Fort Leavenworth I.T.

May 19, 1854

Mt dear Mother,

Here I am at the jumping off place. I wrote to you some time since today that I had applied for this duty. I wrote also a few days ago to inform you that I had got my request and then was making every preparation for leaving St. Louis as soon as possible. I left on the evening that I anticipated and having had a safe passage up I find myself at the post. Col. Steptoe and his command are here, also Capt. [Henry] Judd and Mrs. Judd.

I do not think we will get off before the 1st of June. There is no other lady along with us but Mrs. Judd and I think it very doubtful if either they Capt or herself go ahead with our party. They are both in very delicate health.

I am very sorry that this should be the case. I like them both very much from what I have seen of them. But I do not think their health will justify their going! Fort Leavenworth is a very pretty place. Much prettier than Jefferson Bks. The Country differs in being a rolling prairie Country where Jefferson Bks or the County around and about is full of what are termed sinkholes, deep natural pits. The grass here is very fine and an excellent place for grazing. My horse and mule, for I have one, spend most of their time grazing, picketed with a rope of about 20 feet. I bought a mule when I was here a short time since. It is a small animal but a very nice little thing having the particular property of being very gentle. Horses and Mules are very high here. They average from 140 to 130 dollars. The Indians [?] buy them up almost as rapidly as they are brought in. I think it more than probable that the Command will Winter in Salt Lake. Yet I do not know, neither can I tell, whether we are on the Plains some distance and see how many miles we travel a day. I am afraid that I will walk almost all the way, though I will have my very own horses and mules. Yes the men of my Command Dragoons will buy the strange fancy of Genl Jesup have to walk while there are 300 and more horses going out, some of which are for these very same men when they get there. I will be unwilling to ride when they walk, knowing full well that they ought to ride as well as I. I hope we may have a pleasant time crossing the Plains and many a time while trudging along very weary way I think of you. And oft when I am smoking my pipe in the evening after supper sitting around the fire if it is cold enough or by the stream on the grass if we are lucky enough. I will think of you, father, and the children sitting on the steps of the house on the beach, talking perhaps of the absent member. And when I stop at Noon I will think of you sorting out and your fruit and saying “Now children go away. Don’t bother me” or “Children behave,” or “Jane I will slap you if you do so again,” and many other nice sayings to keep the too desirous hands from dipping into the pears, figs and apples. Ah! How well do I remember those days of my childhood passed and never to return.

The Missouri River is the most rapid stream I think I saw taking it as a river. There are portions of other streams more rapid to observe but as a body of water I have never seen any which in my opinion can compare with the Missouri. There is very little difference between the Missouri and Mississippi, but I think that from what I have seen that the former is even more rapid than the latter. It is much more muddy and a much faster river. The banks a short distance from the mouth are high and well filled with grass and trees which give a very pretty appearance while here and there you see the ragged and the timeworn rock jutts out in defiance to the storms of heaven. This river is completely filled with snags. The Mississippi in this respect cannot compare with it. In some places it seems as though the boat could not possibly get through, and certainly nothing but nice steering and excellent management can do so sometimes. I thought when I was at home and looked on the map that Fort Leavenworth was out of civilization altogether, but when I got here I found I was mistaken as every [one] else will be who comes out [here] with any such notion.

I must draw to a close here my dear Mother as you see. My Father is getting written up. I will write again before I leave though by the time this reaches you I will be upon the Plains. Theophilus [the slave] is well and so am I. Give my love, etc.


Camp on 3 Mile Creek near Fort Leavenworth

May 26, 1854

My dear Mother

As you see from my heading I am in Camp, and I have been there for a few days passim. I should have written to you but that I have been so busy     since I have been here that I scarcely know which way to turn around. Our friend Capt. [Robert] Judd [3d Atry] and his excellent Lady, who as I before told you to have gone with us, sharing a separate command of an hundred men and even I for a subaltern have been compelled, through the very ill health of the Capt. to return to New York. The Dr. of the Post positively forbid the Capt. to go out with the Command and to leave the Post as soon as possible. Being very desirous of joining his Comp. which is in Cala. is determined to go by sea by which route he would if the trip prove successful much sooner then we shall. By this time of affairs, I was left in Command of the Dragoon Detachment of which he had been. As soon as I was placed in Command by turning over the Papers &c. to me I moved into the Camp and the next day Capt. Judd & Lady took their departure. I was very sorry to see the Capt. leave, for I had formed a very favorable opinion of him. I have had very much to do. Papers to make out, receipts to sign &c. and the worst of it is that I am not through yet.

My sources of consolation are however various and not the least is that I am acquiring knowledge every day which may be of use to me one of these days. My Camp is pitched about two or three hundred yards from Col. Steptoe’s. I have my own sentinel and over every thing am Comdg. the Camp and in that small space of the camp, I am a big man, much bigger than anywhere else. My tent is placed just at the head of the Camp, and I think I look very comfortable. I wish you could see me just as I am now, writing to you to describe it to your ________ and impossibility for me, but I think I must draw you a plan of the encampment.

Genl. Jessup and the other knowing ones at Washington think that this Comnd. of Col. Steptoe’s ought to walk across the plains 2,000 miles and guard almost 800 horses which they may mount upon when they get over. But Col. Steptoe has thought fit from the exigencies of the Case to Mount a certain number of the men, for the protection of himself and others of his Comnd.

As I am the only Dragoon Officer present and have Comnd. of the Dragoons recruits, I have mounted part to be selected by myself from my men, is placed under my Comnd and the remainder of the men are to be placed under the Comnd. of another officer to ________ I will have a Comnd. independent of all save Col. Steptoe and I will take great pain in making it efficient &c. for all duty. Whether I will be able to effect this or not is another thing but I will try and do so. I think we will learn more on Monday 29th inst. It is late at night now when I am writing. My camp is quiet and still. I am going around to inspect the Centinels. I have a very good set of men much better behaved than they are in the Artillery Camp. I think it very probable that I we will Winter in Salt Lake or near there. I will try and write to you from someplace on the route. I suppose we will be at Fort Kearney by the end of June. I have given you my address for California but I told you to address to Salt Lake. So you may write to me there and if I am there the letters will be forwarded to me. If we Winter there, we will not leave before the Spring. Give my love to all of my friends at home and say that I am very well satisfied. I have a good deal to do, more papers to sign. They so cover up and smother my ________ that I can hardly see through them. But I have managed thus far to get through with them and I hope to manage the rest of them. Give my best to Father, Adele and all of the children and tell them I am comfortable. I must now wind up my letter to you. It has not been a long one, but share in time my letter with them, to write more. Many of my letters will be much shorter than any you have received for a long time. Give my love, etc.

