29. CHANGING STATION
IT WAS the custom to change the stations of the different companies of a regiment about every two years. So the autumn of '82 found us on the way to Fort Halleck, a post in Nevada, but differing vastly from the desolate MacDermit station. Fort Halleck was only thirteen miles south of the Overland Railroad, and lay near a spur of the Humboldt range. There were miles of sage-brush between the railroad and the post, but the mountains which rose abruptly five thousand feet on the far side, made a magnificent background for the officers' quarters, which lay nestled at the bottom of the foot-hills.
Major Sanford of the First Cavalry, with Captain Carr and Lieutenant Oscar Brown, received us. “Dear me,” I thought, “if the First Cavalry is made up of such gallant men as these, the old Eighth Infantry will have to look out for its laurels.”
It was so good to see the gay yellow of the cavalry again! Now I rode, to my heart's content, and it was good to be alive; to see the cavalry drill, and to ride through the cañons, gorgeous in their flaming autumn
That little old post, now long since abandoned, marked a pleasant epoch in our life. From the ranches scattered around we could procure butter and squabs and young vegetables, and the soldiers cultivated great garden patches, and our small dinners and breakfasts live in delightful memory.
At the end of two years spent so pleasantly with the people of the First Cavalry, our company was again ordered to Angel Island. But a second very active campaign in Arizona and Mexico, against Geronimo, took our soldiers away from us, and we passed through a period of considerable anxiety. June of '86 saw the entire regiment ordered to take station in Arizona once more.
We travelled to Tucson in a Pullman car. It was hot and uninteresting. I had been at Tucson before, but the place seemed unfamiliar. I looked for the old tavern; I saw only the railroad restaurant. We went in to take breakfast, before driving out to the post of Fort Lowell, seven miles away. Everything seemed changed. Iced cantaloupe was served by a spick-span alert waiter; then, quail on toast. “Ice in Arizona?” It was like a dream, and I remarked to Jack, “This isn't the same Arizona we knew in '74,” and then, “I don't believe I like it as well, either; all this luxury doesn't seem to belong to the place.”
After a drive behind some smart mules, over a flat stretch of seven miles, we arrived at Fort Lowell, a rather attractive post, with a long line of officers' quarters, before which ran a level road shaded by beautiful great trees. We were assigned a hall of one of these sets of quarters, and as our hall had no conveniences for house-keeping, it was arranged that we should join a mess with General and Mrs. Kautz and their family. We soon got settled down to our life-there, and we had various recreations; among them, driving over to Tucson and riding on horseback are those which I remember best. We made a few acquaintances in Tucson, and they sometimes drove out in the evenings, or more frequently rode out on horseback. Then we would gather together on the Kautz piazza and everybody sang to the accompaniment of Mrs. Kautz's guitar. It was very hot, of course; we had all expected that, but the luxuries obtainable through the coming of the railroad, such as ice, and various summer drinks, and lemons, and butter, helped out to make the summer there more comfortable.
We slept on the piazzas, which ran around the houses, on a level with the ground. At that time the fad for sleeping out of doors, at least amongst civilized people, did not exist, and our arrangements were entirely primitive.
One night I was awakened by a tremendous snort right over my face. I opened my eyes and looked into the wild eyes of a big black bull. I think I must have screamed, for the bull ran clattering off the piazza and out through the gate. By this time Jack was up, and Harry and Katharine, who slept on the front piazza, came running out, and I said: ‘‘“Well, this is the limit of all things, and if that gate isn't mended to-morrow, I will know the reason why.”’’
Now I had heard a vague rumor that there was a creature of this sort in of near the post, and that he had a habit of wandering around at night, but as I had never seen him, it had made no great impression on my mind. Jack had a great laugh at me, but I did not think then, nor do I now, that it was anything to be laughed at.
We had heard much of the old Mission of San Xavier del Bac, away the other side of Tucson. Mrs. Kautz decided to go over there and go into camp and paint a picture of San Xavier. It was about sixteen miles from Fort Lowell.
So all the camp paraphernalia was gotten ready and several of the officers joined the party, and we all went over to San Xavier and camped for a few days under the shadow of those beautiful old walls. This Mission is almost unknown to the American traveller.
The curious carvings and paintings inside the church, and the precious old vestments which were shown us by an ancient custodian, filled my mind with wonder. The building is partly in ruins, and the little squirrels were running about the galleries, but the great dome is intact, and many of the wonderful figures which ornament it. Of course we know the Spanish built it about the middle of last of the sixteenth century, and that they tried to christianize the tribes of Indians who lived around in the vicinity.
But there is no sign of priest of communicant now, nothing but a desolate plain around it for miles. No one can possibly understand how the building of this large and beautiful mission was accomplished, and I believe history furnishes very little information. In its archives was found quite recently the charter given by Ferdinand and Isabella, to establish the “pueblo” of Tucson in 1552.
And now the summer was drawing to a close, and we were anticipating the delights of the winter climate at Tucson, when, without a note of warning, came the orders for Fort Niobrara. We looked, appalled, in each other's faces, the evening the telegram came, for we did not even know where Fort Niobrara was.
We all rushed into Major Wilhehm's quarters, for he always knew everything. We (Mrs. Kautz and several of the other ladies of the post, and myself) were in a state of tremendous excitement. We pounded on Major Wilhelm's door and we heard a faint voice from his bedroom (for it was after ten o'clock); then we waited a few moments and he said, ‘‘“Come in.”’’
We opened the door, but there being no light in his quarters we could not see him. A voice said: ‘‘“What in the name of—”’’ but we did not wait for him to finish; we all shouted: ‘‘“Where is Fort Niobrara?”’’ ‘‘“The Devil!”’’ he said. ‘‘“Are we ordered there?”’’
Now, just think of it! To come to Fort Lowell in July, only to more in November! What could it mean? It was hard to leave the sunny South, to spend the winter in those congealed regions in the North. We were but just settled, and now came another break-up!
Our establishment now, with two children, several servants, two saddle horses, and additional household furnishings, was not so simple as in the beginning of our army life, when three chests and a box of two contained our worldly goods. Each more we made, was more difficult than the last; our allowance of baggage did not begin to cover what we had to take along, and this added greatly to the expense of moving.
The enormous waste attending a more, and the heavy outlay incurred in travelling and getting settled anew, kept us always poor; these considerations increased our chagrin over this unexpected change of station. There was nothing to be done, however. Orders are relentless, even if they seem senseless, which this one did, to the women, at least, of the Eighth Infantry.