Making a Raft - Crossing Little Cypress - Wading the Overflowed Bottoms - Crossing Big Cypress - Crossing Sulphur Fork - Wading and Swimming - Pass for a Rebel Deserter - Begging for Something to Eat - Relating Camp Rumors - Journey Interrupted by Rain - Capturing a Slave on a Mule - In the Indian Territory - Out of Our Course - Conversation with Three Slaves - The First Dinner - Carried Down the Stream - A Night Among the Owls and Mosquitos - Fording Little River.
AUGUST 25th, made a raft and crossed at sunrise. The raft was made by tying two logs together with grape-vines, then we made a platform of short pieces of wood, on which we tied our clothes, rations, matches, etc., and swimming alongside, pushed it across the stream. During the day we saw a man chopping wood, but fortunately were not seen by him. In the afternoon we traveled through woods, covered with small mounds, and saw quite a number of deer of all sizes. We had thought of resting all night, but toward evening a small boy passed us on horseback, in consequence of which we traveled until near morning. Distance, twenty-five miles.
August 26th, at daylight, we pursued our journey, and traveled through an almost impenetrable Texas chapparal. We found some splendid grapes, which partly paid us for our torn clothes. At about 8 o'clock A. M. we came to a bottom covered with water, through which we waded for about a mile, when we reached the banks of Big Cypress. The heavy rains up the river, the week previous, had overflowed all the river bottoms. We made a raft and crossed at 9 o'clock A. M. and found plenty of grapes on the opposite shore. We rested during the middle of the day, and parched more corn.
We had not traveled far, after we resumed our journey, until we struck another bottom, covered waist-deep with water, which gave evidence of another stream ahead. After wading in a short distance, we were compelled to turn back, the water being too deep to wade. We then retraced our steps and followed the base of the hills to the north, in search of a better place to reach the banks of the stream. After traveling a few hours, we were so fortunate as to find dry ground leading to the river. It proved to be Sulphur Fork of Red River, which was wider than any stream we had crossed before. We made a raft and crossed it about 4 o'clock P. M.
When we reached the opposite side, we could scarcely find a dry place to land, all the surrounding bottoms being covered with water. While going through the cane-brake, we had to part the cane with our bands, and then crowd ourselves through as best we could, the water, most of the time, being waist-deep. On we dragged our weary limbs, until we came to a deep place, where we had to swim, by way of change. The sun was sinking in the west, but we were still wading through water, mud and mire, with no better prospect of a dry bed for the night than to climb a tree, and wait for the coming day.
The sun had set, and night was fast approaching, when we struck the upland, having traveled a distance of twenty-three miles that day. I will not attempt to describe our feelings when we stepped from the water to dry land. Suffice it to say, that we did not travel far until we laid down for the night and slept soundly, considering that our clothing was thoroughly saturated with water.
August 27th, we awoke in the morning, stiff and sore, which wore off as we traveled on. We saw a woman going through the woods, but were not seen by her. This proved to be the hottest day of our trip, and we had less protection from the scorching sun, as the country was almost destitute of timber. In the afternoon we struck the sand-barrens, which were entirely destitute of water to drink. We were so overcome by the heat and thirst, that we were unable to proceed on our journey. On examining our canteens, we found that we had one pint of water left, which we shared equally, and concealed ourselves in the undergrowth for the rest of the day.
Toward evening, the want of water drove us from our resting-place. We determined now, at all hazards, to follow the first bed of a stream until we found water to allay our burning thirst. We soon struck the bed of quite a large creek, but no water. It was completely dried up. We followed its windings until near midnight, when we found a small stagnant pool in the bed of the stream. Here we halted and drank to our heart's content, and for fear we might suffer for water during the night, we concluded to remain there until morning, having traveled about sixteen miles that day.
August 28th. This was the ninth day out; and we supposed that we were about one hundred and fifty miles north-east from Camp Ford, but were not certain, as we had not spoken to any one since we left the stockade. We had our maps ready for reference, if we could only find out the name of any town near us. To learn that, I agreed to stop at the first house, and inquire of the slaves what neighborhood we were in. At ten o'clock A. M., we came to a house in the woods, and I saw some persons that I took to be slaves, but found out afterwards that I was mistaken.
I had settled the matter in my mind how I would talk to them, but had not calculated on meeting white people. We were well aware that we could rely on the blacks for assistance, but had to give the whites as wide a berth as possible. But, to be prepared for any emergency, I went north of the house, and passed by to the south, as though I was going to Texas instead of north. Just as I came in sight of the house, I saw two white men and several women and children, sitting at the door. They saw me before I did them, so there was no alternative but to stop and get out of the difficulty the best way I could. This was something I was not prepared for, and there was no time to lose in inventing some plausible story, as the house was not more than fifty yards distant.
