There is something about this story that makes my hairs go up in goosebumps because is a story of relentless will and courage. I always think of it when I am too tired and feel like giving up. The world is made for the strong and nothing stands in my way to reach my goals. I believe in magic, I believe that no matter what obstacles my dreams will come true.
From: The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, April 1889
A SCOUT WITH THE BUFFALO SOLDIERS
WRITTEN AND ILLUSTRATED BY FREDERIC REMINGTON
I sat smoking in the quarters of an army friend at Fort Grant, and through a green lattice work was watching the dusty parade and congratulating myself on the possession of this spot of comfortin such a disagreeably hot climate as Arizona Territory offers in the summer, when in strode my friend the lieutenant, who threw his cap on the table and began to roll a cigarette.
“Well,” he said, “the K. O. has ordered me out for a two weeks’ scouting up the San Carlos way, and I’m off in the morning. Would you like to go with me?” He lighted the cigarette and paused for my reply.
I was very comfortable at that moment, and knew from some past experiences that marching under the summer sun of Arizona was real suffering and not to be considered by one on pleasure bent; and I was also aware that my friend the lieutenant had a reputation as a hard rider, and would in this case select a few picked and seasoned cavalrymen and rush over the worst possible country in the least possible time. I had no reputation as a hard rider to sustain, and, moreover, had not backed a horse for the year past. I knew too that Uncle Sam’s beans, black coffee, and the bacon which every old soldier will tell you about would fall to the lot of any one who scouted with the 10th Dragoons. Still, I very much desired to travel through the country to the north, and in a rash moment said, “ I‘ll go.”
“You quite understand that you are amenable to discipline,” continued the lieutenant with mock seriousness, as he regarded me with that soldier’s contempt for a citizen which is not openly expressed but is tacitly felt.
“I do,” I answered meekly.
“Put you afoot, citizen; put you afoot, sir, at the slightest provocation, understand,” pursued the officer in his sharp manner of giving commands.
I suggested that after I had chafed a Government saddle for a day or two I should undoubtedly beg to be put afoot, and, far from being a punishment, it might be a real mercy.
“That being settled, will you go down to stable call and pick out a mount? You are one of the heavies, but I think we can outfit you,” he said; and together we strolled down to where the bugle was blaring.
At the adobe corral the faded coats of the horses were being groomed by black troopers in white frocks; for the 10th United States Cavalry is composed of colored men. The fine alkaline dust of that country is continually sifting over all exposed objects, so that grooming becomes almost as hopeless a task as sweeping back the sea with a house broom. A fine old veteran cavalry horse, detailed for a sergeant of the troop, was selected to bear me on the trip. He was a large horse of a pony build, both strong and sound except that he bore a healed up saddle gall, gotten, probably, during some old march upon an endless Apache trail. His temper had been ruined, and a grinning soldier said, as he stood at a respectful distance, “Leouk out, sah. Dat ole hoss shore kick youh head off sah.”
The lieutenant assured me that if I could ride that animal through and not start the old gall I should be covered with glory; and as to the rest, “What you don’t know about cross country riding in these parts that horse does. It ‘s lucky there isn’t a hole in the ground where his hoofs trod, for he’s pounded up and down across this Territory for the last five years.”
Well satisfied with my mount, I departed. That evening numbers of rubber muscled cavalry officers called and drew all sorts of horrible pictures for my fancy, which greatly amused them and duly filled me with dismal forebodings. “A man from New York comes out here to trifle with the dragoon,” said one facetious chap, addressing my lieutenant; “so now, old boy, you don’t want to let him get away with the impression that the cavalry don’t ride.” I caught the suggestion that it was the purpose of those fellows to see that I was “ridden down” on that trip; and though I got my resolution to the sticking-point, I knew that “a pillory can out preach a parson,” and that my resolutions might not avail against the hard saddle.
On the following morning I was awakened by the lieutenant’s dog-rubber, (Soldier detailed as officer’s servant) and got up to array myself in my field costume. My old troop horse was at the door, and he eyed his citizen rider with malevolent gaze. Even the dumb beasts of the army share that quiet contempt for the citizen which is one manifestation of the military spirit, born of strength, and as old as when the first man went forth with purpose to conquer his neighbor man.
