R. H. (Robert Henderson) McKay.

Little pills; an army story online

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ish looking water. In some of them the water seemed to be
higher than the valley in which they were located.

We camped on the second night in the foothills of the San
Andres range, and the following evening at the Oho De Anija.
These springs were interesting because of the great amount of
painted and broken pottery to be found nearby. I think some
excavating might bring to light whole pieces of value to the
archaeologist. The spring is located only a few miles from
Paraja on the Rio Grande, and at the extreme northern limit of
the Jornada del Muerto, and the next day we arrived at Fort


McRae was a one company post, and located on a little
bench of land at the side of the canon that led down to the Rio
Grande from the Frau Christobel mountains. There were
no square for a parade ground but all buildings faced toward the
canon, of which at this point was not abrupt but sloped gradu-
ally to the bottom.

The officers' quarters were very comfortable, being built of
heavy adobe walls, and covered with dirt, consequently were warm
in winter and cool in summer. The rooms were large and had the
usual jaspa floors common to the military posts along the Rio
Grande. Government blankets are first laid on these floors and
over them is laid the carpet and both are nailed down with lath
or shingle nails, with leather heads, to hold the carpet in place.
There was a fireplace in both living and dining rooms and water
was obtained at a spring in the canon, a short distance away.
While the quarters were comfortable the outlook and surround-
ings were anything but attractive. The view from the front
porch was of a bleak cactus covered ridge across the canon, and
this was limited in extent and back of the post the canon rose
abruptly to a great height. Up the canon was the barracks of
the men, and farther up was the Sutler's store. Below the offi-
cers' quarters, was the quartermaster and commissary store-
houses and corrals and stables.

For some time we were quite reconciled to the situation.
Both the commanding officer, Captain Farnsworth and his lieu-
tenant, a Mr. Carlton, were bachelors, and were courteous and
pleasant gentlemen. They did not remain long, how-
ever, after our arrival at the post, but were superseded
by Captain Kauffmann and Mr. Fountain, the latter a West
Pointer, but Captain Kauffman was raised from the ranks, and
to me never seemed to fit the promoted position he held. Mr.
Fountain on the contrary, I thought, gave promise of becoming
a distinguished officer. Until they came, my wife was the only
officer's wife at the post, and with the addition of Mrs. Kauffman


it could hardly be considered a great social center. We made
the most of it, however, and were fairly well satisfied with our

During the early part of the summer we attended an en-
tertainment given by the men at the barracks, and our little
girl caught cold. At first we thought it only a temporary ill-
ness and that she would 'soon be better, but in this we were dis-
appointed. She gradually lost appetite and grew weaker and I
wrote to Dr. Boughter, post surgeon at Fort Craig, requesting
him to come and see her, which he did. We concluded the water
at the post was bad for her, as it was strongly impregnated with
alkali, and we though it best to take her out to Jack Martin's
ranch, where we knew the water was good. Captain Kauffman
was very considerate about the proposed change, and we agreed
that I should return to the post three times a week to look
after any who needed medical attention. This trip could be
made in one day on horse-back, the distance for the round trip
being about forty miles. We got out there the latter part of
July, but within a few days realized more fully the serious na-
ture of our little daughter's illness. Dr. Boughter came from
Fort Craig to see her but could give us no encouragement.

The Scotch are a superstitious folk, and up to the age of
fourteen I was raised in an atmosphere of superstition. They
had signs and omens, and attributed a personality to everything,
animate and inanimate. While they denied a belief in spirits and
hob-goblins, I am satisfied these things influenced their lives.
I remember two old crones at an uncle's, wizened up old maids,
that I think were no relation, but just lived there, who used
to tell us little ones spook and ghost stories until I was afraid
to go to bed in the next room, or out of doors at night. It
seemed to be in the blood and Walter Scott's books are full of it.
This may explain in a way my hope that something would
happen that would bring our little one back to health again. My
frequent trips to the post and sitting up at night -to give my wife
a little rest, which she so sorely needed, together with my
anxiety, had probably made me morbid, for one day, August
14th, as I remember, I was on my way to the post. It was a


