Elizabeth Bacon Custer.

Tenting on the plains, or, General Custer in Kansas and Texas online

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all growl and bark, and as devotion is not
confined, fortunately, to the canines of exalted



paternity, the lumbering old fellow was faithful.
Nothing describes him better than some lines from
" The Outside Dog in the Fight ;" for though he
could threaten with savage growls, and, I fancy,
when aggravated, could have set savage teeth in
the enemy of his master, he trotted beside our
father's horse very peacefully, unmindful of the
quarrelsome members of our canine family, who
bristled up to him, inviting an encounter merely
to pass the time.

" You may sing of your dog, your bottom dog,

Or of any dog that you please ;
I go for the dog, the wise old dog,

That knowingly takes his ease,
And wagging his tail outside the ring,

Keeping always his bone in sight,
Cares not a pin, in his wise old head,

For either dog in the fight.

' Not his is the bone they are fighting for,

And why should my dog sail in,
With nothing to gain but a certain chance

To lose his own precious skin ?
There may be a few, perhaps, who fail

To see it in quite this light ;
But when the fur flies I had rather be

The outside dog in the fight."

Affairs had come to such a pass that our father
took his yellow cur into his bedroom at night. It
was necessary to take prompt, precautionary
measures to keep his sons from picking the lock of

2 5 8


the door and descending on him in their maraud-
ing expeditions. The dog saw comparatively
little of outside life, for, as time rounded, it be-
came necessary for the old gentleman to shut up
his body-guard daytimes also, as he found in his
absence these same sons and their confederates
had a fashion of dropping a little "nig" over the
transom, with directions to fetch back to them
anything he could lay his hands on. I have seen
them at the door while our father was away, try-
ing to soothe and cajole the old guardian of his
master's effects into terms of peace. After all
overtures were declined, and the little bedroom
was simply filled up with bark and growl, the in-
vaders contented themselves with tossing all sorts
of missiles over the transom, which did not
sweeten the enraged dog's temper. Nor did it
render our father's bed as downy as it might have

I find myself recalling with a smile the perfectly
satisfied manner in which this ungainly old dog
was taken out by his venerable owner on our rides
over the country. Father Custer had chosen him,
not for his beauty, but as his companion, and find-
ing him so successful in this one capacity, he was
just as serene over his possession as ever his sons
were with their high-bred hunters. The dog
looked as if he were a make-up from all the rough



clay that was discarded after modeling the sleek,
high-stepping, springy, fleet-footed dogs of our
pack. His legs were massive, while his cumber-
some tail curled over his plebeian back in a
tight coil, until he was tired then, and only
then, did it uncurl. The droop of his head was
rendered even more " loppy " by the tongue, which
dropped outside the sagging jaw. But for all that,
he lumbered along, a blotch of ungainly yellow,
beside our splendid thoroughbreds; he was never
so tired that he could not understand the voice of
a proud old man, who assured his retrograde sons
that he " would match his Bowser 'gainst any of
their new-fangled, unreliable, high-falutin lot."

It was a strange sight, though, this one plebeian
among patricians. Our horses were fine, our
father got good speed and some style out of his
nag, our dogs leaped over the country like deer,
and there in the midst, panting and faithfully
struggling to keep up, was the rough, uncouth old
fellow, too absorbed in endeavoring not to be left
behind, to realize that he was not all that a dog
could be, after generations of training and breed-
ing had done its refining work.









~^EXAS was in a state of ferment from one end
to the other. There was then no network of
railroads running over its vast territory as there is
now. Lawless acts might be perpetrated, and the
inciters cross the Rio Grande into Mexico, before
news of the depredations came to either military
or civil headquarters. The regiments stationed at
various points in the State had no easy duty. Jay-
hawkers, bandits and bush-whackers had every-
thing their own way for a time. I now find,
through official reports, what innumerable per-
plexities came up almost daily, and how difficult
it was for an officer in command of a division to
act in perfect justice to citizen, soldier and negro.