Ben Allston


Camp on Oak Point

June 6, 1854

My Dear Mother,

I must drop you a few lines from this solitude wilderness. Here we are a short distance from the Fort on our winding way to California. This makes the sixth day since we have been out from our Encampment three miles from the Fort. I am quite well and every thing my self. I wrote to you just before I left the Fort informing you that I was in command of Capt. Judd’s party. I am still in command of 50 of them, being number of the only mounted party along.

You would laugh to see my Costume—one of your check shirts rather more dirty-stained you would like to see it, no collar and no cravat and a common grey flannel shirt used as a coat—This with my pants rolled up to my knees almost, completes my costume.

The opportunity of sending in a letter to you occurs from meeting the Pay Master on his way to the Fort from Fort Laramie.

I wish I could see you. You have by this time learned of my departure for California. I wish that it had been possible to give you notice it and receive an answer in reply before I went but this was impossible.

I leave many friends behind in St. Louis and the day may soon come when you or I may have the opportunity to return them the kindness they have shown you.

I must close this short, but I know I know it will be an acceptable letter. I must not allow the opportunity to slip by me. Give my love to Father and Adele and all the Children, to Joe you will also. Joe has not written to me since I left. And so he is going to Europe   success be with him. Theophilus is well and is my cook.

Adieu Mother, etc.

Ben Allston



Dragns & Artillery Camp 30 miles from

Fort Kearney June 20th 1854

My dearest Mother

Taking advantage of an early Camp and knowing that we shall or rather stand a chance of meeting the Mail from Salt Lake on its way in, in a day or so now, I sit down to write you a few lines informing you of my well being. I am thanks to the gun in most excellent health, now in better. I enjoy my self in the wild life, so you would term it, but I cannot call it so exactly. The life is certainly very different from any that I had heretofore led but I thing much more charming and delicious. The only thing in my opinion approaches it in the slightest degree is the summer on the beach where you are now. There you seldom if ever breathe impure air. There I might say more the air is balmy and delicious. Imagine to yourself Mother a line of tents and wagons such as you have seen driven into town with cotton, I might say a long line for it is indeed pretty long 70 odd wagons and 50 odd tents. Now if you should look at the fourth tent from the right, you might see me sitting under it under a fly facing the west with my dog in front of me barking in the sun after the march. The front of my tent stretches out the east plain green as possible undulating, and wavering over 800 mules and horses together picketed out grazing on the       , until this time near-failing grass. Look around you and you will not be able to see a tree or shrub as far as the eye can reach. There is a small stream scarcely running but yet not stagnant, particularly through the sand in some cases and running in others. Here we all are without a stick of wood to cook on_______ except what we brought with us which is not much. We laid to Sunday as is the Col.’s intention. It rained very harshly the night previous as also that morning but it cleared off about twelve o’clock and a party of five of us went out to see if we could come across a stray buffalo. We crossed the little Blue and went about five or eight miles. We saw several antelope with their faerie figures, if you so might call them. They are the most curious creatures I have ever saw. They somewhat resemble the deer, but they move differently and not so fast. When they are running from you, you can see nothing but their tails white as cotton and much larger. But we could not get any of them because we were all foolish enough to go out without anything but our pistols. We saw tracks yet no Buffalo, I hope we may be more fortunate the next time.

I must now bid you goodbye my dear Mother…   I will write again from Kearney where we will be tomorrow or the next day. Adieu

Ben Allston


Camp on North Folk of the Platte

Near the Court House Rock

July 11, 1854

My Dearest Mother

Here you see I am on the North Fork of the Nebraska or Platte—I am quite well and in good spirits. The life has not yet lost its pugliancy [?] and pleasure for me. The scenes, though very much the same, are changing every day and the constant and daily exercise keeps me always with a good appetite, not to say am or have been generally without it. But there is a pleasure in feeling tired and then have the time to eat. Something which I presume you do not often feel, sometimes maybe when you have taken a race after the children at the Beach or have carried the baby on your back for the sake of the thing, you may feel a little tired, but it is not the tire of a hot and long march. There is a luxury about it that you cannot well understand I presume. A little incident occurred to one party the other day which broke very much on the monotony and rest of the Sabbath. On Saturday the 1st of the present month one of our party, a very nice fellow, in his thoughtlessness and excitement of the matter, left the party alone in the pursuit of a Buffalo. Capt. Ingalls by whose side he was riding saw him disappear on the crest of the hill. This was the last that was seen of him. We got into Camp soon after, this happened about then and thought nothing of his absence. He was not missed by myself. But when dawn came on _______ and he was still absent, we became alarmed and a party of five or six was made up to go in search of him. They returned at twelve at night with no intelligence of him. Capt. Ingalls and myself then determined to go out at 3 o’clock in the morning with a large party consisting of some civilians in his employ, and I took 15 (fifteen) of my Dragoons. One of the other officers started also and we got up at four o’clock. It was then broad daylight. We took a wagon with us to bring him in if we found him, and carried some provisions in it as we had no breakfast. I ordered my men to take some bread with them. We went out. I took nothing but a glass of cold water, and started. We soon got separated from each other. I with my men travelled over a whole area of at least ten miles by six or seven. Any quantity of Buffalo went soon. I was out without a morsel to eat for 10-l/2 hours with but little water. I was determined not to leave him out there until the necessity of the case I was obliged to come in. I would not have come in then believing as I did not had he not been found. Had it not been both men and horses were suffering from the length and fatigue of the work. I got into camp at half past two when I came in I felt very tired and exhausted having had but an hour and a half’’s sleep the previous night. I took a little to eat and drink. I found all the parties already in very much to my surprise a captain told me that they had him. My first question is, is he dead? Much to my joy he told me that he was not, but that he was crushed. I immediately went in to see him. He was perfectly sensible and told me how the accident occurred. He said that he had scarcely been out of sight of the Capt. when being in full chase after his game his horse stumbled and fell throwing him out and then rolling twice over him crushing his hind parts. For ten minutes he says he was delirious from pain, when he came to his senses he found that he was entirely disabled in his lower parts, from the small of his back. His suffering was intense. He had been without food for more than twenty-four hours but did not feel it was the thirst that he suffered from the most. His mouth was thoroughly parched. He heard the men when they were shouting for him during the night and says that they could not have been more than 60 to 100 yards from him but he was unable to give them the least due to him. Wolves and ravens, the buzzards of the plains, ______and owls around him all night. How great his anguish must have been when he heard the party go off and leave him you may imagine. He said that seeing nothing of anyone in the morning early he supposed that we had given him up and moved on. Where he was found he was lying on his face. He had been crawling with his hands and elbows, which were full of prickly pear, in order he said to try and reach the River— for he said that he could not make up his mind to die without one drink of water— if he could have got that he was willing to die. It was a great relief to me to find that he had been found. Messengers were sent out to me as soon as he was found but they all missed me. He is doing quite well at present but still unable to move or act for himself. As soon as I had eat and taken something to quench thirst I lay down in the shade of the tent and slept for five hours so soundly that the firing of the mountain howitzers did not disturb me. I am writing this now partly after the twelfth our camp is beneath Chimney Rock and the Capitols as Stansbury calls them. I drank today of the identical stream, five miles from Chimney Rock, where Stansbury and his party were encamped five years ago. I have had my chase after Buffalo and am in Company with Capt. Ingalls killed the first buffalo that was killed in the Camp. It is not safe to chase buffalo alone. If any accident should occur there should be one to tell the tale. I must close of this letter now as we may meet the mail tomorrow and this request not miss it for you would not get it for a month later. Give my love &c. …. I think I am growing shorter and may be a little taller. If the mail does not meet us tomorrow I shall write Laramie, I was prevented from writing to you at Kearney by being placed on duty on a Court Martial if no such intervening accident occurs I shall write from Laramie. Give my love to all &c. Affectionately yours, Ben Allston


