Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Part 11

Baxter Springs- Part II
by R.M. Peck
National Tribune, 29 September 1904
pg. 8, cols 1-4

As Blunt with his handful of men, instead of running away as others had done, kept persistently hovering about the field, Quantrill seemed to have concluded that the General certainly must have a large command near in his rear; and for fear of being overtaken by a superior force, the rebel chief hurriedly collected what animals and plunder he could take with him, and struck out down the military road for Texas, which would take him near Fort Gibson, which is 100 miles south of Baxter Springs; seeing which Blunt determined to send a messenger to Col. Phillips, the commanding officer at that post, informing him of his (Blunt’s) misfortune, and ordering him to try to head off the rebels. This messenger would have to go down the road right behind Quantrill part of the way, and then get past and ahead of him, so as to beat the rebels to Gibson.

Quantrill’s Bravado

With singular backwardness none of Bill Tuft’s brave “Buckskin Scouts” seemed to want this job. Tom Atkins, and independent scout- not one of the beaded and be-fringed gentlemen that ornamented Blunt’s headquarters, but a “for-sure” scout- volunteered to take the message, and without any preparation struck out behind the rebels before they were out of sight, and dodging through them in the following night, succeeded in getting through to Fort Gibson and delivering the message in time; but through someone’s mismanagement Quantrill was allowed to slip by Gibson and go to Sherman, Texas, uninterrupted; where it was said he dressed himself in Blunt’s uniform, that he had captured, and proclaimed that he had killed the General with his own hand.

This is probably a mistake, for Quantrill, being a slim-built man, could not well have worn Blunt’s clothes, as the general was rather corpulent. It is possible, however, that Quantrill may have mistaken Major Curtis, whom he killed, for Blunt, and that he wore the Major’s uniform, as that would have been near a fit for him; but he certainly ought to have been able to distinguish between the uniform of a Major and that of a Major-General.

Some months afterward I met at Fort Gibson a Lieutenant (Miller, I think, was his name), who told me that not long after the Baxter Springs massacre, and when Blunt was in command at Fort Smith, he (the Lieutenant) was captured by two of Quantrill’s men, while he was out with a foraging party near Fort Smith; and when brought into Quantrill’s presence, the guerrilla chief, among other questions, asked him:

“How do the Federals like it, since I killed General Blunt at Baxter Springs?”

To which the Lieutenant replied:

“Kill Blunt? You must be mistaken. He is in command at Fort Smith now. I saw him yesterday, and he was a remarkably lively corpse at that time, any way.”

At this he said Quantrill became very wrathy, calling him a “_____ Yankee liar,” and swearing that he had shot and killed General Blunt, at Baxter Springs, with his own hand. Quantrill then told the two men who had captured the Lieutenant to “take him off to the brush and fix him,” which order they proceeded to execute with cheerful alacrity.

The Lieutenant Gets Away

When they got out into the bushes they began to strip him of his uniform coat, pants and other best clothing, before killing him, to prevent their being shot full of holes or soiled with blood, and in the division of the spoils they found some money in greenbacks in his pocket. While they were quarreling over the money the Lieutenant made a dive into the brush, in his shirt and drawers, and succeeded in getting away, and subsequently rejoined his command at Fort Smith.

Tom Atkins told me afterward that when he reached Rock Creek, seven miles below Baxter, on his way to Fort Gibson with Blunt’s message, he found the bodies of a number of men who Quantrill had just caused to be shot- prisoners whom the rebels had taken with them that far on their retreat- and near where they were lying he found a piece of paper pinned to a tree, on which was written the following:

“Blunt, see the result of your damnable policy. See the vengeance Quantrill takes for the death of one of his men.”

No name was signed to this paper.

I think Tom said there were 11 of the bodies. I have seen it stated in some published accounts of this slaughter that Quantrill got a number of his men killed at Baxter, but those who gathered and buried the dead said that there was but one dead rebel found, while of Blunt’s party there were 123 buried in a huge grave in the edge of the timber, near where Lieutenant Pond’s camp was then located. I lived several years at or near Baxter Springs, after the war, and often saw this big grave. About the year 1869 (I think), these bodies were moved to the National Cemetery, one and a half miles west of the town.

Besides the 123 men whose bodies were found and buried, there must have been several who wandered off wounded to die alone on the prairie; for a few years later, when living on my farm , a few miles west of Baxter, while riding over the prairie one day I found the scattered bones of what had probably been one of Quantrill’s victims, and I heard of other similar finds by the early settlers on the prairie north and west of Baxter Springs, shortly after the war. The bones I found were much scattered, as though done by the wolves, and the prairie had likely been burnt over many times since that fatal day; the fires had destroyed all signs of clothing and everything perishable, but a few of Uncle Sam’s brass buttons and a belt buckle lying there proved that the bones were those of a soldier.