It was the most natural result in the world that



the restless throng let loose over the State from
the Confederate service, should do what idle
hands usually find to do. Consider what a land
of tramps we were at the North, after the war; and
if in our prosperous States and Territories, when so
many business industries were at once resumed,
we suffered from that class of men who refused to
work and kept outside the pale of the law by
a sneaking existence, what would naturally be the
condition of affairs in a country like Texas, for
many years the hiding-place of outlaws ?

My own father was one of the most patriotic men
I ever knew. He was too old to enter the service
an aged man even in my sight, for he had not
married till he was forty ; but in every way that
he could serve his country at home, he was fore-
most among the elderly patriots of the North. I
remember how little war moved me. The clash
of arms and glitter of the soldiery only appealed
to me as it did to thoughtless, light-hearted young
girls still without soldier lovers or brothers, who
lived too far from the scenes of battle to know the
tragic side. But my father impressed me by his
sadness, his tears, his lamentations, over our coun-
try's misfortunes. He was the first in town to get
the news from the front, and so eager to hear the
result of some awful day, when lives were being
lost by thousands on a hotly contested field, that


he walked a bleak, lonely mile to the telegraph
station, waiting till midnight for the last de-
spatches, and weeping over defeats as he wearily
trod the long way homeward. I remember his
striding up and down the floor, his grand head
bent over his chest in grief, and saying, so solemnly
as to arrest the attention of my step-mother,
usually absorbed in domestic affairs, and even of
me, too happy then with the very exuberance of
living to think, while the sadness of his voice
touched even our thoughtlessness : " Oh ! the
worst of this calamity will not be confined to war:
our land, even after peace is restored, will be filled
with cut-throats and villains."

The prediction came true immediately in Texas,
and the troops had to be stationed over the ex-
tensive territory. Before the winter was over, the
civil authorities began to be able to carry out the
laws; they worked, as they were obliged to do, in
connection with the military, and the rioting, op-
pressions and assassinations were becoming less
common. It was considered unnecessary to retain
the Division of cavalry as an organization, since all
anticipated trouble with Mexico was over, and the
troops need no longer be massed in great numbers.
The necessity for a special commander for the
cavalry in the State was over, and the General
was therefore mustered out of service as a major-


general of volunteers, and ordered North to await
his assignment to a new station.

We had very little to do in preparation, as our
camp outfit was about all our earthly possessions
at that time. It was a trial to part with the
elderly dogs, which were hardly worth the experi-
ment of transporting to the North, especially as
we had no reason to suppose we should see
another deer, except in zoological gardens. The
hounds fell into good and appreciative hands, be-
ing given either to the planter who had presented
them, or to the officers of the regular regiment
that had just been stationed in Texas for a five-
years' detail. The cow was returned to the gen-
erous planter who lent her to us. She was now
a fat, sleek creature, compared with her appear-
ance when she came from among the ranch cattle.
The stables were emptied, and our brief enjoy-
ment of an embryo blue-grass farm, with a diminu-
tive private track of our own, was at an end.
Jack Rucker, Custis Lee, Phil and the blooded
mare were to go ; but the great bargains in fast
ponies had to be sacrificed.

My old father Custer had been as concerned
about my horse-education as his sons. He also
tried, as well as his boys, to attract my attention
from the flowing manes and tails, by which alone
I judged the merits of a horse, to the shoulders,


length of limb, withers, etc. One day there came
an incentive for perfecting myself in horse lore,
for my husband said that if I would select the best
pony in a number we then owned, I should have
him. I sat on a keg in the stable-yard, contem-
plating the heels of the horses, and wishing fer-
vently I had listened to my former lessons in
horse-flesh more attentively. All three men
laughed at my perplexities, and even the soldiers
who took care of the stable retired to a safe place
to smile at the witticisms of their commanding
officer, and were so deplorably susceptible to fun
that even the wife of their chief was a subject for
merriment. I was in imminent danger of losing
my chance at owning a horse, and might to this
day have remained ignorant of the peculiarly
proud sensation one experiences over that posses-
sion, if my father Custer had not slyly and surrep-
titiously come over to my side. How he cunningly
imparted the information, I will not betray ; but,
since he was as good a judge of a horse as his
sons, and had taught them their wisdom in that
direction, it is needless to say that my final judg-
ment, after repeated returns to the stable, was
triumphant. Texas made the old saw read,
All is fair in love, war and horse-trades, so I
adapted myself to the customs of the country, and
kept the secret of my wise judgment until the




