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Chapter 62: life in Washington, D. C., 1866 to 1874; assigned to duty in regular army as commander, Department of the Columbia

One day in Washington, a gentleman introduced me to Madame Schoolcraft. She was the granddaughter of an Indian chief and the widow of Henry R. Schooloraft, the Indian historian who has left such graphic accounts of Indian tribes. She was apparently about sixty years of age, a tall, handsome, stately woman with exceedingly dark and brilliant eyes which seemed to pierce one through and through when she was talking. She had considerable funds in her hands left her by her husband, and was induced by a real estate agent to invest a large part of them in Washington city property: stores, houses, and house lots in various parts of the city.

It was just after the wonderful changes that had taken place through the vote of the city (at that time the citizens of Washington had a vote granted to them by Congress). Under the leadership of the energetic and enterprising Alexander R. Shepherd, sometimes called “Boss Shepherd,” the improvements were so extensive throughout the city that property rose everywhere in value.

Madame Schooleraft came to me very much troubled about her property. She said: “I am too old to take care of so many pieces.” After looking into the subject, I thought that I could aid her by an exchange [460] of equities. Each piece of her property was more or less mortgaged.

I owned my home and more than an acre of ground. I consented to take over her property, and her attorneys, thinking that my home and grounds would be easier for her to care for and fully equivalent in value, made the exchange.

For a while there was a great boom in real estate and I was very hopeful of being able to properly dispose of my possessions and lay by something for my family, but the tables very soon turned; the legislation of Congress went against the city of Washington, and except in certain favored localities the price of property went down with wonderful rapidity. For example, one of the stores that had come into my possession was at the time of my purchase valued for taxation at $18,000, and had on it a mortgage of $4,000. The next valuation was $12,000; the next following was $6,000, and being at last forced to sell I disposed of it at $5,--000, clearing hardly $1,000. The houses took a like plunge and I was glad to dispose of most of them for the mortgages that were upon them. I did, however, pay one or two of my, obligations out of this property, but the result was that I made nothing from the exchange; in fact, I would have been thrown into bankruptcy but for some lots I owned on Meridian Hill. These I sold to very fair advantage, receiving enough to clear me of nearly all my pressing obligationsobligations incurred by my official work.

This was the condition of my estate when I was ordered away from Washington in 1874. I had been, as is evident, put to very great expense by the investigations into the affairs of the Freedmen's Bureau. I had to pay for my own counsel in every case, so I did [461] not have much left when I received the order from the War Department to proceed to the North Pacific Coast and take command of the Department of the Columbia.

A friend at that time loaned me $7,000, with no other security than my personal note, so that I was able to pay the balance of my subscriptions to the Y. M. C. A., and some dues to Howard University, and defray the expenses of my son at Yale College, and of my daughter at Vassar, besides taking my wife and the other five children across the continent.

I had some unimproved lots in Buffalo, N. Y. This property brought me later $5,000 in my settlement with the friend who had so kindly accommodated me before setting out for my new station.

The journey across the continent was very pleasant and memorable. I had two aids, Captain J. A. Sladen and Captain Melville C. Wilkinson. Captain Sladen had three children, Captain Wilkinson two, and Mrs. Howard and myself five, so that we took quite complete possession of a railway car. People would come along and take a look at the car filled with children, and if they liked children would come in and enjoy their gayety, and play with them; but others would say: “Don't go in there, that car is full of young ones.” Those who did come in were happy and helpful, and I hardly think that a more jovial company ever made the journey. It took us seven days from Washington to San Francisco.

Here at San Francisco we had our first experience with the depreciated “greenbacks.” The traders would take hard money only. For $100 we received in exchange but $60 in gold or silver.