Camp Near Fort Laramie

July 17th 1854

Mt dear Mother

I have just your two letters of the 25 May and June 6th and though there is a letter in the same mail that this will be in, I write this to inform you of the condition of affairs. I am quite well and in good spirits. I cannot give you much of a letter for my time is very limited. Fort Leavenworth is as different from Carlisle Bks as you can well imagine. The buildings are all old and not in the best condition. There are no farmers about it, and some few Indians. The Country on the opposite side of the River is well settled. But Fort Leavenworth being is in Indian Territory there are no settlements around it to speak of. The Indians who are about it are harmless. I saw none while there. Indeed, I saw none at all during the trip until a few days since where a War Party of the Sioux caught up with us, since then we have seen quite a number. They are odd looking subjects. But they, I meaning the tribe, is well disposed to the Whites. Fort Laramie is situated on the tongue of land situated between the North Folk of the Platte and the Laramie River. It seems to be quite a pleasant place. As fpr the Indians they are thick around this place. Any quantity of them may be seen hanging around. Many of them have come into our Camp to ask for sugar and Coffee and whatever else they can get. The first that came into our Camp near at the foot of Scotts Bluffs. The scenery about here is quite pretty. There is some wood around here—which is seldom seen on the Platte River. We will probably leave here tomorrow for the Salt Lake where we hope to arrive before September. I am sorry that I cannot write more but I really have not time. Have you heard any of the various experts that were flying around about      &c They were all      I have not been indisposed once. Give my love to …… etc. Ben Allston




Camp on Echo Canon

August 24th 1854

Here I am again my dearest Mother writing to you on the green turf. I am now about twenty miles west of Bear River—and in among the Wasatch Mountains. First and foremost I am well and am well-placed. I have had nothing like sickness since I left—have enjoyed myself very much. There is such a great variety in scenery, and at the same time such a vast monotony. I wrote to you from Laramie and I presume that you have received and read that letter to this time, and are looking-out for another. I will come in the course of time Mother—I am keeping myself quiet by thinking what a feast I will have when I get to Salt Lake. I expect any quantity of letters. I expect many from you to be waiting there for me. I would delay writing to you until I arrive in the City but I am afraid though not now distant over 60 miles from it, that I might miss the mails for there is no telling when we will get into the City. I intend to send this letter in by Col. Steptoe who goes in, in a day or two and will leave the Commd to wait his return to them. He will be certain to get in in time for the Mail as he will go in one day. If I am in time for the Mail in the City I will give you some account of it. Leaving Fort Laramie on the 19th ultimo, where we had received as much attention as it was possible for them to show there being only two officers and a Surgeon there with nothing much about them. We started for the – The road was quite rough for a short distance and some pretty steep hills to get up and down but nothing like we had gone up and done since. In ascending the Black Hills we took a road which left the river entirely. There is another road which follows the river called River Road in Contra distinction of the Hill Road that we took. We had got 12 to 15 Miles from Laramie and on the edge of the Hills when we were over taken by a violent hail-storm. Most unluckily my animals alone caught the hail. The rest of the Comm’d all caught the rain but not the hail or it have played a sorry part to us. Several of my horses burst away from those holding them and ran at a most precious rate. I had great doubt of ever seeing any of them in a woeful condition again. The hail fell very thick and my own horse, Falstaff, was most anxious to race with the rest. He had not the slightest shelter, I had a poncho of Indian rubber about me but it was not the slightest use, I had enough to do to keep it around me, the wind having a great propensity to take it away from me.

As soon as the storm was over I dispatched several men after the horses and proceeded with the rest of the Comm’d & Camp. The horses were recovered but ten of then were very badly hurt. One of them so badly that after carrying him along until we get to the Crossing of the N. Fork of the Platte, I determined to leave, and send him back to Laramie to the Q.M., the other horses recovered.