money that the pony brought forty dollars in
silver was safely deposited in my grasping palm.
I will not repeat the scoffing of the outwitted pair,
after I had spent the money, at " Libbie's horse-
dress," but content myself with my father's praise
at the gown he had secured to me, when I enjoyed
at the North the serenity of mind that comes of
silken attire.

The planters came to bid us good-by, and we
parted from them with reluctance. We had tome
into their State under trying circumstances, and
the cordiality, generosity and genuine good feel-
ing that I know they felt, made our going a regret.
There w as no reason why they should come from
their distant plantations to say good-by and wish
us godspeed, except from personal friendship,
and we all appreciated the wish they expressed,
that we might remain.

The journey from Austin to Hempstead was
made much more quickly than our march over.
We had relays of horses, the roads were good, and
there was no detention. I only remember one
episode of any importance. At the little hotel at
which we stopped in Brennan, we found loitering
about the doors and stoop and inner court a
lounging, rough lot of men, evidently the lower
order of Confederate soldiers, the lawless set that
infest all armies, the tramp and the bummer.


They gathered in knots, to watch and talk of us.
As we passed them on our way to the dining-
room, they muttered, and even spoke audibly,
words of spiteful insult. At every such word I
expected the fiery blood of the General and his
staff would be raised to fighting heat. But they
would not descend to altercation with fellows to
whom even the presence of a woman was no re-
straint. It was a mystery, it still is, to me, that
hot-blooded men can control themselves if they
consider the foeman unworthy of the steel.
My husband was ever a marvel to me, in that he
could in this respect carry out his own oft-re-
peated counsel. I began very early with that old
maxim, " consider the source," as a subterfuge for
the lack of repartee, in choking senseless, childish
wrath ; but it came to be a family aphorism, and
I was taught to live up to its best meaning. The
Confederates were only " barking," not "biting," as
the General said would be the case ; but they gave
me a genuine scare, and I had serious objections
to traveling in Texas, unaccompanied by a Divi-
sion of cavalry. I think the cold nights, smoky
camp-fires, tarantulas, etc., that we encountered on
our march over, would have been gladly under-
taken, rather than run into the face of threatening
men, unaccompanied by a single trooper, as we
then traveled.


I wonder what the present tourist would think
of the bit of railroad over which we journeyed
from Brennan to Galveston ! I scarcely think it
had been touched, in the way of repairs, during the
war. The coaches were not as good as our present
emigrant-cars. The rails were worn down thin,
and so loosely secured that they moved as we rolled
slowly over them. We were to be constantly
in some sort of peril, it seemed. There was
a deep gulley on the route, over which was
stretched a cobweb trestle, intended only as a
temporary bridge. There was no sort of ques-
tion about its insecurity ; it quivered and mena-
cingly swayed under us. The conductor told us
that each time he crossed he expected to go down.
I think he imagined there could be no better time
than that, when it would secure the effectual de-
parture of a few Yankee officers, not only from
what he considered his invaded State, but from the
face of the earth. At any rate, he so graphically
described to me our imminent peril that he put me
through all the preliminary stages of sudden death.
Of course our officers, inured to risks of all sorts,
took it all as a matter of course, and the General
slyly called the attention of our circle to the usual
manner in which the " old lady " met danger,
namely, with her head buried in the folds of a


My husband knew what interest and admiration
my father Bacon had for "old Sam Houston," and
he himself felt the delight that one soldier takes in
the adventures and vicissitudes of another. Con-
sequently, we had listened all winter to the Texans'
laudation of their hero, and ^rnany a story that
never found its way into print was remembered
for my father's sake. We were only too sorry that
Houston's death, two years previous, had prevent-
ed our personal acquaintance. He was not, as I
had supposed, an ignorant soldier of fortune, but
had early scholarly tastes, and, even when a boy,
could repeat nearly all of Pope's translation of the
Iliad. Though a Virginian by birth, he early
went with his widowed mother to Tennessee, and
his roving spirit led him among the Indians, where
he lived for years as the adopted son of a chief.
He served as an enlisted man under Andrew
Jackson in the war of 1812, and afterward became
a lieutenant in the regular army. Then he assumed
the office of Indian agent, and befriended those
with whom he had lived.