Soon after this we went by steamer to Oregonpassing through the Golden Gate. We accomplished [462] the voyage in four days. During this sea trip we were fortunate to make several new and valuable acquaintances. I recall Hon. Henry Failing, of Portland, Ore., among them. Some of these ever after remained constant friends. They warned us against the country we were going to-how rough it was; how extensive the fir forests, and how interminable the rains. They told us the people there were usually called “web-feet,” because of the abundant water.

As everybody knows, Astoria is at the mouth of the Columbia River; Portland, 120 miles from Astoria, and some ten miles above the mouth of the Willamette.

Coming to Portland in August, we found the country not only clear of storms, but very dry and dusty.

The city had then about 8,000 people. Nearly all the streets and walks were paved with plank.

Since then Portland has been extended in every direction up and down the Willamette River, across to East Portland, and beyond, encroaching upon the great fir forests until there are few left; the city now ascends the hills westward till the extensive wilderness has almost vanished. There are to-day (1907) 100,000 inhabitants within the city limits. Portland has every modern improvement in electric cars, trolley lines, railways passing in and out, and pavements of stone. The new churches, bank buildings, hotels, and splendid houses with beautiful grounds give to Portland, with the Willamette at its feet, a picturesque appearance equal to that of any city of its size in the Union.

Of course, the hills still remain, each crowned with a few trees. From any one of these heights the view of the lofty, snow-capped mountain peaks is superb.

Portland people were wise in centrally locating their United States post office, the courthouses, the [463] jail, and customhouse; and they also had the good sense to reserve very commodious parks which are beautiful and a delight to the people.

What was called the O. S. N. Co. (the Oregon Steam Navigation Company) was at the time of my arrival a monopoly. It held the transportation of the upper Columbia in its hands, and could regulate the prices not only of grain for hundreds of miles inland, but also of passenger transportation.

In one of the buildings owned by this company the headquarters of the Department of the Columbia was located. I assumed command August 25, 1874, relieving General Jeff. C. Davis.

It took several days to find a house, but at last we secured a small cottage on Washington Street, and there made ourselves very comfortable until the next spring, when we found a larger house on Tenth and Morrison streets, vacated by my adjutant general H. Clay Wood. This house we enlarged, with the permission of the owner, by building a corner tower; its grounds adjoined those of D. B. Thompson, who had been governor of the State, and were opposite to the home of Harvey Scott, who was at that time collector of the port, and has since been for years the editor of The Oregonian.

The military department of the Columbia was very extensive. It took in all of Washington, Oregon, a part of Idaho, and included within its limits the Territory of Alaska. About 1,000 troops were then stationed at different posts of the command. The central station was Vancouver Barracks, only six miles from Portland but west of the Columbia River.

My first official act was to close out General Davis's Modoc Campaign by sending a remnant, those still [464] held as prisoners, to the Indian Territory. My aiddecamp, Captain M. C. Wilkinson, who had done a like service the preceding fall, was detailed to have charge of the party. At first he treated the Indians with some severity, handcuffing the leaders, but soon finding them obedient and well disposed, he took off the handcuffs and fully trusted them. His expedition was successful and gave another instance where kindness conquers and wins.

It was not long after our arrival before I counted up some twenty Indian tribes within the limits of my department, not including those in Alaska. I discovered further that I had inherited quite a number of Indian troubles which unless well handled would lead to war; so I began very soon to visit the different tribes of Indians in order to look into their condition and consider carefully their causes of restlessness.

A very remarkable instance of hardship to a boy, and my later personal experience with him, I recall whenever I think of my journey from Washington to Oregon. I had hardly taken my Bureau headquarters in Washington at the corner of Nineteenth and I streets, when there came into my office a young man apparently about twenty years of age. He had a napkin about his head. He was straight, slender, of good build and soldierly bearing. He said: “General Howard, I have been trying in vain to get employment. I have to support my father and his family. My father, partially insane, struck me this morning, and I am in great distress both from this fact and from the want of means to give the family bread.”

