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We have come too far forward in time and must make our longest backtrack, to Santa Fe and the autumn of '46.
The reader will remember that when Kearny entered New Mexico, at Las Vegas, the first town he occupied, he told the inhabitants that one of the benefits the Americans were conferring on them was protection from the Indians. Since the Indians had been robbing, enslaving, and murdering the New Mexicans for more than two centuries, he could have made no more resplendent promise. His countrymen, however, needed a full half-century to keep it. . . . At a time when Lieutenant General Philip Sheridan was commanding the Department of the West,a the telegraph brought word of one more massacre of helpless ranchers by the Sioux. Sheridan wired the commandant of the nearest army post to get his squadron out and surround the murderers. Out on the plains a harassed major of cavalry read the yellow flimsy to which the great name was signed — and this major, suddenly, had had enough. He wired back an insubordinate realism. How, he asked, how did one trooper surround fifty Sioux? . . . That is why it took fifty years.
Busy as he was in Santa Fe, reconnoitering his conquest, organizing it as a territory, and preparing for the march to California, Kearny nevertheless undertook to make good his promise. Understanding that the New Mexicans were intimidated and disorganized by the conquest, the Apache and Navajo had redoubled their raids. Even before Kearny started for California, he sent detachments to find the tribes, order them to behave themselves, and make treaties with them. He sent another detachment to the Ute on the same errand; they had been behaving themselves but had sent scouts to determine how bad medicine this general might be.
All these detachments were from Doniphan's command. With Price's Second Missouri coming to garrison Santa Fe, Doniphan would be free for any use Kearny might find for him. Kearny ordered him to march to Chihuahua, which Wool was supposed to be occupying, as soon as he had pacified the Indians. Then Kearny left for California and, when he was a week out of Santa Fe, got word of serious Navajo raids on southern New p377 Mexico. (One wealthy rancher alone lost six thousand sheep.) He sent Doniphan orders to put teeth in the pacification — to invade the Navajo country, release captives, reclaim stolen property, and either awe or beat the Indians into submission. Kearny took up the march again and presently, meeting Carson with his report on the conquest of California, sent back three fifths of his Dragoons. This detachment, most of whom ended up protecting the encamped traders at Valverde, also got into trouble with the Navajo and for a while joined the pursuit.
The job thus casually set the First Missouri was a sizable assignment for farm boys. They had done pretty well so far. They had added many thousand square miles to the domain of the United States. They had established an advanced position which would make the conquest of California secure. They had, or seemed to have, conciliated a conquered people. How much had any other army done in four months?
But from now on to the end of the chapter they were to work in the prodigious.
* * *
The story of the detachments sent out by Kearny himself is short. Captain Fischer, of the ineffective German artillery company, rode out beyond San Ildefonso, rounded up some Apache, and brought them in to Santa Fe. The Apache sunnily promised Kearny to be good Indians, collected their presents, and went home to organize some raids. William Gilpin, the dreamer of empires, took two companies north to Abiquiu and thence led eighty-five men on a beautifully managed, swift march •a hundred miles northwest of Taos to the headwaters of the Chama at the continental divide in southern Colorado.1 He did not meet the Ute but sent out couriers who brought in a large band of chiefs and sub‑chiefs. Gilpin took them to Santa Fe, where Doniphan, who was now in command, made a treaty with them. (It had the value of any treaty with Indians.) Gilpin then went back to Abiquiu, where he was in camp when Doniphan's order for a more serious expedition reached him. Meanwhile a third detachment, successively commanded by Ruff, Parsons, and Jackson, marched into the Navajo country from Albuquerque and camped near Cebolleta (Seboyeta). They had picked up a genial Navajo chief whose name was rendered Sandoval, a mendacious and antic conversationalist much appreciated by the soldiery. They sent him looking for his people with an invitation to come in and make a treaty. By the time the new orders arrived Sandoval had come back saying that the Navajo reported p378 their hearts pure but preferred to have the Americans come into their country and make the treaty there.
Doniphan had set out to obey his orders, which were to settle the Indian problem permanently. He ordered portions of Price's regiment to relieve Gilpin at Abiquiu and Jackson at Cebolleta, so that their forces could invade the Navajo country. Gilpin was to go in from the north and Jackson, whom Doniphan would accompany, from the south, Meanwhile Jackson sent out a party of thirty picked men under Reid and, when the Navajo brazenly raided his horse herd, another party of sixty under Parsons.
Prodigy can be described simply but it requires understanding. It is easy enough to set down that in October and November Gilpin led his force, augmented by some New Mexican guides and servants, up the Chama again, over the continental divide, down the San Juan to the Tunitcha Mountains, westward over their crest into the rock wilderness of Arizona, on to the brink of the Canyon de Chelly, and back to the appointed rendezvous near the present Gallup, New Mexico. But such a march at such a time would be prodigious for the best trained and best equipped troops of modern warfare. Gilpin's command had left their tents behind and the quartermaster service had been unable to equip or supply them. They were supposed to be cavalry but their horses had been half starved and their pack mules were in no better condition. At the end they had about half as many of each as they had started with. Their boots had not been replaced, nothing like a uniform was left, they were dressed in native New Mexican or native Indian costumes. Winter had come to the mountains. Arctic blasts hammered them in the canyons. Blizzards blew up over the ridges. They would wake, some mornings, and find themselves curiously warm and snug, then understand their comfort as the result of •eight or ten inches of snow that had fallen during the night.b Their beards got matted with icicles, packed mules slid down glare‑ice mountainsides to eternity, they labored many miles through snow in their waists. They had to range far even for firewood, but they found it and the nightly campfires flamed in narrow gulches or on windswept naked rock. No wonder the Navajo whom they met agreed to come in and talk peace. They could have massacred this band of adventurers in a few minutes, at their ease, and with complete impunity. But maybe‑soº better not. The Navajo had not heard that there were white men like these. . . . From the Canyon de Chelly Gilpin hurried on to meet Doniphan at Bear Spring. About 180 strong, his whole command, except those who had died of cold, got there by November 22.
p379 Their buddies had been doing similar work. Reid, who had proved himself the best of the captains, had taken his detachment of thirty men into the heart of the Navajo country, the Chusca Mountains and Laguna Colorado at their base, and had rounded up five hundred awed, and very likely scared, Navajo, Private Robinson gives a convincing explanation of the detachment's size: "It was not thought advisable for any more men to go with nothing to eat." They were in lower altitudes and did not have to battle snow. Sandoval was with them and could find adequate grass for their horses. Moreover, they could get food from the Indians they met. But this handful of amateurs, of course, traveled under suspended sentence of massacre. Hundreds of Navajo were on all sides of them, sometimes traveling and camping with them, and the Navajo were not soft Indians. What saved them was the very audacity of their venture; it vindicated the rumor now traveling the whole Indian country, that this breed of whites had better be respected.
As Reid's thirty got farther into the country, the Navajo came in by the hundred to look them over, and they returned the scrutiny. The Doniphesias had danced with some Pueblo over Navajo scalps; now, finding a party with some fresh Pueblo scalps, they shuffled and hi‑ya‑ed in the vengeance dance. They joined the Navajo games and gaped at the sham battles. They traded their rachitic horses for fresh mules, got buckskins to replace their tatters, and by night sat at the campfires while hundreds of their hosts danced, sang Injun, or related the interminable histories of their valor. . . . Reid finally collected more than eight hundred Navajo, harangued them, and got their promise to meet Doniphan and make a treaty. He then returned to the encampment, which had been moved from Cebolleta to Cubero. The Navajo who had agreed to follow him took up the trail but met a band of cousins who predicted that Doniphan would massacre them and so turned them back.
While they were gone the camp had been raided by another band of Navajo, who ran off forty‑odd horses. Jackson sent out Parsons and sixty men in pursuit. They made a brilliant march, going clear to the Zuñi pueblo, rounded up about half of the stolen herd, and came back, Private Edwards says, without having changed their clothes or washed their faces in twelve days. Doniphan, marching toward the rendezvous at Bear Spring, received word (there was nothing in it) that the traders' caravan, which had gone into camp at Valverde, was threatened by a Mexican army from Chihuahua. The three companies of Dragoons under Captain Burgwin which Kearny had sent back on meeting Carson were hurrying to Valverde, but Doniphan sent three of his companies to help out.
p380 Doniphan reached the Bear Spring rendezvous on November 21. Hordes of Navajo came in to listen to the Long Knife. There followed the slow, stately, and preposterous ceremonies by which Indians and army officers were accustomed to reach agreement — parades, feasts, drama, and endless oratory. The Navajo claimed alliance with the Americans, who had come here to make war on the New Mexicans and appeared to be illogical when they asked the Indians not to do likewise. Doniphan got that point cleared up and the New Mexicans classified as Americans who must not be robbed or murdered from now on. A treaty as formal as one with a major power was drawn up. By its terms the Navajo agreed to cherish not only the New Mexicans but the Pueblo as well. Doniphan, Jackson, and Gilpin signed it on behalf of James K. Polk, the father of these good children, and no less than fourteen Navajo chiefs scratched their crosses underneath. It was impressive and affecting. Doniphan then made a detour to the pueblo of the Zuñi, thus once more touching Coronado's dream, and got a treaty with them also. It was worth a little more, for the Zuñi were less warlike.
