Buffalo Soldier Regiment: History of the Twenty-Fifth United States Infantry, 1869-1926

By John H. Nankivell | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER V
SCOUTING, ESCORT AND GUARD DUTY, AND ROAD BUILDING—THE
REGIMENT CHANGES STATION—SKIRMISHES WITH INDIANS AT
CENTRAL STATION, TEXAS.

During 1871 and the first four months of 1872, the regiment remained at its original stations in West Texas with but few changes. The period was employed in building and repairing roads and telegraph lines, scouting for hostile Indians, escort duty, and the every’ day hum-drum of garrison life in a frontier post of the day. In fact, with the exception of a few consoling skirmishes with the Indians, this was the daily work of the regiment during its ten years of service in Texas.

Scouting for Indians and escort duty entailed long and arduous marches in all kinds of weather and the regimental returns of the period reveal that quite frequently a company or a detachment would march two to three hundred miles in a month while performing these duties.

General Forsythe, in his intensely interesting book, “The Story of the Soldier” (D. Appleton and Company, New York), has given us a very graphic picture of escort duty in those early days of the great Southwest; ne says in part:

“Escort duty was always distasteful, and of all escort duty, that with a ‘Bull’ or ‘ox train’ was the worst. Man was subordinated to the beast, because the distance made, the time of starting, the length of the stops, the situation of camps, everything connected with traveling, depended upon grass, the animal’s sole food. If a fine grazing place was reached a halt was called, and the stock turned out with a blissful indifference to everything else, even to water. The stock did not require it, and the men must be satisfied with the water kept in little kegs which were fastened to the wagons. Those kegs were supposed to be freshly filled at the streams upon which the command had last encamped, though this important detail might possibly have been forgotten. It was kept only for cooking and drinking, lavation not being the ’bull whacker’s strongpoint.

“Oh! the tedium of it all! The starting twice a day in the small hours of both meridians; the diurnal journey of from seven to twelve miles in a trip of one or two hundred miles and return. The train, numbering from twenty to fifty wagons, rolled out in the matutinal twilight to an accompaniment of cracking whips, of yells, and teamsters’ oaths, the officer commanding the escort, bored and sleepy, riding a few yards ahead of the leading wagon, the escort scattered about where it could do the most good in the event of sudden need. At the end of the first mile up gallops a wagon master.

“‘Leftenant,’ he says, ‘Hunk Hansen has shed a tire, and we’ll have to put it back.’ Everything stops, for it will not do to separate the train. The tire is put on, and a fresh start made. Half an hour later a wagon master is at the escort commander’s side again. ‘That idiot Doby Dave,’ he exclaims, never told me he had a split yoke before we left camp, and now it comes apart, blast him! and I’ve got to go through the wagons or band the yoke.’ ‘Which can you do more quickly?’ asks the lieutenant patiently, L ‘Band her.’ ‘Do it then.’ Another halt, another half hour or hour lost, and so it goes through the day, day after day, in rain and shine, always in heat, for freighting is possible only when the grass is green, and there is ever a steady strain of responsibility on the officer. He well knows that he is followed and watched, and should he be caught napping, he will surely have to pay the penalty, for the stock is a prize that the Indians will risk much to secure. They know the route, the length he will be on the road, and his destination, and he must act accordingly. The men, naturally enough, become weary of the slow progress, the short halts, and the mighty hard guard duty. They do not care to affiliate with the teamsters, and get tired of each other, and, in fact, it is a dreary business all around. As the train is groaning and cracking its slow way over a bit of rolling country a cry of ‘Indians!’ ‘Indians!’ suddenly comes from the flankers, and the band of Indians dash

-19-

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Buffalo Soldier Regiment: History of the Twenty-Fifth United States Infantry, 1869-1926
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