FORT UNION
Historic Resource Study
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CHAPTER EIGHT:
LIFE AT THE THIRD FORT UNION (continued)

     The generalizations about military life help illustrate a portion of what enlisted men and officers experienced. Details about individual personalities, points of view, and events, however, bestow a comprehension unavailable in any other form. As in the early era of the history of Fort Union, the writings of officers' wives and other observers contributed much to an understanding of life at the third post. One aspect of that life was the widespread influence of rumors and gossip, typical of such outposts. One young officer found the post rife with hearsay and started a rumor for the fun of it. Soon the entire garrison was "excited" that one of the regiments in New Mexico was supposedly going to be sent to serve in Alaska. [273] Fortunately some writers were able to reveal much more than rumors about garrison life.

Niels J. C. Larsen
Private Niels J. C. Larsen, 1888, taken while he was stationed at Fort Union. Larsen Collection, Fort Union National Monument.

     Larsen was a Danish immigrant who, like many other young men upon their arrival in the United States, enlisted in the army. He joined in 1884 and was assigned to Company G, Sixth Cavalry. He saw service in the Geronimo campaign and, after the end of that conflict in 1886, his troop was sent to Fort Union. Because the quarters at the post garrison were filled at the time, Troop G occupied the site of the first Fort Union which had served as the Fort Union Arsenal from the Civil War era until the early 1880s.

     The soldiers stationed at Fort Union were photographed by J. R. Riddle, a photographer who visited the post in 1887 and 1888 and perhaps other times as well. Larsen collected photos of many soldiers, most of whom he never identified, and some of his collection was donated to Fort Union National Monument by his descendants.

     Troop G, including Larsen, and the entire regiment of Sixth Cavalry were transferred to the Sioux country of South Dakota in December 1890 to assist with putting down the so-called Ghost Dance movement. They were present in that area when the era known as the Indian Wars came to an end at Wounded Knee during the last days of 1890.

     Among of the Fort Union residents who wrote about their experiences was Marion Sloan (later Mrs. Richard D. Russell), who arrived to live at Fort Union with her mother, Eliza Mahoney, in 1864. Her charming memoirs, Land of Enchantment, as noted in a previous chapter, provide a woman's perception of life on the Santa Fe Trail, at Camp Nichols and Fort Union, and pioneer life in New Mexico and Colorado. Marion first visited Fort Union, with her mother and brother, in 1852 when the fort was merely one year old and she was only seven. They had accompanied a caravan of two wagon trains of supplies from Fort Leavenworth, one an army supply train and the other led by a leading Santa Fe Trail merchant and freighter, Francis X. Aubry, who was the friend and, perhaps, the lover of Eliza Mahoney. There were also 200 horses for the troops at Fort Union. [274] Marion was at Fort Union many times thereafter and proclaimed some 80 years after that first visit that "my own life story and the story of Fort Union have been strangely interwoven." [275]


Sergeant Strupp Bismark
Sergeant Strupp, first name unknown, Company G, Sixth Cavalry, Fort Union, 1888. Larsen Collection, Fort Union National Monument. Trooper identified only as "Bismark" Company G, Sixth Cavalry, Fort Union, 1888. Larsen Collection, Fort Union National Monument.
William Walton First Sergeant Huffman
Private William Walton, Company F, Tenth Infantry, Fort Union, 1887, J. R. Riddle photo, courtesy Kansas State Historical Society. First Sergeant Huffman, first name unknown, Company F, Tenth Infantry, Fort Union, 1887, J. R. Riddle photo, courtesy Kansas State Historical Society.

     There is a mystery connected with Eliza Sloan Mahoney and her family that remains to be unraveled. Eliza's first husband, the father of Will and Marion, was an army surgeon, William James Sloan. In her memoirs Marion stated that her father was killed at the Battle of Monterey during the Mexican War, and that was probably what her mother told her. Marion was born in 1845 and never knew her father. Eliza and the surgeon were most likely separated, and Eliza married a soldier, Jeremiah Mahoney. Marion recalled of her step-father, "I do not know why I was not taught to call him 'father.' To me he was always Mr. Mahoney." That made sense if her father were alive, which he was until 1880, an army surgeon until his death. Marion stated in her reminiscences that Mr. Mahoney was killed by Indians when she was about five years old. That turned out not to be true either, and Mahoney lived until 1899. [276]