On December 12, Doniphan was back at the Rio Grande, where his various organizations were disposed between Socorro and Santa Fe. Some of them now got the $42 clothing allowance they should have had in May, the first pay they had received and the last they were to get while on active service. Doniphan began to prepare them for the rest of the campaign.
A good many of them had died in the Indian country or on the way back, more had fallen sick. The job had had to be done without preparation, with inadequate supplies, poor food, no shelter against the weather. The Doniphesias were baying their resentment — but with a difference now. They had always beefed and bellyached, they always would, but now their complaints had a new tone, the confidence of tested men. They had done the unparalleled, and had done it easily. They were veterans.
* * *
Susan Magoffin had said good‑bye to her little court, beginning with Kearny himself, who was so much like Papa. William Magoffin, the third of the brothers to come down the trail this year, had reached Santa Fe. (On his way out from Independence, his train stopped to exchange information with a small party moving east, which had Francis Parkman in it.) The town was still gay, with the dramatic club flourishing and a frantic rush at ten o'clock when the garrison had to get back from fandangos, gambling hells, and plain saloons. But it filled with rumors about disasters p381 to Kearny, to Taylor, and to James Magoffin, who had gone on to repeat his work at Chihuahua. Susan's health remained delicate but she was glad to be active again, when they started south on October 9. Even though it meant going into dangers which the rumor increased tenfold. All three divisions of the Magoffin wagon train united and they moved on toward the camp at the ruined hacienda of Valverde where the entire Chihuahua trade of this year, more than three hundred wagons, had been concentrated. More rumors: Brother James robbed by Apache, General Wool capturing Chihuahua, a trustworthy one that Stockton had taken California. Then word from Valverde that the Mexicans were coming up from Chihuahua to attack the wagon camp. This was the rumor that had taken Burgwin's Dragoons and three of Doniphan's companies to the rescue, and it reminded Susan of her religion. She dosed herself with the Scriptures and Methodist sermons, and continued the treatment daily from now on. Short of Valverde, she took a fever and the train camped while she lay ill in a friendly house for two weeks. November 25 was the anniversary of her wedding, celebrated in this humble dwelling, among these courteous small foreign folk. Susan had been married for a full year, and had been traveling all that time, though it seemed a very short time, looking back, and "I shall be contented if all we pass are like it."
December brought worse alarms. (They had joined the traders by now.) Brother James had been imprisoned at Chihuahua and was to be tried as a spy. General Taylor had barely won a battle at Monterrey and General Wool, ordered to join him, was not going to Chihuahua after all. So the Mexicans there could come up and plunder the camp at their leisure.
(We get a glimpse of the camp at about this time, from Lieutenant George F. Ruxton of Her Majesty's 89th Regiment who, disdainfully flaunting the British insignia of long yellow mustaches, had made his way up from Vera Cruz among guerrillas, highwaymen, and casual murderers whom he simply could not take seriously. He was heading for the buffalo country where he had greatly enjoyed himself, while on leave from his regiment when it had been stationed in Canada. He thought more highly than Susan did of the encampment's defensive strength. It could defy any Indian or Mexican attack, he said, and spoke with respect of the "wild-looking Missourians" who inhabited it. Across the river and •three miles upstream he visited one of the camps of the Doniphesias and saw Doniphan himself. The British soldier's professional sense was outraged. He granted that the tents were in line but could grant no more. There were no regulations, there was no cleanliness or sanitation, not even the offal p382 of slaughtered cattle was removed. "The men, unwashed and unshaven, were ragged and distantly, without uniforms and dressed as and how they pleased. [!] They wandered about listless and sickly-looking, or were sitting in groups playing at cards and swearing and cursing, even at the officers if they interfered to stop it — as I witnessed." They did not even keep proper guard against Indian cattle thieves, and all told they had nothing in common with Her Majesty's troops, they would not do at all. But Lieutenant Ruxton knew fighters when he saw them and, against all the articles of his faith, had to acknowledge that "they were as full of fight as a gamecock.")2
News got gloomier and Susan thirsted "to see the face of the Lamb that sitteth in Judgment." All of Doniphan's command was coming in, and a detachment of Price's Second Missouri also. This was "The Chihuahua Rangers" under Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell, whom Price had sent out in an unavailable effort to make contact with Wool. The traders had grown riotous and divided. They were frantic to get on and complete the year's business — it should have been finished long since. Some were resolved to go on and run their chances that the manufactured goods would mean more than war to the Chihuahuas. A few even tried but were promptly herded back by the army. Some, Susan's husband among them, could foresee only disaster if Wool had not taken Chihuahua.
Then on December 16 Susan heard that an advance guard under Major Gilpin had plunged into the dreaded Jornada del Muerto, just to the southward. Three days later a most reliable man, known personally to Samuel Magoffin, came fleeing from El Paso with news of disaster. Gilpin's three hundred, the bearer of evil tidings reported, had been captured and sent as prisoners to Chihuahua. Seven hundred terrible Mexican dragoons were hurrying up. Samuel walked the floor waiting for more news, Susan feared that "I shall be torn from the dearest object to me on earth, perhaps both of us murdered, or at best he will be put in prison." She summoned up the consolations of her faith. "Christ himself warns us that we must not fear those who can kill and in any wise injure the body, and can do nothing to the immortal soul. But he says, 'rather fear Ye him who after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell.' "
* * *
Just rumors. The army was enjoying itself. Its howls still rose to heaven but it had begun to do some soldiering.
For Doniphan, with 856 effectives, was off to keep his rendezvous with p383 Wool at Chihuahua. His artillery was still in Santa Fe, where Price, suddenly surrounded by rumors of revolt, was reluctant to let it go. A captain of the First Dragoons and a lieutenant of regular artillery had joined him to brush a faint gilding of military procedure over his operations. Furthermore, since they were going to invade Chihuahua, Doniphan was done with the regulation which forbade him to requisition food. He sent out foraging parties who receipted for what they took but took what they wanted. They brought in several hundred beeves and thousands of sheep, and from now on the army would eat regularly. Some powder — far from enough — had come in. Medical supplies remained scanty. Some of the troops had got buckskins from the Navajo, others had bought clothes from the natives, a few from the traders, many wore the shreds of their original outfits.
Doniphan's objective was the city of Chihuahua, where he still expected to find Wool in command. If he was to meet opposition on the way it would come from the source of all the recent rumors, the town of El Paso del Norte, the ancient bastion of El Camino Real, where the Rio Grande breaks through the mountains to the high plains. On the way to El Paso he must take his command across the Jornada del Muerto, Dead Man's Journey. It had justified its name in nearly three centuries of travel, beginning with the conquistadors. But at this season the army could count on water at various holes that would be dry in summer, and in fact this •ninety-three-mile desert proved less arduous than narrower ones beyond El Paso.
Doniphan started his advance guard under Gilpin on Dec. 12 (half their year's enlistment had been completed on December 10), and the rest of his command followed in two sections. Most of the traders at Valverde broke camp and went with the army or just behind it, an anxiety and a ghastly inconvenience. The veterans did the jornada handily. The weather had turned cold and there was nothing but dry grass and soapwood for the nightly fires, but the only real hardship was experienced by those who tried to soothe their way with canteenfuls of aguardiente.c There was much night marching, especially by the teamsters, who had to swear their wagons through the sand. Between December 19 and 23 they came together again at Doña Ana.
Here rumors of great armies coming up from El Paso thickened. The camp was reconnoitered by night, a couple of spies were shot, and many hoofprints were found by day. Arms were inspected, powder was issued, Doniphan told his men that the camp had better make less noise at midnight. On Christmas Eve the camp was again under investigation by p384 Mexicans, but no one felt alarmed and no one thought to push the scouts out farther, the next morning.
They welcomed Christmas with gunfire and band music, then took up the march in excellent spirits. The camp had not been well made or closely guarded and much of the stock had strayed, so that Doniphan's trains and a third of his regiment were strung out for miles behind him. The boys sang and joked their way for •eighteen miles, then pitched camp toward three o'clock, at a place called El Brazito. It was not far from the present hamlet of Mesilla, New Mexico, and •about thirty miles from El Paso. It looked like a good camp site and, rejoiced to be let off with a Christmas march of only eighteen miles, the greater part of the army whooped off to water their mounts and gather firewood. During the march some scouts had brought in a beautiful white stallion. It caught the appreciative Missouri eye. Doniphan and several of his officers spread out a blanket and sat down to a game of loo to determine whose horse it was. The cards ran Doniphan's way and he had just got a hand which would ended matters, when he looked up and saw a Mexican army forming a battle line •half a mile away. Cursing the interruption, he buckled on his saber and prepared to improvise a battle.