As I approached to where they were sitting, I began to fan myself vigorously with my old straw hat. The perspiration was oozing out at every pore, from mere excitement. I bid them the time of day, which they returned, and invited me to take a seat. I made a few trifling remarks about the weather; they, however, did not seem to pay much attention to what I said, but stared at me in a manner which seemed to say: "Well, who are you?" Finally a perfect silence prevailed. I was still fanning, and they were staring. The suspense and silence began to make me nervous, so I thought, "now or never."
I commenced by asking: "How far is it to Washington?" I thought there was a town in that vicinity by that name. One of them replied: "It is about thirteen miles down to Washington." I knew from my map where I was, so I began to have more confidence. I then told them that I belonged to a Texas regiment, at Arkadelphia, Arkansas, and that my mother, who lived in Henderson, Texas, and was a widow, had sent for me to come home on business, and that as I could not get a furlough, I had determined to go home on my own responsibility, attend to my affairs, and then return to my regiment. If they wished, they could have me arrested as a deserter, and sent back, but I would get home some time. Besides, my captain told me that if I hurried back, there would be nothing said about it. I awaited anxiously to see what effect my story would have on them. It seemed to take very well. One remarked that I was rather bold about it. The other said they were not near as hard on deserters as they used to be, and I thought from his looks that he spoke from personal experience.
They now asked me the news in camp. I made up a batch of stories for the occasion, but told them they were mere camp rumors, and that you could not believe anything you heard these days. I then said I would like to have something to eat. The old man said he did not know about that. If his neighbors knew that he was harboring deserters, it would go hard with him. I had no more than made the request, when the lady of the house, a middle-aged woman, with a remarkably large group of children around her, started out the back-way, and soon returned with a loaf of corn bread, and a large tin of buttermilk. As soon as it was handed to me, I began to demolish the corn-bread, and looking up, saw the whole crowd staring at me in silence. I felt embarrassed, and feared that they suspected I was an escaped Union prisoner. The only thing suspicious about my conversation was, that when I was asked when I left Arkadelphia, I replied, "the day before yesterday." I found out afterwards, that we were one hundred miles from that place. I concluded that I had better be going, and remarked that I wanted to be traveling before it got much hotter, and requested them to point out the direction I should take to go to Washington. The old man went so far as to go part of the way into the woods, to put me on the right course. I went in the given direction until I got out of his sight, then circled round to where Lieut. Srofe was hid in a brush-heap, awaiting my return. In a few words, I told him what I had seen and heard. We hastily examined our maps, and found the exact locality we were in. We had kept our general course well, and had traveled 157 miles since we left the prison.
We now concluded to make very fast time, and get out of that neighborhood, to keep out of the way of the hounds. We had not proceeded very far when it began to cloud up, and soon the rain came pattering down upon us. With the sun hidden from our view, we could not travel to any purpose, so we sat down on a log, with our coats thrown over our heads, and took the rain from about noon until nearly dark, without any intermission. As soon as it had ceased raining, we built a shelter of pine boughs, and then a fire, parched corn, and put up for the night. Distance traveled, fourteen miles.
The following morning, August 29th, we discovered a log cabin within sight of our shelter, therefore we made haste to get out of that vicinity. After traveling several hours, we crossed an unfinished railroad track, and soon after reached the Red River. We made a raft, and crossed at 8 o'clock, A. M. On reaching the opposite shore, we found a swamp, covered with a rank undergrowth of every description, but we made every effort to get out on the upland as soon as possible. After creeping through cane-brakes, briars, vines and burs, for about an hour and a half, we struck the same river again that we had crossed. We followed the river to the north, until it made a direct turn to the west; we then turned off to the east, through a dense cane-brake, to make sure of leaving the stream behind us, and striking the upland. In about one hour's travel we came to the same river once more, near a house, situated on the bank of the stream. This was rather discouraging. It was now near noon, and we had crossed the river at 8 o'clock that morning, and had traveled ever since without resting, and yet had made no progress. It was evident now that we were lost in the river bottoms, and in the windings of the stream could not find our way out. We, however, took our north-east course once more by the sun, and passed through an extensive swamp, terminating at last in a comparatively large lake. After crossing this with some difficulty, we found ourselves in an open country. At about 2 o'clock P. M., we halted to rest and dry our provisions, at the same time hiding under a thicket of Osage Orange.
