3. ARMY HOUSE-KEEPING
NOT KNOWING before I left home just what was needed for house-keeping in the army, and being able to gather only vague ideas on the subject from Jack, who declared that his quarters were furnished admirably, I had taken out with me but few articles in addition to the silver and linen-chests.
I began to have serious doubts on the subject of my mÉnage, after inspecting the bachelor furnishings which had seemed so ample to my husband. But there was so much to be seen in the way of guard mount, cavalry drill, and various military functions, besides the drives to town and the concerts of the string orchestra, that I had little time to think of the practical side of life.
Added to this, we were enjoying the delightful hospitality of the Wilhelms, and the Major insisted upon making me acquainted with the “real old-fashioned army toddy” several times a day,—a new beverage to me, brought up in a blue-ribbon community, where wine-bibbing and whiskey drinking were rated as belonging to only the lowest classes. To be sure, my father always drank two fingers of fine cognac before dinner, but I had always considered that a sort of medicine for a man advanced in years.
Everything was military and gay and brilliant, and I forgot the very existence of practical things, in listening to the dreamy strains of Italian and German music, rendered by our excellent and painstaking orchestra. For the Eighth Infantry loved good music, and had imported its musicians direct from Italy.
My husband informed me that the quarters were ready for our occupancy and that we could begin house-keeping at once. He had engaged a soldier named Adams for a striker; he did not know whether Adams was much of a cook, he said, but he was the only available man just then, as the companies were up north at the Agency.
‘‘“Why, Martha,”’’ said he, ‘‘“did you not know that women are not reckoned in at all at the War Department? A lieutenant's allowance of quarters, according to the Army Regulations, is one room and a kitchen, a captain's allowance is two rooms and a
Jack had placed his furnishings (some lace curtains, camp chairs, and a carpet) in the living-room, and there was a forlorn-looking bedstead in the bedroom. A pine table in the dining-room and a range in the kitchen completed the outfit. A soldier had scrubbed the rough floors with a straw broom: it was absolutely forlorn, and my heart sank within me.
But then I thought of Mrs. Wilhelm's quarters, and resolved to try my best to make ours look as cheerful and pretty as hers. A chaplain was about leaving the post and wished to dispose of his things, so we bought a carpet of him, a few more camp chairs of various designs, and a cheerful-looking table-cover. We were obliged to be very economical, as Jack was a second lieutenant, the pay was small and a little in arrears, after the wedding trip and long journey out. We bought white Holland shades for the windows, and
Jack said I should not have to buy anything at all; the Quartermaster Department furnished everything in the line of kitchen utensils; and, as his word was law, I went over to the quartermaster store-house to select the needed articles.
After what I had been told, I was surprised to find nothing smaller than two-gallon tea-kettles, meatforks a yard long, and mess-kettles deep enough to cook rations for fifty men! I rebelled, and said I would not use such gigantic things.
My husband said: ‘‘“Now, Mattie, be reasonable; all the army women keep house with these utensils; the regiment will move soon, and then what should we do with a lot of tin pans and such stuff! You know a second lieutenant is allowed only a thousand pounds of baggage when he changes station.”’’ This was a hard lesson, which I learned later.
Having been brought up in an old-time community, where women deferred to their husbands in everything, I yielded, and the huge things were sent over. I had told Mrs. Wilhelm that we were to have luncheon in our own quarters.
Of course, like all New England girls of that period, I knew how to make quince jelly and floating islands, but of the actual, practical side of cooking, and the management of a range, I knew nothing.
I appealed to Jack. He said, ‘‘“Why, of course, Martha, you ought to know that things do not cook as quickly at this altitude as they do down at the sea level. We are thousands of feet above the sea here in Wyoming.”’’ (I am not sure it was thousands, but it was hundreds at least.)
