28. CALIFORNIA AND NEVADA
I could not break away from my Arizona habits. I wore only white dresses, partly because I had no others which were in fashion, partly because I had become imbued with a profound indifference to dress.
‘‘“They'll think you're a Mexican,”’’ said my New England aunt (who regarded all foreigners with contempt). ‘‘“Let them think,”’’ said I; ‘‘“I almost wish I were; for, after all, they are the only people who understand the philosophy of living. Look at the tired faces of the women in your streets,”’’ I added, ‘‘“one never sees that sort of expression down below, and I have made up my mind not to be caught by the whirlpool of advanced civilization again.”’’
The headquarters of the Eighth was located at Benicia, and General Kautz, our Colonel, invited me to pay a visit to his wife. A pleasant boat-trip up the Sacramento River brought us to Benicia. Mrs. Kautz, a handsome and accomplished Austrian, presided over her lovely army home in a manner to captivate my fancy, and the luxury of their surroundings almost made me speechless.
A visit to Angel Island, one of the harbor defences, strengthened this impression. Four years of life in the southern posts of Arizona had almost made me believe that army life was indeed but ‘‘“glittering misery,”’’ as the Germans had called it.
In the autumn, the troops returned from Oregon, and C company was ordered to Camp MacDermit, a lonely spot up in the northern part of Nevada (Nevada being included in the Department of California). I was sure by that time that bad luck was pursuing us. I did not know so much about the “ins and outs” of the army then as I do now.
At my aunt's suggestion, I secured a Chinaman of good caste for a servant, and by deceiving him (also my aunt's advice) with the idea that we were going only as far as Sacramento, succeeded in making him willing to accompany us.
We started east, and left the railroad at a station called “Winnemucca.” MacDermit lay ninety miles to the north. But at Winnemucca the Chinaman balked. ‘‘“You say: ‘All'e same Saclamento’: lis place heap too far: me no likee!”’’ I talked to him, and, being a good sort, he saw that I meant well, and the soldiers bundled him on top of the army wagon, gave him a lot of good-natured guying, and a revolver to keep off Indians, and so we secured Hoo Chack.
Jack was to march over the ninety miles, with the company. I watched them starting out, the men, glad of the release from the railroad train, their guns on their shoulders, stepping off in military style and in good form.
I climbed up on the box and talked with the driver. I liked these stage-drivers. They were “nervy,” fearless men, and kind, too, and had a great dash and go about them. They often had a quiet and gentle bearing, but by that time I knew pretty well what sort of stuff they were made of, and I liked to have them talk to me, and I liked to look out upon the world through their eyes, and judge of things from their standpoint.
Camp MacDermit was a colorless, forbidding sort of a place. Only one company was stationed there, and my husband was nearly always scouting in the mountains north of us. The weather was severe, and the winter there was joyless and lonesome. The extreme cold and the loneliness affected my spirits, and I suffered from depression.
I had no woman to talk to, for Mrs. Corliss, who was the only other officer's wife at the post, was confined to the house by the most delicate health, and her mind was wholly absorbed by the care of her young infant. There were no nurses to be had in that desolate corner of the earth.
I was alone; Jack was miles away up North. Hoo Chack appeared in the hall; he had evidently heard the man's last remark. ‘‘“Now,”’’ I said, ‘‘“this Chinaman is in my employ, and he shall not pay any tax, until I find out if he be exempt of not.”’’
The evil-looking man approached the Chinaman. Hoo Chack grew a shade paler. I fancied he had a knife under his white shirt; in fact, he felt around for it. I said, ‘‘“Hoo Chack, go away, I will talk to this man.”’’
I opened the front door. ‘‘“Come with me”’’ (to the tax-collector); ‘‘“we will ask the commanding officer about this matter.”’’ My heart was really in my mouth, but I returned the man's steady and dogged gaze, and he followed me to Captain Corliss' quarters. I explained the matter to the Captain, and left the man to his mercy. ‘‘“Why didn't you call the Sergeant of the Guard, and have the man slapped into the guard-house?”’’ said Jack, when I told him about it
The country above us was full of desperadoes from Boise and Silver City, and I was afraid to be left alone so much at night; so I begged Captain Corliss to let me have a soldier to sleep in my quarters. He sent me old Needham. So I installed old Needham in my guest chamber with his loaded rifle. Now old Needham was but a wisp of a man; long years of service had broken down his health; he was all wizened up and feeble; but he was a soldier; I felt safe, and could sleep once more. Just the sight of Needham and his old blue uniform coming at night, after taps, was a comfort to me.
Anxiety filled my soul, for Jack was scouting in the Stein Mountains all winter in the snow, after Indians who were avowedly hostile, and had threatened to kill on sight. He often went out with a small pack-train, and some Indian scouts, five or six soldiers, and I thought it quite wrong for him to be sent into the mountains with so small a number.
Camp MacDermit was, as I have already mentioned, a “one-company post.” We all know what that may mean, on the frontier. Our Second Lieutenant was absent, and all the hard work of winter scouting fell upon Jack, keeping him away for weeks at a time.
He came to see me occasionally. His dress was a curious mixture of civilization and savagery. He wore the chapeau and dress-coat of a General of the American Army, with a large epaulette on one shoulder. He was very proud of the coat, because General Crook had given it to him. His shirt, leggings and moccasins were of buckskin, and the long braids of his coal-black hair, tied with strips of red flannel, gave the last touch to this incongruous costume.