The country over which we travelled was mountainous, bleak and sterile except on streams where there was generally good grass to be found if we went off the road and hunted it. These Hills or Mountains as you please to call them evidently derive their name from the quantity of pine which grows on them, giving them at a distance black and dismal appearance. After four or five days travel we again struck the Platte, our old “Compagne du Voyage”. The second day travel after striking it brought us to the Crossing, where finding good grass we remained two days to recruit the Animals before we started over the country between it and the Sweet Water. Crossing the Platte on the 31st we followed it up for nine miles and encamped opposite the “Red Buttes.” I crossed over to these and found them to consist primarily of red sandstone — which had been heaved up, and teetered at a considerable angle. There is also a great deal of red clay in them. The Butte breaks through the Black Hills here their having a butte on each side of their banks. I picked up here a great many specimens of petrified wood of which there seems to be a great quantity about. I have now one or two specimens with me besides a section of a petrified Buffalo horn. We did advance to the Platte on the 1st of August and commenced the crossing of a country still more of a desert if possible than any we have yet crossed and in two days reached the long looked-for and wished-for Sweet Water. We struck this beautiful stream at Independence Rock. Having the desire to go to the top of this famous Rock, I watered my horses and dismissing my men let the horses graze while I proceeded to look for the Col who was ahead of me. The Rock as Stansbury says is literally covered with names but I recognized none of them. It is an immense rock of granite. I do not know the dimensions of it exactly. We encamped on the Sweet Water about two or three miles from the Devils Gate. Starting the next day I attempted to pass through the Devils Gate or rather the Col thought he would try to have me go through, but it was a most signal failure. I rode my horse in through about the middle where it was very cool. The size of it are 400 ft. high and a short time before we were there a young lad had fallen from the top of the rock. He belonged to a party of immigrants, the family consisting of Father, Mother & Son. The mother died some days before reaching here and the son was killed and the poor bearded father went alone. Camp on the Werber River               Aug. 25th I take up my [narative?], again having time to write more. Yesterday evening, leaving the Devils Gate which is a curious formation and, in my opinion, water had nothing to do with its formation; it must have been an immense fracture which the water took advantage of. We followed up the Sweet Water several days and then came to the South Pass. The Sweet Water falls undoubtedly may many feet in some places and forms tremendous cascades—although I saw none of them, I know that this must be the case because while following it we ascended at times many feet at a time. It is really a beautiful stream winding way along with the utmost regularity. The course is most irregular something like this (squiggly marks) making the strangest bends, imaginable, when you consider that the soil of the valley is to all appearances exactly the same—and one can see no cause for its meandering in the way it does. We did advance through this little stream with reluctance knowing that we would have a sorry time of it for grass and water for our next two camps at least. Dr. Wirtz and two other officers and myself went back to the summit of the South Pass and sat down, having drank to the remembrance of our Eastern friends, smoked a pipe, picked up a specimen or two and then proceeded to join the Commd. Such a Country as we passed over is something that you have never seen. Almost in complete dissent. The wild sage which Stansbury called Artemesia to use his own words “has taken complete possession of the grounds.” But such a sight was not at all uncommon [?] to us. Indeed the whole Country is the same except at intervals where we find a stream then there is grass in the small valley of it. We found no grass hardly until we struck Green River where descending it some five or six miles we encamped in a lovely spot on Grand Islands, remained there two days to recruit the animals. Green River as we saw it is a most beautiful stream running in some places with a very rapid current and then suddenly subsiding into a slow deep and dark green-looking river—soon again it rumbles forth its hoarse tones, and rushes madly over rocks and stones of every description. The waters of it where we crossed it, appeared to me like molten metal they seemed so solid, yet they were as clear as crystal. I meant to have said some more about South Pass before I left it, but I “slipped up”, as the Q.M. would say and forgot it. There is a full report given of it in Fremont’s Report, but I judge that a few words from me would not set you in “arrears” at all. It is a most remarkable formation.

To commence with, the road which by the [Commd ?] is an excellent one, one of the best roads I have been on, artificial or natural, passes between two little knobs about fifty to sixty feet high, which stand as sentinels to guard the pass and see that the ground is not violated which separates the waters of the Atlantic from those of the Pacific. Standing thereto the North offers nearby the Wind River Mountains, to one of which Fremont has given his name. They appear with patches of snow but we did not see them, as Stansbury did come with snow about one third of the distance down. We did not the pleasure of seeing them thus. To the South of us arose hills of considerable height but nothing like the mountains exept away in the far distance so they could be scarcely be seen. Standing there I did not feel as if I was in and among the great Mountains of the Western Continent. I did not feel that that I was among Mountains at all—although I was then on seven thousand feet above the sea, looking down upon all my friends, be they on sea or mountain. This Pass is certainly a very curious break in the great chain of Mountains, but I am told by some of the rough Mountaineers who live out here, there are many passes possible for wagons, both north and south of this one. What reliance is to be placed upon this statement I cannot say, certain it is that nest of them are in the habit of romancing a great-deal.

Saturday 25th Still in camp on Wind River. Having finished my digression on about the South Pass I will proceed with my account. About a mile and a half from our camp on Grand Island, was a trading post, belonging to an old French-man or half-breed French. I had occasion to go up there and such a set as I found there I cannot well describe to you. There was a perfect round of drinking and its concomitance, although I had the good fortune not to see any of them. A fight with knives is a now usual occurrence out here, where men all collect together at one of these posts.

Leaving Green River on the 17th of this month we crossed several streams, tributaries to Green River, all of which we found good grass and water and arrived at Fort Bridger on Saturday 20th. The intervening Country is one of the most remarkable I ever saw. It is between streams, as the Country already passed can, a complete desert incapable of producing any thing. Even the Sage here grows very sparse and is a miserable looking specimen. The Country seems to have been completely burned up by an immense heat. Any quantity of volcanic rock are to be found there, pieces of obsidian, trup, and all the others of the same nature. The face of the Country also shows the signs of a by-gone immense action of water on a grandiose scale as indeed the whole country since first striking the Platte at Kearney does. The soil is almost altogether Clay incorporated with stones—small boulders of sand and lime stone and igneous rock, together with the soil resulting from their decomposition. There was one isolated peak just on the side of the road particularly attracted my attention, and halting my horses to give them half an hours rest after a ride of three hours, I went up to this and examined it in a curiosity manner. From the road it appeared to be covered with the most curious and antique kind of covering. On approaching I found it to consist of red sandstone, & bluish or greyish limestone and a whitish clay. What appeared as a carriage was the effects of the weather, some portions of the hill bring, as you will readily see, much after the others. There were great caves so I might call them which had been excavated by the rain &c. If this could be painted as it actually exists, you would find few who would believe that this was a hill covered by natures own workmen so much are we accustomed to judge a painting by what we ourselves have seen.