It was an army somewhat larger than Doniphan's total force and had been gathered at El Paso by a temporary general named Ponce de León after earlier recruiting efforts had failed. It was adequately equipped and clad in the gorgeous uniforms that no Mexican force ever failed to acquire, but it lacked fighting men. Properly primed with rhetoric, it had ridden out from El Paso to annihilate the gringos, whom it despised with the universal Mexican contempt of blonds. It had a piratical black flag with two death's-heads lettered "Libertad ó muerte," and a punctilious officer carried this banner forward to invite Doniphan to surrender. Doniphan, who had got his side arms on, returned the answer traditional to the circumstance, and the pause allowed most of the wood gatherers to come in, shouting.
Doniphan formed them, perhaps four hundred all told, in a kind of line as infantry. The Mexicans began bleating at them with a two‑pound howitzer loaded with copper slugs, then fired continuously but wildly from their whole line. The First Missouri were under fire at last, six months out from Fort Leavenworth, and were pleasantly stimulated. Curious about the howitzer, which was posted on a flank, some Company G boys ran out and took it. The Mexicans knew that battles were won by charging and, infantry and lancers alike, trotted forward, firing as they came. Doniphan had his men lie down and got most of them to hold their fire. p385 At about a hundred yards he gave the charge two volleys. The charge stopped and the Mexican army began to run away, except that a couple of hundred lancers veered off to a flank and tried to attack some of the wagons. The efficient Reid, however, had got some twenty of his company mounted and launched them at the lancers, who joined their companions to the rear. Reid could not catch up with them and they galloped on to El Paso, where they reported that the war was lost.
It had taken less than thirty minutes. Stragglers hurrying up the road at the sound of gunfire got there too late for the fun, and in fact not all the wood gatherers got in. Doniphan reported forty-three Mexicans known to be killed and 150 wounded. Seven of his Missourians had flesh wounds which they could flourish at less fortunate companions. Arguing violently about who had done the most execution, they went out to gather in the commissary. They got sizable stores of bread and cigars and a great quantity of wine. It was excellent wine; so, veterans also of gunfire now, the First Missouri settled down to celebrate Christmas.
But in the excitement the white stallion had bolted.
* * *
Christmas Day, 1846.
The White House was closed to callers, in order to give the servants a holiday. Mrs. Polk attended church but the President stayed in his office to draft for his message to Congress some paragraphs that would propose the silliest of his war schemes. He had begun his reduction of Zachary Taylor, in part because it was clear to everyone that the war could not be won from the north or by Taylor, more particularly because Taylor's candidacy was developing, as we have seen. Taylor himself, Scott, and the Secretary of War had all separately suggested that the true route to victory was an invasion from Vera Cruz. Something obviously had to be done, for the war dragged on, the Democracy had lost the House, public spirit drooped, discouragement and opposition were increasing. So Polk had promised the Vera Cruz expedition to Scott. He was able for a while to cut to pieces the aggrandizement of another Whig, but by now the prospect had become too painful. Consequently, quite unknown to Scott, on Christmas Day he was drafting a request for Congress to revive the rank of lieutenant general. If Congress did so, he would be able to get the victory back into Democratic hands. He would be able to advance over both Scott and Taylor his former antagonist who had by now become his close friend, a master of oratory, a Senator and a "Colonel," Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri.
p386 Edwin Bryant had a dreary day with Frémont's California Battalion, which was still marching toward the war by a roundabout route and had got past San Luis Obispo. A violent rainstorm was blown at them through a gale that was almost a hurricane, as they came down the side of a mountain and tried to bring a brass howitzer with them. Everyone was extremely uncomfortable but Bryant and his mess got a fire going and a tent set up. He stripped naked and tried to dry his clothes. . . . In the Sierra, that rainstorm was a blizzard.
At San Diego Kearny, who was unable to convince Stockton that the administration could have contemplated any commander in California except Stockton, was trying to organize an expedition — under joint command — to retake Los Angeles, and had no time for Christmas cheer. The Mormon Battalion had reached the upper Pima village, didn't know it was Christmas, and didn't care.
On the day before Christmas, in the Sierra, westward from the divide, the fourteen survivors of the party which had left Donner Lake on December 16 labored in agony through snow that fell steadily all day long. Stanton had died honorably three days before; since then they had depended on Sutter's Indians to find the landmarks that would take them down to Bear Valley and safety. Without knowing it, they had lost the trail and were wandering. Nine days out, they had eaten nothing since the last daily mouthful was used up two days before. Months of exhaustion had eroded their strength before they started; now they had been nine days in the snow, •a mile and a half high. Suddenly they reached an end. Eight men, five woman, and twelve-year‑old Lemuel Murphy had got so far, but now a conviction of fatality gripped them. All the men except Eddy announced that they would go no farther. There was some raving talk of going back to the lake. Nine days out, snow falling, no food — even the starving could recognize that the notion was insane.
An assertion of human will followed. Eddy, the strongest-hearted of them, insisted on continuing the effort while life was left to them. The two Indians agreed. So did all the women. "I told them," Mary Graves said, "I would go too, for to go back and hear the cries of hunger from my little brothers and sisters was more than I could stand. I would go as far as I could, let the consequences be what they might."
Mary Ann Graves, twenty years old, born in Illinois of parents who had emigrated there from Vermont. An undistinguished item in the year's migration, one dot of Manifest Destiny, who had set out to find the West with her parents, five sisters, two brothers, and a brother-in‑law. A person of no moment making the western traverse. The children of her children in p387 California today are also commoners of the Democracy. Tradition says that she was beautiful and was engaged to marry the John Snyder whom Reed killed in a quarrel on the Humboldt. A further legend says that Stanton also had fallen in love with her. There is nothing remarkable about Mary Ann Graves, except that mankind can be staunch. "I would go as far as I could."
The will prevailed. But also it precipitated another decision. To gone they must live, to live they must eat, but there was no food. But there was food. Patrick Dolan, whose very presence on this desperate venture was a heroism, since he was a bachelor and owned more than enough of the oxen at the lake to keep him through the winter — Patrick Dolan voiced the thought which they had so far kept from voicing. Let them draw lots to see which one should be killed. Eddy agreed, Fosdick refused. Then Eddy, in revulsion, proposed a manlier solution: that two of them, selected by lot, take revolters and shoot it out. "This, too, was objected to." In a moment the obvious became obvious to them. They were all near death. Someone would die soon. They groaned on through falling snow.
They stopped when dusk came and, with their single small axe, got wood for a fire — which they built on little logs on top of the deep, crusted snow. Now the Mexican herder, Antoine, died. Eddy knew that he was dead when he did not withdraw his hand, which had slumped into the fire. Suddenly, toward ten o'clock, the snowstorm changed into a blizzard. A tornado-like wind drove whirlpools of snow at them. All the wood they had been able to cut was used up. Trying to cut more in the midnight blizzard, they lost their hatchet. The fire began to sink through the snow. It made a deep hole but they succeeded in keeping it going for a while, water welling up round their legs. Finally it went out and the yelp of the blizzard was round them.
Most of them were moaning or screaming in the dark, Uncle Billy Graves was dying, and all but Eddy were willing to die. All would have died if it had not been for Eddy. He remembered an expedient of the mountain men in such storms as this — such a storm as Jim Clyman and Bill Sublette had survived in the Wind River Mountains, in our second chapter. They had their blankets. Eddy spread some of them on the snow and had his companions sit on them in a circle. He tented them over with the remaining blankets and closed down the circle himself. This was shelter of a kind, and presently the blizzard covered them over and they could live. But not Uncle Billy. He reminded his daughters of their mother and brothers and sisters at the lake, told them they must get through to Sutter's for their sake, bade them eat his body, and died.
p388 In that mound of snow, Graves's corpse upholding its part of the tent, they stayed all through Christmas Day, while the blizzard howled on and made the mound bigger. That morning delirium came upon Patrick Dolan and, screaming, he broke his way through tent and snow. Eddy went out into the blizzard and tried to bring him back but could not. He came back after a while, and they held him down till he sank into a coma. As dusk seeped through the blizzard, he died.
The storm kept on through Christmas night, with two corpses in the mound now, and through the morning of the next day. Eddy tried to make some kind of fire inside the blankets but blew up a powder horn and burned himself severely. Mrs. McCutchen and Mrs. Foster also were burned. In the afternoon the snow stopped. They crawled out of their mound, made tinder of the cotton lining of a mantua, struck a spark in it, and got a dead pine tree to burn. So they cut strips from the legs and arms of Patrick Dolan and roasted them. Eddy and the two Indians would not eat. Lemuel Murphy had been delirious for hours. The food could not revive him. That night he died, his head in the lap of Mrs. Foster, his sister. There was a moon. Moonrise would bring back this scene to Sarah Foster through the rest of her life.
The next day, December 27, they butchered the bodies of Graves, Dolan, Antoine, and Lemuel Murphy and dried at the fire such portions as they did not need now, packing them for the journey still to come. The Indian would eat this meat now, but Eddy still refused, though his strength was ebbing. After three days more here, when the bodies of their companions had restored their vitality a little, he got them into motion again, on December 30. In the literature of the Donner party, these people who made the venture over the divide are called "the Forlorn Hope," and this bivouac in the blizzard has the name they gave it, "the Camp of Death."