Mrs. Thomas’s Experience

In her escape from the field of slaughter was, for a lady who had never encountered any such danger or hardship, pretty severe. She was quite a young woman- the Captain’s second wife- and this was probably her first sight of rebels.

Compelled by the suddenness of the attack to leave her comfortable carriage at a moment’s notice, without any preparation for such a trip, on the advice of her rescuer, Mr. Bridges, she promptly mounted the horse of a dead soldier which Bridges had brought to her, and, guided by him, hurried away from the scene of disaster. Fortunately they were not noticed by the rebels as they left the field, and alone they made the best time their horses were capable of in the direction of Fort Scott, 60 miles to the north. Getting lost on the big prairie in the following night, they had to halt and make the best camp possible until morning, in order to find the best proper course. Having no means of making a fire, nothing to eat, no bedding, and the night being cold and windy, some of the discomforts of their situation may be faintly imagined. Unsaddling and picketing out their horses, they wrapped themselves in the two saddle-blankets- which was poor enough protection from the chilling winds of the bleak prairie- laid their heads on their saddles and shivered through a seemingly endless night.

The next day they succeeded in reaching Fort Scott, the lady very much exhausted from the nervous strain, hard riding and exposure that she was totally unused to. She immediately dispatched a message to Captain Thomas, at Fort Gibson, to notify him of her safety. Tom Atkins had already told him of her start from the field of the massacre. As may be imagined, the old gentleman was in a fever of anxiety- until he heard of her safe arrival at Fort Scott. Taking the next opportunity going north, the Captain went to Fort Scott to meet her; but she had experienced enough of war and returned to the comfort and safety of her home in Topeka, instead of going on to Fort Gibson with captain Thomas.

As characteristic of my eccentric old boss, I will relate as I afterward heard Colonel “Shorty” tell it, how the Captain imparted to him the news of the direful tragedy at Baxter Springs, before he had heard of her safe arrival at Fort Scott.

Captain Thomas’s Grief

Coming hurriedly into “Shorty’s” quarters at Fort Gibson, soon after Tom Atkins had brought the sad news, taking his quid of tobacco out of his mouth and rolling it between his thumb and fingers (his usual way when worried) he began:

“Mornin’, ‘Shorty,’ and without waiting for a reply, “‘spose you’ve hard of this Blunt affair at Baxter. Sad affair- sad affair! My wife was in that. Left the field while the killin’ was goin’ on, mounted on a dead soldier’s horse, a-straddle of an old McClellan saddle, to ride 60 miles, to Fort Scott, guided by Bridges, of the Fort Scott Monitor. God knows what’s become of  ‘em.”

Although blunt of speech and by no means choice of language, the old Captain was a kind and generous-hearted man, and a real friend to his friends.

On his arrival at Fort Scott, as soon as he had heard from his wife the story of her thrilling escape, the Captain hunted up Bridges to thank him for his manly services. On finding the newspaper man, who modestly declined being made a hero of for so simple an act of duty, the old man grasped him warmly by the hand and exclaimed as his eyes filled with tears of gratitude.

“Bridges, you’re a man! You’re a gentleman! My wife says so, an’ I believe every word of it. Yes, sir, you’re a perfect gentleman, every inch of you- my wife says so.”

Then by way of explanation to a friend who was standing by he continued:

“Instead of skedaddlin’ and savin’ himself, as everybody else was doin’, he thought of the only woman in the outfit- a stranger to him- got a horse an’ brought her away from that field of hell. They had to camp out without food or fire that night- Bridges, you’re a perfect gentleman- my wife says so. An’ Bridges, if it ever happens that old Chester Thomas can do you a favor an’ you don’t let me know it, I’ll be mad at you!”

And the old man fairly hugged Bridges in his overflowing gratitude.

Starting Back for Fort Gibson

In detailing these incidents of the “Blunt affair,” I have drifted away from my own story, and will now return to Fort Scott, where I had arrived from Leavenworth with my little family in a six-mule wagon ready to fall in with the next train going to Fort Gibson.

I found that Blunt and the few survivors of the massacre had returned to Fort Scott, where the General was making up a large train and command to go to Fort Smith, where he was to assume command of the Department of the Frontier; and as Fort Gibson was but a little out of the way, a supply train was also going with him to that post.

At Fort Scott I reported to Captain John G. Haskell, Blunt’s Chief Quartermaster, for rations, forage and other supplies for the trip; after receiving which I was ordered to roll out for Dry Wood Creek, 12 miles south, where the trains and soldiers were to rendezvous before starting. This time we were to go down the west boundary of Missouri and Arkansas, as the foraging is better on that route than along the “Military Road” via Baxter Springs, farther east through the Indian Nation.