I see that I will have to commence on another sheet of paper, or else break off in the midst of my ideas and account. Whether the subject matter of this epistle will replay you for the reading of it I know not, but as I have commenced it I will proceed though I hope it will not be to your annoyance. I might cross this but I do not like to do it, is the writing bold enough without being confusion?

Leaving this hill as soon as I had rested sufficiently we proceeded with our journey. The whole day it appeared to me as if I was travelling through the remains of what was at some far distant day, an immense Fortification. There were ramps and slopes and heights and all so completely and thoroughly blended together, as to give this appearance, while their utter destitution from vegetation appear the work, I could not help thinking while passing through, one of the Plains summoned on all sides with a vast rampart, what a fine place for a battle and I don’t doubt but that some battles of our country will there be fought.

The whole country is pretty much the same until we reach Fort Bridger. As you have already found, without doubt, some idea of this celebrated Station. Doubtless you have formed, allow me to say, a very extravagant idea of this place. I know that I did. I thought it was quite something of a building, where a person could be accommodated comfortably. But I was most woefully mistaken. It is a small dirty little building in the form of a square—with an opening or gateway. Black’s Fork, which branches off into many small streams forming many glades. The Country immediately surrounding would be pretty were it not for the fact that thousand upon thousand Cattle have accumulated there. The Fort, so called, it is the most perfect abode of filth I have ever seen. There were hides, feet, heads and almost every other portion of the carcasses, collected just in the immediate vicinity of the door and the idea of the old man’s wanting to sell it to the government for $50,000 is I have heard he did so is preposterous. It would take the garrison stationed there two weeks or more hard work to put it in a habitable condition for any one unaccustomed to the life of a mountaineer or an Indian trader. I bought here three four pence chickens, as we call them for the benefit of the mess,          the caterer and paid a dollar a piece for them $3.00. How many chickens would you buy at this rate? Not many. I suppose. We stayed at Bridger being encamped being about three quarters of a mile above the Fort the day following our arrival being Sunday—although the grass was very indifferent, simply because it passed Sunday. Leaving this place, about which Stansbury speaks a good deal, on the 22nd we commenced closing up the last 100 miles between the states and Salt Lake. The aspect of the country is entirely changed after the first 20 miles. The signs of fertility become more numerous and we commence to very sensually to feel the cool mountain air and at sight Bear River is a fine stream but we did not catch trout here as we thought we should do. We caught them in Blacks Fork and in this stream. After leaving Bear River we continued crossing the Wasatch range of mountains. The country is truly picturesque and interesting. For the last four days we have been travelling down Canon (Canyon) with steep hills or mountains on either side of us. On our right is the rare rock exposed. It is sandstone or conglomerate. The sandstone is of the brightest colors. Deep and light red, yellow, green, white &c. I never saw rocks so variously and brightly colored, but shows evidence in the tilt all the             of being powerfully and       . I went fishing with the Col. today and caught my first trout. It is a beautiful fish and delicious eating, the regular mountain trout. The Col starts to morrow morning early for the City. I would write more if I had time, but it is now night and I must rise early to morrow to attend to some duties besides I have scribbled you ten pages, the longest letter I have ever wrote in all my writing. I sincerely hope that it will not tire you. Theophilus is well and sends love to all, wishes to know something about his things, wife &c. Remember me most kindy to all my friends, [etc.] Ben Allston



Camp in Rush Water Lake Valley

Sept. 29, 1854

My Dear Mother

I have not more than time to write that I am quite well and as far as circumstances will admit, enjoying myself well. I should have written more at leisure and meant to please you had it not been that [the] Col Sunday noon last I received orders to strike our tents and move on the next morning. This order went so decidedly beyond any thing I had though of, took me quite unprepared and by surprise, consequently I will be obliged to make some of my auditors wait long before I they get them over. I am now 45 miles from the City and have been as busy as I could possibly could ever since I have been here—building a corral for my horses, I have been here for two days and have 99 yds or 100 yds of the wall built consisting of rods, being 6 ft high or more. This is I think doing very well, I know not what you or Father may think of it. I promise in my last which was eleven pages, I don’t know whether you will ever get it or not, to give you a description of Salt Lake City &c but you will have to wait until some other and more favorable time arrives for as I before said my dear Mother I actually have not time. I must start off my expressman early in the morning in order that he may ride from this the City 45 miles and get there before the mail closes. You never saw such a place as this for ducks and geese. They thoroughly abound, but I have not yet shot none. Stanbury’s description of the City is very good, but as regards its inhabitants, I think it is the lowest of the low. I cannot express to you what a thorough disgust I have for the whole religion and it only in my opinion, needs one to be an eyewitness to be of the same tone of feeling. Honor and integrity I see none—Truth and justice, I see none. Religion and chastity—I see none. Purity of thought, and delicacy of sentiment—there is none. This is my opinion and it goes of course only this far no farther.

But of this, sometime hence—You know or rather will know before this letter reaches you of wht has occurred at Laramie. We do not know here yet and every man is in suspense. It has been reported that the whole garrison was cut off and the fort burned down how this is I cannot say.