Down in front of the post trader’s was gathered the scouting party. A tall sergeant, grown old in the service, scarred on battlefields, hardened by long marches, – in short, a product of the camp, – stood by his horse’s head. Four enlisted men, picturesquely clad in the cavalry soldier’s field costume, and two packers, mounted on diminutive bronco mules, were in charge of four pack mules loaded with apperajos and packs. This was our party. Presently the lieutenant issued from the headquarters’ office and joined us. An orderly led up his horse. “Mount,” said the lieutenant; and swinging himself into his saddle he started off up the road. Out past the groups of adobe houses which constitute a frontier military village or post we rode, stopping to water our horses at the little creek, now nearly dry, – the last water for many miles on our trail, – and presently emerged upon the great desert.
Together at the head of the little cavalcade rode the lieutenant and I, while behind, in single file, came the five troopers, sitting loosely in their saddles with the long stirrup of the United States cavalry seat, forage hats set well over the eyes, and carbines, slickers, canteens, saddle pockets, and lariats rattling at their sides. Strung out behind were the four pack mules, now trotting demurely along, now stopping to feed, and occasionally making a solemn and evidently well considered attempt to get out of line and regain the post which we were leaving behind. The packers brought up the rear, swinging their “blinds “and shouting at the lagging mules in a manner which evinced a close acquaintance with the character and peculiarities of each beast.
The sun was getting higher in the heavens and began to assert its full strength. The yellow dust rose about our horses’ hoofs and settled again over the dry grass and mesquite bush. Stretching away on our right was the purple line of the Sierra Bonitas, growing bluer and bluer until lost in the hot scintillating atmosphere of the desert horizon. Overhead stretched the deep blue of the cloudless sky. Presently we halted and dismounted to tighten the packs, which work loose after the first hour. One by one the packers caught the little mules, threw a blind over their eyes, and “Now, Whitey! Ready! eve-e-e-e- gimme that loop,” came from the men as they heaved and tossed the circling ropes in the mystic movements of the diamond hitch. “All fast, Lieutenant,” cries a packer, and mounting we move on up the long slope of the mesa towards the Sierras. We enter a break in the foothills, and the grade becomes steeper and steeper, until at last it rises at an astonishing angle.
The lieutenant shouts the command to dismount, and we obey. The bridle reins are tossed over the horses’ heads, the carbines thrown butt upwards over the backs of the troopers, a long drink is taken from the canteens, and I observe that each man pulls a plug of tobacco about a foot long from one of the capacious legs of his troop boots and wrenches off a chew. This greatly amused me, and as I laughed I pondered over the fertility of the soldier mind; and while I do not think that the original official military board which evolved the United States troop boot had this idea in mind, the adaptation of means to an end reflects great credit on the intelligence of some one.
Up the ascent of the mountain we toiled, now winding among trees and brush, scrambling up precipitous slopes, picking a way across a field of shattered rock, or steadying our horses over the smooth surface of some boulder, till it seemed to my uninitiated mind that cavalry was not equal to the emergencies of such a country. In the light of subsequent experiences, however, I feel confident that any cavalry officer who has ever chased Apaches would not hesitate a moment to lead a command up the Bunker Hill Monument. The slopes of the Sierra Bonitas are very steep, and as the air became more rarefied as we toiled upward I found that I was panting for breath. My horse – a veteran mountaineer – grunted in his efforts and drew his breath in a long and labored blowing; consequently I felt as though I was not doing anything unusual in puffing and blowing myself. The resolutions of the previous night needed considerable nursing, and though they were kept alive, at times I reviled myself for being such a fool as to do this sort of thing under the delusion that it was an enjoyable experience. On the trail ahead I saw the lieutenant throw himself on the ground. I followed his example, for I was nearly “done for.” I never had felt a rock that was as soft as the one I sat on. It was literally downy. The old troop horse heaved a great sigh, and dropping his head went fast asleep, as every good soldier should do when he finds the opportunity. The lieutenant and I discussed the climb, and my voice was rather loud in pronouncing it “beastly.” My companion gave me no comfort, for he was “a soldier, and unapt to weep,” though I thought he might have used his official prerogative to grumble. The negro troopers sat about, their black skins shining with perspiration, and took no interest in the matter in hand. They occupied such time in joking and in merriment as seemed fitted for