I said: “Where are you from” He answered: “Richmond, Va.” At that time I was forbidden to employ anyone who [465] could not take the oath of allegiance, and, further, all my places were filled. I told him this. He did not know about the oath, but supposed he could take it, as he had not fought against the Government. He begged so hard for employment that my compassion overcame all reason and caused me to say: “Go in there with the clerks and do what you can and I will try in some way to pay you.”

He wrote a good hand and was an excellent clerk, was devoted to duty and made no complaint with regard to hours or wages, at all times doing his best.

Two years before the close of the Freedmen's Bureau I secured him a situation under General Leggett, one of my division commanders who was then at the head of the land office in the Department of the Interior. Leggett gave him a good clerkship and for a time he was doing well. A Union soldier in that department who had lost one of his feet in the war, for some reason took a great dislike to him and began to worry him with petty persecutions. Cudlipp, for that was the young man's name, had married, and now had one child a little over three years of age. With this child he was one day in a grocery store when the lame soldier came in, and seeing Susie's little dog jumping about he angrily kicked the dog into the street. For this Cudlipp, instantly seizing a stick of wood, knocked the soldier down. The encounter aggravated the situation so that the latter searched out Cudlipp's record and found that at one time when a boy he had been in a Richmond prison.

A few days later Cudlipp, just after dark, was carrying a pitcher of milk to his family. Suddenly from an alley way the soldier sprang upon him, when Cudlipp, quickly backing off, swung the pitcher over his [466] head and laid the soldier upon his back, bruising him badly. This occurred in 1874.

One evening Cudlipp's sister came to my house near Howard University. She was crying bitterly and could hardly speak. She said that her brother had been arrested and thrown into jail and wanted very much to see me. Learning the story, I went at once to the police judge, who was my friend, and heard his version of the case. He said that Cudlipp had nobody to appear for him, and, thinking that he deserved severe punishment, he had fined him $100 and given him confinement for one month.

When I told the judge the circumstances of the young man's life and what a faithful clerk he had been when with me, and, in fact, ever since, the judge said that if I would pay the fine he would remit the confinement. I did so at once and then went back with Cudlipp to see General Leggett. The general declared that he could not reinstate him, for, he said: “I have just learned that he has been in a penitentiary at Richmond, Va., having been convicted of a high crime.” I then found this to be the record:

When a lad of twelve years a rough man had come to his mother's home and insulted her in his presence. The boy had a large-sized jackknife in his hand and struck the man with it in the breast, inflicting a fatal wound. The boy was arrested, tried, and sentenced to ten years in the penitentiary and had been kept in for his full term. While there, though associated with criminals, he was thoroughly trained in all that would be necessary to fit him for a clerkship.

I carried the case up to the Hon. Columbus Delano, the Secretary of the Interior. I left Cudlipp in the hall near the secretary's door. The secretary was very [467] pleasant and expressed his sorrow, but he said: “General Howard, it will not do to have a penitentiary man in Government employ.” Such was his decision.

With a sad heart I stepped out and told the young man that the secretary did not dare to put him on the rolls again. The effect upon Cudlipp was startling. Pale as death, he leaned against the wall and murmured: “It is no use, general I can never do anything in this world!”

That was the nearest approach to despair that I ever witnessed. I said to him: “Cudlipp, look at me. Who am I? ”

With a faint smile he said: “General Howard, of course.”

“ Have I been your friend?”

He said: “I should think so.”

“Are you sure”

“I could not doubt you.”

“Now you may understand this: that if I am once a man's friend, I remain so, unless there is some good reason for a change. I am going to start for the Pacific coast in a few days and I will take you as my clerk.”

The revulsion was very strong. His face flushed and his eyes filled as he said: “Would you do that?”

My answer was: “Go home and get your wife and Susie ready and go with me.”

So on the same train and steamer with us William Cudlipp and his wife and child made their way to Portland, Ore. There he became, in my office, as he had been before, an energetic, hard-working, faithful clerk.

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