Elizabeth B. Custer.

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[Illustration: SMOKING THE PIPE OF PEACE.]




TENTING ON THE PLAINS

OR

GENERAL CUSTER IN KANSAS AND TEXAS

BY

ELIZABETH B. CUSTER

AUTHOR OF "FOLLOWING THE GUIDON"
"BOOTS AND SADDLES" ETC.

ILLUSTRATED

[Illustration]

NEW YORK
HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
1895




OTHER WORKS BY MRS. CUSTER.


"BOOTS AND SADDLES"; or, Life in Dakota with General
Custer. Portrait and Map.

FOLLOWING THE GUIDON. Illustrated.

_Post 8vo, Cloth, $1 50 each._

PUBLISHED BY HARPER & BROTHERS, NEW YORK.

[Illustration: Pointing hand]_Either of the above works will be sent by
mail, postage prepaid, to any part of the United States, Canada, or
Mexico, on receipt of the price._

Copyright, 1887, by CHARLES L. WEBSTER & CO.

_All rights reserved._




TO HIM
WHOSE BRAVE AND BLITHE ENDURANCE
MADE THOSE WHO FOLLOWED
HIM FORGET,
IN HIS SUNSHINY PRESENCE,
HALF THE HARDSHIP AND THE DANGER




CONTENTS


CHAPTER I PAGE
GOOD-BY TO THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC 17

CHAPTER II
NEW ORLEANS AFTER THE WAR 41

CHAPTER III
A MILITARY EXECUTION 59

CHAPTER IV
MARCHES THROUGH PINE FORESTS 83

CHAPTER V
OUT OF THE WILDERNESS 95

CHAPTER VI
A TEXAS NORTHER 113

CHAPTER VII
LIFE IN A TEXAS TOWN 132

CHAPTER VIII
LETTERS HOME 150

CHAPTER IX
DISTURBED CONDITION OF TEXAS 165

CHAPTER X
GENERAL CUSTER PARTS WITH HIS STAFF AT CAIRO AND DETROIT 185

CHAPTER XI
ORDERS TO REPORT AT FORT RILEY, KANSAS 205

CHAPTER XII
WESTWARD HO! - FIGHTING DISSIPATION IN THE SEVENTH
CAVALRY - GENERAL CUSTER'S TEMPTATIONS 222

CHAPTER XIII
A MEDLEY OF OFFICERS AND MEN 256

CHAPTER XIV
THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE 279

CHAPTER XV
A PRAIRIE FIRE 310

CHAPTER XVI
SACRIFICES AND SELF-DENIAL OF PIONEER DUTY - CAPTAIN
ROBBINS AND COLONEL COOK ATTACKED, AND FIGHT
FOR THREE HOURS 327

CHAPTER XVII
A FLOOD AT FORT HAYS 356

CHAPTER XVIII
ORDERED BACK TO FORT HARKER 373

CHAPTER XIX
THE FIRST FIGHT OF THE SEVENTH CAVALRY 387




ILLUSTRATIONS


PAGE
Smoking the Pipe of Peace FRONTISPIECE

Texas in 1866 and in 1886 19

Eliza Cooking Under Fire 28

A Mule Lunching from a Pillow 78

General Custer as a Cadet 87

"O Golly! what am dat?" 108

Measuring an Alligator 125

General Custer at the Close of the War - Aged 25 168

"Stand there, cowards, will you, and see an old man
robbed?" 188

General Custer with his Horse Vic, Stag Hounds and
Deer Hounds 212

Kansas in 1866 and Kansas To-day 221

Conestoga Wagon, or Prairie-Schooner 223

The Officer's Dress - A New-comer for a Call 239

A Suspended Equestrienne 246

General Custer at his Desk in his Library 259

Gun-stand in General Custer's Library 287

Trophies of the Chase in General Custer's Library 297

Whipping Horses to Keep them from Freezing 316

A Match Buffalo Hunt 341

Gathering and Counting the Tongues 343

Supper Given by the Vanquished to the Victors of
the Match Buffalo Hunt 345

A Buffalo Undecided as to an Attack on General Custer 368

A Buffalo at Bay 377

The Addled Letter-Carrier 385

Negroes Form their own Picket-line 389

An Attack on a Stage-coach 392




TENTING ON THE PLAINS.




