Thursday, March 18, 2010

BORDERTOWNS: Chapter 18

The heavy rains of early September did nothing to stop the wild prairie fires of October. A constant blue haze filled the sky for the first half of the month. Burning peat bogs in Minnesota also added to their discomfort whenever the wind switched to the southeast. The odor of burning grass, so noticeable at first, became almost acceptable. Lightning was blamed for some fires; but Indians, who, after selling their land at the l863 treaty time, refused to relinquish possession, had purposely set most. All Indians and breeds signing the treaty had been awarded land scrip for 160 acres of farmland, but most had sold the paper for instant cash or booze.

Word of mouth carried the news to St. Vincent that Annie Douglas had given birth to a daughter on October 15. Mary had put aside her feelings of Annie's treachery and Robert's unfaithfulness and discussed the birth in a matter-of-fact way with her mother. They decided to send a layette for the child. No card of thanks arrived from Annie, but none was expected. Mary didn't mind and confided to her mother, "I'm not envious of Annie. If I were, people would think I'm jealous."

The St. Paul & Pacific Railroad announced that the first through train from St. Paul to Winnipeg would pass through Emerson on November 11. Patrick had become incensed about the stories and rumors being circulated, and expressed his thoughts at the supper table.

"Under their contract, the builders on the Canadian side of the line don't have to turn the tracks over to the C. P. R. for another year. Sure, they're opening it early this winter, but for their own profit. You can bet they'll charge an arm and leg. It's no secret that the Hudson's Bay Company, Norman Kittson and Jim Hill own all of the riverboats and have been charging exorbitant prices for freight and passengers -- and the Bay gets a one-third discount. Now it'll be the same with Hill's railroad," he added. "I've already heard that no farmer will be able to rent a boxcar. That leaves only a few grain buyers, either working for, or in cahoots with the St.Paul and Pacific owners.

"I've heard there's only one water tank along the entire 65 miles to Winnipeg," Jerold offered. "Also, the telegraph line hasn’t been completed and there is no turn-around in Winnipeg. Will they have to back the train all the way from Winnipeg to the St. Vincent Y?"

"You bet! There are no sidings or repair shops either, and they've not planned ahead for wood cutters. The wood-burning engines will need plenty of wood and the only timber near the track is scrub poplar." He added grimly, "They'll soon find there's little heat in those trees, even when dry.

"On the plus side for them, it will give the C.P.R. and the St. P. & P. a monopoly on the Winnipeg trade for years to come," said Patrick. "Emerson has grown to 1400 souls and now has two newspapers. It's the gateway to central Canada, but what will happen when the C.P.R. completes its line into Winnipeg from the east, across the Canadian Shield?" He hesitated, then added, "I guess our border here will always be busy; it's a natural entry to the agricultural belt of Canada. But I'm afraid we'll find rate fixing prevalent. Farm machinery prices in Canada will remain high, for the flow will come from Ontario and Quebec. Those eastern manufacturers are protected by the Canadian tariffs on imports."

Because of the constant difficulties and delays experienced by the C.P.R. contractor, Jim Hill, impatient to get the road in operation, loaned the Canadian builder an engine, several flat cars and a pre-built bridge. For this he was assured completion of the C.P.R. section before November 11.

Excitement began to build as the completion deadline grew near. Officials from Emerson ordered flags and bunting. Hill's publicity director assured all that the engine and cars making the first run on November 11 would be highly decorated. It was decided that the final ceremonial spike would be driven at Roseau Crossing, the keynote speaker to be the United States Consul, James Wickes Taylor. 1

The following Sunday morning Kirby arrived to escort Mary to the fort. She had expressed an interest, saying, "If I'm marrying into the Army, I might as well find out what it's going to entail." He arrived with a buggy just as Patrick, Maggy and the boys were preparing to leave for church.

"Want to come along with us, Kirby?" Jerold was teasing, knowing of their plans.

"Not today. I'm in the process of training a future Army wife. We're headed for the fort." He looked confident.

Mary waved to her family as Kirby assisted her step into the buggy. She planned to initiate a heart-to-heart talk with Kirby, wanting to know more about his family and ambitions. She knew he was everything she wanted in a man: he was vibrant, strong, yet tender, humorous and warm. When they married, she knew she would have to make major adjustments to her thinking and way of life.

The Indian summer had carried into late October, delaying the cold weather and giving a false sense of a mild winter to come.

Passing through the village, they prudently sat apart. That ended after they crossed the river on the ferry, then Mary moved close to Kirby, shivering with pleasure as she felt his arm close tightly around her waist. Troubling thoughts came, and she worried about telling him what had happened to her in Orillia. She decided she must be honest. "Kirby, I've got a lot to talk over with you."