But I must say that his demeanor was gentle and dignified, and, after recovering from the superficial impressions which his startling costume had at first made upon my mind, I could well believe that he had once been the war-leader, as he was now the political head of his once-powerful tribe.
He always showed me the pasteboard medal which hung around his neck, and which bore General Howard's signature; and he always said: “General Howard tell me, me good Injun, me go up—up—up”—pointing dramatically towards Heaven. On one occasion, feeling desperate for amusement, I said to him: ‘‘“General Howard very good man, but he
Occupied with my thoughts, on entering the stage, I did not notice the passengers or the man sitting next me on the back seat. Darkness soon closed around us, and I suppose we fell asleep. Between naps, I heard a queer clanking sound, but supposed it was the chains of the harness or the stage-coach gear. The next morning, as we got out at a relay station for breakfast, I saw the handcuffs on the man next to whom I had sat all the night long. The sheriff was on the box outside. He very obligingly changed seats
The year of 1879 brought us several changes. My little daughter was born in mid-summer at our old home in Nantucket. As I lay watching the curtains move gently to and fro in the soft sea-breezes, and saw my mother and sister moving about the room, and a good old nurse rocking my baby in her arms, I could but think of those other days at Camp Apache, when I lay through the long hours, with my new-born baby by my side, watching, listening for some one to come in. There was no one, no woman to come, except the poor hard-working laundress of the cavalry, who did come once a day to care for the baby.
Jack took a year's leave of absence and joined me in the autumn at Nantucket, and the winter was spent in New York, enjoying the theatres and various amusements we had so long been deprived of. Here we met again Captain Porter and Carrie Wilkins, who was now Mrs. Porter. They were stationed at
The following summer brought us the good news that Captain Corliss' company was ordered to Angel Island, in the bay of San Francisco. “Thank goodness,” said Jack, “company has got some good luck, at last!”
Joyfully we started back on the overland trip to California, which took about nine days at that time. Now, travelling with a year-old baby and a five-year-old boy was quite troublesome, and we were very glad when the train had crossed the bleak Sierras and swept down into the lovely valley of the Sacramento.
Arriving in San Francisco, we went to the old Occidental Hotel, and as we were going in to dinner, a card was handed to us. “Hoo Chack” was the name on the card. “That Chinaman!” I cried to Jack. “How do you suppose he knew we were here?”
We soon made arrangements for him to accompany us to Angel Island, and in a few days this “heathen Chinee” had unpacked all our boxes and made our quarters very comfortable. He was rather a highcaste man, and as true and loyal as a Christian. He never broke his word, and he staid with us as long as we remained in California.
A comfortable Government steamboat plied between San Francisco and its harbor posts, and the distance was not great—only three quarters of an hour. So we had a taste of the social life of that fascinating city, and could enjoy the theatres also.
On the Island, we had music and dancing, as it was the headquarters of the regiment. Mrs. Kautz, so brilliant and gay, held grand court here—receptions, military functions, lawn tennis, bright uniforms, were the order of the day. And that incomparable climate! How I revelled in it! When the fog rolled in from the Golden Gate, and enveloped the great city of Saint Francis in its cold vapors, the Island of the Angels lay warm and bright in the sunshine.
The old Spaniards named it well, and the old Nantucket whalers who sailed around Cape Horn on their way to the Ar'tic, away back in the eighteen twenties, used to put in near there for water, and were well familiar with its bright shores, before it was touched by man's handiwork.
Was there ever such an emerald green as adorned these hills which sloped down to the bay? Could anything equal the fields of golden escholzchia which lay there in the sunshine? Or the blue masses of “baby-eye,”
There was Terrett, the handsome and aristocratic young Baltimorean, one of the finest men I ever saw in uniform; and Richardson, the stalwart Texan, and many others, with whom we danced and played tennis, and altogether there was so much to do and to enjoy that Time rushed by and we knew only that we were happy, and enchanted with Life.
Did any uniform ever equal that of the infantry in those days? The dark blue, heavily braided “blouse,” the white stripe on the light blue trousers, the jaunty cap? And then, the straight backs and the slim lines of those youthful figures! It seems to me any woman who was not an Egyptian mummy would feel her heart thrill and her blood tingle at the sight of them.
The months flew by, and the second winter found us still there; we heard rumors of Indian troubles, and at last, the orders came. The officers packed away their evening clothes in camphor and had their campaign clothes put out to air, and got their mess-chests in order, and the post was alive with preparations for the field. All the families were to stay behind. The most famous Indian renegade was to be hunted down, and serious fighting was looked for.
The officers and soldiers were in their campaign clothes; the latter had their blanket-rolls and haversacks slung over their shoulders, and their tin cups, which hung from the haversacks rattled and jingled as they marched down in even columns of four, over the wet and grassy slopes of the parade ground, where so short a time before all had been glitter and sunshine.
The officers' wives and the soldiers' wives followed the troops to the dock. The soldiers marched single file over the gang-plank of the boat, the officers said good-bye, the shrill whistle of the “General McPherson” sounded—and they were off. We leaned back against the coal-sheds, and soldiers' and officers' wives alike all wept together.
The campaign lengthened out into months, but the California winters are never very long, and before the troops came back the hills looked their brightest green again. The campaign had ended with no very serious losses to our troops and all was joyous again, until another order took us from the sea-coast to the interior once more.