From that he went into law in Nashville, and
eventually became a Congressman. Some mari-
tal difficulties drove him back to barbarism, and
he rejoined the Cherokees, who had been removed
to Arkansas. He went to Washington to plead
for the tribe, and returning, left his wigwam



among" the Indians after a time, and went to Texas.
During the tumultuous history of that State, when
it was being shifted from one government to
another with such vehemence, no citizen could tell
whether he would rise in the morning a Mexican,
or a member of an independent republic, or a
citizen of the United States.

With all that period Sam Houston was identi-
fied. He was evidently the man for the hour, and
it is no wonder that our officers dwelt with delight
upon his marvelous career. In the first revolution-
ary movement of Texas against Mexican rule, he
began to be a leader, and was soon commander-
in-chief of the Texan army, and in the new Re-
public he was re-elected to that office. The
dauntless man confronted Santa Anna and his
force of 5,000 men with a handful of Texans
783 all told, undisciplined volunteers, ignorant of
war. But he had that rare personal magnetism,
which is equal to a reserve of armed battalions, in
giving men confidence and inciting them to
splendid deeds. Out of 1,600 regular Mexican
soldiers, 600 were killed, and Santa Anna, dis-
guised as a common soldier, was captured. Then
Houston showed his magnanimous heart ; for after
rebuking him for the massacres of Goliad and the
Alamo, he protected him from the vengeance of
the enraged Texans. A treaty made with the


captive President resulted in the independence of
Texas. When, after securing this to the State of
his adoption, Houston was made President of
Texas, he again showed his wonderful clemency
which I cannot help believing was early fostered
and enhanced by his labors in behalf of the
wronged Cherokees in pardoning Santa Anna,
and appointing his political rivals to offices of trust.
If Mr. Lincoln gave every energy to promoting the
perpetual annexation of California, by tethering
that State to our Republic with an iron lariat cross-
ing the continent, how quickly he would have
seen, had he then been in office, what infinite peril
we were in of losing that rich portion of our

The ambition of the soldier and conqueror was
tempered by the most genuine patriotism, for Sam
Houston used his whole influence to annex Texas
to the Union, and the people in gratitude sent him
to Washington as one of their first Senators. As
President he had overcome immense difficulties,
carried on Indian wars, cleared off an enormous
debt, established trade with Mexico, made suc-
cessful Indian treaties, and steadily stood at the
helm, while the State was undergoing all sorts of
upheavals. Finally he was made Governor of the
State, and opposed secession, even resigning his
office rather than take the oath required by the


convention that assembled to separate Texas from
the Union. Then, poor old man, he died before
he was permitted to see the promised land, as the
war was still in progress. His name is perpet-
uated in the town called for him, which, as the
centre of large railroad interests, and as a leader
in the march of improvement in that rapidly pro-
gressing State, will be a lasting monument to a
great man who did so much to bring out of chaos
a vast extent of our productive land, sure to be-
come one of the richest of the luxuriant Southern

At Galveston we were detained by the non-
arrival of the steamer in which we were to go
to New Orleans. With a happy-go-lucky party like
ours, it mattered little ; no important interests
were at stake, no business appointments awaiting
us. We strolled the town over, and commented,
as if we owned it, on the insecurity of its founda-
tions. Indeed, for years after, we were surprised,
on taking up the morning paper, not to find that
Galveston had dropped down into China. The
spongy soil is so porous that the water on which
rests the thin layer of earth appears as soon as a
shallow excavation is attempted. Of course there
are no wells, and the ungainly cistern rises above
the roof at the rear of the house. The hawkers of
water through the town amused us vastly, especi-


ally as we were not obliged to pay a dollar a gal-
lon, except as it swelled our hotel-bill. I remember
how we all delighted in the oleanders that grew
as shade trees, whose white and red blossoms were
charming. To the General, the best part of all our
detention was the shell drive along the ocean. The
island on which Galveston has its insecure footing
is twenty-eight miles long, and the white, firm
beach, glistening with the pulverized shells ex-
tending all the distance, was a delight to us as we
spent hours out there on the shore.

