Chapter Six: At Camp Ford
When Camp Ford’s stockade came into view, Micah rode on ahead. The boys on picket duty rose dutifully. Micah nodded and said, “Afternoon, boys,” then rode on past them.
The towhead said, “Reckon we should have saluted him? He carries hisself like he’s an officer.”
“Naw,” the lanky boy said. “I think he’s just Texas Cavalry.” He looks at the line of prisoners. “Wonder when they’ll stop coming?”
“There don’t seem to be no shortage of Yankee prisoners to be sure. I wish I was regular Army so I could catch me some.”
“You couldn’t catch a cold, much less a Yankee. Regular army? Shoot. They wouldn’t have you.” He looked at Micah. “Now that one there, I bet he’s killed a thousand Yankees. I can tell by the way he carries hisself. Smith’s probably gonna make him a general.”
Micah rode toward an officer’s guidon above a cabin. At the cabin, he tied his horse to the hitching rail. An officer came out and looked at the prisoners trudging toward the stockade.
“You’re bringing prisoners?” the captain said. “How many?”
“A dozen, well there was, now there’s just eleven.” Micah handed the lieutenant his orders. “Walked them here from Louisiana.”
“Kirby’s campaign on the Red River is sure making my life difficult. I’ve already got too many prisoners.”
“There’ll be more coming your way. We’re catching some every day.”
“Why did he send such a small bunch of men?”
“Don’t rightly know. I haven’t really given it much thought. If you start trying to make sense of everything an officer tells you to do, you’ll get addled. I know you’re an officer, but I didn’t mean nothing personal.”
“No offense taken. At least you understand your orders. I’ve got some militia here as guards—let’s just say they are a bit on the slow side. It seems like every man around here that the regular army doesn’t want, I get. When do you go back?”
“I ain’t for a spell. I got a month’s furlough that begins tomorrow. Is that no good Chicolithe still working for you?”
“He is, and a godsend too. Ten men escaped this week, but he brought them all back. Most of them alive.”
“I reckon I need to herd these prisoners inside that stockade of yours and get our horses seen to for the night.”
“I’ll have my cook prepare you supper. He’ll bring you something, say, in about an hour? How many shall I tell him to prepare for?”
“There’s two others. Elbert Johnson, another cavalryman, and Ezekiel, my captain’s servant. Thank you, Captain.”
“The area for the enlisted men is along the road. You can set up your quarters for the night there.”
Micah untied his horse, mounted and rode to Ezekiel and Elbert. He told them of the captain’s offer of supper and to go ahead and care for their horses. He followed the prisoners as they marched on to the stockade. Two guards opened the gate, and for a moment the buzz of human voices and movement ceased as those in the stockade contemplated the new additions. Three federal men lined up and greeted the newcomers in a mock salute, then busted out laughing. Micah wondered if they were drunk. He watched as the prisoners faded into the swarm of blue inside. As the gate closed, the soldiers who had gathered to gawk at the new prisoners dispersed except for one heavily bearded Union soldier who stared at Micah. The soldier raised his hand, then he too turned and was lost in the restless movement of the prison population.
“Damnation,” Micah said.
Micah led his horse to the corral. Ezekiel and Elbert’s horses and the mule were already inside. He unsaddled Colbert, patted him on the rump and led him in with the other horses. A pitchfork and a pile of hay were next to the gate. Micah forked some of it over the fence to his horse Colbert. He hoisted his saddle and guns to his shoulder and walked to his camping area.
Ezekiel and Elbert sat with a buckskin-clad man, dressed like the buffalo hunters or trappers who used to pass through Jack County. He heard the man say, “And that’s when I quoted him some Shakespeare. And you know what? That Indian thought I was making some kind of magic spell with those highfalutin words.” Ezekiel and Elbert laughed. The wild man looked up at Micah and said, “I told the Captain that he should revoke your furlough and sign you on for duty here. I told him you might make a good farrier.” He grinned, showing his tobacco-stained teeth.
“Chicolithe, well, I’ll be,” Micah said.
Chicolithe stretched out his hand. “Micah Evans. It’s been a spell.”
Micah slapped his hand into Chicolithe’s iron grip. “I heard that you have been chasing Yankees.”
“I am. And I’m grateful for every one of the sons of bitches that tries to run. They’re a hell of lot easier to trail than a Comanche. Now, Yankee soldiers are tough enough mind you, but they just don’t know how to cover their tracks.”