very hot day and the atmosphere was shimmering with radiated
heat, and not a living thing was to be seen over that vast, deso-
late Jornada del Muerto, except maybe a lizard scurrying across
the road, and I was half-way or more to the head of that canon
in which the post was located, when a little grayish-brown bird
suddenly appeared from somewhere, and fluttered over the horses'
head just out of reach of my hand. I accepted it at once and
without question, as a messenger sent to me, and my anxiety
was to interpret its message. I tried to reach it with my hand,
but it kept just out of reach, and presently lit in the road in
front. I immediately got off my horse, and taking the lariat
rope in my hand, walked up to it, but it kept moving out of
the way, but only just out of reach. I again got on my horse
but had no sooner done so, than it came back again and flut-
tered over the horse's head. From there it flew to a cactus
bush by the roadside, and I got off my horse again and walked
up to the bush and took my canteen no one travels through
such a country without a canteen of water and holding it up
over the bush poured out a little stream of water. The bird at
once gathered from the leaves, such drops as lodged, and seemed
greatly delighted. I then pressed my left hand, back downward,
into the sand, and holding the canteen up poured a little stream
of water into the palm of my hand. The bird at once left its
perch, and flew down and lit near my hand, and after a little
debating with herself, hopped up on my hand and drank, and at
each swallow would look up at me as if to say, 'Oh, I am so
thankful." I was greatly comforted and got on my horse again
feeling that my hopes would be realized, and that I would find
my little child on the road to recovery, upon my return in the
evening. I had only gone a short distance when the little bird
again flew around in front of me and again fluttered its wings
just out of reach of my hand. I got off again and this time
did not take the lariat rope down, but merely stepped up by the
horse's head, stooped down and pressed my hand in the sand as
before, and the bird did not hesitate, but came at once, and stood
on many hand and drank the water, and when its thirst was
fully satisfied it hopped away, and I got on my horse and went


on to the post. When I returned that evening I found our little
child no better and she died that night.

A messenger was sent to the post and the ambulance came
the following day with a little coffin made at the quartermaster's
and the trip back to the post was to us indeed the "Journey of
Death/* Our home was so desolate that I became more morbid
than ever, and was soon taken down with typhoid dysentery,
and Dr. Boughter came from the Fort Craig to wait on me. My
recovery was very slow and I was indifferent to anything that
might happen. My wife at last became discouraged and she and
Captain Kauffman talked the situation over, and after consulting
Dr. Boughter concluded to have me taken to Fort Craig for
treatment. I, was not informed of their conclusion, and when
they told me the ambulance was at the door, and a bed in it and
that I as going to Fort Craig, it did not even interest me. If
they had told me I was going to the cemetery I would have been
just as well satisfied with the arrangement, although they thought
I would be interested because of having been post surgeon there
some years before. After I was at Fort Craig a few days, I
began to take some interest in life and thought I would like
to see what changes had been made, and the more I thought
about it, the more interest I took until I finally wanted to see
for myself. With this awakening I began to have some appetite
for food, and I soon began to gain strength and as I improved
I wanted to cross the river and see my old hunting grounds. All
these things undoubtedly contributed to my recovery for I soon
made rapid progress toward good health again. The doctor had
given us his quarters to occupy while there and there were hand-
somely furnished and we were made most comfortable. It was
then the latter part of September and the nights were cool and
the days pleasant. We took our meals at the officers* mess and
had good things to eat, and I shall always remember how delic-
ious the pigeon squabs were to me. Before returning to Fort
McRae the doctor and I planned to hunt across the river. One
of the officers had a gun he would loan us, and the doctor said
the blacksmith had one, and he had no doubt he would loan it.
I preferred going for it myself, as I wanted to see the shop and


house close to the bluff where the blacksmith lived. The black-
smith was very well pleased to loan his gun, but said one barrel
was loaded, and he shot it off and handed the gun to me, saying,
"Now it is all right." It was a muzzle-loader and after wiping
it out carefully at the doctor's quarters I found one of the tubes
were stopped up. I put a cap on the tube and in place of taking
the gun out of doors, or pointing it in the fireplace, I merely
turned the muzzle down toward the carpet and pulled the trigger.
A report followed that astonished the doctor, my wife and my-
self, who were all taking interest in the preparation for the hunt.
The shot tore through the carpet and into the jaspa floor and
sent the plaster flying in all directions, and made a hole in the
floor big enough to bury a small-sized dog. Another instance of
where the gun that was not loaded, did serious damage, but fortu-
nately no one was hurt.