CHAPTER I.

GOOD-BY TO THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC.


GENERAL CUSTER was given scant time, after the last gun of the war was
fired, to realize the blessings of peace. While others hastened to
discard the well-worn uniforms, and don again the dress of civilians,
hurrying to the cars, and groaning over the slowness of the fast-flying
trains that bore them to their homes, my husband was almost breathlessly
preparing for a long journey to Texas. He did not even see the last of
that grand review of the 23d and 24th of May, 1865. On the first day he
was permitted to doff his hat and bow low, as he proudly led that superb
body of men, the Third Division of Cavalry, in front of the grand stand,
where sat the "powers that be." Along the line of the division, each
soldier straightened himself in the saddle, and felt the proud blood
fill his veins, as he realized that he was one of those who, in six
months, had taken 111 of the enemy's guns, sixty-five battle-flags, and
upward of 10,000 prisoners of war, while they had never lost a flag, or
failed to capture a gun for which they fought.

In the afternoon of that memorable day General Custer and his staff rode
to the outskirts of Washington, where his beloved Third Cavalry Division
had encamped after returning from taking part in the review. The trumpet
was sounded, and the call brought these war-worn veterans out once
more, not for a charge, not for duty, but to say that word which we,
who have been compelled to live in its mournful sound so many years,
dread even to write. Down the line rode their yellow-haired "boy
general," waving his hat, but setting his teeth and trying to hold with
iron nerve the quivering muscles of his speaking face; keeping his eyes
wide open, that the moisture dimming their vision might not gather and
fall. Cheer after cheer rose on that soft spring air. Some enthusiastic
voice started up afresh, before the hurrahs were done, "A tiger for old
Curley!" Off came the hats again, and up went hundreds of arms, waving
the good-by and wafting innumerable blessings after the man who was
sending them home in a blaze of glory, with a record of which they might
boast around their firesides. I began to realize, as I watched this sad
parting, the truth of what the General had been telling me; he held that
no friendship was like that cemented by mutual danger on the
battle-field.

The soldiers, accustomed to suppression through strict military
discipline, now vehemently expressed their feelings; and though it
gladdened the General's heart, it was still the hardest sort of work to
endure it all without show of emotion. As he rode up to where I was
waiting, he could not, dared not, trust himself to speak to me. To those
intrepid men he was indebted for his success. Their unfailing trust in
his judgment, their willingness to follow where he led - ah! he knew well
that one looks upon such men but once in a lifetime. Some of the
soldiers called out for the General's wife. The staff urged me to ride
forward to the troops, as it was but a little thing thus to respond to
their good-by. I tried to do so, but after a few steps, I begged those
beside whom I rode to take me back to where we had been standing. I was
too overcome, from having seen the suffering on my husband's face, to
endure any more sorrow.

[Illustration: TEXAS IN 1866 AND IN 1886.]

As the officers gathered about the General and wrung his hand in
parting, to my surprise the soldiers gave me a cheer. Though very
grateful for the tribute to me as their acknowledged comrade, I did not
feel that I deserved it. Hardships such as they had suffered for a
principle require a far higher order of character than the same
hardships endured when the motive is devotion individualized.

Once more the General leaped into the saddle, and we rode rapidly out of
sight. How glad I was, as I watched the set features of my husband's
face, saw his eyes fixed immovably in front of him, listened in vain for
one word from his overburdened heart, that I, being a woman, need not
tax every nerve to suppress emotion, but could let the tears stream down
my face, on all our silent way back to the city.