Of the huts at Alder Creek Eliza Donner Houghton wrote, "Snowy Christmas brought us no glad tidings." And at the lake the interval Patrick Breen, who had begun to keep a diary on November 20, made this entry: "[December] 25. Began to snow yesterday, snowed all night, and snows yet rapidly; extremely difficult to find wood; offered our prayers to God this Christmas morning; the prospect is appalling but we trust in him." Breen, a Catholic, had lately begun to read the Thirty Days' Prayers. He read them and the Bible all‑out by firelight in the murky cabins, and his faith in extremis sank into the childish heart of Virginia Reed. She made — and kept — a vow. If God would save her family she would seek baptism as a Catholic.
Milt Elliott, who was one of Reed's teamsters, and Noah James, who p389 was one of the Donners', had started out on December 9 to get news of the Alder Creek camp, and Elliott got back to the lake on December 20. He reported the deaths of Jacob Donner and Samuel Shoemaker and James Smith and Joseph Reinhardt. They had not starved for some food was left, they had just died. (Before he died, Reinhardt confessed to George Donner that he and Spitzer had murdered Wolfinger.) At Alder Creek they were trying to locate the frozen bodies of the oxen by thrusting poles into the snow, but they were not succeeding. They were catching the field mice that crept into the huts and eating them. And they had begun the diet that was to be the staple here and at the lake. Strips of oxhide were singed to remove the hair and then boiled for hours, or days, till a kind of glue was formed. (They had some pepper left to season it.) They boiled the bones also till they were soft and could be swallowed, and a faint taste of meat was imparted to the water. Tommy Reed, three years old, grew up to have no stomach for calf's-foot jelly or similar foods, and it was among the memories of Eliza Donner, also three, that she had chewed the bark and young twigs of pine to ease the pain in her stomach.
Likewise she remembered that one day her mother Tamsen took her up the snow steps to where the dazzling sun shone on the snow and blinded her, and led her to a hole from which smoke was floating up. Uncle Jacob lived there, Tamsen said (but he didn't live there any more), and they must go down and see Aunt Betsy and Eliza's little cousins. Eliza peered down that blackness and was afraid. She called to her cousins to come up instead — and was more frightened when they did. They had grown skinny and white, they were strange, suspicious, feral. "So I was glad when my mother came up and took me back to our own tent, which seemed less dreary because I knew the things that were in it and the faces about me."
They had buried the dead in the snow, which froze over the bodies and then deepened as more storms came. At the lake no one had died since Baylis Williams gave the Forlorn Hope an omen for their departure. The huts at the lake were a little better off than those at Alder Creek — in that there were more hides to make glue of, some frozen meat still, a couple of handfuls of flour from which Mrs. Murphy could make gruel for her granddaughter, the infant Catherine Pike. Catherine had been weaned when Harriet went over the divide with the Forlorn Hope, weaned on spoonfuls of water a little thickened with this hoarded flour. There were, or had been, four other nursing babies at this camp.
One thinks especially of these and the older children on Christmas Day, the Donners, the Reeds, the Murphys, Breens, Kesebergs, Graveses, Eddys. They could remember firelight on friendlier snow, Sunday School classes p390 with scrubbed faces, hymns in warm rooms, going to bed at night, the inexplicable behavior of grownups on Christmas Day, the myth of a fat man who brought gifts. They could remember the Christmas of the vast America far to the eastward of this mountainside where trees cut down for firewood left •twenty-foot stumps in the snow and death came slowly to families trapped by Lansford Hastings' ambition.
Nevertheless there was one Christmas feast on Donner Lake. In her end of the double cabin whose other half was occupied by the rooming Graveses, Mrs. James Frazier Reed had taken thought long before of her children's memories. When she bought four oxen from the Breens and Graveses, she had cleaned the tripe of one and hung it low outside the cabin, where snow would conceal and preserve it. She had also contrived to store away through nearly eight weeks a quantity of white beans amounting to a cupful, half as much rice, half as much dried apples, and a •two‑inch square of bacon. On Christmas Day she took them from the hiding place and made a stew of them. While the storm that was killing Dolan and Graves on the far side of the ridge buried the cabin still deeper, the children danced round that bubbling pot. Thirteen-year‑old Virginia; Patty Reed, eight years old; Jimmy, five, and Tommy, three. There was once more a perfume of the kitchen in the hut, and diced cubes of tripe or bacon jigged on the bubbles while the children shouted. Thinking of her husband, possibly dead, possibly alive somewhere beyond the hurricane of snow, Margaret Reed could nevertheless speak the warning of all mothers on Christmas Day, "Children, eat slowly, there is plenty for all."
Another Christmas must not be forgotten, Bill Bowen's, who had come down of the California or Oregon. The loss and alteration it may have cost his family has been made clear, but he had done what he set out to do. He had reached the new country — and had brought with him the core of American belief and habit, differentiated in two and a quarter centuries from the belief and habit of Europe that had accompanied the first of his predecessors when they began the westering which he had now brought to its farthest bound. Let the part of that core of feeling which made his Christmas American stand for the rest of American feeling. Stripped to little more than his skin, a stranger in the land of his desiring which proved more strange than he had imagined when he started, he would now make his new home in the West. It would be his old home modified not only by the new conditions but by the experiences of his crossing. He had come a long way, and at the eastern end of it was the old home. Great distances were a part of his mind now, the distances he had traveled, the distances he tinily lived among. He had given the nation its continent and perforce something p391 continental formed the margins of his mind. It was a centrifugal, a nation-breaking force that had sent him out, but in the end it was a centripetal, a nation-making force he was changed into. He was a counterweight, the nation traveled was his nation and lines meant less to him; he was more a nationalist, less a sectionalist already and from now on. The ribbon of the trail bound the nation more tightly together — and the time was not far off when the United States would need that strength. So he had found the West and given it to the United States; now he faced the labor of subduing it and building in it a farther portion of the United States. To that labor would be addressed the rest of Bill Bowen's life and the lives of his children and their children. Christmas along the Sacramento and the Willamette, the Bay of San Francisco, the lower Columbia, was Christmas in a strange land firelit by memories of Christmas back home in the States but also hastened by the realization he had achieved. Beside these waters that fell into the Pacific there was a hope about the future that has become a deed within our past.
* * *
"These Mexicans," wrote Private Jacob Robinson of Captain Reid's Company D, the day after Christmas, "are a singular people: but yesterday in arms against us — today every man says omega or friend."
Robinson made his contribution to linguisticsd in the now fallen city of El Paso del Norte.3 Doniphan marched into it after the affair at El Brazito, commissioners coming out to pray that the conqueror would not lay it waste. They supposed that farm boys who could lick armies between meals must be carnivores. As a matter of fact, they now had one carnivore with them, James Kirker having ridden in to enlist, the day after Brazito. Kirker was an Irishman on permanent retainer from the government of Chihuahua to act as a destroyer of Apache. He had collected an elite guard of retired mountain men and the Ishmaels of the plains, the dispossessed Delaware. With this posse of specialists he ranged Chihuahua gathering Apache scalps and was paid fifty dollars per scalp, half price for women and children. (He appears by name in one of the best Wild West novels, Mayne Reid's Scalp Hunters and is really the model of that romance's prettified gothic hero with the beautiful daughter and the heart of bitter fire.) Doniphan added him to the platoon of mountain men which was now captained by Thomas Forsythe. Disdaining to eat Chihuahuans, he did excellent service as a scout.
The army was not at all carnivorous. The boys had learned Spanish, or thought they had, and practised it on a citizenry who were eager to say p392 "omega." They had arrived at a considerable city. El Paso was the last outpost of the Great Spain that had found New Mexico beyond its strength. More than ten thousand people, a more vigorous stock than the New Mexicans, lived in the beautiful town in its green valley, and an ancient culture flourished there. The churches were impressive though idolatrous. The ranchos supplied abundant food — Doniphan was now paying in government drafts which had better be accepted, or else. For centuries the haciendas of the valley had been producing notable wines. There was plenty to eat, plenty to drink, and a comfortable surplus of señoritas, some of whom the boys even married.