The post had changed very little since I was there five years
before but I took great interest in seeing everything. Doctor
Boughter was a bachelor, a man of ability in his profession, an
accomplished gentleman, and a friend in our great affliction.

On our return to Fort McRae, while I felt a great repugnance
to ever seeing the place again, I was more resigned to what I
considered the inevitable that is, that death comes to everybody,
is one of nature's laws, and is the culminating process, just as
birth is the beginning of life. When we reached the head of the
canon leading down to the post I was able to look upon the in-
cident of my experience with the little bird, from a very different
point of view.

It was now clear enough to me, that there was nothing
miraculous or unnatural about it, but that for some cause it had
simply become separated from the flock to which it belonged, for
they are generally found in flocks along with cattle. I think it
was the female and may have gone to some other bird's nest to
deposit its egg, as is its habit, for I had studied it closely while
drinking out of my hand, and recognized it as one of the cow-
birds or buntings, and I have since been able to identify it as
belonging among the blackbirds and orioles or the icteridae of the
ornothologist, its special division being Molothrus Aster, a divis-


ion found in Texas and Southern New Mexico, but I think not
much farther north. The sexes are difficult to distinguish at a
distance, differing in this respect from their near relatives far-
ther north, where the male is a glossy black with chocolate col-
ored head and neck. Whatever the cause may have been this
one was evidently lost, and was famishing for water, and recog-
nized the horse as a friend, and in no way could have considered
me in that relation, it came to my hand simply and only as a
matter of necessity. It was pleasant to relieve the thirst of the
little lost bird, but I shall never again think of it as in any way
supernatural. '


Our quarters were just as we had left them but with the
added feeling of desolation, and from that time we frequently
discussed the question of leaving the service. It being then well
toward winter we deferred it until spring, and we spent the time
until then performing our duties in a perfunctory way, and plan-
ning and rejecting plans as we made them, being undecided
where to locate. I spent a part of the time in hunting with more
or less success, but more as a recreation than as a matter of
interest. On one of these trips I killed three antelopes with two
shots, being the only ones seen that day. I managed to get in
good range and when the first one fell the other two ran together
and stood looking at the fallen one. They stood so that a shot
through the flank of one would hit the other just back f the
shoulder. I dressed the first one and got it on the horse and
found the second some two hundred yards away, but by the time
I had it on the horse it was too dark t otrack the third. Next
morning I went out and found only the bones and some pieces of
the hide, the wolves having cared for the rest of it. On another
occasion I took an orderly with me to care for my horse in case I
found occasion to stalk any game, but when we got into a valley
which was the customary route for ^ndians from the White
mountains on the east, to the Magdalenas west of the river, some
horsemen came in at the head of the valley, and set up a yell and
at that distance we took them for Indians and did not wait
for a closer acquaintance but made for the post with all pos-
sible speed. ^

My wife visited that winter at Fort Selden with Mrs. Con-
rad, wife of Lieutenant Conrad, who was quartermaster at Fort
Stanton when we were there, and who died at sea on his way
back from the Spanish war in Cuba.