Then began the gathering of our "traps," a hasty collection of a few
suitable things for a Southern climate, orders about shipping the
horses, a wild tearing around of the improvident, thoughtless
staff - good fighters, but poor providers for themselves. Most of them
were young men, for whom my husband had applied when he was made a
brigadier. His first step after his promotion was to write home for his
schoolmates, or select aides from his early friends then in service. It
was a comfort, when I found myself grieving over the parting with my
husband's Division, that our military family were to go with us. At dark
we were on the cars, with our faces turned southward. To General Custer
this move had been unexpected. General Sheridan knew that he needed
little time to decide, so he sent for him as soon as we encamped at
Arlington, after our march up from Richmond, and asked if he would like
to take command of a division of cavalry on the Red River in Louisiana,
and march throughout Texas, with the possibility of eventually entering
Mexico. Our Government was just then thinking it was high time the
French knew that if there was any invasion of Mexico, with an idea of a
complete "gobbling up" of that country, the one to do the seizure and
gather in the spoils was Brother Jonathan. Very wisely, General Custer
kept this latter part of the understanding why he was sent South from
the "weepy" part of his family. He preferred transportation by steamer,
rather than to be floated southward by floods of feminine tears. All I
knew was, that Texas, having been so outside of the limit where the
armies marched and fought, was unhappily unaware that the war was over,
and continued a career of bushwhacking and lawlessness that was only
tolerated from necessity before the surrender, and must now cease. It
was considered expedient to fit out two detachments of cavalry, and
start them on a march through the northern and southern portions of
Texas, as a means of informing that isolated State that depredations and
raids might come to an end. In my mind, Texas then seemed the
stepping-off place; but I was indifferent to the points of the compass,
so long as I was not left behind.

The train in which we set out was crowded with a joyous, rollicking,
irrepressible throng of discharged officers and soldiers, going home to
make their swords into ploughshares. Everybody talked with everybody,
and all spoke at once. The Babel was unceasing night and day; there was
not a vein that was not bursting with joy. The swift blood rushed into
the heart and out again, laden with one glad thought, "The war is over!"
At the stations, soldiers tumbled out and rushed into some woman's
waiting arms, while bands tooted excited welcomes, no one instrument
according with another, because of throats overcharged already with
bursting notes of patriotism that would not be set music. The customary
train of street gamins, who imitate all parades and promptly copy the
pomp of the circus and other processions, stepped off in a mimic march,
following the conquering heroes as they were lost to our sight down the
street, going home.

Sometimes the voices of the hilarious crowd at the station were stilled,
and a hush of reverent silence preceded the careful lifting from the car
of a stretcher bearing a form broken and bleeding from wounds, willingly
borne, that the home to which he was coming might be unharmed. Tender
women received and hovered lovingly over the precious freight, strong
arms carried him away; and we contrasted the devoted care, the love that
would teach new ways to heal, with the condition of the poor fellows we
had left in the crowded Washington hospitals, attended only by
strangers. Some of the broken-to-pieces soldiers were on our train, so
deftly mended that they stumped their way down the platform, and began
their one-legged tramp through life, amidst the loud huzzas that a
maimed hero then received. They even joked about their misfortunes. I
remember one undaunted fellow, with the fresh color of buoyant youth
beginning again to dye his cheek, even after the amputation of a leg,
which so depletes the system. He said some grave words of wisdom to me
in such a roguish way, and followed up his counsel by adding, "You ought
to heed such advice from a man with one foot in the grave."

We missed all the home-coming, all the glorification awarded to the
hero. General Custer said no word of regret. He had accepted the offer
for further active service, and gratefully thanked his chief for giving
him the opportunity. I, however, should have liked to have him get some
of the celebrations that our country was then showering on its
defenders. I missed the bonfires, the processions, the public meeting of
distinguished citizens, who eloquently thanked the veterans, the
editorials that lauded each townsman's deed, the poetry in the corner of
the newspaper that was dedicated to a hero, the overflow of a woman's
heart singing praise to her military idol. But the cannon were fired,
the drums beat, the music sounded for all but us. Offices of trust were
offered at once to men coming home to private life, and towns and cities
felt themselves honored because some one of their number had gone out
and made himself so glorious a name that his very home became
celebrated. He was made the mayor, or the Congressman, and given a home
which it would have taken him many years of hard work to earn. Song,
story and history have long recounted what a hero is to a woman.
Imagination pictured to my eye troops of beautiful women gathering
around each gallant soldier on his return. The adoring eyes spoke
admiration, while the tongue subtly wove, in many a sentence, its meed
of praise. The General and his staff of boys, loving and reverencing
women, missed what men wisely count the sweetest of adulation. One
weather-beaten slip of a girl had to do all their banqueting,
cannonading, bonfiring, brass-banding, and general hallelujahs all the
way to Texas, and - yes, even after we got there; for the Southern women,
true to their idea of patriotism, turned their pretty faces away from
our handsome fellows, and resisted, for a long time, even the mildest
flirtation.

