We didn’t realize it, but those were the best years of our lives. There were hard times, sure, but we had each other. It may sound corny, but that’s the way it was. I’ve never been as happy as I was then.
A fellow named Charles Goodnight saw what I did—that it was good cattle country—and moved a herd in. Before long another cattleman named Loving did the same and they eventually became partners. It used to be code between me and Klara. “Want to go into a cattle partnership?” I’d ask. The first time she was puzzled, but she soon learned that what I meant was “How about a little Goodnight-Loving?” I would wink and she would blush, but it worked because soon we had a daughter, Elizabeth Anne. Let’s see…that was after the Indian reservation had been closed, so it must have been 1857 or 58.
Charlie Goodnight, it turned out, was exactly three days younger than my brother Chuy. Only his family was allowed to call him that—and even we had “Texanized” it to “Chewy”. Everybody else called him Tex or TJ (though he never told ANYBODY what the J stood for). So Charlie and I got to be good friends. I still served with the Rangers some, and so did he. The Comanches continued to give trouble—as they would for the next twenty-five years. The federal government had established forts to protect the settlers, but in typical Washington fashion they never figured out that infantry and dragoons were pretty much useless in dealing with the highly mobile Indians of the West—especially when they went around blowing horns all the time. (The Comanches have been called the finest light cavalry the world has seen—and they WERE damn good!) Houston had figured that out a long time ago when he expanded the Rangers to fight the Indians.
Being a rancher, I dealt with the army some, and got to know some of those soldier boys. Most of were pretty good kids—though in all honesty, they weren’t all kids. Some of them were as old as me, and some older. I remember thinking at the time that I would sure hate to be pushing forty and in the army. I would live to eat those words. I also never dreamed that within a very short time I would be trying to kill boys in blue just like these. Later I often wondered if I knew any of the men I had shot.
In 1860 the Comanches had raided the settlements, and the Rangers were called to pursue and punish. In general, the Comanches knew if they rode long enough they could outlast their pursuers, but they had not before dealt with Sullivan Ross—the new captain of our outfit. There were about 60 Rangers—including me and Goodnight--we continued following the trail until we were sure they were confident they had left us behind.
The country was familiar to me. I had traveled this area with the Santa Fe Pioneers back in ’41. We found the Indians in camp on the Pease River—a tributary of the Wichita (which we had mistaken for the Red so many years before.) The Comanches had obviously though they were safe, for this was not just a camp of warriors—it included their families as well. Their canvass teepees were scattered along the river.
A lot of folks think the Indians used only buffalo hides, but by this time they were not only cooking in iron pots and using steel knives, they had adopted canvas as the building material of choice for their homes. It was much less cumbersome to cut and move, and it didn’t have to be cured like a hide. Some Indians had rifles, but they were still much more effective with traditional weapons, being able to fire several arrows from behind the far side of a horse while riding at full speed. The arrowheads, however, WERE iron. One thing a Comanche always tried to find when he raided a settlement was barrel hoops—perfect for making arrowheads and knives.
Captain Ross gave the command and we charged the camp, killing and destroying as we went. Some have criticized us for indiscriminately killing women and children, and I can only say this. To begin with, they have never seen a house or settlement after it has been raided by Comanches. Sul Ross believed the only way to beat them was by meeting on their own ground, using their own tactics. Also, in the heat of battle it is difficult to sort out the men from the women, especially in winter. And in response to that criticism I will say that when one Indian lifted a baby, the group in pursuit (of which I was a part) realized it was a woman and did not shoot. We surrounded her, hoping to capture her, with the hopes that she might be traded for a white captive.
When the battle was over, and the Indians left alive had run off, we looked closer at the woman. I noticed she had blue eyes, and I could not help but think of Cynthia Ann Parker. When I suggested as much to Goodnight, the woman slapped her chest and said “Me Cyncee Ann. Me Cyncee Ann!” As we returned to the settlements, she wept all way, clutching her baby to her breast. When she was taken captive years before, I thought it sad—and it was. I can’t imagine the terror that child must have lived through immediately following her capture. We thought we were doing her a favor by taking her back to “civilization”. In a very short while, I was to discover exactly how “civil” the white world was.