We were in the habit at Fort McRae of trading an army
ration to which I was entitled, in addition to my pay, to Mexi-
cans for vegetables, eggs, etc., or paying cash as the occasion
offered. One day a Mexican brought a grain sack full of onions


and we weighed them and found they weighed a little over
forty-one pounds. I agreed to pay him four cents a pound, but
said to him we will call it forty pounds and allow the balance
for the weight of the sack. He could not speak English but I
could talk Spanish enough to make him understand and he would
nod his head and say "Bueno"' (Good) but when I counted out
the money he did not seem satisfied. I went over it repeatedly
showing it was one dollar and sixty cents and he would nod his
head and say 'Bueno" but went away and brought another Mex-
ican with him who understood and talked English, and when
he heard the transaction repeated he called his fellow country-
man a fool and they walked away together. I counted the on-
ions after they had gone, and there were just twenty-four of
them. I like to tell this story to my friends, for while they
smile their assent, there is an expression on their faces that
it at least suggestive. Two or three of the onions that I meas-
ured were over eighteen inches in circumference. These onions
were raised in the Rio Grande valley and were as crisp as celery,
and comparatively free from the characteristic sting of the or-
dinary onion. Eggs were fifty cents per dozen and if one did
not need any today, they would take them back home, and per-
haps bring them tomorrow at the same price, but would not take
less. We paid one dollar per pound for butter to Mrs. Jack
Martin who sent it to us by the messenger who went there
for our mail, and it was very choice butter.

At the Sutler's store one day I was introduced to a Mr.
Garcia, a youg man of fine appearance, and who could talk
English well, who had returned from the university for his va-
cation. I found him very interesting and intelligent, and while
we were talking, Mr. Ayers, the post trader, brought us some
native wine which we sipped while in conversation. He belonged
to a wealthy family of Spanish descent and was quite a differ-
ent type from the ordinary Mexican, and would compare, favor-
ably with our average university student. After he had gone
Mr. Ayers told me his name in full was "Hasoos Christo Garcia."
I spell it this way to give the Spanish pronunciation, and not the
Spanish spelling. In the middle name the accent is on the first


syllable. In English the name would be Jesus Christ Garcia,
and this is not mentioned in this startling way, in any spirit of
irreverence, for a name that is held sacred over a great part of
the world, but is done for the purpose of showing the differ-
ence in the customs of different countries. Jesus Christ is al-
most as common a given name among the Mexicans as James or
John is with us.

While at Fort McRae Mr. Fountain had heard of a beautiful
place on the Rio Polomas, a little stream that enters the Rio
Grande from the west a few miles below the post, and that he
thought might be worth investigating. I agreed to join him and
we had a few troopers detached as an escort, and went to see it.
On the way we passed through the little Mexican village of
Polomas, where a Jew had established a business and who had
told Mr. Fountain of the proposed place of visit. He joined us
and acted as guide for the trip. On the way while working our
way through a thick undergrowth Mr. Fountain and I became
separated from the men and came out on a pretty open park of a
few acres in extent, about the middle of which was an immense
cinnamon bear, apparently waiting to see what caused the dis-
turbance in the brush. On our coming into the open he took
to his heels and we followed, the men having joined us, and firing
our pistols and shouting, but when my horse caught the scent of
the bear, he just stopped and stood there trembling with fright,
and all my efforts to make him go by spurring and cuffing him,
were unavailing. I could not move him, but sat there and awaited
his pleasure. After a bit he began to move cautiously but was
much frightened, and I did not join the crowd until they had
chased the bear into the rocks at the foot of the canon, and had
returned to the place we intended to visit. It was a beautiful
place indeed, and a beautiful stream of water came out from the
side of the bluff some twenty feet above the valley, and mean-
andered down to the main stream. The valley was not wide but
impressed both Mr. Fountain and myself, as a desirable place
to establish a ranch, which he was desirous of doing for a brother
he wished to set up in business. I agreed to join him in the
enterprise, and we sent for a Studebaker wagon and the neces-


sary implements and outfit for starting a ranch. I afterwards
disposed of my interest to Mr. Fountain, and have since learned
that he had his brother come out, and fitted him up with stock,
etc., sufficient for a start, but that the Indians took a part in
the affair; destroyed his ranch and killed his cattle. I have
since then, often thought of it as a desirable place for a cattle