The drawing-room car was then unthought of in the minds of those who
plan new luxuries as our race demand more ease and elegance. There was a
ladies' car, to which no men unaccompanied by women were admitted. It
was never so full as the other coaches, and was much cleaner and better
ventilated.

This was at first a damper to the enjoyment of a military family, who
lost no opportunity of being together, for it compelled the men to
remain in the other cars. The scamp among us devised a plan to outwit
the brakemen; he borrowed my bag just before we were obliged to change
cars, and after waiting till the General and I were safely seated,
boldly walked up and demanded entrance, on the plea that he had a lady
inside. This scheme worked so well that the others took up the cue, and
my cloak, bag, umbrella, lunch-basket, and parcel of books and papers
were distributed among the rest before we stopped, and were used to
obtain entrance into the better car. Even our faithful servant, Eliza,
was unexpectedly overwhelmed with urgent offers of assistance; for she
always went with us, and sat by the door. This plan was a great success,
in so far as it kept our party together, but it proved disastrous to me,
as the scamp forgot my bag at some station, and I was minus all those
hundred-and-one articles that seem indispensable to a traveler's
comfort. In that plight I had to journey until, in some merciful
detention, we had an hour in which to seek out a shop, and hastily make
the necessary purchases.

At one of our stops for dinner we all made the usual rush for the
dining-hall, as in the confusion of over-laden trains at that excited
time it was necessary to hurry, and, besides, as there were delays and
irregularities in traveling, on account of the home-coming of the
troops, we never knew how long it might be before the next eating-house
was reached. The General insisted upon Eliza's going right with us, as
no other table was provided. The proprietor, already rendered
indifferent to people's comfort by his extraordinary gains, said there
was no table for servants. Eliza, the best-bred of maids, begged to go
back dinnerless into the car, but the General insisted on her sitting
down between us at the crowded table. A position so unusual, and to her
so totally out of place, made her appetite waver, and it vanished
entirely when the proprietor came, and told the General that no colored
folks could be allowed at his table. My husband quietly replied that he
had been obliged to give the woman that place, as the house had provided
no other. The determined man still stood threateningly over us,
demanding her removal, and Eliza uneasily and nervously tried to go. I
trembled, and the fork failed to carry the food, owing to a very wobbly
arm. The General firmly refused, the staff rose about us, and all along
the table up sprang men we had supposed to be citizens, as they were in
the dress of civilians. "General, stand your ground; we'll back you; the
woman shall have food." How little we realize in these piping times of
peace, how great a flame a little fire kindled in those agitating days.
The proprietor slunk back to his desk; the General and his hungry staff
went on eating as calmly as ever; Eliza hung her embarrassed head, and
her mistress idly twirled her useless fork - while the proprietor made
$1.50 clear gain on two women that were too frightened to swallow a
mouthful. I spread a sandwich for Eliza, while the General, mindful of
the returning hunger of the terrified woman, and perfectly indifferent
as to making himself ridiculous with parcels, marched by the infuriated
but subdued bully, with either a whole pie or some such modest capture
in his hand. We had put some hours of travel between ourselves and the
"twenty-minutes-for-dinner" place which came so near being a
battle-ground, before Eliza could eat what we had brought for her.

I wonder if any one is waiting for me to say that this incident happened
south of the Mason and Dixon line. It did not. It was in Ohio - I don't
remember the place. After all, the memory over which one complains, when
he finds how little he can recall, has its advantages. It hopelessly
buries the names of persons and places, when one starts to tell tales
out of school. It is like extracting the fangs from a rattlesnake; the
reptile, like the story, may be very disagreeable, but I can only hope
that a tale unadorned with names or places is as harmless as a snake
with its poison withdrawn.

