The next morning, having directed Delorier to repair with his cart to the place of meeting, we came again to the fort to make some arrangements for the journey. After completing these we sat down under a sort of perch, to smoke with some Cheyenne Indians whom we found there. In a few minutes we saw an extraordinary little figure approach us in a military dress. He had a small, round countenance, garnished about the eyes with the kind of wrinkles commonly known as crow’s feet and surrounded by an abundant crop of red curls, with a little cap resting on the top of them. Altogether, he had the look of a man more conversant with mint juleps and oyster suppers than with the hardships of prairie service. He came up to us and entreated that we would take him home to the settlements, saying that unless he went with us he should have to stay all winter at the fort. We liked our petitioner’s appearance so little that we excused ourselves from complying with his request. At this he begged us so hard to take pity on him, looked so disconsolate, and told so lamentable a story that at last we consented, though not without many misgivings.
The rugged Anglo-Saxon of our new recruit’s real name proved utterly unmanageable on the lips of our French attendants, and Henry Chatillon, after various abortive attempts to pronounce it, one day coolly christened him Tete Rouge, in honor of his red curls. He had at different times been clerk of a Mississippi steamboat, and agent in a trading establishment at Nauvoo, besides filling various other capacities, in all of which he had seen much more of “life” than was good for him. In the spring, thinking that a summer’s campaign would be an agreeable recreation, he had joined a company of St. Louis volunteers.
“There were three of us,” said Tete Rouge, “me and Bill Stevens and John Hopkins. We thought we would just go out with the army, and when we had conquered the country, we would get discharged and take our pay, you know, and go down to Mexico. They say there is plenty of fun going on there. Then we could go back to New Orleans by way of Vera Cruz.”
But Tete Rouge, like many a stouter volunteer, had reckoned without his host. Fighting Mexicans was a less amusing occupation than he had supposed, and his pleasure trip was disagreeably interrupted by brain fever, which attacked him when about halfway to Bent’s Fort. He jolted along through the rest of the journey in a baggage wagon. When they came to the fort he was taken out and left there, together with the rest of the sick. Bent’s Fort does not supply the best accommodations for an invalid. Tete Rouge’s sick chamber was a little mud room, where he and a companion attacked by the same disease were laid together, with nothing but a buffalo robe between them and the ground. The assistant surgeon’s deputy visited them once a day and brought them each a huge dose of calomel, the only medicine, according to his surviving victim, which he was acquainted with.
Tete Rouge woke one morning, and turning to his companion, saw his eyes fixed upon the beams above with the glassy stare of a dead man. At this the unfortunate volunteer lost his senses outright. In spite of the doctor, however, he eventually recovered; though between the brain fever and the calomel, his mind, originally none of the strongest, was so much shaken that it had not quite recovered its balance when we came to the fort. In spite of the poor fellow’s tragic story, there was something so ludicrous in his appearance, and the whimsical contrast between his military dress and his most unmilitary demeanor, that we could not help smiling at them. We asked him if he had a gun. He said they had taken it from him during his illness, and he had not seen it since; “but perhaps,” he observed, looking at me with a beseeching air, “you will lend me one of your big pistols if we should meet with any Indians.” I next inquired if he had a horse; he declared he had a magnificent one, and at Shaw’s request a Mexican led him in for inspection. He exhibited the outline of a good horse, but his eyes were sunk in the sockets, and every one of his ribs could be counted. There were certain marks too about his shoulders, which could be accounted for by the circumstance, that during Tete Rouge’s illness, his companions had seized upon the insulted charger, and harnessed him to a cannon along with the draft horses. To Tete Rouge’s astonishment we recommended him by all means to exchange the horse, if he could, for a mule. Fortunately the people at the fort were so anxious to get rid of him that they were willing to make some sacrifice to effect the object, and he succeeded in getting a tolerable mule in exchange for the broken-down steed.
A man soon appeared at the gate, leading in the mule by a cord which he placed in the hands of Tete Rouge, who, being somewhat afraid of his new acquisition, tried various flatteries and blandishments to induce her to come forward. The mule, knowing that she was expected to advance, stopped short in consequence, and stood fast as a rock, looking straight forward with immovable composure. Being stimulated by a blow from behind she consented to move, and walked nearly to the other side of the fort before she stopped again. Hearing the by-standers laugh, Tete Rouge plucked up spirit and tugged hard at the rope. The mule jerked backward, spun herself round, and made a dash for the gate. Tete Rouge, who clung manfully to the rope, went whisking through the air for a few rods, when he let go and stood with his mouth open, staring after the mule, who galloped away over the prairie. She was soon caught and brought back by a Mexican, who mounted a horse and went in pursuit of her with his lasso.
Having thus displayed his capacity for prairie travel, Tete Rouge proceeded to supply himself with provisions for the journey, and with this view he applied to a quartermaster’s assistant who was in the fort. This official had a face as sour as vinegar, being in a state of chronic indignation because he had been left behind the army. He was as anxious as the rest to get rid of Tete Rouge. So, producing a rusty key, he opened a low door which led to a half-subterranean apartment, into which the two disappeared together. After some time they came out again, Tete Rouge greatly embarrassed by a multiplicity of paper parcels containing the different articles of his forty days’ rations. They were consigned to the care of Delorier, who about that time passed by with the cart on his way to the appointed place of meeting with Munroe and his companions.
We next urged Tete Rouge to provide himself, if he could, with a gun. He accordingly made earnest appeals to the charity of various persons in the fort, but totally without success, a circumstance which did not greatly disturb us, since in the event of a skirmish he would be much more apt to do mischief to himself or his friends than to the enemy. When all these arrangements were completed we saddled our horses and were preparing to leave the fort, when looking round we discovered that our new associate was in fresh trouble. A man was holding the mule for him in the middle of the fort, while he tried to put the saddle on her back, but she kept stepping sideways and moving round and round in a circle until he was almost in despair. It required some assistance before all his difficulties could be overcome. At length he clambered into the black war saddle on which he was to have carried terror into the ranks of the Mexicans.
“Get up,” said Tete Rouge, “come now, go along, will you.”
The mule walked deliberately forward out of the gate. Her recent conduct had inspired him with so much awe that he never dared to touch her with his whip. We trotted forward toward the place of meeting, but before he had gone far we saw that Tete Rouge’s mule, who perfectly understood her rider, had stopped and was quietly grazing, in spite of his protestations, at some distance behind. So getting behind him, we drove him and the contumacious mule before us, until we could see through the twilight the gleaming of a distant fire. Munroe, Jim, and Ellis were lying around it; their saddles, packs, and weapons were scattered about and their horses picketed near them. Delorier was there too with our little cart. Another fire was soon blazing high. We invited our new allies to take a cup of coffee with us. When both the others had gone over to their side of the camp, Jim Gurney still stood by the blaze, puffing hard at his little black pipe, as short and weather-beaten as himself.
“Well!” he said, “here are eight of us; we’ll call it six—for them two boobies, Ellis over yonder, and that new man of yours, won’t count for anything. We’ll get through well enough, never fear for that, unless the Comanches happen to get foul of us.”