The army ought to have had a good time but did so too spasmodically. As a matter of fact, this is their low point and they show symptoms of ebbing morale. They had reacted from the exhilaration of Brazito, they had too little cash for pleasures, they were bored and grew quarrelsome, and there was an undercurrent of anxiety. It was now known that Wool's expedition to the city of Chihuahua had been abandoned and his force ordered to the support of Taylor. Rumor promptly gathered a crushing Mexican force at the city Wool was to have occupied, and at intervals the First Missouri were sent running out in their shirt tails to form battle line and repel an imaginary attack. The air vibrated with secret conspiracy. Another persistent rumor, which had more behind it, whispered that trouble was preparing at Santa Fe, which could cut the army off from its base. The precarious situation of a handful of conquerors a thousand miles from home, deep in a hostile country, was quite clear. So the army bragged, swaggered, dissipated, and sometimes bullied the inoffensive Mexicans. The wines were potable, there were plenty of stills, Missouri drank much and behaved accordingly. Native gambling games were everywhere; the boys got so interested in them that, tired of falling over monte banks in the public street, Doniphan ordered them cleaned out. There were cockfights, fandangos, fiestas. Brawling among themselves, the boys were willing to include any bystanders. They retaliated on native profiteers and, on January 12, the diary of John T. Hughes, our A. B., notes that three of Captain Hudson's company are "to be court-martialed for ravishing a Mexican woman."d
Doniphan had more serious problems than those of an unruly organization in an enemy town. He had to recruit his outfit and, now more than ever, keep it at fighting pitch. Though a trickle of supplies came from Santa Fe, getting there down the trail from Independence to which the Comanche were now beginning to devote their attention, the quartermaster service was in collapse. The army had been living off the country ever since p393 San Miguel — back in August — and had to provide even its own munitions. That at least proved easy: Doniphan's patrols picked up ten tons of gunpowder at El Paso, five hundred stands of small arms, a magazine full of cannon balls (not much good), four cannon (tiny), and a museum of culverins, swivels, and other medieval armament. (He took what he needed and sank the rest in the Rio Grande.) Except for a little scurvy and hundreds of hangovers his regiment was healthy, but horses fit for cavalry service were hard to find and the requisitioned boots and shoes were bad. A wagonload of medical supplies came down from Santa Fe but it was far from enough.
Moreover, at the end of a thousand-mile line of communication, two thousand miles from the War Department, he did not know what to do. The White House had arranged for Wool to take Chihuahua. Relying on the high command, Kearny had ordered Doniphan to join Wool. Doniphan now knew that the trivialities of terrain and command which the White House strategy had disregarded had broken up the pretty plan. (Happily he did not know that Missouri, hearing that Wool had turned back, supposed that its Mounted Volunteers were lost forever and was now mourning them.) Rumor had Taylor badly licked and perhaps a prisoner; it also had southern Chihuahua and its neighbors rising en masse to destroy its invaders. What was he to do? Councils of war produced conflicting advice — the army, if consulted, would have turned back, Private Robinson said — and finally Doniphan put an end to debate. The hell with it: he would go on and do Wool's job.
He sent for his artillery but at Santa Fe Price, who had extinguished one revolt just as it got started, was wary. He would release only Major Meriwether Lewis Clark and the battery of Captain Weightman, and wanted some time before releasing them. Doniphan cracked down on the traders, who had been an annoyance all along and were a burden from now on. Some of them had set up shop in El Paso and were doing an excellent business. Some bolted ahead to Chihuahua to run their chances and, though Doniphan sent a posse after them, most of these got away. Others held back intending to wait till the invasion was settled one way or the other, or to detour it at their convenience. They were, however, a possible source of man power, and Doniphan got tough. He called in his patrols, who had been looking for Chihuahua troops or chasing Apache for the inhabitants. He filled up his trains, commandeered what he wanted, drilled the farm boys in the school of the soldier, and got ready to march again.
He also arrested the principal local priest, Ramón Ortiz, with whom he had had trouble ever since he occupied the town. Ortiz, known to the p394 First Missouri as the kindly protector of the Texans who had been captured on the abortive Santa Fe expedition of 1841, was the head conspirator of an underground nativist movement. An accomplished and intelligent man, he was a fiery patriot who could not love the conquest and was directing a widespread opposition. Doniphan took him and several other prominent citizens as hostages. It was just as well, for a few days after the army started south it got word that trouble had broken out in Santa Fe.
This was the brief but bloody uprising known as the Taos Revolt. There was a group of New Mexicans who had not tranquilly accepted the conquest of their country. Among them, probably the most forceful, was Diego Archuleta, the lieutenant governor who had wanted to oppose Kearny's entrance and whom James Magoffin had persuaded with a promise that the conquest would not extend farther west than the Rio Grande. He and others who had both courage and patriotism formed an underground organization which planned an uprising. Kearny left Santa Fe convinced that the province was pacified, but Doniphan, Price, and Charles Bent (the governor appointed by Kearny) became aware of the smoldering ground fire. They were confident, however, that the American force was large enough to prevent any outbreak of violence. They were alert and when Price became military commandant, on Doniphan's invasion of the Indian country, he instituted much more stringent regulations for both the troops and the civilian population.
They were certainly needed. For a large part of the blame must rest on the Second Missouri, the regiment which Price had brought down the trail. Doniphan's command — whether because they had experienced both the risk and the satisfaction of conquest or because Doniphan had some faculty of leadership that Price lacked — had not antagonized the natives. But the Second Missouri, in effect, had turned Santa Fe into a roaring Wild West town, full of jubilation, offensiveness, and personal insult.
The conspirators arranged an uprising in Santa Fe for December 26, with elaborate plans for the seizure of the governor and commandant, the capture of the artillery, and synchronized attacks on various portions of the garrison. The American officials got word of it, however, seized all the principal conspirators except Archuleta and his first assistant, Tomas Ortiz, and issued a proclamation denouncing the revolution. They believed they had prevented violence, but they miscalculated. There were deeper and deadlier hatreds at work than they realized. For one thing, the blood lust of the Pueblo Indians had been aroused. The fair god from the east who had come to restore their ancient liberties had by now somehow got identified in their dark minds with the conquistadors.
p395 This lust was hastened by the conspiracy and its suppression at Santa Fe. Trouble broke out at Taos, whither Governor Bent had gone to visit his family, in the belief that the crisis had passed. On January 19, 1847, a mob composed mostly of Pueblo killed Bent in his own home, and five other Americans. In other parts of the province other Americans, about fifteen all told, were killed, sometimes with revolting cruelty, and bands of insurrectionists formed rapidly. A wave of thoroughly justified alarm ran across New Mexico.
Price acted promptly and effectively. He marched north from Santa Fe with part of his regiment and a company of volunteers led by the Bents' partner, Ceran St. Vrain, and won a bloody skirmish at La Cañada. He was joined by more of the Second Missouri and a company of Kearny's Dragoons from Albuquerque under Captain Burgwin. (One of those that had hastened to protect the traders' camp at Valverde.) Nearly five hundred strong now, through a spell of bitter cold, they came over the mountains, won another skirmish, and finally blew in the pueblo of Taos itself on February 4. It made a bloody end to a bloody campaign — Burgwin was among those killed — and New Mexicans and Pueblo would think hard before making another conspiracy. Most of the ringleaders had been killed in battle. Price arrested others and the talents of Francis Preston Blair, Jr., lately occupied in drawing up a civil code for New Mexico, were now engaged to prepare a prosecution.4
The news of this revolt traveled surprisingly slowly and Doniphan had started south when it reached him. Clark had arrived with Weightman's artillery on February 1, and a week later the First Missouri took up the march again. The unruly traders were now commanded to form themselves into a military battalion and take part in their own defense. They did so and Samuel Owens, the half-brother of one of A. Lincoln's fiancées, was made their major. Over two hundred of them were enrolled and they had more than three hundred wagons. The arrival of the artillery had brought Doniphan's strength to 924 effectives.
They were caught between an unknown enemy in Chihuahua and a revolution in New Mexico, but they were marching again, the job they did best. They left the Rio Grande and soon reached a difficult two‑day desert. "Traveling through these jornadas in a cold night," Private Edwards says, "brings many to the recollection of warm houses, the soft feather beds, and the cool springs at home." It brought worse discomforts than the memory of home, and the second day nearly did for them. The train stuck in deep sand, had to cut loose many oxen, abandon a couple of wagons, and jettison four tons of flour and much other food. Even the traders threw p396 away some of the merchandise that usually outvalued the lives of their employes. That second day was torrid and near the end of it the Doniphesias were close to stampeding. A providential rainstorm lightened the last miles, however, and saved the dying horses and oxen. They camped for a day just beyond the desert. Then they went on to Carrizal and, on February 21, to Ojo Caliente. This abandoned hacienda was named for an enormous hot spring, where the whole army, including its commander, got a bath.
Beyond the hot spring they made a •fifty-five-mile jornada and, on the far side, got themselves into a prairie fire. One of Gilpin's campfires spread into the mountains, where it burned beside them throughout a day's march. Lieutenant Gibson remembered an old song, "Fire in the mountains! run, boys, run!" and that night they had to run, when a gale drove the flames down to their camp. There was a wild half hour while the army set backfires, galloped the horses and wagons about, and swore at one another in pyrotechnic light till the show was over. Still another kind of campfire had been added to their memories.
Doniphan had been keeping them in military formation the last few days and his reconnoissance parties — under Reid, Kirker, and Forsythe — had seen evidence of preparations ahead. On the night of February 27 he camped •some fifteen miles north of a creek called the Sacramento, which was about the same distance north of the city of Chihuahua. His scouts and some stragglers who had come into camp had told him that the Mexicans had gathered at the Sacramento and were prepared to fight him there. The information was accurate; the First Missouri was going to have a battle.