Micah sat down on the ground next to him. “Well, I brought you some more, then I’m on my way home. You heard any news?”
“I have, Micah, and it ain’t good news. The savages have about taken over the country. Folks are abandoning their places and moving this way. No one hardly has any stock left. I heard the Yankees in Kansas are buying our cattle from the Comanches and Kiowas.”
“What happened to the Ranger units?” Elbert said.
“There’s a few left, but not enough to provide any real protection. Most units were transferred to the war.” Chicolithe tapped his pipe on his boot and emptied it. “Frederick’s in there.”
“I know. I saw him. You had a chance to talk to him?”
“A word or two. He’s alright. The prisoners here have plenty of food and water. Not much sickness. They’re a sight better off than the prisoners in Georgia. At least we’ve got food in Texas we can give them. Frederick always had a knack for getting himself in awkward situations. At least here he can keep his ornery self away from bullets. You want to talk to him? I’ll get the commander to call him out.”
“Naw. Frederick and I had words before I left Jacksboro. Ain’t no repairin’ the friendship. And things ain’t settled yet between us.”
“Frederick might not be in too big a hurry to get back to Jacksboro since he sided with the Federals. As belligerent as Frederick is, it’s probably best he’s here. Since he can’t keep his mouth shut, he’d be right in the middle of all that mess. You know how he’s got a knack of irritating folks.”
Micah nodded. “Got a real talent for it.”
“Last time I passed through Jacksboro, I stopped in on Erin. She and your two children are doing fine. Growing like weeds, they are.”
“I haven’t seen them in two years, Chicolithe.”
“I know, Micah. Sooner this war is over, the better for all of us. You hear about the hangings in Gainesville?”
Micah watched one of the guards on his roosting point on the stockade. The guard aimed his rifle into the stockade and then withdrew it. One of the prisoners must have wandered close to the deadline. “No, I didn’t hear nothin’ about no hangings.”
“They hanged about forty men accused of insurrection. Arrested a bunch more from all over North Texas. Some were from Wise County. I reckon they were trying to bust up that Union League.”
“Were these folks they hanged causing trouble?” Elbert asked.
“Not as far as I can tell. Other than speaking their mind, they don’t seem to have done anything.”
“Turning on our own can’t be a good thing. We don’t have enough people here as it is. The Comanches won’t have to attack us. They can just sit back and watch us kill ourselves.”
“You remember James Tackitt, that Methodist parson? He said this war’s made folks plumb crazy. I think he’s right about that.”
“They still call him the fighting parson?” Ezekiel said.
“Yeah. He’s still saving souls and fighting Indians. Both occupations can keep a man busy in Texas. I think he’s quit preaching to the Indians though. Says now that the savages are like the Canaanites in the days of Joshua and need to be exterminated or driven from the Promised Land. I think that last episode on Tackitt Mountain when he and his family fought off Piny Chummy soured him on trying to save any Indians. He’s about quit enrolling soldiers for the war though. Says that there ain’t no one left fit to recruit.”
“Tackitt enrolled me and Elbert,” Micah said. “And I got a bone to pick with him about that. Life in the Confederate Cavalry ain’t much like what he described when I signed those papers.”
“I guess a man’s life ain’t never going to be exactly like he wants or expects. It does gets exasperating at times, but we keep trying to give it some form or shape that matches the idea in our heads.”
“Why are you doing this job, Chicolithe?”
“Cause I’m a greedy son of a bitch, and I like hunting men.”
There was a long board table under a pecan tree in front of the captain’s cabin. Two servants covered it with a tablecloth and then set out plates, glasses, and silverware. After placing some chairs and campstools around the table, they returned with a huge bowl of greens, a skillet of cornbread, and a platter of beefsteaks.
Chicolithe rose. “Well, I’m going to get some supper. I assume the captain invited you. He’s a real hospitable man, the captain. If you’d been here last week you could have been entertained by Miss Molly and her poetry.”
“Naw. We weren’t invited. He said he’d send us food. Who entertained you?”
“Some gal from Houston that came up to visit with the captain’s family. She fancies herself a poet. She ain’t much to listen to, but my, my, she does have other assets that offset her lack of poetic skill. Right pleasant to the eyes that woman. Well, you take care, Micah Evans. I’ll make it out your way some day. When this war winds down, I’ll likely go west. Lord knows there won’t be nothin’ east of here to go to.”
“I’m glad we’re upwind from the stockade,” Elbert said. “Has a ripe odor to it.”
“Everything about this war stinks,” Micah said.