On reaching Dry Wood I reported to Jeff Batsford, who was “Chief Mucky-muck” (Brigade Wagon Master) of the whole outfit, and he assigned me to a position with Blunt’s headquarters train on the march, which would be in the lead and would consequently give me more comfortable traveling; but in camping I always selected my own ground and located where I would be off to one side and out of the turmoil of the crowded camp.

A “Bogus” Nigger

I had provided myself with a good tent, and brought along our cooking stove and some other extra conveniences not usually found in a camp outfit, determined to lessen the hardships of camp life as much as possible for my wife and little one; and having the negro boys along to do the rough work and wait on us, the trip was by no means an unpleasant one, though we had some bad weather- cold rains and snows- before we got through. We all had robust health and hearty appetites, and enjoyed our grub amazingly.

Although my wife was a good cook herself, and I much preferred her cooking to any other, to save her the labor I hired a mulatto man at Fort Scott, to cook for us, who boasted that he had formerly been the cook for General Curtis. My teamster and two ex-borders were of the genuine black variety of negroes, while my new cook was of very light color and freckle-faced, and also possessed- what is very rare in one having even a little African blood in his veins- red, though kinky, hair; on account of which peculiarities my black boys spoke of him contemptuously as “that bogus nigger,” from which we all soon got to calling him “Bogus,” and I don’t think I ever knew his other name.

As a prospectively useful accomplishment I occasionally gave my wife lessons in shooting at a mark with a Colt’s navy, when in camp, and at first was perfectly safe to set up my hat (of the broad-rimmed cowboy style) for her to shoot at; but after a little practice I found she improved so rapidly that my hat began to look like a sifter, and I had to find her some other kind of target.

As there were plenty of farms and orchards along this route, I foraged freely for apples, chickens, turkeys, etc., keeping a good supply in our wagon at all times. Walnuts, hickory nuts and persimmons were prime and plenty in the timber; these the boys procured in abundance; and by the aid of my shotgun I was able to add such auxiliaries as wild pigeons, wild ducks, prairie chickens, and squirrels. We lived fine. I don’t think General Blunt’s table could have been much better supplied than mine.

Running the Gauntlet of Bushwhackers

While foraging away from the road, of course, I had to run the risk of being picked off by bushwhackers, who were always skulking along the border, but fortunately I escaped making any intimate acquaintances with these gentry, although some of our foragers didn’t get off so lucky. I was chased and shot at by a party of them on one occasion, which I will relate further on.

For fear that I might fail to get back some day while out foraging I had acquired the habit, when leaving my family on any such trip, to always toss my pocket-book (which was usually well padded with greenbacks) to my wife before leaving, so that she would at least have money enough to last her for a while, and as I often jokingly remarked, “to give her second husband a start.”

She often cautioned me against taking what seemed to be needless risk, but I would try to reassure her and allay her fears with:

“Don’t you worry about me. I’ve been in many a tight place, and, don’t you know, I always wiggle through, somehow?”

“Yes,” she would reply, “but you know the pitcher that goes too often to the well gets broken at last.”

But I had escaped by good fortune so often that I think she had more faith in my good luck than my good sense.

At Maysville, a little town in the north west corner of Arkansas, on the line of the nation, we were joined by my boss, Captain Thomas, who, accompanied by Lieutenant William Galleher, Colonel Phillip’s Adjutant (of the Indian Brigade), and a scout, had come a-horseback from Fort Gibson to meet us.  Following on down the line to Cincinnati, Arkansas, we separated from Blunt’s command at that point, he with the larger part of the outfit going on to Fort Smith; while we, with a portion of the supply train and a small escort, turned west down to Barren Work by way of Park Hill to Fort Gibson. Fort Gibson is about 50 miles from the Arkansas line.

As we neared Park Hill, Captain Thomas, Lieutenant Galleher and I rode on several miles ahead of the train in order to secure some hay for the outfit, which Galleher knew the location of at Park Hill. As we came out of the timber on top of the hill near the Female Seminary building, which overlooks the village of Park Hill, where we expected to camp the train, we noticed a lot of saddled horses tied to the fence in front of Andrew Nave’s house in the town, about a half mile from us; and as it was very desirable to know whether those horses belonged to friend or foes, we halted, while Galleher dismounted, took out his field-glass, and, taking a rest across his saddle, took a look at the men who owned the horses, who were now mounting, as they appeared to have seen us, and were preparing to give us a call.

Chased by Guerrillas

Galleher quickly made them out to be rebels, as they were nearly all dressed in butternut clothes (a sure sign then), and there being about a dozen of them and only three of us we had no hesitation in deciding that “discretion was the better part of valor,” and prepared to take the back track into the timber, and fall back to the train, which we thought was coming on a little way behind us.