Chihuahua had raised and equipped a sizable force, after floundering through the period of factionalism, jealousy, and treachery that attended every part of the Mexican war effort. It amounted to about three thousand organized troops and perhaps a thousand additional pressed peons who were armed principally with machetes. It did not have Santa Anna to drill it, however, and he was the only one who could make marksmen out of peaceable, oppressed people not used to bearing arms. Its general was a trained engineer but neither he, his soldiers, nor the supporting population had acquired any respect for their enemy. Throughout the war Mexican armies were always being half paralyzed at the beginning of an action by the discovery that the cowardly gringos would fight. As scouts reported the approach of Doniphan's command, an exhilaration seized Chihuahua. Battle rhetoric in newspapers, broadsides, and the sermons of priests promised everyone an overwhelming victory. About a thousand people went out to make a bleachers at the expected battleground, and the army took with it p397 a thousand prepared ropes. They would make a coffle in which to lead the captured Americans to Mexico City.
Conde, the commander, had prepared a fortified position near the crossing of the Sacramento, where the hill came in and narrowed the approach. He was a first-rate engineer and brought against the First Missouri the science of fortification which reached back all the way to Roman times and had been maturing ever since. The works would have edified Uncle Toby and should have been impregnable to assault. Conde failed to consider only one eventuality: what if the Americans did not know the textbook approach?
He should have considered it for, after reconnoitering the position, Doniphan and his staff saw no reason why they need come by the route prepared for them. It was a pretty little battle, the action of February 18. An orthodox analysis would find that Sacramento reinforced the lessons of Taylor's battles and once more proved the virtues of artillery. For the six small cannon which were divided between Clark and Weightman outranged and outshot the Mexican artillery and were decisive. They broke the Mexican lancers, battered in the redoubts, and shot concentrations of infantry to pieces. So by the texts technology won the battle.
But the texts must be thrown away and the victory allocated to two things: frontier craftsmanship and the readiness of the private soldier to improvise tactics as required. . . . On the morning of February 28 they started out from camp, Clark's band rendering "Yankee Doodle." On the way to the Sacramento Doniphan gave them a battle formation new to the art of war but excellently adapted to the circumstances. He formed his train and the wagons of the traders in four parallel columns — the moving fort of any caravan on the Santa Fe trail when it was on guard against Indian attack. In extremity the wagons could have formed a corral, within which the army could have held off many times its number. He put his cavalry, infantry, and artillery in the intervals between columns, where it was ready to deploy at need. The classical American symbol, a train of white-tops, moved compactly toward the Sacramento. Approaching the fortifications, Doniphan took his formation to the flank, half turning the Mexican position instead of coming from the front as he was expected to do. On the way to the flank there was an arroyo and the Mexican lancers might have cut the disorganized train to pieces. But this train was not disorganized. The high art of the bullwhackers scored a military triumph in getting the wagons across swiftly and in order, to the orchestrated profanity that was appropriate.
It was a wild and stimulating time. The now frustrated redoubts opened p398 fire at long range and the panoplied lancers formed under banners. Doniphan ordered his troops out into line and Clark's artillery shattered the lancers before they got well started. Thereafter for an hour the artillery commands banged at each other. Clark had made his battalion (part of it was a St. Louis militia organization of honorable traditions) first-rate artillerists. Though the fuses were faulty and many shells exploded prematurely, he put down a successful barrage. The Mexican pieces were old, their powder was bad. The solid shot they fired came up visibly, bounding and ricocheting. The farm boys watched them come, yelled their appreciation of the show, made bets with one another, and dodged so successfully that the only casualties were horses.
The Mexicans made another charge, at the rear and the wagons this time, and the traders who could shoot as well as the army beat it off without trouble. Doniphan moved his lines nearer the half-turned redoubts and musketry fire blazed everywhere. The Missourians were shooting in earnest but the truth is that the Mexicans, who had had no practice with arms and had been battered by artillery, mostly contented themselves with hoisting their pieces over the parapets and discharging them at the horizon. Doniphan, who sat on his horse and cursed with the homespun eloquence of his culture, watched the army work up to within four hundred yards of the redoubts, and then launched three companies of cavalry and Weightman's artillery in a charge at the Mexican guns. It started out gaudily but his adjutant, DeCourcy (who was rumored to be drunk), halted two of the companies halfway across. Doniphan got a bad scare and the halted companies stood cursing with fire coming at them from two directions. Weightman galloped his two howitzers halfway to the redoubts, unlimbered, and began to fire again. Owens, the trader, with two companions galloped down the front of the redoubts and got his for killed. Reid had not obeyed the order to halt but took his company up to the parapets and over them. The two companies that had halted joined him and the forts were carried in a few minutes of chaotic battle. The Missourians used their sabers, their clubbed muskets, convenient stones, and even their fists. The few minutes were gory enough to provide them with a lifetime of reminiscence — beheaded Mexicans, Mexicans split lengthwise, Mexicans shot down on the run, Mexicans locked in death grapples with their assailants, scared horses stampeding, roar of artillery, mountain men on one knee drawing beads, and the boys from home acting much as they did at a turkey shoot.
The Mexicans broke and ran. Some of them tried to rally on the other hill, but simultaneously Gilpin's wing swarmed over those fortifications and now everyone was running. The First Missouri, an army of victorious p399 individualists, milled round for anybody's horse that was handy and began a pursuit. They sabered Mexicans on the run, they chased them down the river, they chased them into the hills where some Apache who had taken box seats for the spectacle killed a number, and a big moon came up and the Mexicans were still running. The Americans came straggling back to the battlefield by moonlight, found the surgeons of both armies gathering in the wounded, and answered the yells of their officers, who were trying to bring the victors together again as an army.
They had been fighting for more than three hours. Owens, the trader, had been killed. (Legend says that he had some romantic reason for wanting to die and had dressed in white clothes before the battle.) A sergeant had received a wound from which he died, and seven others had minor wounds. On their part, they had killed more than three hundred Mexicans, wounded at least as many more, taken forty prisoners, and permanently broken resistance in the state of Chihuahua. While the wounded screamed in the mesquite, the First Missouri ranged over the field to gather in the spoils. They were considerable, for Chihuahua had done well by its defenders. The Doniphesias got ten cannon and a miscellany of antique trench pieces, hundreds of small arms, many tons of powder, several elegant carriages belonging to generals and their guests, Conde's field desk, scores of wagons and carts, hundreds of horses and mules and beeves, thousands of sheep. They got the ropes in which they were to have been marched to Mexico City and the black pirate flag with death's-heads that had been flaunted at El Brazito. They got a paymaster's box with $3000 in copper coin and they got an amount of silver which may have been $5000 or $50,000 but was carefully not reported to their officers. They loaded their pockets, belts, and haversacks with loot and came back to report themselves.
So they had still another kind of campfire, victorious under a big moon with the wounded moaning near by and Missouri two thousand miles from home, pounding one another's backs, wringing the officers' hands, and beginning to tell the stories that would bore their grandchildren. The fires blazed up and the boys cooked a meal, a big meal. The spoils had included a quantity of bottles, kegs, and skins of Chihuahua wine. Missouri settled down to celebrate not only the defeat of a hostile army but its total dispersion.
The next day, March 1, Doniphan sent Mitchell and an advance guard to occupy Chihuahua and on March 2 rode at the head of his column into this, the principal city of northern Mexico, which had fallen to a handful of ragged boys from the prairies. Forgive him if he swaggered, "not unlike p400 a strutting gander," and forgive the boys, frowsy, ill‑smelling, and unshaved, if, with the bands producing "Yankee Doodle" again and "Washington's March," they told each other that they had kept their oath and captured the Halls of Montezuma. A populace which had been promised the complete destruction of the invading heretics was panic-stricken, gaped at the conquerors in terror mingled with disbelief, and hurried out the prettiest señoritas with melons, tortillas, and more wine. The resident Americans, who had barricaded their houses in fear of a mobbing, rushed out to welcome their deliverers. They couldn't believe what they saw, for no one ever looked less like heroes than the First Missouri. Some of them hurried back and nailed the doors shut again, convinced that these were some Apache whom Doniphan had sent ahead to prepare his coming. The army swaggered and yelled behind its bands — past the mint, past the great cathedral, round the plaza, and on to ceremonies of capitulation. Private Robinson, nineteen years old a few days back, wrote in his diary a good soldier's summary: "We rode through the principal streets and public square, and on a rocky hill on the south side of the city fired a national salute in honor of the conquest, stole wood enough to get supper, and went to bed as usual among the rocks."