growling. They may be tired and they may be hungry, but they do not see fit to augment their misery by finding fault with everybody and everything. In this particular they are charming men with whom to serve. Officers have often confessed to me that when they are on long and monotonous field service and are troubled with a depression of spirits, they have only to go about the campfires of the negro soldier in order to be amused and cheered by the clever absurdities of the men. Personal relations can be much closer between white officers and colored soldiers than in the white regiments without breaking the barriers which are necessary to army discipline. The men look up to a good officer, rely on him in trouble, and even seek him for advice in their small personal affairs. In barracks no soldier is allowed by his fellows to “cuss out” a just and respected superior. As to their bravery, I am often asked, “Will they fight? “ That is easily answered. They have fought many, many times. The old sergeant sitting near me, as calm of feature as a bronze statue, once deliberately walked over a Cheyenne riflepit and killed his man. One little fellow near him once took charge of a lot of stampeded cavalry horses when Apache bullets were flying loose and no one knew from what point to expect them next. These little episodes prove the sometimes doubted self reliance of the negro.
After a most frugal lunch we resumed our journey towards the clouds. Climbing many weary hours, we at last stood on the sharp ridge of the Sierra. Behind us we could see the great yellow plain of the Sulphur Spring Valley, and in front, stretching away, was that of the Gila, looking like the bed of a sea with the water gone. Here the lieutenant took observations and busied himself in making an itinerary of the trail. In obedience to an order of the department commander, General Miles, scouting parties like ours are constantly being sent out from the chain of forts which surround the great San Carlos reservation. The purpose is to make provision against Apache outbreaks, which are momentarily expected, by familiarizing officers and soldiers with the vast solitude of mountain and desert. New trails for the movement of cavalry columns across the mountains are threaded out, water holes of which the soldiers have no previous knowledge are discovered, and an Apache band is at all times liable to meet a cavalry command in out-of-the-way places. A salutary effect on the savage mind is then produced.
Here we had a needed rest, and then began the descent on the other side. This was a new experience. The prospect of being suddenly overwhelmed by an avalanche of horseflesh as the result of some unlucky stumble makes the recruit constantly apprehensive. But the trained horses are sure of foot, understand the business, and seldom stumble except when treacherous ground gives way. On the crest the prospect was very pleasant, as the pines there obscured the hot sun; but we suddenly left them for the scrub mesquite which bars your passage and reaches forth for you with its thorns when you attempt to go around.
We wound downward among the masses of rock for sometime, when we suddenly found ourselves on a shelf of rock. We sought to avoid it by going up and around, but after a tiresome march we were still confronted by a drop of about a hundred feet. I gave up in despair; but the lieutenant, after gazing at the unknown depths which were masked at the bottom by a thick growth of brush, said, “This is a good place to go down.” I agreed that it was if you once got started; but personally I did not care to take the tumble.
Taking his horse by the bits, the young officer began the descent. The slope was at an angle of at least sixty degrees, and was covered with loose dirt and boulders, with the mask of brush at the bottom concealing awful possibilities of what might be beneath. The horse hesitated a moment, then cautiously put his head down and his leg forward and started. The loose earth crumbled, a great stone was precipitated to the bottom with a crash, the horse slid and floundered along. Had the situation not been so serious it would have been funny, because the angle of the incline was so great that the horse actually sat on his haunches like a dog. “Come on!” shouted the redoubtable man of war; and as I was next on the ledge and could not go back or let any one pass me, I remembered my resolutions. They prevailed against my better judgment, and I started. My old horse took it unconcernedly, and we came down all right, bringing our share of dirt and stones and plunging through the wall of brush at the bottom to find our friend safe on the lower side. The men came along without so much as a look of interest in the proceeding, and then I watched the mules. I had confidence in the reasoning powers of a pack mule, and thought that he might show some trepidation when he calculated the chances; but not so. Down came the mules, without turning an ear, and then followed the packers, who, to my astonishment, rode down. I watched them do it, and know not whether I was more lost in admiration or eager in the hope that they would meet with enough difficulty to verify my predictions.