My head was giddy with the glamour, the uniform, the guard-mount, the military music, the rarefied air, the new conditions, the new interests of my life. Heine's songs, Goethe's plays, history and romance were floating through my mind. Is it to be wondered at that I and Adams together prepared the most
‘‘“Oh, pshaw! You are pampered and spoiled with your New England kitchens,”’’ said he; ‘‘“you will have to learn to do as other army women do—cook in cans and such things, be inventive, and learn to do with nothing.”’’ This was my first lesson in army house-keeping.
‘‘“So!”’’ I said; ‘‘“my military husband does not know anything about these things;”’’ and I availed myself of the first trip of the ambulance over to Cheyenne, bought a stock of tin-ware and had it charged, and made no mention of it—because I feared that tin-ware was to be our bone of contention, and I put off the evil day.
One morning I suggested to Adams that he should wash the front windows; after being gone a half hour, to borrow a step-ladder, he entered the room, mounted the ladder and began. I sat writing. Suddenly, ha faced around, and addressing me, said, ‘‘“Madam, do you believe in spiritualism?”’’
This was enough; he proceeded to give a lecture on the subject, worthy of a man higher up on the ladder of this life. I bade him come to an end, as soon as I dared (for I was not accustomed to soldiers), and suggested that he was forgetting his work.
It was early in April, and the snow drifted through the crevices of the old dried-out house, in banks upon our bed; but that was soon mended, and things began to go smoothly enough, when Jack was ordered to join his company, which was up at the Spotted Tail Agency. It was expected that the Sioux under this chief would break out at any minute. They had become disaffected about some treaty. I did not like to be left alone with the Spiritualist, so Jack asked one of the laundresses, whose husband was out with
Mrs. Patten was an old campaigner; she understood everything about officers and their ways, and she made me absolutely comfortable for those two lonely months. I always felt grateful to her; she was a dear old Irish woman.
Cheyenne in those early days was an amusing but unattractive frontier town; it presented a great contrast to the old civilization I had so recently left. We often saw women in cotton wrappers, high-heeled slippers, and sun-bonnets, walking in the main streets. Cows, pigs, and saloons seemed to be a feature of the place.
In about six weeks, the affairs with the Sioux were settled, and the troops returned to the post. The weather began to be uncomfortably hot in those low wooden houses. I missed the comforts of home and the fresh sea air of the coast, but I tried to make the best of it.
Our sleeping-room was very small, and its one window looked out over the boundless prairie at the back of the post. On account of the great heat, we were obliged to have this window wide open at night. I heard the cries and wails of various animals, but Jack said that was nothing—they always heard them.
Once, at midnight, the wails seemed to be nearer, and I was terrified; but he told me 'twas only the half-wild cats and coyotes which prowled around the post. I asked him if they ever came in. ‘‘“Gracious, no!”’’ he said; ‘‘“they are too wild.”’’
I rolled myself under the bed-covers, in the most abject terror lest she might come back the same way; and, true enough, she did, with a most piercing cry. I never had much rest after that occurrence, as we had no protection against these wild-cats.
The regiment, however, in June was ordered to Arizona, that dreaded and then unknown land, and the uncertain future was before me. I saw the other women packing china and their various belongings. I seemed to be helpless. Jack was busy with things outside. He had three large army chests, which were brought in and placed before me. ‘‘“Now,”’’ he said, ‘‘“all our things must go into those chests”’’—and I supposed they must.
With some concessions on both sides we were finally packed up, and left Fort Russell about the middle of June, with the first detachment, consisting of headquarters and band, for San Francisco, over the Union Pacific Railroad.
For it must be remembered, that in 1874 there were no railroads in Arizona, and all troops which were sent to that distant territory either marched overland through New Mexico, or were transported by steamer from San Francisco down the coast, and up the Gulf of California to Fort Yuma, from which point they marched up the valley of the Gila to the southern posts, or continued up the Colorado River by steamer, to other points of disembarkation, whence they marched to the posts in the interior, or the northern part of the territory.