We supposed that here we would be safe from all intrusion, but we had scarcely laid down when we heard some one approaching us. Nearer and nearer he came; we could not run, not knowing what direction to take to get away from the threatened danger. I raised up, and began to look around cautiously, when I saw a negro on a mule, coming directly toward us. I crawled up in the bushes to where I thought he would have to pass, then, as soon as he came within my reach, I ordered him to halt. At the same time I caught his mule by the bridle. The slave was so scared at my sudden appearance that he trembled from head to foot, and could not answer my questions for some time. I asked him the name of the nearest town; he said he did not know, and did not know the name of any town anywhere. I then asked him how far around there he was acquainted; he replied, "about ten miles."
There was a poor prospect of finding out our whereabouts from him. After telling him we were runaway Yankees, and making him promise that he would not tell any person that he had seen us, I was about to let him go, when I asked him where he lived. He said, "about three miles on the State Line road." I asked him, "what State Line?" He replied, "Between Arkansas and the Indian Territory." We knew, then, exactly what locality we were in. We had missed our course by going too far west, and had strayed over into the Choctaw Reservation. Before he left he warned us not to go too far to our left, because there were a lot of soldiers over there.
After we had gained all the information we could from him, we let him go. When we found we were out of our course, we did not tarry long to rest, but started off due east. Towards evening, we ran against ten or fifteen slaves in a field, gathering corn. We turned back into the woods, and tried to circle around the plantation, by keeping in the timber; but we had to give up that plan, as we could see the cleared land on either side of us for miles; therefore our only chance was to cross the fields, in sight of the dwelling-houses on our right and left. We succeeded in creeping along the fence and through the weeds, into the woods on the opposite side, without being seen. We traveled until nine o' clock that night, and then rested until morning, having traveled that day a distance of eighteen miles.
August 30th, we started at daylight and had traveled but a short distance, when it began to cloud up, with strong indications of rain. As we could not keep in our course without seeing the sun, we waited until noon, when it cleared off. At the first glimpse of the sun, we started on our journey. After traveling a short time, we came across a lot of green timber, that evidently had been cut down that day, and on looking around, saw three slaves watching us, not more than a hundred yards off. We concluded that the best plan would be to go and tell them who we were, and caution them against telling any one that they had seen us. On asking them the name of the nearest town, we were told that they lived in Rocky Comfort, Arkansas, which was four miles west from there. They also gave us the cheering information that four run-away Yankees had been caught in that neighborhood the week previous. We asked them if they could give us something to eat. They examined their dinner-basket, and found that there was about a pound of bacon and a piece of corn-bread left, which they gave us. We divided it equally, and immediately commenced devouring the fat bacon, while the slaves looked on in amazement.
After making them promise not to mention having seen us, we pursued our journey. About an hour afterwards, we came near running against an old man on horseback, before we saw him. All that we could do was to drop flat on the bare ground, there being no brush of any kind near. We were in great danger of being seen, but although he passed very near us, he did not look in our direction. He appeared to be in a deep study, neither looking to the right nor left.
We struck a road towards evening, and rested until night, then followed it through a large plantation, which we entered through a gate, swung across the road. About ten o'clock that night, we came to a small, but very rapid stream. I waded into the water, but found it too deep and swift to cross at that point, and in trying to get back to the bank, the force of the stream carried me down into the swift, foamy current. After some difficulty, I managed to get on shore. In the second attempt, we crossed without any further mishap.
The road, which seemed much lower than its surroundings, now wound through a dark and dreary swamp, covered with water, which made traveling disagreeable and tiresome. When splashing through the water, we knew that we were in the road; when we struck dry land we knew that we were off the track; therefore had to search for the water again. We traveled on until near morning - longer than we wished to, but we were anxious to strike the upland before we halted, and get out of the water and away from the millions of mosquitos; but we could not accomplish impossibilities, and were obliged to drop down by the road-side, to await the coming day.
To sleep was out of the question, with the mosquitos innumerable - and as ravenous as wolves, while the frogs and owls were making night hideous with their cries. To protect us from the mosquitos, we gathered a large pile of pine boughs, then crawled underneath them, to await the coming morning. The memory of that night's suffering, I will never forget. Distance traveled, eighteen miles.
August 31st at the first signs of day, we were up and gone.
In a short time we saw a house, where a woman stood at the gate,
calling up the hogs, but we passed around to the rear of the building
without being seen. We crossed a dense swamp, and forded Little
River in the forenoon. We traveled until about nine o'clock that
night, when we entered another swamp, covered with water, similar
to the one we had passed through the evening before. Finding too
much water ahead, we turned back, picked out a dry spot, and put
up for the night. Distance that day, twenty-three miles.