By this time it was obvious that the United States was heading for trouble. Actually, it had been obvious for a long time. Now you can argue over whether the issue was slavery or states’ right. You can argue over whether to call it the Civil War, the War Between the States, the War of Northern Aggression or the War of the Rebellion. You can argue, but not with me.
What I did seems crazy to me now. As a matter of fact, it seemed crazy to me shortly after I did it, but there was way out—no honorable way, at any rate. I was in Golconda—or Palo Pinto, as it had been renamed upon the organization of Palo Pinto county—and everyone was talking about secession. Personally I agreed with Ol’ Sam Houston, who was now governor—or had been until he refused to back secession. Sam, though definitely a slaveholder, was staunchly for the Union, like his protégé Andy Jackson. If we must secede, he felt, then we should go back to being a Republic and stay out of the Confederacy. But the “Hero of San Jacinto”, who had faithfully served Texas as General, President, Senator, and Governor, was called a traitor and thrown out of office.
Anyway, I was in the county seat and some spellbinder was on the courthouse steps recruiting. “Any true Texan”, he invoked, “would join the army and defend her against the invader!” I got caught up in the oratory, and signed up. Bad enough that I signed up to fight when I wasn’t even real sure where I stood on the issue. Bad enough that I would leave a wife and family for the army. Bad enough that I was pushing forty. But why in the hell would a man who could “ride like a Mexican, trail like an Indian, shoot like a Tennessean, and fight like the devil"…a man who had practically lived a-horseback…a man who had fought with the finest mounted organized force in the world…why would I join the INFANTRY?”
When I told Mama, she cried—but she cried at almost anything since Jesses’ death. Monica was astounded that I had joined the Infantry. “At least Addy had the sense to join the Cavalry,” she said.
“Don’t rub it in.” I told her. I liked Addison, but irked me that this farmer would be riding while I would be walking.
“What does Klara say?” Moni asked me.
“She doesn’t know, yet.” I picked up Josephine, who was a baby when Jesse died. She was missing her two front teeth. Moni and Addy also had a boy—Uriel (who thankfully was called “Bud”)—who was barely walking. And she had another on the way. I was grateful, at least, that Klara was not in a family way—as far as I knew. “I’m headed home now—thought I’d stop by here on the way and let you know.”
Monica and Mama were crying when I kissed them goodbye. Josie wouldn’t give me akiss, but I gave her a quick one on the cheek, and a big squeeze. I told Bud to take care of “Little Sis”, but he just grinned and waved, not having a clue what I was talking about.
I rode home slowly, trying to figure out how to tell Klara. I needn’t have worried. Some excited bastard had gone through the countryside yelling about how the Palo Pinto boys would “whip them Yanks with cornstalks” when the real fighting broke out. He had come by our place and told Klara before I could.
She was standing in the doorway when I got home. John stood on one side of her with p-ride in his eyes. “Where’s your uniform Pa?” he asked me, before anything else could be said. Bettie just hung onto her Ma’s apron. Klara was not a—most German’s weren’t—but this apparently had proven too much for her. Here eyes were red and her cheeks were flushed. But her crying had been replaced by anger.
She lapse into her native “Deutsch”. I heard an occasional “dumkopf”, and “Gott im Himmel”, but most I didn’t know and didn’t want to. Occasionally she lapsed back into English—when she really wanted me to hear. “If you HAD to set yourself up to be killed, why didn’t you stay here and fight Comanches like Charlie Goodnight? You don’t see him traipsing off to the east for ‘the honor of Texas’.” And then it was back to German.
I have always performed as bravely as I could. I have been true to my word. I have faced Comanche arrows and Mexican muskets. I have nearly starved on the plains and in prison. But I have never—NEVER had my heart fail me as it did at that moment. So help me I wanted to grab Klara, John and Bettie and run west as fast and as far as I could. Away from Palo Pinto County, away from the South…hell, I would even have run away from Texas. But I had given my word. How could I face my family after going back on my word?
If I had known what it would cost, I would have found a way.
.. .. ..
I never saw Klara cry—not out loud. I had two weeks before we mustered and marched away. I held her close every night. I made arrangements for them to go live with John and Caroline, but she refused.
“We are a family”, she said, “and we have a home. It is right here, and here we will stay. The army will need beef and we will raise beef for the army, and when you come home from playing soldier, we will be rich and be a family again.” How could I help but love that beautiful fraulein. (Yes, I know that technically, she was a ‘frau’ but she always my ‘fraulein’.)
