and ply questions with great speed and fertility. When the evidence was all in, it was a great pile of scrap-paper stuck together with paste. Then the court listened to anybody who wanted to address the court, only they were limited to time if it were thought best. Sometimes the Captain or some soldier who was being tried, would come in and make a talk on behalf of his man. Once in a while a lawyer was brought up, who acted pompous and pretended to know it all, and read authorities from law books that were not pertinent. Finally the court came to vote, and began at the bottom; the youngest in commission got up and verbally expressed his opinion first, then wrote it, and handed it to the presiding officer. If there was any difference to talk over and discuss, they did so, and generally arrived at some compromise verdict. After the verdict came the sentence; then all this quantity of literature that had been formed was copied off and sent to the commanding officer for his approval. This writing was done by hand, and if they wanted three copies, which was sometimes the case when an officer was tried and determined to appeal, one person read aloud the record, sentence by sentence, while three simultaneously copied it. A court-martial in July, in full uniform, all buttoned up to the chin, with a sash on, is very uninteresting and unpleasant work.
In order to make speed at this court-martial, we worked nights and Sundays, right along, and at the end of two weeks we had convicted and sentenced various soldiers for various crimes and misdemeanors, and had disposed of two officers, -- one officer for general worthlessness, drunkenness, want of discipline, and the spending of and embezzlement of his company's fund; and another officer for a very strange and unofficer-like proceeding. He had come to Fort Kearney and was detailed there, and he sent for his wife and young son, a boy about ten or twelve years of age. The officer immediately began buying for family use from the commissary a great amount of flour, sugar, and dried apples. As he got these at what it cost the Government, it was about half-price as they sold outside of the post. He got several barrels of sugar, several large sacks of dried apples, and a great quantity of flour. It was finally discovered that in one of the neglected kitchens of the officers' quarters, the Captain's wife and boy were making apple pies and selling them for fifteen cents apiece. As the Government furnished the wood and sold supplies cheaply, the boy made a great quantity of money by selling these pies to the overland immigration, and to the soldiers, and persons around the post. As near as we could figure, they had made six or seven hundred dollars net on it, and the Captain had furthered the whole scheme. We considered it the limit, and let him out of the service, and put an end to that sort of business at the post.
All at once, while the court-martial was going off, news came of Indian depredations west of Fort Laramie, and I was relieved from services on the court-martial and was told to proceed as rapidly as possible to my post. General Mitchell told me in the morning to get ready to go with him on a little expedition which he contemplated, and to have thirty days' rations for my men and horses loaded and ready in two wagons. I left Fort Kearney after dinner, and rode that afternoon thirty-five miles up the river. There had been a rain. The breeze changed from the south to the north and the air was moist and hot. Anticipating the gnats and mosquitoes, I had got a small piece of mosquito netting at a store at Dobytown. I had not gone far upon the road when I ran into clouds of gnats. After a while my horse showed symptoms of great pain. The gnats were in dense quantities. I had the mosquito netting over my face. The horse was suffering very much both at his nose and eyes, and he was constantly shaking his head to keep them out of his ears. I took the mosquito netting off my own face, and put it over my horse's and tied my handkerchief over my face. The wind blowing over the river kept the road filled with swarms of mosquitoes and gnats. I finally got to a ranch, and wanted a larger handkerchief. The only handkerchief large enough was a yellow silk one costing $5. This I bought, and, cutting some willow boughs from a place on the edge of the river, I made two large whisk brooms, one for each hand, and dropping the reins on the saddle I rode the horse on the run, switching at every step either on the right or left of his head with these bush brooms which I had in my hand, Finally, towards the evening, I got past these clouds of mosquitoes and gnats, and felt greatly relieved. The mosquitoes and gnats would hover around one another in the air and made heavy, cloud-like banks that you could see plainly long distances ahead, and feel plainly the resistance of when you rode into them. I made this trip alone, without any escort, but was in no particular danger, because I was frequently passing large trains not very far apart which had escorts. I was up bright and early on the 16th, and rode into the post, a distance of 65 miles that day, stopping at Gilmans' and getting a fresh horse after I had ridden my own horse fifty miles.
When I got into our post that night, I found a great number of campers and pilgrims at the post. They were afraid to go ahead, and there were nearly a thousand thus camped. And there was quite a number of women among them, and they were having a dance at MacDonald's store, and out on the hard flat ground in front of his store. There were several stages full of ladies going through as passengers on the coaches from the west, and some of them were really nice people. I had ridden only sixty-five miles that day, and didn't feel very tired, so I got into the dance, and we ran it until daylight. And as I had some experience in calling cotillion figures, I served about an hour after midnight as reinforcement in that particular. The people had to do something, and they might just as well have some fun as to sit around the camp-fire and look at the wind blow the ashes away.
The next day I got the company all out, inspected their arms, clothing, horses, equipment, and everything. I also packed up thirty days' supplies and got the wagons ready. This was done in the manner Captain O'Brien ordered, whom I had left at Fort Kearney, and who was coming up with General Mitchell. He told me to have the company look its best, and I told the boys to brush up their jackets, and get on some style. We put in the whole of July 18th in getting in shape to move, as the General had promised to come along, and be there on the morning of the 19th.