I am well and in good health and good spirits. Give my love to all of my Relatives & Friends—Father, Sister and all and may the ever living God protect and guide you all aright is the sincere prayer of your most devoting attached Son,

Ben Allston





  1. L. City March 15th


My dear Mother

I commence this letter as you will perceive, in the middle of the Month. I am ordered away and I know if I will return in time to write you by the Mail. In my last letter, I wrote that I was to start the next morning for Fillmore to obtain some of the Indians who were concerned in the murder of Gunnison and party. We made the trip in very rapid time, but arrived in the City the day the Mail left it so that I could not write to you by the Mail. We got all of the number except one who is yet to be given up. The Indians were very much agitated on the day they were given up and for several days previous. But they were delivered. There were several to have been given up. There were to have been seven given up, we received four men, one woman and her child which counted for one. The other man is yet to be given up. We came back from Fillmore to the City a distance of 150 miles in three days. This is what I call good travelling for teams. What say you [?] We are going down to Nephi a distance of 90 mi for the purpose of attending the trial of the prisoners and protecting the Judge from receiving any injuries at the hands of the enemy. Our force consists of sixty eight men, not including the officers and the quartermaster. Col. Steptoe goes down himself I think or so he says though I know not if he will. I take twenty of my men, the rest are from other Companies. I sincerely hope that we may get back in time for the Mail that I may give you an account of it and relieve your mind from the anxiety under which I know it will labor. But I apprehend little or no danger. The town in which we will encamp is a walled town and adaptable of defending itself against the Indians. Besides the one wall which encloses it , it consists of three or four stockade forts, all of which make up the city of Nephi. Nephi is one of he Prophets mentioned in the Book of Mormon, indeed it commences with the Book of Nephi.

The weather curious to relate has been very unpleasant it was when I started two weeks ago. It has been blowing and threatening all day and now at half past eleven P.M. it is snowing, sweet prospect for the morrow. But the weather is very changeable here that we may have tomorrow a fine and pretty day. Last night at 12 o’clock if was first the reverse of what it is now. Now as I have just said is dark cloudy and snowing. Last night it was clear starlight, and pleasant, and when I woke it was blowing and slating a little.

We may count upon one thing, however, very bad roads for travelling, muddy and slippery.

I was enabled to write Father only a short note by last mail, acquainting him with the summer full fact that I had again given a draft on him for $18.00. Mr Perry came here just before I started and stated he was in need of so much money, and requested me to let him have it. I could not refuse, and so I gave it to him. I do not mean that there was any           in the matter, but I considered it obligatory upon me, and I then cancelled the obligation. $500 is a pretty large sum to spend in a few short months, and if I continue I will soon spend all that I have, there being not much more than that very sum remaining. Put every thing will have a beginning and an ending and so will these large expenditures. I will see the Company and every body in it in the                 imaginable before I again do the like. I am out of debt to Mr. Perry and intend to stay so. I leave here even with the world and draw no more either. My investment in goods at Fillmore is I am afraid not going to turn out as well by a good deal as I fondly hoped it would. But if my partners are the honest men I will at least secure my capital back “Experientia docet.” The only Latin proverb I know, but a good one for all that. I intend to hold on to my lands, and expect in the course of time to make my losses on them, and at last come out even. To sell them would only be a loss, for I doubt if I could sell them for what they cost me, but this will change in the course of a year or two. We are anxious here to learn of the proceedings of Congress in regard to the Army Bills. And as no Eastern Mail came in last month, we are expecting some [unintelligible] developments in the expected Mail. You of course know all about it now, and can tell better than I can what impact what prospect is before me. If it is good congratulate me if not do not console me, for it is of very little to me; but nevertheless would like a little more rank in the Army, then I have at present.

I hope and trust you are all well my dear Mother, I have had serious apprehensions to the contrary coming into my brain how I cannot tell, but there they live and continue for some days until I drive them away as foolish. I am quite well except a slight Cold which is nothing. I do not think I will have much of a beard when I see you. It appears to be slow in its growth I know not why. Give my love to Father, Adele and all of the children and to all my Relatives and friends. Remember me to all of the servants, Theophlius is well, but not as dutiful as one might desire. Hoping to add to this before. The mail leaves I remain all affectionate, Your Ben Allston



Lieutenant Love’s Indiana Recruits

by admin on January 10, 2013


By Will Gorenfeld

After he left the military, John Love became a successful businessman in Indianapolis. Active in civic affairs, he was a co-founder of the Indiana Historical Society. In this capacity, he left his collection of correspondence with the society. This is a brief account of his recruiting efforts in Indiana during the Mexican War.

An intrepid horseman and a dragoon, John Love was born in Culpepper County, Virginia. He was the son of Richard H. Love and of Eliza Matilda Lee, the granddaughter of Richard Henry Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Raised in Tennessee, Love entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1841, he secured a lieutenancy in the First Dragoons.[1]

When war came between the United States and Mexico in 1846, he was on recruiting duty in Indiana. Lt. Love remained on recruiting duty while his regiment was getting ready to ship out for the war. As might be expected of a young officer eager for glory, he chaffed at being precluded from joining his company and repeatedly wrote to Kearny and to Adjutant General Roger Jones, seeking permission to shut down his recruiting depot and “join my Company should my Regiment be ordered into the field.” Captain Henry Turner, Kearny’s adjutant, calmly instructed Love to remain at his post.[2] Three agonizing weeks passed before orders arrived relieving Love of recruiting duties, commanding him to report to Ft. Leavenworth to serve on Kearny’s staff. He reached the fort on June 15th and, attached himself to Kearny’s staff, departing from Ft. Leavenworth on June 30, 1846.[3] Participating in the conquest of Santa Fe, Love returned to Fort Leavenworth with orders to rebuild Company B.

First Lieutenant John Love must have felt he was in a rut that winter of 1846-47. As in the year before, he was on recruiting duty. Lt. Love desperately sought to recruit a full company of men so that he might return to New Mexico before the fighting was over. On December 20, 1846, the Lieutenant again wrote to Roger Jones, the Army’s grandfatherly Adjutant General, expressing how “extremely anxious” he was “to fill the Company which fortune has given me the command” and that he expected to take the field by April 1, 1847. Finding recruits in a hurry was not going to be an easy task. Lt. Anderson Nelson of the regular Sixth Infantry, one of Love’s West Point classmates, complained to him in February of 1847 that, after “pegging away since some time last summer and [he had] done any thing but a ‘land office’ business” finding Hoosier recruits for his regiment.

By 1847, much of the nation was fast growing weary of a war that seemed to have no end in sight. Nearly a dozen volunteer regiments had already been raised in the states of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, stripping the landscape of those young men willing to fight a war in a distant land. The volunteer regiments offered cash bounties and short terms of enlistments. Equally valuable as an inducement was the regulation that permitted company officers of the volunteer regiments be selected by a democratic vote of the men. In contrast, officers of the regular regiments gained their commissions by way of a presidential appointment and, for better or worse, the recruit was stuck with the officers assigned to his given regiment.

In February of 1847, Lt. Love was in Indianapolis, Indiana, with his recruiting flag draped from a balcony of the Drake Hotel. He placed an advertisement in the Indiana State Journal requesting the wartime services of men of good character, between the ages of 18 and 35, in the elite United States Dragoons. “Only those who are determined to serve the period of their enlistment, honestly and faithfully” need apply. The advertisement promised each recruit eight dollars a month, good quarters, the best of medical attention, as well as a “large supply of comfortable and genteel clothing.” The recruiting laws, now having been changed by Congress, made service in the regulars somewhat more attractive. Upon enlistment, the regular recruit would be paid a bonus of six dollars and receive another six dollars when he joined his regiment for duty. A recruit was now allowed to opt for a shorter term of enlistment: “duration of the war.”

The 1st Dragoons were a mounted regiment; the volunteer regiments, for the most part, were infantry. Lt. Love knew that he had an ace in the hole and he was quick to play it–pointing out to the Hoosier farm boys the glory of their becoming splendidly clothed and mounted “bold dragoons”–whose military status, uniform and bearing was unquestionably superior to that of the humble and often ill-clad “dough foot” of most volunteer regiments.

When some of Love’s recruits arrived at Newport Barracks, Kentucky, they found there were no horses available and, worse, infantry officers were daily putting them through the wearisome close order drill of the foot soldier. Included in the John Love collection at the Indiana Historical Society is a letter from three recruits from Indianapolis expressing their “not inconsiderable dissatisfaction prevailing in regard to our having no officers of our own company with us.” The trio complained that, “[w]e are here drilled in the infantry squads [by Infantry officers], and obliged to do duties that we believe we would be exempted of.” [4]

Love quickly “liberated” his men from Newport Barracks and sent them down river to Fort Leavenworth. On June 7, 1847, B Company took the salutes of Lieutenant Colonel Clifton Wharton, paraded out of the fort and headed west. George Ruxton, an English cavalry officer and adventurer, observed Company B on its march. He was less than impressed with what he saw and wrote that although “superbly mounted” ‘on full-blooded sorrels, these men were “soldier like neither in dress nor appearance.”[5] In less than three weeks these men tasted combat on the Santa Fe Trail.

Below is a list of the twenty-three men recruited by Lieutenant Love while in Indiana in 1847, and what became of them while in the service. Most of his recruits fought at the battles of Coon Creeks against the Comanches on the Santa Fe Trail and against the Mexican Army at Santa Cruz de Rosales, in the State of Chihuahua. Five of the men died while in the service, at least two were wounded and one man deserted. Except where otherwise noted, all of the men were discharged at Santa Fe, on August 19, 1848. Four men remained with the army after the end of the war.[6]

Demaree, Isaac, Blacksmith, February 5, 1847, Madison.

Dunbar, Louis, Blacksmith, Mar. 27, 1847, Madison.

Elkins, Martin, Laborer, February 5, 1847, Madison, discharged March 22, 1851, Rayado, New Mexico Territory.

Gardner, Anthony, Laborer, February 22, 1847, Madison, Died Newport Barracks, March 27, 1847.

Gaskill, George, Clerk, April 17, 1847, Edinburgh, Killed in Action at Coon Creeks, Missouri Territory, June 26, 1847.[7]

George, John, Physician, February 23, 1847, Indianapolis, discharged October 1, 1848, Indianapolis.

Gibson, George, March 7, 1747, Indianapolis, clerk, appointed corporal June 10, 1847.

Hahasey, Michael, Framer, March 16, 1847, Indianapolis.

Hazel, William, Farmer, March 22, 1847, Indianapolis.

Harper, Thomas, Farmer, March 22, 1847, Indianapolis, Died December 13, 1847, Albuquerque, New Mexico Territory.

House, Alber, April 9, 1847, Lafayette, Deserted from Fort Leavenworth, June 7, 1847.

Jones, William, Shoemaker, March 17, 1847, Madison.

Lane, Jonathan, February 23, 1847, Madison, transferred to Company I, September 1, 1848.

Lewis George, Laborer, February 15, 1847, Madison, Discharged February 15, 1852, Los Linares, New Mexico Territory.

Leaverton, William, Laborer, March 7, 1847, Indianapolis, Discharged July 14, 1848, Chihuahua, Mexico.

McCole, March 27, 1847, Indianapolis.

Powell, Jepha, Farmer, March 16, 1847, Indianapolis.

Puterbaugh, Adam, Blacksmith, February 16, 1847, Transferred to Company I, discharged surgeon’s certificate, October 16, 1849, Taos.

Turner, Dempsey, February 16, 1847, Madison, Died December 25, 1847, Albuquerque.

Ward, Thomas, Cooper, April 12, 1847, Lafayette.

Walker, George, Farmer, March 27, 1847, Indianapolis, Died March 27, 1848, Chihuahua.



[1] George Cullum, Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point from its Establishment, March 16, 1802 to Army Reorganization of 1866-67 (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1868) 2 vols, “John Love” 2:14. John Love (1820-1881) was born in Culpepper County, Virginia, the son of Richard H. Love and of Eliza Matilda Lee, the grand-daughter of Richard Henry Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was raised in Tennessee. Two older brothers, Ludwell and Thomas, died in infancy; and a third, Richard, served in the U.S. Navy until his death in 1855. Sister Cecilia Lee Love married Lewis Armistead, a regular officer in the Sixth Infantry and later a Confederate general. She died in 1850. Cadet Love attended West Point from 1837 to 1841 Graduating 14th in a class of 52. He was stationed at the cavalry school at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, later assigned to serve with Company A, stationed at Fort Gibson in Indian Territory, and then to Forts Scott and Leavenworth in Missouri Territory. Tenth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy at West Point, June 12, 1879 (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1879) 33; Patricia Duncan, Genealogical Abstract from the Democratic Mirror and the Mirror, 1857-1879, Loudoun County, Virginia (Westminster: Heritage Books, 2008) 202.

