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Battlefield Dispatches No. 254: Wagon Boss No. 7 'On the Road to Fort Scott'

Friday, February 25, 2011

At the conclusion of last week's column Wagon Boss R.M. Peck and the wagon train he was in charge of arrived at Flat Rock, Indian Territory which was about 12 miles north of Fort Gibson.

Here, Peck was put in charge of another empty supply train that was returning to Fort Scott, Kan. Also included in this column is how Peck and other wagon bosses replaced mules when they were on the "march" and were miles away from the nearest Quartermaster Depot. This column was originally published in the July 28, 1904 edition of the National Tribune Newspaper in Washington, D.C.

"Contraband Mule Business"

"An officer called the "Provost Marshal," in command of a detail soldiers called "provost guards" takes charge of all contraband (civilian, Negro and Confederate) property until it is turned over to the Quartermaster's Department for ggovernment use. This "provost-guard" goes around through the camps and seizes all contraband stock it can find in the possession of officers, soldiers, or citizens, confiscating it for the use of Uncle Sam. But with all the vigilance of the provost marshal and his guards, a great deal of such property is smuggled through to Kansas privately.

Each train or other outfit leaving the command to return to Kansas is supposed to be searched by the provost-guards and all stock not bearing a U. S. Brand is seized by them, unless the person claiming it had procured a pass from the provost marshal.

As soon as it became evident that all the best contraband stock was being appropriated by the provost marshal and certain other officers and their best friends it soon got to be fashionable to "Beat" the "Provo" in all possible ways. Good mules were the best property because they were more easily smuggled through and found ready for sale in Kansas where government contractors were eagerly buying for Army use all mules that were up to the stipulated size, age, condition, etc. Most of the wagon masters soon acquired by purchase, trade or Jayhawking (stealing) several head of extra mules. We commonly beat the provost guards by working the captured mule in a team and tying a "U.S. Mule" or "Mules" behind the wagon.

In this way we did considerable speculating "on the side." As this "beating" of the government was fashionable will all classes of officers, soldiers and citizens, it was considered "fairly legitimate." If one didn't get caught and if detected, we only lost the stock, which probably had not cost us anything.

These horses and mules were often bought for a song from the Negroes, who had stolen them from their masters. The buyer taking the risk of dodging the provost marshal.

After remaining at Flat Rock for a few days, I was ordered by "Red" Clark to take charge of George Anderson's train and take it to Fort Scott. Anderson, having been put under arrest by Gen. Weir for some reason, was accompanying me to Fort Scott as a passenger. I accordingly moved my baggage and "Jayhawked Stock," of which I had several head, over to Anderson's train and was put in command of the outfit by Capt. Clark. My assistant wagon master was Dudley Haskell, later a prominent politician and member of congress from Kansas.

Counting up what I had and several head held by some of the teamsters of the train, I found 13 horses and mules for which Capt. Schurate promptly procured a pass. On rolling out for Fort Scott, I found the provost guard waiting for me on the road near a picket (guard post) ready to overhaul my train and confiscate all contraband stock, but the pass squared everything and I went on unmolested.

The road to Fort Scott was watched by prowling bands of Rebel Bushwhackers (Confederate guerrillas) who were ever ready to pounce upon small or defenseless parties, but were not (usually) in sufficient force generally to attack well escorted outfits.

At Choteau Creek, where we camped on the first night from Flat Rock, we found evidence of the recent presence of a party of bushwhackers, I corralled the train out in the open ground some distance from the timber and water to guard against a surprise or stampede, but the night passed off quietly.

As we were approaching the Rebel Gen. Stand Watie's old place near Horse Creek, one morning I, with a couple of soldiers of the escort, was riding some distance in advance of the train when we noticed several horses hitched to the fence in front of the house. Just then, several men came rushing out, hurriedly jumped onto their horses and rode off as fast as they could scamper into the timber in the rear of the house.

From their movements and appearances, I was satisfied that we had surprised and frightened off a party of rebel bushwhackers. Galloping up, we found that five men -- evidently rebels -- had camped in the abandoned house during the night and had been busy cooking their breakfast on the stove when they were frightened away by our approach."

On the Road to Fort Scott will be continued next week, and of course, the war went on.

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches