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Morn amid the mountains, cold’s the hour before the dawn; also dark. So it was that autumn night on Camas Meadows, away up in Idaho, under the sentinel shadows of the great peaks of the Three Tetons.
How still the cavalry camp, with its tired troopers, snatching what sleep they can before beginning another day’s pursuit of Chief Joseph’s hostiles.
A shot! Another! A dozen! A regular rattling volley! A bugle blast – Brooks’ bugle, always musical, now stirringly imperative in its call to arms – the cool, firm orders of Mayor Jackson – and, above all, the Indian yells of defiance to the entire white race.
And all in the chill, intensified darkness that precedes the dawn. Shots in all directions.
Very suddenly had the hostiles attached the sleeping soldiers and cleverly stampeded the pack-mules grazing within the lines. Carefully, in columns of fours, personally conducted by Joseph, had they advanced toward the Story of Bugler Brooks 1199 watchful picket, and in the uncertain starlight made him think they were Bacon’s troopers returning. But answering not his challenge, they received the contents of his carbine.
A few Indians had skilfully crept in between the sentries, and mingling with the mules, had removed the hobbles from the bell mares. The sentry’s shot, the shrill signal yell, the buffalo robes flaunted in their faces – and the herd made a wild dash for freedom. It lay in the course shaped by the Indians.
Strenuous seconds now, with only a few of them consumed while General Howard and Lieutenants Fletcher, Wood and Howard rolled out of their blankets and arranged for pursuit. Decamped had the hostiles, with the hundred mules they were after, and the bullets, in darkness sent, found few the marks their senders meant.
There was no stuttering in the hurry-up calls that came from Bugler Brooks, and the mountain spurs and neighbor canons caught up the notes and echoed and reechoed them as only canons can.
How realistic it all was! And how the horses of the Montana volunteers, commanded by Captain Clark, now United States Senator, went wild and dashed away to join the stolen mules. And how Jackson, the veteran of many wars, talked to his horses, plunging at the picket rope, and quieted them down.
Boots and saddles! and away went the troopers of the dashing Norwood, Carr, Sanford, Jackson and Bendire, and in an hour they were in a hot engagement with double their number of Indians. They recaptured half the stolen stock, but the frantic animals broke away and dashed back into the enemy’s lines.
No amateurs at war were these Nez Perces. Their ambuscade was a success, and it soon became a case of the troopers holding their own. And when the day’s battling was over and Lieutenant Benson and the rest of the wounded had had their misery eased as much as was possible away out there in the then wilderness, there was one dead.
That was Bugler Brooks.
When the boy, for he was scarcely more than that, was shot out of his saddle, he tried at once to spring up on to his feet again, but only succeeded in getting to his knees. His horse, a very intelligent animal, went back to his fallen master, nickered, and edged up alongside of him. Brooks caught the stirrup strap and tried to lift himself back into the saddle, but just then death came. The horse whinnied and champed and stood around Brooks, plainly urging him to remount. It was a snap-shot scene that did not last long, but was quite pitiful while it was passing.1
The heroic rescue under a fierce fire of his slender and suddenly lifeless form, by Major Jackson, eventually brought that officer a medal of honor from Congress. Boy that he was, full of life and enthusiasm, it seemed singularly sad that fate had selected him to fill the shallow trench scooped out by his comrades.
Brief was the service read by Colonel Mason, touching the remarks by General Howard, heavy the hearts of those who stood by. And as the little mound was rounded up and the farewell volleys rang out on the evening air, the setting sun slanted its shadowing shafts against the soaring summits of the Snake River sentries, the Three Tetons, the wondrous western clouds took on their fairy forms and tints of rose and amber and purple, the stars let down their hanging lamps, and the rising autumn moon saw soldiers resuming the stern realities of wicked war, with Trumpeter Sembower sounding the calls.
Miles from human habitation, what a lonely place it was to bury the boy. How tender the termination of the camaraderie. And how would weep the mother who tended his infant footsteps could she have seen through the shadows that shroud the to-morrow, and viewed the ending of the life she gave.
With such sacrifices have Western trails been blazed. Alone with nature and nature’s God Bugler Brooks’ grave will remain for many a year, but the Bannock women will come to dig the camas and the cowse among the near-by knolls, and superstitiously point out the mound to their little ones. And every winter, with its deeper snows, will surely bring a spring, with meadowlarks’ sweetest songs, and every early June these mountain glades will be fragrant fields of beautiful blue blossoms of the camas, and the wild timothy and the red-top will dip and wave in the summer breezes, and the lupine and fire-pink will illume the smiling slopes.
And later on, some day, the settler will come, and the district school, and the teacher will tell her little pupils the tradition of the lonely grave. While down the spectral aisles of thought, the termination of whose windings we do not know, will come glintings of day through the darkness, arc lights of heaven in the dusk, and on the far-off morn – the resurrection morn – the reveille bugle-call of Brother Trumpeter Gabriel will find young Brooks among the good and true, in his fade blouse of blue, ready to join his scattered comrades o the gallant old First Cavalry, with Colonel Jackson a the head of the column, his favorite bugler again at hi; elbow, and riding along with their troops General Boutelle, and Captain Bendire, and Lieutenant Bacon and Major McGregor, and Col. John Green, and Captain Winters, and Colonel Parnell, and Major Trimble, and Captain Forse, and Colonel Bernard, and Majors Pitcher and Wainwright, and Sergeants McCarthy and, Burkett and Wooten and Hanvey, with Col. Rube obbins and Capt. S. G. Fisher leading on as chiefs of scouts, and the rest of the veteran troopers who put in the best years of their lives paving the way for the prosperous civilization that now blesses the Pacific Northwest.
By Col. J. W. Redington. United States Scout and Courier in Campaigns Against Hostile Indians in the Pacific Northwest. From Sunset Magazine by permission of the author.
Just after the youngster died, Charles Gibbons shot an Indian, and his body came rolling down from the rocks above. It was thought that that Nez Perce was the one who had shot Brooks, so Gibbons was called the Long-Haired Avenger. He had not had a chance to cut his own hair for several months, as the butcher-knife he packed in his boot had become pretty dull from slicing bard-tack. Please remember, Doctor, that on those rough campaigns the cavalry did not carry any cheese-knives (sabres), and the officers carried no swords (or toad-stickers). It was tough service on the horses, and every ounce taken off of them counted big. ↩