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Chapter 14: Fort Gibson, 1834.

There was a sergeant-major at Fort Gibson of more than ordinary education and dignity of character who lay in hospital desperately ill and gradually sinking. Mr. Davis had visited him for a while each day, and had a friendly regard for him. When marching orders were received the poor fellow pleaded with his lieutenant to take him, too. Mr. Davis said he could scarcely restrain his tears when he had to tell him that he was too ill to go; but the man begged so hard he had him wrapped up and took him with him. After two or three days travel the ill man began to improve, and was entirely well before the end of the campaign. It was the mal de hopital he had. I insert a letter from him to my husband.

Navasota, Tex., November 28, 1889.
Hon. Jefferson Davis, New Orleans, La. Honored Sir:
Once when there was much sickness prevailing among the First Dragoons at Fort Gibson, and I was very sick in the [154] hospital, the regiment was ordered, for the benefit of its health, to remove from the Cherokee Nation to the Creek Nation; but the surgeon refused to allow me to be removed with the regiment. However, you came to my aid, and had me taken to the Creek Nation, where I rapidly recovered. And I hope that your temporary removal from Beauvoir to New Orleans will result in a like benefit to your health; and that, when the long roll is sounded, you will find yourself in the camp of the Grand Commander.

You have been my good friend on many occasions, and have shown that your friendship to me and others has not been measured by their rank or the size of their purse. Hoping to hear of your complete restoration to health,

I am, Your old Sergeant-Major First Dragoons.

The letter had no other signature, but Mr. Davis was very much pleased to hear from him, remembered his name at once, and sent an affectionate answer, and from that time continued to correspond with Mr. Doran until last summer.

The incidents of Lieutenant Davis's service are unfortunately, many of them, dimly recalled by me. He remembered many and [155] delighted in relating them. He endured many hardships and deprivations during this time, being occasionally for one or two weeks confined to buffalo meat, which, he said, became the most distasteful of all food to him. When recounting this experience he used to air his only piece of culinary lore by saying, “No one can make soup without flour; it is simply water.” Then he told of how he had tried, and “James had tried, and it was only tea, no matter how much buffalo meat was put in;” so he was firmly convinced that soup was never made without flour.

Sometimes, when game did not come in sight, cold flour was the only food they had. When speaking of these hardships he took occasion to impress upon me the necessity of requiring our children to eat whatever was set before them without attaching importance to it. He said he had observed, while on this campaign, how ill the gourmets fared, and how intensely they suffered from the deprivations consequent upon their long marches through an uninhabited country. He never noticed the viands at our own table, but ate whatever was offered. If there was any defect in the preparation of them, unless it was mentioned, he made no complaint, but sometimes he would answer to our dissatisfaction, “Yes, I think she is the worst cook [156] in all Ireland.” Generally he said, “Take no thought of what ye shall eat. There are so many higher joys than eating.” If anything was good he did full justice to it, and commended the cook as entitled to a cordon bleu. One of his ways of judging the manners of people was to observe them when the restrictions of society had been removed. Upon my expressing astonishment at his undervaluation of rather an elegant man who had been on that campaign with him, he answered, “You were not at the water-hole when he scooped out two tincups full of clear water and drank it off, leaving the muddy rest for us.”

On one of these journeys the water and the grog gave out, so that Lieutenant Davis had to limit the soldiers in both supplies. They suffered intensely from thirst and exhaustion, and he also was much weakened by the hardships of their march; but when the soldiers came to remonstrate against going farther, to where he lay on the ground, resting, but very anxious, and urged him to retrace his steps, while he refused their request, he gave them his own supply of water. The grog he did not use; so they had that also.

Horace and Hannibal Bonney, twin brothers, who enlisted in the First Dragoons in 1833, marched to Jefferson Barracks, which [157] was then an outpost on the extreme frontier. After a winter spent there the troops were ordered to Fort Gibson, Ark., and on their arrival were welcomed by a body of five hundred or more Indian warriors in the full glory of their native costumes. At their head rode a man, over six feet in height, dressed all in buckskin, and when Horace Bonney inquired who this white warrior was, with all these red men, he was informed that it was the redoubtable Captain Sam Houston.

Shortly afterward they were joined by Lieutenant Jefferson Davis . . . The two brothers frequently scouted over the plains in the young officer's company, and often had cause to admire his bravery and discretion.

Lieutenant Davis's devotion to the service, and his gallant bearing, impressed itself then upon the men about him, both officers and privates. His habits were as good as his methods, and success waited upon the well-chosen means he used. Both friendly and hostile men, who met him in his youth, have invariably borne testimony to his energy, his sobriety, his dauntless bravery, his sound military judgment, and his wide charity.

The first important campaign that the dragoons entered upon was that against the Comanches, who had just made a raid on planters [158] in that section, carrying off blacks and whites alike. The Comanches were driven off with loss, their prisoners rescued, and, under escort of cavalry, returned to their homes.

Game was about them in all its primitive abundance. “Horace Bonney stated that he had seen one thousand acres of buffalo in a herd at a time, and that the soldiers were never without the tenderest of fried meat, as only young buffalo were killed, and the juiciest of steaks were selected from them.”

So swift has been the march of civilization that it is confusing to attempt to recall how lately the Northwest was redeemed from savagery. The buffalo, in 1842, ranged as far west as Independence, and, in 1836, acres of them were visible at a time. A buffalo hide could then be bought, green, for fifty cents; now the animal is nearly extinct. So much more destructive is the civilized man for sport than the savage for necessity.

The past seems very near the present when one is reminded that the St. Genevieve stone, of which the capitol of Iowa is largely built, was quarried from lands which had very little marketable value when granted by the King of Spain to General Henry Dodge's father, Israel C. Dodge. General A. C. Dodge, Henry Dodge's son, remembered Mr. Thomas Hart Benton when he kept a woodyard ten [159] miles from St. Genevieve, and was much elated at Mr. Benton being elected to the Senate, albeit he did not then know what the office was which he and his father were to hold at the same time from contiguous States. These last three men were some years in the Senate after Mr. Davis entered that body.

General A. C. Dodge also gave a history of the creation of the dragoon regiment to which Lieutenant Davis was promoted for gallant service.

General Dodge said that,

After the Black Hawk War, in which his father bore a distinguished part, Congress ordered the creation of a regiment of dragoons. The first Governor Dodge, was made Colonel; Stephen W. Kearney, Lieutenant-Colonel; R. B. Mason, Major; Jefferson Davis, Adjutant. The general recalls as captains, Edwin V. Sumner, David Hunter, both distinguished in the war against the Confederacy.

When the First Dragoons arrived at Davenport they were met by General Winfield Scott, and the officers were duly presented to their imposing superior. Captain Brown was a good inch taller than the general, and as the latter-almost for the first time in his life-looked up to catch Brown's eye, he remarked, with dignified jocularity, ‘Captain, [160] you outrank me.’

It was Colonel Kearney who had charge of the reconnaissance of the Iowa wilderness, the various “dragoon trails” remembered by old settlers having been made by four companies under his command, of which Lieutenant Davis's was one.

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