* * *
At the Cabinet meeting of May 4 Polk heard Secretary Marcy read "Col. Doniphan's" report on Sacramento, and spoke of it in his diary as "one of the most decisive and brilliant achievements of the War." He was occupied with the quarrel between Kearny and Frémont or would unquestionably have said more about Sacramento. What he did say is not open to question. Eight months after the administration strategists had laid out this campaign in the Executive office, an improvised organization had fulfilled the President's intent, deep in enemy country, without support from the War Department, by application of their native talents to the task at hand. Frontiersmen easily changing phase, farmers becoming soldiers, they had conducted a probably impossible campaign to victory and made secure their portion, a large one, of a foreign conquest.
In a year of decision they had produced a decision. Chihuahua, one of the "Northern Provinces" of Mr. Polk's concern, had been made secure for the duration. New Mexico was also secure; after Sacramento there would be no revolts like the one at Taos. Since New Mexico was secured, California also was secure. Doniphan's work buttressed that of Sloat, Stockton, and Kearny, and the pieces of Mr. Polk's objective in the Far West now p401 made a map. Moreover, the southwestern Indians, the Navajo and the Apache, though far from dissuaded, had at least learned to be cautious. The western end of the Santa Fe trail and the southern route to California offered no such massacres as the Comanche perpetrated on the eastern portions throughout 1847. Finally, by its mere presence in Chihuahua the First Missouri had turned a balance farther to the east. On February 22 and 23 Taylor's subalterns won the battle of Buena Vista — but barely won it. It was a bloody battle and the excellent army which Santa Anna had raised lost it by an extremely narrow margin. If Santa Anna could have had the troops which faced Doniphan at Sacramento it is likely that Taylor's would have been chased in fragments through the state of Coahuila.
* * *
Susan Magoffin stayed at El Paso in great distress. Only her heavenly Father could protect her now. To the north the Taos revolt had filled the land with danger, and to the south her friends and courtiers in the army had disappeared into a terrifying silence. Susan read her Bible and did little charities for the servants, dressed in her best and dined with the "Dons," clung to her husband and pretended that she did not see how anxious he was. Day by day worse rumors came out of the south. It seemed certain that Brother James would be executed as a spy, and there was always news that Chihuahua had annihilated the army. In tribulation Susan formed the habit of attending Mass and wondered if this made her an idolatress. The ceremonies seemed to comfort her a little, so she decided that her protestant heart was not corrupted by the images. Suddenly a subdued, arrogant triumph flared across El Paso. It must mean that Doniphan had been defeated. Susan and her husband were now almost certain to be murdered by the mob. Then on March 5, "we were struck with consternation about 12 o'clock today while quietly talking with our friend, Mr. White, Don Ygnacio Rouquia suddenly stepedº in at the door, with hair somewhat on ends and features ghastly. At once our minds filled with apprehensions lest the dread sentence [of death for James Magoffin] had been passed. Without seating himself and scarcely saying good morning, he took Mr. Magoffin by the hand and led him out of the room in haste and with tears in his eyes told him that 'he was a Mexican and it pained him to the heart to know that the American army had gained the battle and taken possession of Chihuahua.' " She gave thanks to God, but there was no word from Brother James.
Susan's alarm about James Magoffin was not justified. Don Santiago p402 had saved his skin — with an expenditure of champagne closely calculated by his old companion, Philip St. George Cooke, at 3392 bottles. Mexican gourmets would not let a good host die, and the officer who got documentary proof of his treason courteously returned it to him. But they would not let him go. When Doniphan neared Chihuahua, they sent Don Santiago on to Durango as one of the consolations of defeat, and he was kept there, angry but still buying champagne, till the war ended.
At Doniphan's approach, Chihuahua had, however, released other Americans who had been kept in custody for various reasons, including some of the traders who had hurried down the trail from Independence ahead of the army, last May. A group of these, among them Dr. Wislezenus, the romantic scientist, had spent six months under guard at a little silver town named Cosihuirachi. Wislezenus had been dreadfully bored there; the mines were in , the town was poverty-stricken and rotten with syphilis and "lepra." He tried to botanize but it was barren country. He observed the natives' fatalism when the Apache raided their herds and killed the herders, and grinned at their futile, discreet belligerence when they sent posses to ride a safe distance after the marauders. One ranger company, he decided, could clean out the Apache for good, but there wouldn't be a Mexican ranger company. For months he expected Wool to raise the siege but Wool didn't come and the doctor stoically heard all American armies obliterated in rumor. The battle of Sacramento freed him from boredom and captivity. He rode to Chihuahua and was shocked by the First Missouri's rags. Still, "there was some peculiar expression in their eye, meaning that they had seen Brazito and Sacramento and that Mexicans could not frighten them even by tenfold numbers." He joined up as a surgeon and completed the great march.
* * *
Sacramento and Chihuahua made the high moment of the First Missouri. From then on life was pleasant enough but an anticlimax of garrison duty, drill, abortive expeditions, rumors, rioting, and finally the march to the Rio Grande. They occupied Chihuahua through March till near the end of April, while Doniphan tried to get orders from the War Department or any superior officer. He had to protect the traders, who at last opened the commerce they had been anticipating for ten months. (By now the army was fed up with its wards and did not relish guarding them.) He had to negotiate customs arrangements for their protection and otherwise to conduct a civil government on behalf of the native officials. He had to arrange p403 a future for his command, whose enlistment would expire in June, and held repeated councils of war with his officers. They could reach no agreement — whether to join Wool or Taylor, whether to go back the way they had come, whether just to sit here and wait for the government to remember them. Gilpin, still dreaming empires, conceived an idea that this handful of troops could go down El Camino Real to its terminus and take Mexico City for Mr. Polk, whose chosen instrument seemed unable to take it. Some younger officers agreed with him, and, on the showing so far, the First Missouri would probably have undertaken the assignment with confidence.
The troops took their ease in the capital city. It was the biggest city most of them had ever seen, and by far the oldest and richest. A beautiful city too, as the lush spring came on with smoky air and vistas of fruit blossoms. Doniphan could drill them, harass them with guard duty and target practice, and prod their officers to keep them busy, but there was plenty of time. Bullfights, much bloodier cockfights, gaming tables even on the sidewalks, cantinas and willing señoritas everywhere — they knew how conquerors should behave and Doniphan was afraid they would disintegrate. When money got short again (they were still unpaid) they formed an easy habit of taking it where they found it. They conceived a distaste for the wormlike, hairless dogs of the town, tied firecrackers to their tails, and roused many a scared citizen by night with an uproar that seemed to mean pillage but was only the persecution of his pet.
They got the news of Buena Vista and made the town reverberate. At last one of Doniphan's patrols got through to Wool at Saltillo and came back with orders from Taylor to join him there. The night those orders came, Chihuahua rocked. "Every one to express his joy got drunk. There were hundreds fought and 'twas dangerous for a little fellow to poke about much. A fellow would hit his neighbor a thundering love pat and a fight would ensue, but [they would] soon be friends again. Such a motley crew of drunken men as the courtyard of the fonda presented I suppose never were together before. Some were crabbed and surly, others lively and good-humored; some for peace, others war; some making speeches, others remaining perfectly mute and sullen. This was not confined to the privates but [extended to the] officers of all grades." The conquerors had caught up with the United States again, on the far side, and intended to tell the world about it.
Some of the traders prepared to stay at Chihuahua, others to go back to Santa Fe, still others to march through the interior with their custodians. Doniphan released his prisoners and discharged his governors, turning the p404 city back to its officials. He got the First Missouri ready to move again. A few farm boys went over the hill to marry their señoritas and make homesteads in this valley. A few señoritas put on breeches and prepared to follow their farm boys. And on April 25, 26, and 28, in various divisions, the army left Chihuahua, heading south and east.
They had a diversified march to make — more jornadas, more mountains, more green valleys. But they were certainly the best marchers in the world by now and though, as always, some sickened and a few died, they put their shoulders into it. Dust, salt, swamps, summer heat, lizards, scorpions, snakes — nothing mattered now that they had turned east. Doniphan laid the gad to them and all their records toppled. As they marched they learned of Scott's landing at Vera Cruz, the beginning of the campaign that ended the war, and his first inland victory at Cerro Gordo. They foraged liberally but also they chased Apache and Comanche for the natives, Mitchell and the indefatigable Reid riding the flanks in sweeping forays. As they got down into Coahuila they reached country where Taylor's invasion had raised up guerrillas who harried Americans and Mexicans alike. And one day, "a Mexican courier came to the colonel with news that Canales [a guerrilla chief] had made an attack upon Magoffin's train of wagons, and that Magoffin and his lady were likely to fall into his hands. A detachment of sixty men under Lieut. Gordon was quickly sent to his relief. They anticipated Canales' movement."
(Susan does not even mention this alarm. She has been too exhausted to write in her journal — the attempt to keep up with the marchers was back-breaking and heart-breaking. "Many nights I have layed down not to sleep for my bones ached too much for that, even had I had the time, but to rest an hour or two prior to traveling the remaining and greater portion of the night to get a little ahead of the command." The Magoffins went to Saltillo with the First Missouri, then said good‑bye to it at last and from there on were under the protection of other troops, as Samuel traded toward the Rio Grande. It was an endless anxiety and a long pain. James was reported killed, though at last they knew that he was free. Samuel caught a lowland fever. Susan was ill repeatedly. They moved through the backwash and along the periphery of the war, scared, stubborn, persevering. In August she knew that she was pregnant again and they crawled on through the fetid summer and ended their long journey at Matamoros. There Susan caught yellow fever and a son was born to her while she was sick. The infant died very soon. Brigham Young would have told her that she had come up through much tribulation.)