"We've the whole day to talk, let's just enjoy this wonderful day." He turned to her, "I hope Army life won't be too hard on you."

Entering the north gate of the fort, he guided the horse to the officer's quarters. Dismounting, he took Mary's hand to aid her step from the buggy. "This is the door to my quarters. We'd better leave the front door open for propriety." He smiled, and then leaned to whisper, "We're probably being watched from behind curtains. The Captain's wife knew I was bringing you out today."

Taking her hand, he led her into his quarters. Mary was surprised to see the parlor nearly bare, equipped only with a suite consisting of a black leather sofa and two leather-covered, stuffed chairs. It did have the customary fireplace she noted. The small sitting and dining rooms adjoining were similarly bare, having but a table and four well-worn oak chairs. There were no pictures on the walls, no curtains on the windows or rugs on the floor.

Kirby saw her look of disappointment. "It's not that bad, Mary; we can replace all this junk. The Army doesn't provide much for bachelor officers. When new furniture arrives, it stops with the top ranking officer, and then gravitates downward over the years." He idly gestured, "That's my kitchen. You can see I seldom use it – the officer's mess is handier. 'Sides that, I'm a lousy cook."

He was smiling as he added, "You'll want to see the bedrooms upstairs. My bed is a single iron cot, but we'll change that."

"Your quarters aren't like home, but they look clean." Kirby agreed. "I hate dirt. My rooms are probably the cleanest of all the bachelor quarters."

"How about your laundry?" Mary was getting an insight into the man she was to marry. She had noticed that he was meticulous in his dress and habits.

"I share an orderly with Shawn. He takes my soiled clothing to the laundry and makes my bed daily. Want to see the bedrooms?" He led the way up the stairs from the parlor.

Mary was satisfied with the two main bedrooms; both were roomy but had only half-sized windows. The third small bedroom had evidently been designed for children. She calculated fresh paint would brighten and make the rooms more livable.

Returning to the parlor, she sat on the sofa, dreading this moment, but Kirby must know the truth. "Kirby, please sit down. After you hear what I'm going to say, perhaps you won't want to marry me. It's not pleasant, but you must know." She hesitated, looking directly into his eyes.

He dropped to the sofa beside her, confused, thinking: What is she going to tell me? Is she going to admit to an affair with Robert?

"I was attacked and nearly raped when I was sixteen."

He caught his breath, "Where?"

"In Orillia, just before we moved here." She went on to describe the attack and her rescue by Ian, all the while fearing his rejection.

His arms went around her, drawing her close. "I knew something was wrong from the way you acted at times, but that's over and in the past. It's something to be forgotten. Never bring it up again. It's done." He reached to lift her chin and observed her tears. Slipping his hand behind her shoulders, he hugged her gently. He could feel the wetness on his cheek.

At that moment a distant bugle sounded. Releasing her, he stood and offered his hand. "That's mess call. Do you feel up to eating with Shawn and our other two lieutenants? I hope you'll not be disappointed with the food. I told the cook I was having company.

Mary wiped her eyes and smiled timidly. "I'm ready."

Shawn greeted Mary as an old friend and introduced her to the junior officers.

Mary made a half-hearted attempt to halt Shawn's introduction, then said, "Shawn, I met these gentlemen last winter at the Christmas Ball. In fact, I distinctly remember dancing with each of them."

When all were seated, an orderly brought a small wooden bucket containing two bottles of wine, encased in chipped ice. Kirby looked around the table. "What's the occasion?"

"We Virginians remember the finer things in life." Shawn replied paternally, "You Yankees are too practical."

"We'll drink to that!" Kirby smiled his thanks to Shawn.

Mary exclaimed over the superb dinner. She recognized dandelion greens among the tomatoes and eggs in the salad. The tender steaks were accompanied by butter fried, button mushrooms. She guessed they had been picked from the horse pasture along the river.

When the dinner was over and the junior officers returned to their duties, Kirby observed Mary conversing in a low tone with the orderly who was clearing the table. The man began to smile, obviously pleased.

Upon their return to Kirby's quarters, Mary noticed their buggy was missing. "Where's our rig, Kirby?"

"I suppose the Charge of Quarters felt sorry for the horse and took it to the corral to be watered. It'll be available when I return you home. Say, what did you whisper to our striker2 that made him so happy?"

"I thanked him for his service and told him to express my compliments to the cook. I suspect you don't eat like this every day."

"That's a fact!" He smiled. "Hopefully, I'll eat well in the future after we're married." He teased, "You'll find the men doing plenty of favors for you. I'll have to keep a sharp eye."

She noticed that when they again entered his quarters, he left the door wide open. She realized the problem of propriety, but the open door was also admitting flies.

Searching for a way to encourage Kirby to speak of his past, Mary asked, "Kirby, where did you learn to dance? Do they teach that at the academy?"

"Heavens, no!" He began to laugh. "I have two wonderful sisters, Marlene, who is two years older than me, and Laura who is three years younger. We taught each other when we were kids. You'll like them and they'll love you. You'll get along famously with my Father and Mother, too."

He looked almost embarrassed. "I guess you could call our family well-off. Father and Mother each inherited from their families and then, too, Father has a successful business. Our home is quite large, but not overly ostentatious." He looked at her seriously. "Mother collects antiques, but recently my sisters write that she's now into paintings." He smiled. "I hope she knows what she's buying."

A knock sounded at the doorway and Mary observed a shadow by the entry. A voice followed. "May I come in?" Captain Collins stepped across the threshold.

"Greetings, Miss McLaren. I hear you two have made plans. Perhaps congratulations are in order."

Mary's smile turned into a blush.

Captain Collins turned to Kirby. "I have a message for you. It just came in on the telegraph." He looked at Kirby apologetically. "I hope it doesn't upset any arrangements you two are making."

Kirby thanked the captain as he left, then sat beside Mary and unfolded the paper. The sudden drawn, disappointed look on his face alarmed her. "What is it, Kirby? What's wrong?"

Stonily, he handed her the message. It was from Washington and addressed to 1st Lt. Kirby H. Ralston, O-11560. It read: Above named officer will report to C.O. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, not later then 3 January, l879 for staff school. S/Brig. Gen. Meagher. C of S.

"How long does the school last, Kirby?"

"Cripes! It's somewhere between nine and twelve months." He sat quietly for some moments, and then he said, "As much as I wanted to go to this school, the orders have come at a mighty poor time."

"Our marriage can wait, Kirby. It's not forever."

"It is to me." He looked depressed. "You see, Mary, the Army discourages lieutenants from marrying. It isn't considered proper to marry until you reach the grade of captain. The thing is, it's necessary for me to attend this school to ever attain that rank. There are so many officers carried over since the war, and with the constant congressional cuts of the Army, many lieutenants will reach retirement age without ever making captain. He stood and said resignedly, "We'll have to figure something out. I sure hadn't planned on this, although I did mention the possibility."

Mary, thinking it wise to change the subject, stood and suggested, "Let's go see Bob Wilson before we leave. He runs your fort store, doesn't he? He's a friend of Father's and visits us occasionally."

"Sure, he's our sutler. He's located over by the laundry; it's only a short walk."

Bob's store was a large, single-storied building badly in need of whitewash and paint. Entering, Mary saw the building was well stocked with dry goods, hardware, and the necessities of frontier life. Bins of squared nails lay along the floor amid coils of rope. Denim trousers and flannel shirts were stacked on shelves. Adjoining shelves held lye soap and boxes of rifle and pistol shells. Several rifles and shotguns were racked along the wall and a few revolvers lay on a rear shelf, with a cord strung through the trigger guards to prevent pilfering. The odors of pickles, sauerkraut, linseed oil and kerosene were prevalent. Wilson heard them enter and appeared from a rear room.

"Welcome, Mary! Hello, Kirby! Looking for something?"

"I told Kirby I wanted to see your store. I've heard you and Father discussing it." Mary's eyes took in the medicines, harnesses and whips. "It looks like you carry a lot of goods."

Bob nodded. "My trade is mainly with the soldiers and Indians. My biggest sellers are flour, coal oil, sugar and whiskey." He smiled at the two, adding, "I'm only allowed to sell whiskey to the soldiers at certain hours, usually in the evenings. Indirectly, Captain Collins is my boss too." He lifted a box from behind the counter and began filling it with items from the shelves. "Take a look around. There are some Indian artifacts in the rear if you're interested. I get those items in trade occasionally."

Mary's curiosity was satisfied. "We're about to return to St. Vincent, Bob. I'll stop by again when I have more time." She noted the complete lack of fresh fruit and vegetables and determined to discuss it further with Kirby.

Wilson looked up and smiled. "Stop by anytime, Mary. You're always welcome here."

When outside, Mary suggested, "Let's get the buggy and take a drive; I'll fix us supper when we get back to St. Vincent.”

On their return there was little conversation until Kirby volunteered, "Perhaps things will work out so we can be married in April. As it stands, I'll have to live in the bachelor officer quarters at the school or find and pay for my own. We might be able to find a rental house in the town of Leavenworth. It's not a money problem because I've saved nearly all of my pay since graduating from the Academy. It's just that I'll have to attend the school as a single officer. A lieutenant just doesn't rate family quarters."