In the spring of 1875, there having been no medical exam-
ining board ordered, and so far as we knew no prospect of one,
we fully decided to try our lives in a different way, and made
preparations accordingly. I ordered a metallic casket for the
body of our little daughter, believing that the post would soon
be abandoned, and we could not bear the idea of leaving her in
that wretched place, and the first part of May we packed such
household goods as we thought desirable to take with us, only
leaving such as I might need after my wife should start, it being
by intention to go during the summer or early fall. My wife
started about the middle of May and soon afterwards the casket
came, and the captain gave me a detail of men to take up the
body of our little girl and place it in the quartermaster's store-
house until we should decide where to have it shipped. This we
were to do after I! should join my wife and decided on a location
for a home. My wife had gone to her old friend's home west of
Oswego, Kansas, where she had stopped on a previous occasion
when we thought of leaving the service. On application, Doctor
Lyon returned to his old post at Fort McRae and I went to Stan-
ton in July ad about the first of September together with Mr.
Clark, who was going on leave of absence, I proceeded to the
end of the railroad at Las Animas, Colorado, and thence to
Leavenworth, Kansas, where I reported to the medical director of
the department and left the service October 30th, 1875.

Upon my return to Fort Stanton from Fort McRae I found
Mr. Stanley, the one who had his finger shot off when a boy, was
just able to hobble about again from an experience he had with
a cannamon bear. He had gone out to some ranch where they
were losing some of their stock, particularly their pigs, by what
they thought to be a bear, and Stanley went out to kill it. He


was an excellent shot, was fearless and deliberate and found the
bear as he expected, but in some unaccountable way which he
could not explain, he failed to stop it, and the result was most
disastrous to himself. It had torn one side of his face away,
and had broken both legs and one arm, before leaving him. They
found him the next day and brought him to a hospital and he
was able to get around on crutches when I saw him, but would
be a cripple for life. The ranchmen went out and finished the
bear, but it was found he had nine shots through his body be-
fore giving up the fight.

The military reservation at Fort Stanton was the largest of
any post at which I served, and is located as before mentioned
on what was then known as the Mescalero Apache Indian reser-
vation. These Indians were considered friendly, and so far as
I know have remained so, and they are the only tribe of Indians
of which I have acquaintance who cremate their dead. I was
invited one day to go with the hay contractor, who intended
making the rounds of his various hay camps, and on the way we
passed through an Indian camp not far from the post at which
there was a sick Indian. We stopped to inquire as to his condi-
tion. It seems that a day or so before they had gone to the post
for medicine, and had said the patient was suffering great pain,
and asked for some physic. The post surgeon, a Spaniard by
birth, and educated abroad, understood the term pfiysic in its
generic sense and not as it is so universally used by us, and had
sent him opiates, when a cathartic was probably indicated. When
we saw him that day, which we did from our saddles, as we did
not dismount, he was greatly swollen up, and when we passed
the same neighborhood a few days afterwards, the Indian had
died and his tent and all his belongings including a pony to ride,
had been burned and the band had moved across the river and
established a new camp.

(Social Life at the Military Posts.)

The social life at the military posts on the frontier, nearly
a half century ago, was necessarily very limited. Except at
Fort Sill, I served at no post at which more than two companies
of troops comprised the garrison, and even in these cases there
was not always the full complement of officers, some probably
being on detached service, or maybe on leave of absence. As
before remarked, Fort McRae was only a one company post, and
at no time were there more than three officers, and there were
only two officers' wives. There were no social relations outside
of the post, and no effort or disposition to form acquaintances.
The nearest military post was fifty or more miles away, and the
exception to the usual dull routine of life in such an isolated
place, was when some fellow officer happened to come our
way, enroute to some other post, maybe for assignment to duty
or maybe on detached service. Another exception was when the
paymaster made his appearance to pay off the garrison, which
he did every two months. These were always enjoyable oc-
casions, and we would sit up late and talk about everything of
interest at the different posts, or of what may have been seen

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Online LibraryR. H. (Robert Henderson) McKayLittle pills; an army story → online text (page 10 of 11)