[2] Adjunct General Roger Jones to Love, May 22, and 27, 1846; Colonel Stephen Kearny to Love, February 9, 1846; Captain Henry Turner to Love, April 9, 1846. All correspondence mentioned in this article may be located in the John Love Collection, 1837-1886, at the Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, Indiana.

[3] Louis Barry, Beginning of The West, (Topeka: Kansas Historical Society 1972) 620.

[4] This letter seems not to have offended Lt. Love: in June of 1847, he promoted George Gibson, one of the signatories, to the rank of corporal. All three of the men served honorably in Company B. I have left intact the spelling and grammatical errors contained in the original.

Newport Barracks

April 2, 1847

Liet Dear Sir

We wish to inform you that our condition is very unpleasant

on account of the absence of our officers. We are here drilled in the infantry

squads, and obliged to do duties that we believe we would be exempted

of, were you with us and on this account there is some, not inconsiderable dissatisfaction prevailing in regard to our having no officers of our own company with us. We would inform you that the discord refered to, has already been the cause of the one of the company’s “deserting”, but we do not think that any who came with us, will, on any consideration be guilty of so base an act, but could you favor us with an officer of our own greater satisfaction would exist, and a greater degree of confidence would be concentrated in you by your men. We consider it right you should know these circumstances and also that is binding on us to inform you of it. Gardener is dead and another one of the Company not expected to recover. We have considered it our duty to write this much.

We remain your friends and Obedient soldiers

John W. George

Jeptha Powell

George W. Gibson

[5] George Ruxton, Adventures in Mexico and the Rocky Mountains (New York: Harper & Bros. 1847).

[6] For further accounts of the Battles of Coon Creeks and Santa Cruz de Rosales, see Dragoons vs. Comanches, Wild West Magazine, June 2004; Such is a Dragoon’s Life: Corporal Mathias Baker, Company B, First Dragoons, 1845-1849, Missouri Historical Review, July 2011, vol. 105, No. 4.

The Cowpen Slaughter: Was There a Massacre of Mexican Soldiers at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Rosales? 81 New Mexico Historical Review 413 (Fall 2006)

[7] George Gaskill’s body was found by Corporal Mathias Baker who describe what he found: The fifth man – Gaskin [sic] –we did not find until this morning, he was dreadfully mutilated, his scalp was not taken, but half of his hair was pulled out, I suppose the one that killed him had no knife about him. The father of the slain trooper wrote to Lt. Love on July 19, 1847, from Shelbyville seeking further information on the loss of his son.

At the 17th [of July] I rec’d a letter from Mr. [Private] Jno H. George giving us the painful intelligence of the untimely death of my son George at the skirmish with the enemy near Camp Raccoon on the 26th June last. And as you was the officer under whom he enlisted I am induced o ask your assistance in sending me a certificate of his enlistment & subsequent death in the service of the United States and all necessary papers & communications that may be requested towards selling his estate.

Any information in regard to the particulars of his death will be most gratefully received. And should you on your return to the States find yourself near us–you will confer a lasting favor by calling upon us at this place.

I am with Respect,

Your friend,

George Gaskill


Such is a Dragoon’s Life (State Historical Society of Missouri, July 2011, vol 105, no. 4)

January 1, 2012

Such is a Dragoon’s Life: Corporal Mathais Baker, Company B, 1st Dragoons, 1845-1849[1] By Will Gorenfeld and Tim Kimball The year 1845 found Mathias L. Baker, a twenty eight year old clerk from Middlesex County, New Jersey, residing in a reasonably comfortable neighborhood in St Louis. On October 17, 1845, he enlisted in the United […]

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George Henneberg: Immigrant Bugler and Deserter

October 16, 2011

Kearny to Adj. Gen. Jones, January 27, 1839, Letter Book 410 Sir By the last mail received your instruction of the 8th Inst. to send George Henneburg one of the Principal Musicians of the 2d Dragoons, to Jefferson Barracks that he may be sent over there to join his Regiment in Florida, & for the […]

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Beall’s 1849 Expedition

October 15, 2011

  Maj. Ben Beall to Lt. John Dickerson, 2d Arty., AAAG, Head Quarters, 9th Military Dist. Don Fernando de Taos, NM, March 12, 1849 Sir, Agreeably to a letter of instructions from Head Quarters 9th Mily Department, dated 27th January 1849, directing me to “proceed as soon as possible to the country inhabited by the […]

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What is a Dragoon?

January 5, 2011

If the antiquated term dragoon manages to appear in current literature, it may conjure, to some, images of antiquated mounted troops, fighting in antediluvian European wars of a forgotten past; to others, the forcing of somebody to do something he doesn’t want to do. The word has its origin on the fields of battles fought […]

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A Gold Rush Officer’s Card Game Feud

November 28, 2010

Born and reared in Tennessee, Lt. Cave Couts frequently placed personal integrity above all else and a willingness to chastise those opponents threatening his honor. This became evident after an army officer, Major Justus McKinstry, verbally maligned Couts’ new-found novia, Ysidora Bandini. Incensed, Couts sent Lieutenant George Evans, with a note challenging McKinstry to a […]

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Old Four O’Clock: Sumner Takes Command of the Mounted Rifles

October 18, 2010

Armstrong to Love: Letter from Brazos Santiago, 1847. (A special guest contribution) This  breezy  communication was written by  2nd Lt. Bezaleel Armstrong, USMA 1845. He had recently returned from the occupation of New Mexico with a small party of 1st Dragoons, arriving at Fort Leavenworth on November 20, 1846.  Armstrong was one of several young […]

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Gossip from Ft. Leavenworth 1845 & 1846

September 3, 2010

McLean to Love Fort Leavenworth Mo. Nov 26th 1845 Dear John Had you not said in your first letter, that you would write to me on arriving at Dayton, I suppose I would be obliged to commence this with an apology; but as you were so rash as to give one that piece of information […]

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An Excursion into the West 1834

August 29, 2010

Niles Weekly Register, Vo. 89:389 August 2, 1834 UNITED STATES DRAGOONS. [from the Army and Navy Chronicle] The regiment of dragoon is now completed to its establishment, and all the companies have marched to Fort Gibson, where the head quarters have been established during the winter. This regiment is composed of ten companies, of about […]

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