"Don't worry about it. Whatever happens, I'll be waiting for you. If you are transferred somewhere else after you graduate, I can join you. At least now that we know you're going to be tied up at school, I'll be able to take my teaching examination this coming spring."

"Would you rather we marry before I leave for the South?" Kirby looked at her hopefully.

"Please don't rush me, Kirby. You know I made up my mind not to marry until I'm eighteen. It's only a few months away and it sounds like I'm being difficult, but that's the way I want it. I love you and will marry you then."

"At least we'll have two months together before I leave. Maybe you'll change your mind."

She remembered her narrow escape from entanglement with Robert on that Christmas day, and smiled evasively. "No, not likely, I'm as strong-willed as my Mother."

Kirby knew he was pushing, but she didn't object to his hand caressing her waist. The fragrance of her hair and contact with her warm body intensified his interest and she seemed receptive; she squeezed closely to him.

The wind had strengthened as they approached the trees near the ferry. Gusts sent clusters of leaves whirling down and dappled spots of sunshine danced on the ground. Mary noticed that some branches were almost denuded, a sure sign of approaching winter. She realized this was as near as she had ever been to a disagreement with Kirby. He was a calm, quiet man, but firm on his views as to Army life. She knew she had no legitimate reason to protest his immediate desire for marriage.

1 - ...Taylor became a promoter of the agricultural potential of the Hudson’s Bay Company territories. Through the St Paul Advertiser he familiarized the public with their resources and referred constantly to the relationship of that region to Minnesota. “Here is an object,” he wrote in 1857, “which removes our destiny from the insignificance of a frontier state, making our rivers and railroads the through fares to and from regions . . . destined to be an Empire in population and resources before the termination of the century.” That same year Lorin Blodget published Climatology of the United States, and of the temperate latitudes of the North American continent . . . (Philadelphia), which included statistics and observations on the climate and resources of the HBC territories. According to Blodget, the capacity of the region for agriculture and settlement had been “much underrated and greatly misunderstood.” Taylor and the Minnesota expansionists saw in Blodget’s book the scientific basis for their own contentions regarding the agricultural possibilities of the territories, as well as reinforcement for their efforts in arousing support for American annexation of the northwest.

In 1859, at the request of the governor of Minnesota, Henry Hastings Sibley, Taylor visited the Red River settlement (Man.). His report recommended the extension of the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854 to the British territories in the northwest. He believed that commercial advantages would accrue to the United States without the necessity of annexation. That year he was appointed a special agent of the Department of Treasury to investigate trade and transportation between the United States and the HBC territories. (He remained in the post until 1869.) At the time of his appointment, the Reciprocity Treaty was under attack by American timber, grain, transportation, and manufacturing interests. To counter the attack Senator Henry Mower Rice of Minnesota secured approval from the department for a study of the treaty by Taylor. In 1860 Taylor commented favourably on reciprocity and recommended its extension to the territories and British Columbia. In 1862 he provided a more detailed study in which he outlined the mutual value of the treaty and the potential market that existed to the northwest. He urged that no unnecessary restrictions be imposed on existing trade. The commercial ties already in place, added to the dissatisfaction of the inhabitants of the Red River settlement with the rule of the HBC, would lead to a popular movement for the colony’s entry into the United States. Although the Reciprocity Treaty was abrogated by the United States in 1866, the House of Representatives that year asked Taylor to examine the commercial relations between British North America and the United States. Taylor’s report, presented in June, associated the destiny of the British North American colonies with a transcontinental railway. He was confident that neither Britain nor the proposed confederation would construct such a line. At the same time he drew up a bill providing for the entry of the colonies and the HBC territories into the United States. The bill was submitted to the House of Representatives but died in committee.

Like all the Minnesota expansionists, Taylor believed that the instrument of annexation was the railway. He was convinced that, if the HBC territories could be made dependent for transportation and trade on St Paul, Canadians would be reluctant to build a transcontinental railway across the inhospitable country north of Lake Superior, and the territories would eventually fall into the political orbit of the United States. In 1857 he had become secretary of the Minnesota and Pacific Railroad Company, which was to build from St Paul north to the international boundary. Taylor was the railway’s most active publicist, always stressing its anticipated role in advancing Minnesota’s commercial destiny. The railway fell short of its initial expectations and in 1862 its charter was transferred to the newly organized St Paul and Pacific Railroad. Taylor became an energetic supporter of this new line.

From Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online

2 - A term commonly used at this time analogous to the word 'orderly' - see it used in this article about the same time period...