On the day I left she did have her hair up. She had taken it down the night before so that I could again touch in all its fullness. It had not lost one bit of its “full-moon” brilliance, and as it waved in the Texas wind, I swore that image would get me through.
John rode with me to town, so he could bring back my horse. A thousand times I cursed myself for joining the infantry—but that was nothing to the number of times I cursed myself afterwards. In town, I gathered with the men. I tried to give John a final hug, but he felt it was “unsoldierly”. He was so proud of his Pa. I shook his hand and before he mounted up, I rubbed his head—flaxen-haired, just like his mother. I vowed to keep that in my memory as well.
A departing soldier always knows that it might be the last time he sees his loved ones. I was no different, but I never dreamed it would turn out the way it did.
I could tell you about the War, but you can read that in other places. Unlike that eager young “Paul Revere” in Palo Pinto County I knew it would take more than cornstalks to whip the Yankees, but I had no idea it would take four long years and so much death. None of us did.
So I woke up in a field hospital in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, with some smart-ass Yankee patching up my wound and telling me the War was over—for me. But there was something in the way he talked that, while irritating as hell, sounded familiar.
I guessed he was not much younger than me (but way younger than I felt) so later, when he was feeding me, I asked him, “Say, son, where’re you from?”
He replied that he had been raised in Boston. When I pressed him further, he told me he was regular army, and had served about five years before hostilities had broken out.
“As a matter of fact, Johnny Reb,” he told me” you and I have something in common. We have both served under Robert E. Lee--you in Pennsylvania, and I in Texas.” And as an afterthought, “Now isn’t that strange?”
“Hell, man,” I said, and tried to sit up before I fell again in excruciating pain.
“Take it easy, Johnny,” he warned. “You’ve had a nasty wound. If you really want to die, you may yet get your wish.”
I recovered enough from the searing pain to ask through gritted teeth, “You ever been at Fort Belknap?”
“Stationed there—the 2nd US Dragoons--right before we got orders to move out and leave it with you fellows. You know the place?”
“What’s your name, Yank?”
“Don’t laugh, Reb. Your fate is in my hands—more or less.
I looked eyed him narrowly, “It ain’t Limerick, is it?”
He dropped the spoon on me and looked at me closely. “Who the hell are YOU?” he demanded.
“Hell, Limerick, I’m Dusty Miles. The U.S. Army used to feed my beef to you boys in blue.”
“Good God, Miles. I remember you--the drover. er, the stockman, I guess. Yes, good God, you and…who were those other two fellows—the ones with the odd names?”
“Goodnight and Loving, you mean, and we call ourselves ‘ranchers’. But I wouldn’t be talking about odd names if I were you!”
“What in hell are you doing so far from your beloved Texas?”
He said “Texas” like it tasted nasty or something, and it probably was something like that. Most of those soldiers didn’t care much for the West.
“Limerick, you don’t know how many times I have asked that myself. Say, have you had the chance to ride any camels in Mr. Lincoln’s army?”
“Ha! You remember me telling you about that? How I was in on the early experiments with camels in Texas?
“Hell, who could forget it, Limerick? You with that fancy-ass Boston accent telling us how you rode one of Jeff Davis’s camels from Camp Verde to Fort Bliss, scaring every horse and rider within twenty-five miles.”
“I don’t have much use for Mr. Davis,” Limerick said, “But he was right about the camels. They traveled farther, carried more, and on less water than horses. And they would eat any damned thing that grew, including that ubiquitous Texas prickly pear. If you Rebs hadn’t started this war, we would have had the Indians whipped by now, using camels.”
“Don’t blame me for this damned war,” I told him. “And don’t expect me to give up my horse for no damned hump, neither.”
“Yes,” he said. “I’m sure you were quite dashing charging up Little Round Top on your steed.”
“You smart aleck Yankee son-of-a bitch. You don’t have to rub it in.”
He grinned and I could tell he took it in the spirit I meant it. By this time, I had eaten about all I could stand of whatever swill he was shoving in my mouth, and I was worn out.
He checked my wound and clucked his tongue. “Just think,” he said. “If you had been on horseback, this ball would have hit you in the knee. Rest, now. I’m sure we’ll have lots of time to talk later.”
Neither he nor I could imagine how right he was.