I must stop a moment and give our Eliza, on whom this battle was waged,
a little space in this story, for she occupied no small part in the
events of the six years after; and when she left us and took an upward
step in life by marrying a colored lawyer, I could not reconcile myself
to the loss; and though she has lived through all the grandeur of a
union with a man "who gets a heap of money for his speeches in politics,
and brass bands to meet him at the stations, Miss Libbie," she came to
my little home not long since with tears of joy illuminating the bright
bronze of her expressive face. It reminded me so of the first time I
knew that the negro race regarded shades of color as a distinctive
feature, a beauty or a blemish, as it might be. Eliza stood in front of
a bronze medallion of my husband when it was first sent from the
artist's in 1865, and amused him hugely, by saying, in that partnership
manner she had in our affairs, "Why, Ginnel, it's jest my color." After
that, I noticed that she referred to her race according to the deepness
of tint, telling me, with scorn, of one of her numerous suitors: "Why,
Miss Libbie, he needent think to shine up to me; he's nothing but a
black African." I am thus introducing Eliza, color and all, that she may
not seem the vague character of other days; and whoever chances to meet
her will find in her a good war historian, a modest chronicler of a
really self-dying and courageous life. It was rather a surprise to me
that she was not an old woman when I saw her again this autumn, after so
many years, but she is not yet fifty. I imagine she did so much
mothering in those days when she comforted me in my loneliness, and
quieted me in my frights, that I counted her old even then.

Eliza requests that she be permitted to make her little bow to the
reader, and repeat a wish of hers that I take great pains in quoting
her, and not represent her as saying, "like field-hands, _whar_ and
_thar_." She says her people in Virginia, whom she reverences and loves,
always taught her not to say "them words; and if they should see what I
have told you they'd feel bad to think I forgot." If _whar_ and _thar_
appear occasionally in my efforts to transfer her literally to these
pages, it is only a _lapsus linguæ_ on her part. Besides, she has lived
North so long now, there is not that distinctive dialect peculiar to the
Southern servant. In her excitement, narrating our scenes of danger or
pleasure or merriment, she occasionally drops into expressions that
belonged to her early life. It is the fault of her historian if these
phrases get into print. To me they are charming, for they are Eliza in
undress uniform - Eliza without her company manners.

She describes her leaving the old plantation during war times: "I jined
the Ginnel at Amosville, Rappahannock County, in August, 1863. Everybody
was excited over freedom, and I wanted to see how it was. Everybody
keeps asking me why I left. I can't see why they can't recollect what
war was for, and that we was all bound to try and see for ourselves how
it was. After the 'Mancipation, everybody was a-standin' up for liberty,
and I wasent goin' to stay home when everybody else was a-goin'. The day
I came into camp, there was a good many other darkeys from all about our
place. We was a-standin' round waitin' when I first seed the Ginnel.

"He and Captain Lyon cum up to me, and the Ginnel says, 'Well, what's
_your_ name!' I told him Eliza; and he says, looking me all over fust,
'Well, Eliza, would you like to cum and live with me?' I waited a
minute, Miss Libbie. I looked _him_ all over, too, and finally I sez, 'I
reckon I would.' So the bargain was fixed up. But, oh, how awful
lonesome I was at fust, and I was afraid of everything in the shape of
war. I used to wish myself back on the old plantation with my mother. I
was mighty glad when you cum, Miss Libbie. Why, sometimes I never sot
eyes on a woman for weeks at a time."

Eliza's story of her war life is too long for these pages; but in spite
of her confession of being so "'fraid," she was a marvel of courage. She
was captured by the enemy, escaped, and found her way back after sunset
to the General's camp. She had strange and narrow escapes. She says,
quaintly: "Well, Miss Libbie, I set in to see the war, beginning and
end. There was many niggers that cut into cities and huddled up thar,
and laid around and saw hard times; but I went to see the end, and I
stuck it out. I allus thought this, that I didn't set down to wait to
have 'em all free _me_. I helped to free myself. I was all ready to step
to the front whenever I was called upon, even if I didn't shoulder the
musket. Well, I went to the end, and there's many folks says that a
woman can't follow the army without throwing themselves away, but I know



Online LibraryElizabeth B. CusterTenting on the Plains → online text (page 1 of 31)