Before doing so I borrowed the glass to take a look at the rebs, and noticed that part of them had started to follow the road around a big field of corn that lay between us and the Nave’s house; while the others were coming right across the field toward us, led by a man riding a white horse.

We were so sure that our train and escort must be close in our rear, that we were in no hurry to retreat, but on the near approach of the rebels we mounted and started back along the road we had come, which soon took us into the timber.

Our gait was leisurely at first, but was soon somewhat accelerated on hearing the clatter of hoofs of our pursuers’ horses and a few shots fired at us, through at long range.  I supposed the rebs thought they might be able to cripple some of our riding animals  and thus overhaul us. I being mounted on a rather slow mule (“Old Kate”), and the other two having good horses, I was soon dropping behind, with the Captain and Galleher calling back to me:

“Hurry up there, Peck! They’ll get you sure!”

To make them think that I wasn’t a bit scared, though I was, I answered back indifferently:

“Go ahead, you fellows. Never mind me. I’ll be coming along in the cool of the day.” But I was thinking to myself, “As it seems I can’t outrun the rebs, I guess I’ll have to take to the brush, and try to dodge them that way.” For I knew they would be loathe to crowd into an enemy in cover.

We were all exclaiming occasionally:

“Wonder what the devil’s become of our train and soldiers?” For we didn’t meet them, as expected.

The Captain and Galleher were not going to abandon me to my fate, however, but decided that the only chance to save me was to wait until I came up to them and then have me abandon my mule, mount behind one of them, and then we could outrun the rebels, as they did not seem to be following now at full speed, like they had begun the chase.

By this time we arrived at the place where the road forked- a road branching off to the north going to Tahlequah, three miles away- and here we say by the trail that our train and escort had, by mistake, taken the Tahlequah road. We quickly turned onto their trail, and feeling confident that our pursuers would turn back when they saw the tracks of our command, found it would not be necessary to abandon my mule; and, as we conjectured, the chase ended at the forks of the road.

We soon overtook our outfit and told of our little adventure, and some of the soldiers proposed to go back with us and chase the rebels awhile; but we concluded this would not pay, and as the train by this time was nearly to Tahlequah, we continued on to that place, and then followed the prairie over to Park Hill, three miles southwest, where we camped, the rebels having vamoosed.

In the chase they had given us I think they could easily have overtaken me, or compelled me to take to the brush; but the road being somewhat crooked and in many places having thickets of bushes on each side, our pursuers probably were reluctant to rush onto me, for fear we might ambush them at some sharp turn of the road.

I would not have taken up so much space in relating this incident but for the following sequel, which gives it something more of interest:

Just after the close of the war I was engaged in freighting with a four-mule team of my own, on the road between Forts Scott and Gibson, and on one trip loaded and traveled in company with a man by the name of Jasper Wilkinson, who had a four-horse team. My chance partner was a very pleasant traveling companion, who had been a Captain of a company of Arkansas bushwhackers in the rebel army, and many an hour we whiled away around our camp fires at night telling each other our war experiences.

I was relating to him one night of this chase the rebs gave us near Park Hill, and had got as far as where the party, headed by a man on a white horse, had started across a cornfield after us, when he started across the cornfield after us, when he interrupted me.

“Hold on, pard, let me tell the rest of that story!” And he went ahead and described our party and the chase; telling of my being mounted on a mule, and dropping so far behind the other; and of their following us up to the Tahlequah Road, and there finding from the trail that we had overtaken a stronger party than they cared to meet, they had abandoned the chase, returned to Park Hill, and moved off southward before we got there.

Giving all the minute details as he did proved to me that he was with the party of rebels who chased us that day, and pointing to a white horse, one of his team, he added:

“And there’s the same white horse I was riding that day- the same one I rode most of the time during the war.”

He stated that with a dozen of his men he had gone to Park Hill to try to capture Andrew Nave (a relative of Chief John Ross of the Cherokees), who was staying at home and trying to play neutral, and whom they strongly suspected of giving information to the Federals concerning the movements and whereabouts of the rebels in that part of the country.

They failed to catch Nave, but he was killed at his home by some rebels a few months later, but not my any of Wilkinson’s men.

Next day after we had talked over the Park Hill chase, Wilkinson and I were passing cabin Creek he met two men who had been members of his old company, and introduced me to them as “the feller who was riding the slow mule that we come near catching over at Park Hill in the Fall of ‘63.”

I shook hands with the old bushwhackers over the recollection of old times, and assured them that I was much happier to make their acquaintance now than I would have been then. A few years ago Wilkinson was living on a farm near Carthage, Missouri, and may be there still.

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