26. A SUDDEN ORDER


Up: Contents Previous: 25. OLD CAMP MACDOWELL Next: 27. THE EIGHT FOOT LEAVES ARIZONA


[page 208]

IN JUNE, 1878, Jack was ordered to report to the commanding officer at Fort Lowell (near the ancient city of Tucson), to act as Quartermaster and Commissary at that post. This was a sudden and totally unexpected order. It was indeed hard, and it seemed to me cruel. For our regiment had been four years in the Territory, and we were reasonably sure of being ordered out before long. Tucson lay far to the south of us, and was even hotter than this place. But there was nothing to be done; we packed up, I with a heavy heart, Jack with his customary stoicism.

With the grief which comes only at that time in one's life, and which sees no end and no limit, I parted from my friends at Camp MacDowell. Two years together, in the most intimate companionship, cut off from the outside world, and away from all early ties, had united us with indissoluble bonds,—and now we were to part,—forever as I thought.

We all wept; I embraced them all, and Jack lifted me into the ambulance; Mrs. Kendall gave a last kiss to our little boy; Donahue, our soldier-driver, loosened up his brakes, cracked his long whip, and away we went, down over the flat, through the dark MacDowell cañon, with the chollas nodding to us as we passed,


[page 209]

across the Salt River, and on across an open desert to Florence, forty miles or so to the southeast of us.

At Florence we sent our military transportation back and staid over a day at a tavern to rest. We met there a very agreeable and cultivated gentleman, Mr. Charles Poston, who was en route to his home, somewhere in the mountains near by. We took the Tucson stage at sundown, and travelled all night. I heard afterwards more about Mr. Poston: he had attained some reputation in the literary world by writing about the Sun-worshippers of Asia. He had been a great traveller in his early life, but now had built himself some sort of a house in one of the desolate mountains which rose out of these vast plains of Arizona, hoisted his sun-flag on the top, there to pass the rest of his days. People out there said he was a sun-worshipper. I do not know. ‘‘“But when I am tired of life and people,”’’ I thought, ‘‘“this will not be the place I shall choose.”’’

Arriving at Tucson, after a hot and tiresome night in the stage, we went to an old hostelry. Tucson looked attractive. Ancient civilization is always interesting to me.

Leaving me at the tavern, my husband drove out to Fort Lowell, to see about quarters and things in general. In a few hours he returned with the overwhelming news that he found a dispatch awaiting him at that post, ordering him to return immediately to his company at Camp MacDowell, as the Eighth Infantry


[page 210]

was ordered to the Department of California.

Ordered “out” at last! I felt like jumping up onto the table, climbing onto the roof, dancing and singing and shouting for joy! Tired as we were (and I thought I had reached the limit), we were not too tired to take the first stage back for Florence, which left that evening. Those two nights on the Tucson stage are a blank in my memory. I got through them somehow.

In the morning, as we approached the town of Florence, the great blue army wagon containing our household goods, hove in sight—its white canvas cover stretched over hoops, its six sturdy mules coming along at a good trot, and Sergeant Stone cracking his long whip, to keep up a proper pace in the eyes of the Tucson stage-driver.

Jack called him to halt, and down went the Sergeant's big brakes. Both teams came to a stand-still, and we told the Sergeant the news. Bewilderment, surprise, joy, followed each other on the old Sergeant's countenance. He turned his heavy team about, and promised to reach Camp MacDowell as soon as the animals could make it. At Florence, we left the stage, and went to the little tavern once more; the stage-route did not lie in our direction, so we must hire a private conveyance to bring us to Camp MacDowell. Jack found a man who had a good pair of ponies and an open buckboard. Towards night we set forth to


[page 211]

cross the plain which lies between Florence and the Salt River, due northwest by the map.

When I saw the driver I did not care much for his appearance. He did not inspire me with confidence, but the ponies looked strong, and we had forty or fifty miles before us.

After we got fairly into the desert, which was a trackless waste, I became possessed by a feeling that the man did not know the way. He talked a good deal about the North Star, and the fork in the road, and that we must be sure not to miss it.

It was a still, hot, starlit night. Jack and the driver sat on the front seat. They had taken the back seat out, and my little boy and I sat in the bottom of the wagon, with the hard cushions to lean against through the night. I suppose we were drowsy with sleep; at all events, the talk about the fork of the road and the North Star faded away into dreams.