We then continued our journey down the mountains through a box canon. Suffice it to say that,as it is a cavalry axiom that a horse can go wherever a man can if the man will not use his hands, we made a safe transit.
Our camp was pitched by a little mountain stream near a grassy hillside. The saddles, packs, and aperajos were laid on the ground and the horses and mules herded on the side of the hill by a trooper, who sat perched on a rock above them, carbine in hand. I was thoroughly tired and hungry, and did my share in creating the famine which it was clearly seen would reign in that camp ere long. We sat about the fire and talked. The genial glow seems to possess an occult quality: it warms the self-confidence of a man; it lulls his moral nature; and the stories which circulate about a campfire are always more interesting than authentic. One old packer possessed a wild imagination, backed by a fund of experiences gathered in a life spent in knocking about everywhere between the Yukon River and the City of Mexico, and he rehearsed tales which would have staggered the Baron. The men got out a pack of Mexican cards and gambled at a game called “Coon-can” for a few nickels and dimes and that other soldier currency – tobacco. Quaint expressions came from the card party. “Now I ‘se a-goin’ to scare de life outen you when I show down dis han’,” said one man after a deal. The player addressed looked at his hand carefully and quietly rejoined, “You might scare me, pard, but you can’t scare de fixin’s I ‘se got yere.” The utmost good nature seemed to prevail. They discussed the little things which make their lives. One man suggested that “De big jack mule, he behavin’ hisseif pretty well dis trip; he hain’t done kick nobody yet.” Pipes were filled, smoked, and returned to that cavalryman’s grip sack, the boot leg, and the game progressed until the fire no longer gave sufficient light. Soldiers have no tents in that country, and we rolled ourselves in our blankets and, gazing up, saw the weird figure of the sentinel against the last red gleam of the sunset, and beyond that the great dome of the sky, set with stars. Then we fell asleep.
When I awoke the next morning the bill across the canon wall was flooded with a golden light, while the gray tints of our camp were steadily warming up. The soldiers had the two black camp pails over the fire and were grooming the horses. Every one was good natured, as befits the beginning of the day. The tall sergeant was meditatively combing his hair with a currycomb; such delightful little unconventionalities are constantly observed about the camp. The coffee steamed up in our nostrils, and after a rub in the brook I pulled myself together and declared to my comrade that I felt as good as new. This was a palpable falsehood, as my labored movements revealed to the hardsided cavalryman the sad evidence of the effeminacy of the studio. But our respite was brief for almost before I knew it I was again on my horse, following down the canon after the black charger bestrided by the junior lieutenant of K troop. Over piles of rocks fit only for the touch and go of a goat, through the thick mesquite which threatened to wipe our hats off or to swish us from the saddle, with the air warming up and growing denser, we rode along. A great stretch of sandy desert could be seen, and I foresaw hot work. In about an hour we were clear of the descent and could ride along together, so that conversation made the way more interesting. We dismounted to go down a steep drop from the high mesa into the valley of the Gila, and then began a day warmer even than imagination had anticipated. The awful glare of the sun on the desert, the clouds of white alkaline dust which drifted up until lost above, seemingly too fine to settle again, and the great heat cooking the ambition out of us, made the conversation lag and finally drop altogether. The water in my canteen was hot and tasteless, and the barrel of my carbine, which I touched with my ungloved hand, was so heated that I quickly withdrew it. Across the hot air waves which made the horizon rise and fall like the bosom of the ocean we could see a whirlwind or sandstorm winding up in a tall spiral until it was lost in the deep blue of the sky above. Lizards started here and there; a snake hissed moment beside the trail, then sought the cover of a dry bush; the horses moved along with downcast heads and drooping ears. The men wore a solemn look as they rode along, now and then one would nod as though giving over to sleep. The pack mules no longer sought fresh feed along the way, but attended strictly to business. A short halt was made, and I alighted. Upon remounting I threw myself violently from the saddle, and upon examination found that I had brushed up against a cactus and gotten my corduroys filled with thorns. The soldiers were overcome with great glee at this episode, but they volunteered help me pick them from my dress. Thus we marched all day, and with canteens empty we “pulled into” Fort Thomas that afternoon. I will add that forageless cavalry commands with pack animals do not halt until a full day’s arch is completed, as the mules cannot he keep too long under their burdens.