The army came down to the beautiful oasis of Parras and for the first p405 time encountered a population who had learned to fear and hate American soldiers, a lesson they had taught no one. "Wherever we encamped, in five minutes women and children would roam through the tents to sell different articles, never meeting with insult or injury." Wool's and Taylor's troops had given the natives wholly different emotions, and from now on the Doniphesias would see an ugliness of war that was strange to them. The West Pointers claimed that it was the volunteers' fault; and it was at least the fault of the volunteer system, which prevented discipline. Also, of course, Taylor did not care to tarnish his candidacy.
Another hitch brought them to Saltillo and on to the battlefield of Buena Vista and the headquarters of General Wool. Doniphan tried to brush and curry them a little but it was no use. Drawing full rations at last, after eleven months, some of them refused soap, explaining that they had no clothes to wash. Doniphan got them into line long enough for Wool, the precisian, to review them, but again it was no use — they gaped and lounged and made remarks. Wool tried to re‑enlist them for another year, which showed optimism. Even Meriwether Lewis Clark made comments on the way the War Department had treated them, and when Wool said he would take care of them Clark remembered out loud that they had heard the same story at Fort Leavenworth.
They got a chance to stare at Taylor too, near Monterrey, and found that they loved him and his great-commoner act. They left their sick here — lowlands and tropical weather were cutting them down — and marched on to the Rio Grande. At Cerralvo they saw some Texas Rangers execute a guerrilla who, they felt, was a brave man and entitled to protection as a combatant. The officers had difficulty restraining them from expressing their belief. Thereafter they did not like the "Texians," though admitting that their habitual cruelties were justified by years of border raids. And as they came into contact with regular army outfits they fervently added their antagonism to the old quarrel. Finally, a few miles from Reynosa, they lost a sergeant to guerrillas and exacted a thorough revenge, in the manner of the Texians.
At Reynosa they had reached navigable water — by marching •almost exactly three thousand, five hundred miles from Fort Leavenworth. Here, ending a feat of arms without parallel, they awaited transports in rain, swamps, and muggy heat. They were dirty, they were lousy, they had practically no clothes left, and they acquired a new set of grievances against the war. The government could not send their horses home by boat but would try to drive them overland — and could not transport their outfits. They burned their saddles and blankets and crowded aboard bad transports, p406 to eat weevily hardtack, and find themselves with as little drinking water as if they were making another jornada. So they came to New Orleans and down the gangplanks, some of them wearing only greatcoats, some just their drawers, all long-haired and bearded and burned black.
New Orleans, which was near enough to the war to recognize heroes at sight, went wild over them. They fed to repletion on good American food at last, though they were apt to get out their case knifes and go for the roast with both hands. They read newsprint about their adventures and perfected their reminiscences. They got paid, after twelve months — though paid less than they thought they had been promised. In the last week of June, '47, they were discharged and started home to Missouri.
Missouri outdid New Orleans. St. Louis — where they found friends who had grown rich from the war, as they assuredly had not — broke out in bunting and illuminations and deafened the heroes with as much cannon fire as they had heard at Sacramento. They came off the river steamers and marched through hastily erected arches while the packed streets roared at them. Old Bullion loosed his oratory and Doniphan and his officers got a chance to resume the same art. Skyrockets, Roman candles, transparencies, mottoes, champagne, and good corn liquor — the boys were home from the war.
It was the same when dwindling little squads reached their home towns and the villagers made the most of them. The Ladies' Aid baked cake again, who had made their company guidons, and here was Betsy to walk with in the evening. They were heroes in their home town, the newspapers printed their adorned stories, the ecstasy lasted for a while. Then they were just farmers again.
Memory took over. They had made their march, thirty-five hundred miles of it, from Fort Leavenworth to Rio Grande by way of Santa Fe and the Navajo country, El Paso, Chihuahua, and Buena Vista. As long as they lived, the twelve-months march would splash their past with carmine — prairie grass in the wind, night guard at the wagons, the high breasts of the Spanish Peaks and all New Mexico spread out before them from the Raton, fandangos at Santa Fe, glare ice above the Canyon de Chelly, the hot gladness of the charge at Sacramento, the grizzly that wandered through our camp that night, tongues swollen by the jornadas, Jim dying in the snow, the ammonia stench of the buffalo wallows, the campfires glimmering in a slanting line of rubies all the way up the pass, the señoritas who looked in the wagon that day when I was sick and "oh the beauty of the exquisite Spanish word pobrecito when heard from such lips, the sweetest of all sounds."
p407 They remembered the campfires most of all, though Missouri has not chosen to memorialize them in the murals of its First Mounted Volunteers at Jefferson City. A campfire burns in the submerged memory of the Americans all the way west from Plymouth Beach, and the First Missouri had sat round three hundred and fifty campfires on their way. The fires illuminate the composite memory of the March of the One Thousand — thirty-five hundred miles of prairie, desert, and mountain, the faces of your squad ruddy in that light and some of those faces you would not see again, stories by firelight more memorable than any stories you would hear in Missouri, the ease of stretching out by the flames after the day's ride, buffalo hump to eat or maybe just charred cakes of cornmeal, and sleeping under the peaks before dawn came up and the heat mirage began to shine.
They too had found the West and left their mark on it, an honorable signature.
1 It is impossible to determine the exact route of this detachment or that of any of the others in the Indian country.
2 This is as good a place as any to express my regret at being unable to weave into this sufficiently complex narrative three stories of '46 — Abert's reconnoissance, Ruxton's trip through northern Mexico and eastward along the Santa Fe trail, and the wide-eyed adventures of Lewis Garrard. They would help to make a formal composition of this book, since they gather up a number of threads necessarily left dangling without them. Ruxton traveled with Garrard and with Abert, Garrard lived with the Cheyenne who were Charles Bent's relatives, stood siege at Fort Mann on the trail when the Comanche harried it in '47, and was brought back to the settlements by Owl Russell, a friend of his family, when Russell came east with dispatches from Frémont. Ruxton's comments on Santa Fe and the trail in '47 are enormously interesting, and Garrard's adventures with Long Hatcher, Blackfoot Smith and other mountain men, his account of New Mexico following the Taos Revolt, and his description of the trial of the conspirators are of the first importance. If there did not have to be an end to all books, even of this one, all three stories would appear here.
As a matter of fact, this narrative did at one stage include Garrard's story. I put it in as a specimen of pure ecstasy in the West. I took it out because I could not do justice to it without giving it more space than pure ecstasy justifies. I can only say that Abert's report and the books of Ruxton and Garrard all add to the picture of the West in '46 and '47, that Ruxton's (it is called Adventures in Mexico and the Rocky Mountains) is an important and very interesting work, though less so than his fictionized account of the mountain men, Life in the Far West, and that Garrard's book is one of the very best ever written about the West. In fact, Wah‑To‑Yah is one of the unacknowledged classics of our literature. It has far more understanding of the West than The Oregon Trail, has just as much verve and gusto, and, all told, is a better book. Anyone who may learn about it in this book for the first time is advised to waste no time but to read it at once.
3 El Paso, known everywhere as "The Pass," was the present city of Juarez, across the Rio Grande from the Texas city of today. There were, however, some tiny settlements on the site of the American city, one of them clustering round the ranch of James Magoffin.
4 Word reaching Bent's Fort of the Taos uprising, a hastily gathered force of mountain men rode south through the winter mountains to join the fighting. Lewis Garrard accompanied it and this part of his book, with his account of the trial of the ringleaders, achieves a fine irony and excitement. Garrard pictures himself greasing the ropes with which the guilty were hanged and reflects on the mockery of charging them with treason.
a A fast-forward by our author: Sheridan was promoted to Lieutenant-General in 1869, commanding the Division of the Missouri from Chicago. The "nearest fort" was Fort Union, about 40 km NNE of Las Vegas. The major may well have been Charles Whiting (q.v.), who had a history of sassing superiors.
b In passing, this is a useful tip for anyone walking in winter. Snow will insulate you from cold, which I can personally vouch for: in February, 1970, as a young man of 20, I walked from Washington, DC to West Point, NY without a sleeping bag — and slept comfortably in the snow several times by burrowing under it and a nice layer of leaves.
c The name covers several very strong raw spirits, here probably distilled of mezcal. See Ralph Bieber's note on Webb's Adventures in the Santa Fé Trail 1844‑1847.
d The characteristically arch comment, coming from a man who just in the last page has given us "the distances he tinily lived among" and "perforce something continental formed the margins of his mind", is a bit much.
e In his diary, January 13, 1847; as transcribed by W. E. Connelley, Doniphan's Expedition and the Conquest of New Mexico and California, p92.
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