I awoke with a chilly feeling, and a sudden jolt over a rock. ‘‘“I do not recollect any rocks on this road, Jack, when we came over it in the ambulance,”’’ said I. ‘‘“Neither do I,”’’ he replied.

I looked for the North Star: I had looked for it often when in open boats. It was away off on our left, the road seemed to be ascending and rocky: I had never seen this piece of road before, that I was sure of.

‘‘“We are going to the eastward,”’’ said I, ‘‘“and we should be going northwest.”’’

‘‘“My dear, lie down and go to sleep; the man knows


[page 212]

the road; he is taking a short cut, I suppose,”’’ said the Lieutenant. There was something not at all reassuring in his tones, however.

The driver did not turn his head nor speak. I looked at the North Star, which was getting farther and farther on our left, and I felt the gloomy conviction that we were lost on the desert.

Finally, at daylight, after going higher and higher, we drew up in an old deserted mining-camp.

The driver jerked his ponies up, and, with a sullen gesture, said, ‘‘“We must have missed the fork of the road; this is Picket Post.”’’

‘‘“Great Heavens!”’’ I cried; ‘‘“how far out of the way are we?”’’

‘‘“About fifteen miles,”’’ he drawled, ‘‘“you see we shall have to go back to the place where the road forks, and make a new start.”’’

I nearly collapsed with discouragement. I looked around at the ruined walls and crumbling pillars of stone, so weird and so grey in the dawning light: it might have been a worshipping place of the Druids. My little son shivered with the light chill which comes at daybreak in those tropical countries: we were hungry and tired and miserable: my bones ached, and I felt like crying.

We gave the poor ponies time to breathe, and took a bite of cold food ourselves. Ah! that blighted and desolate place called Picket


[page 213]

Post! Forsaken by God and man, it might have been the entrance to Hades.

Would the ponies hold out? They looked jaded, to be sure, but we had stopped long enough to breathe them, and away they trotted again, down the mountain this time, instead of up.

It was broad day when we reached the fork of the road, which we had not been able to see in the night: there was no mistaking it now.

We had travelled already about forty miles, thirty more lay before us; but there were no hills, it was all flat country, and the owner of these brave little ponies said we could make it.

As we neared the MacDowell cañon, we met Captain Corliss marching out with his company (truly they had lost no time in starting for California), and he told his First Lieutenant he would make slow marches, that we might overtake him before he reached Yuma.

We were obliged to wait at Camp MacDowell for Sergeant Stone to arrive with our wagonful of household goods, and then, after a mighty weeding out and repacking, we set forth once more, with a good team of mules and a good driver, to join the command. We bade the Sixth Cavalry people once more good-bye, but I was so nearly dead by this time, with the heat, and the fatigue of all this hard travelling and packing up, that the keener edge of my emotions was dulled. Eight days and nights spent in travelling hither and


[page 214]

thither over those hot plains in Southern Arizona, and all for what?

Because somebody in ordering somebody to change his station, had forgotten that somebody's regiment was about to be ordered out of the country it had been in for four years. Also because my husband was a soldier who obeyed orders without questioning them. If he had been a political wire-puller, many of our misfortunes might have been averted. But then, while I half envied the wives of the wire-pullers, I took a sort of pride in the blind obedience shown by my own particular soldier to the orders he received.

After that week's experience, I held another colloquy with myself, and decided that wives should not follow their husbands in the army, and that if I ever got back East again, I would stay: I simply could not go on enduring these unmitigated and unreasonable hardships.

The Florence man staid over at the post a day or so to rest his ponies. I bade him good-bye and told him to take care of those brave little beasts, which had travelled seventy miles without rest, to bring us to our destination. He nodded pleasantly and drove away. ‘‘“A queer customer,”’’ I observed to Jack.

‘‘“Yes,”’’ answered he, ‘‘“they told me in Florence that he was a ‘road agent’ and desperado, but there did not seem to be anyone else, and my orders were peremptory, so I took him. I knew the ponies could pull us through, by the looks of them; and road


[page 215]

agents are all right with army officers, they know they wouldn't get anything if they held 'em up.”’’

‘‘“How much did he charge you for the trip?”’’ I asked.

‘‘“Sixteen dollars,”’’ was the reply. And so ended the episode. Except that I looked back to Picket Post with a sort of horror I thought no more about it.

Up: Contents Previous: 25. OLD CAMP MACDOWELL Next: 27. THE EIGHT FOOT LEAVES ARIZONA




© Arizona Board of Regents