At the fort we enjoyed that hospitality which is a kind of freemasonry among army officers. The colonel made a delicious concoction of I know not what, and provided a hammock in a cool place while we drank it. Lieutenant F— got cigars that were past praise and another officer had provided a bath. Captain B— turned himself out of doors to give us quarters, which graciousness we accepted while our consciences pricked. But for all that Fort Thomas is an awful spot, hotter than any other place on the crust of the earth. The siroccos continually chase each other over the desert, the convalescent wait upon the sick, and the thermometer persistently reposes at the figures 125 degrees F. Soldiers are kept in the Gila Valley posts for only six months at a time before they are relieved, and they count the days.
On the following morning at an early hour we waved adieus to our kind friends and took our way down the valley. I feel enough interested in the discomforts of that march to tell about it, hut I find that there are not resources in any vocabulary. If the impression is abroad that a cavalry soldier’s life in the Southwest has any of the lawn party element in it, I think the impression could be effaced by doing a march like that. The great clouds of dust choke you and settle over horse, soldier, and accouterments until all local color is lost and black man and white man wear a common hue. The “chug, chug, chug” of your tired horse as he marches along becomes infinitely tiresome, and cavalry soldiers never ease themselves in the saddle. That is an army axiom. I do not know what would happen to a man who “hitched” in his saddle, but it is carefully instilled into their minds that they must” ride the horse “at all times and not lounge on his back. No pains are spared to prolong the usefulness of an army horse, and every old soldier knows that his good care will tell when the long forced march comes some day, and when to be put afoot by a poor mount means great danger in Indian warfare. The soldier will steal for his horse, will share his camp bread, and will moisten the horse’s nostrils and lips with the precious water in the canteen. In garrison the troop horses lead a life of ease and plenty; but it is varied at times by a pursuit of hostiles, when they are forced over the hot sands and up over the perilous mountains all day long, only to see the sun go down with the rider still spurring them on amid the quiet of the long night.
Through a little opening in the trees we see a camp and stop in front of it. A few mesquite trees, two tents, and some sheds made of boughs beside an acequia make up the background. By the cooking fire lounge two or three rough frontiersmen, veritable pirates in appearance, with rough flannel shirts, slouch hats, brown canvas overalls, and an unkempt air; but suddenly, to my intense astonishment, they rise, stand in their tracks as immovable as graven images, and salute the lieutenant in the most approved manner of Upton. Shades of that sacred book the” Army Regulations,” then these men were soldiers! It was a camp of instruction for Indians and a post of observation. They were nice fellows, and did everything in their power to entertain the cavalry. We were given a tent, and one man cooked the army rations in such strange shapes and mysterious ways that we marveled as we ate. After dinner we lay on our blankets watching the groups of San Carlos Apaches who came to look at us. Some of them knew the lieutenant, with whom they had served and whom they now addressed as “Young Chief.” They would point him out to others with great zest, and babble in their own language. Great excitement prevailed when it was discovered that I was using a sketchbook, and I was forced to disclose the half finished visage of one villainous face to their gaze. It was straightway torn up, and I was requested, with many scowls and grunts, to discontinue that pastime, for Apaches more than any other Indians dislike to have portraits made. That night the “hi-ya-ya-hi-ya-hi-yo-o-o-oo” and the beating of the tom-toms came from all parts of the hills, and we sank to sleep with this gruesome lullaby.
The following day, as we rode, we were never out of sight of the brush huts of the Indians. We observed the simple domestic processes of their lives. One naked savage got up suddenly from behind a mesquite bush, which so startled the horses that quicker than thought every animal made a violent plunge to one side. No one of the trained riders seemed to mind this unlooked for movement in the least beyond displaying a gleam of grinning ivories. I am inclined to think that it would have let daylight upon some of the “ English hunting seats” one sees in Central Park.