It must surely have been this white and spark-
ling thread bordering the island, that drew the
ships of the pirate Lafitte to moor in the harbor
early in 1800. The rose pink of the oleander, the
blue of the sky, the luminous beach, with the long,
ultramarine waves sweeping in over the shore,
were fascinating; but on our return to the town,
all the desire to remain was taken away by the tale
of the citizens, of the frequent rising of the ocean,
the submerging of certain portions, and the evi-
dence they gave, that the earth beneath them was
honey-combed by the action of the water.

We paid little heed at first to the boat on which
we embarked. It was a captured blockade-runner,
built up with two stories of cabins and staterooms
for passengers. In its original condition, the crew
and passengers, as well as the freight, were down



in the hull. The steamer was crowded. Our
staterooms were tiny, and though they were on
the upper deck, the odor of bilge water and the
untidiness of the boat made us uncomfortable
from the first. The day was sunny and clear as
we departed, but we had hardly left the harbor
before we struck a norther. Such a hurricane as
it was at sea! We had thought ourselves versed
in all the wind could do on land ; but a norther in
that maelstrom of a Gulf, makes a land storm mild
in comparison. The Gulf of Mexico is almost
always a tempest in a tea-pot. The waves
seem to lash themselves from shore to shore, and
after speeding with tornado fleetness toward the
borders of Mexico, back they rush to the Florida
peninsula. No one can be out in one of these
tempests, without wondering why that thin jet of
land which composes Florida has not long ago
been swept out of existence. How many of our
troops have suffered from the fury of that ungov-
ernable Gulf, in the transit from New Orleans to
Matamoras or Galveston ! And officers have
spoken, over and over again, of the sufferings of
the cavalry horses, condemned to the hold of a
Government transport. Ships have gone down
there with soldiers and officers who have encoun-
tered over and over again the perils of battle.
Transports have only been saved from being en-


gulfed in those rapacious waves by unloading the
ship of hundreds of horses ; and to cavalrymen the
throwing overboard of noble animals that have
been untiring in years of campaigning, and by
their fleetness and pluck have saved the lives of
their masters, is like human sacrifice. Officers and
soldiers alike bewail the loss, and for years after
speak of it with sorrow.

Though the wind seems to blow in a circle much
of the time on the Gulf, we found it dead against
us as we proceeded. The captain was a resolute
man, and would not turn back, though the ship
was ill prepared to encounter such a gale. We
labored slowly through the constantly increasing
tempest, and the last glimpse of daylight lighted
a sea that was lashed to white foam about us.
At home, when the sun sets the wind abates ; but
one must look for an entire change of programme
where the norther reigns. There was no use in
remaining up, so I sought to forget my terror in
sleep, and crept onto one of the little shelves
allotted to us. The creaking and groaning of the
ship's timbers filled me with alarm, and I could
not help calling up to my husband to ask if it did
not seem to him that all the new portion of the
steamer would be swept off into the sea. Though
I was comforted by assurances of its impossibility,
I wished with all my heart we were down in the


hold. Sleep, my almost never-failing friend, came
to calm me, and I dreamed of the strange days of
the blockade -runner, when doubtless other
women's hearts were pounding against their ribs
with more alarming terrors than those that agi-
tated me. For we well knew what risks Confed-
erate women took to join their husbands, in the
stormy days on sea as well as on land.

In the night I was awakened suddenly by a fear-

Online LibraryElizabeth Bacon CusterTenting on the plains, or, General Custer in Kansas and Texas → online text (page 15 of 39)