All along the Gila Valley can be seen the courses of stone which were the foundations of the houses of a dense population long since passed away. The lines of old irrigating ditches were easily traced, and one is forced to wonder at the changes in Nature, for at the present time there is not water sufficient to irrigate land necessary for the support of as large a population as probably existed at some remote period. We “raised” some foothills, and could see in the far distance the great flat plain, the buildings of the San Carlos agency, and the white canvas of the cantonment. At the ford of the Gila we saw a company of ”doughboys” wade through the stream as our own troop horses splashed across. Nearer and nearer shone the white lines of tents until we drew rein in the square where officers crowded around to greet us. The jolly post commander, the senior captain of the 10th, insisted upon my accepting the hospitalities of his “large hotel,” as he called his field tent, on the ground that I too was a New Yorker. Right glad have I been ever since that I accepted his courtesy, for he entertained me in the true frontier style.
Being now out of the range of country known to our command, a lieutenant in the same regiment was detailed to accompany us beyond. This gentleman was a character. The best part of his life had been spent in this rough country, and he had so long associated with Apache scouts that his habits while on a trail were exactly those of an Indian. He had acquired their methods and also that instinct of locality so peculiar to red men. I jocosely insisted that Lieutenant Jim only needed breechcloth and long hair in order to draw rations at the agency. In the morning, as we started under his guidance, he was a spectacle. He wore shoes and a white shirt, and carried absolutely nothing in the shape of canteens and other “plunder” which usually constitute a cavalryman’s kit. He was mounted on a little runt of a pony so thin and woe-begone as to be remarkable among his kind. It was insufferably hot as we followed our queer guide up a dry canon, which cut off the breeze from all sides and was a veritable human frying pan. I marched next behind our leader, and all day long the patter, patter of that Indian pony, bearing his tireless rider, made an aggravating display of insensibility to fatigue, heat, dust, and climbing. On we marched over the rolling hills, dry, parched, desolate, covered with cactus and loose stones. It was Nature in one of her cruel moods, and the great silence over all the land displayed her mastery over man. When we reached water and camp that night our ascetic leader had his first drink. It was a long one and a strong one, but at last he arose from the pool and with a smile remarked that his “canteens were full.” Officers in the regiment say that no one will give Lieutenant Jim a drink from his canteen, but this does not change his habit of not carrying one; nevertheless, by the exercise of self denial, which is at times heroic, he manages to pull through. They say that he sometimes fills an old meat tin with water in anticipation of a long march, and stories which try credulity are told of the amount of water he has drunk at times.
Yuma Apaches, miserable wretches, come into camp, shake hands gravely with every one, and then in their Indian way begin the inevitable inquiries as to how the coffee and flour are holding out. The campfire darts and crackles, the soldiers gather around it, eat, joke, and bring out the greasy pack of cards. The officers gossip of army affairs, while I lie on my blankets, smoking and trying to establish relations with a very small and very dirty little Yuma Apache, who sits near me and gazes with sparkling eyes at the strange object which I undoubtedly seem to him. That “patroness of rogues,’ the full moon, rises slowly over the great hill while I look into her honest face and lose my-self in reflections. It seems but an instant before a glare of sun strikes my eyes and I am awake for another day. I am mentally quarreling with that insane desire to march which I know possesses Lieutenant Jim; but it is useless to expostulate, and before many hours the little pony constantly moving along ahead of me becomes a part of my life. There he goes. I can see him now – always moving briskly along, pattering over the level, trotting up the dry bed of a stream, disappearing into the dense chapparal thicket that covers a steep hillside, jumping rocks, and doing everything but “ halt.”
We are now in the high hills, and the air is cooler. The chapparal is thicker, the ground is broken into a succession of ridges, and the volcanic boulders pile up in formidable shapes. My girth loosens and I dismount to fix it, remembering that old saddle gall. The command moves on and is lost to sight in a deep ravine. Presently I resume my journey, and in the meshwork of ravines I find that I no longer see the trail of the column. I retrace and climb and slide down hill, forcing my way through chapparal, and after a long time I see the pack mules go out of sight far away on a mountain slope. The blue peaks of the Pinals tower away on my left, and I begin to indulge in mean thoughts concerning the indomitable spirit of Lieutenant Jim, for I know he will take us clear over the top of that pale blue line of far distant mountains. I presume I have it in my power to place myself in a more heroic light, but this kind of candor is good for the soul.
In course of time I came up with the command, which had stopped at a ledge so steep that it had daunted even these mountaineers. It was only a hundred foot drop, and they presently found a place to go down, where, as one soldier suggested, “there is n’t footing for a lizard.” On, on we go, when suddenly with a great crash some sandy ground gives way, and a collection of hoofs, troop boots, ropes, canteens, and flying stirrups goes rolling over in a cloud of dust and finds a lodgment in the bottom of a dry watercourse. The dust settles and discloses a soldier and his horse. They rise to their feet and appear astonished, but as the soldier mounts and follows on we know he is unhurt. Now a coyote, surprised by our cavalcade and unable to get up the ledge, runs along the opposite side of the canon wall. “Pop, pop, pop, pop” go the six-shooters, and then follow explanations by each marksman of the particular thing which made him miss.
That night we were forced to make a “dry camp”; that is, one where no water is to be found. There is such an amount of misery locked up in the thought of a dry camp that I refuse to dwell upon it. We were glad enough to get upon the trail in the morning, and in time found a nice running mountain brook. The command wallowed in it. We drank as much as we could hold and then sat down. We arose and drank some more, and yet we drank again, and still once more, until we were literally waterlogged. Lieutenant Jim became uneasy, so we took up our march. We were always resuming the march when all nature called aloud for rest. We climbed straight up impossible places. The air grew chill, and in a gorge a cold wind blew briskly down to supply the hot air rising from sands of the mesa far below. That night we made a camp, and the only place where I could make my bed was on a great flat rock. We were now among the pines, which towered above us. The horses were constantly losing one another in the timber in their search for grass, in consequence of which they whinnied, while the mules brayed, and made the mountain hideous with sound.
By another long climb we reached the extreme peaks of the Pinal range, and there before us was spread a view which was grand enough to compensate us for the labor. Beginning in “gray reds,” range after range of mountains, overlapping each other, grow purple and finally lose themselves in pale blues. We sat on a ledge and gazed. The soldiers were interested, though their remarks about the scenery somehow did not seem to express an appreciation of the grandeur of the view which impressed itself strongly upon us. Finally one fellow, less aesthetic than his mates, broke the spell by a request for chewing tobacco, so we left off dreaming and started on.
That day Lieutenant Jim lost his bearings, and called upon that instinct which he had acquired in his life among the Indians. He “cut the signs” of old Indian trails and felt the course to be in a certain direction – which was undoubtedly correct, but it took us over the highest points of the Mescal range. My shoes were beginning to give out, and the troop boots of several soldiers threatened to disintegrate. One soldier, more ingenious than the rest, took out some horseshoe nails and cleverly mended his boot gear. At times we wound around great slopes where a loose stone or the giving way of bad ground would have precipitated horse and rider a thousand feet below. Only the courage of the horses brings one safely through. The mules suffered badly, and our weary horses punched very hard with their foreparts as they went down hill. We made the descent of the Mescals through a long canon where the sun gets one in chancery, as it were. At last we reached the Gila, and nearly drowned a pack mule and two troopers in a quicksand. We began to pass Indian huts, and saw them gathering wheat in the river bottoms, while they paused to gaze at us and doubtless wondered for what purpose the buffalo soldiers were abroad in the land. The cantonment appeared, and I was duly gratified when we reached it. I hobbled up to the “Grand Hotel” of my host the captain, who laughed heartily at my floundering movements and observed my nose and cheeks, from which the sun had peeled the skin, with evident relish at the thought of how I had been used by his lieutenant. At his suggestion I was made an honorary member of the cavalry, and duly admonished “not to trifle again with the 10th Nubian Horse if I expected any mercy.”
In due time the march continued without particular incident, and at last the scout “pulled in” to the home post, and I again sat in my easy chair behind the lattice work, firm in the conviction that soldiers, like other men, find more hard work than glory in their calling.