     Eliza Mahoney took her children over the Santa Fe Trail the first time when Marion was seven. Although Marion was not aware of it, her father, Dr. Sloan, served as the chief medical officer of the Department of New Mexico from 1856 to 1860. One wonders if Eliza knew, and if his presence was the reason she left Santa Fe soon after he arrived and returned about the time he left. Equally important, was Dr. Sloan aware that his children resided in Santa Fe while he was serving there? Did he perchance see "Little Maid Marian" on the plaza at Santa Fe? Did she see him? [277]

     Marion did not explain why her mother moved to Fort Union in 1864, but she operated a boarding house (something she had done at Santa Fe) and cooked for officers who pooled their rations and hired her to prepare them. Marion recalled, "we lived in a long, low adobe house whose six rooms were all in a row." This seems most likely to have been one of the sets of quarters erected in the demilunes of the earthwork. One of their rooms was rented to the Masonic Lodge at the post. [278] For Marion, age 19, the importance of Fort Union in her "life story" was that there she met the man who became her husband. The history of Fort Union was comprised of innumerable stories, including this delightful romance recorded by this remarkable woman.

     "It was at Fort Union in the year of 1864 that I first met Lieutenant Richard D. Russell. I was rounding a corner rather suddenly, my green veil streaming out behind me. The wind was blowing my hair in my eyes and I was trying to keep my long skirts where they belonged when suddenly he stood before me. That was the moment the whole wide, world stood still. My tall, young lieutenant stood and smiled at me while I struggled with my skirts, veil and hair. Then on he marched with his company, taking my ignorant young heart right along with him." [279]

     That was the beginning of the most renowned love story at what was usually considered an unemotional place. The enamored young woman declared:

     "Love, they say, is like the measles: We take it only once. Cupid spends no second arrow on our hearts. I am sure that was true in my case, for from that August day when I met Richard on the streets of old Fort Union, to that other August day twenty-three years later when an assassin's bullet took him from me, my love never faltered. Indeed, that love is a living part of the soul of me today, although the grass has waved over my lieutenant these forty years and more." [280]

     Richard Russell was born in Canada in 1839 and grew up in Illinois. At age 16 he ran away from home and went to California where he tried prospecting and had a ranch until he joined the First California Volunteers early in the Civil War. He came to New Mexico with Carleton's California Column and ended up at Fort Union, where he joined the New Mexico Volunteers upon expiration of his term of service with the California troops. He was as smitten with Marion Sloan as she was with him. Marion's mother, Eliza, who had tried unsuccessfully to match Marion with a Kansas City merchant, hoped her daughter would do better than marry a soldier. She discouraged the budding relationship. A few weeks later Mrs. Mahoney took Marion back to live at Santa Fe. "I was sick at heart," Marion remembered, "because so far she had never permitted Richard and me a moment alone together." [281]

     At Santa Fe Marion pined for her "tall lieutenant." When she saw a wagon train arrive from Fort Union, Marion expected there would be a letter from Richard. She "dressed up a bit and walked to the post office," only to be told "there was no letter for Miss Marian Sloan." A disheartened young woman "turned sadly from the post office window and was starting homeward when some one came up behind me and drew my hand through his arm. I turned quickly. It was Richard. He had come with the emigrant train from Fort Union." Their courtship began in earnest and "six months from the day of our meeting Richard and I were married in the little military chapel at Fort Union; that was in February 1865." The exact location of the chapel at the post on that date has not been determined. There was no post chaplain in 1865. Possibly the Good Templars' building was utilized as a chapel, for it was used for that purpose after the arrival of Chaplain John Woart in 1866. A nostalgic Marion professed decades later, "that day at the post office lies in my memory as faint and sweet as the scent of old lavender." [282]

Richard Russell and Marion Sloan
Lieutenant Richard Russell and Marion Sloan were married at Fort Union in 1865. She held fond memories of life at the post, which are included in her Land of Enchantment, from which this photo was copied.

     Of her matrimony at Fort Union, she confessed, "I am afraid that I did not hear a great deal of our wedding ceremony, for something sacred and triumphant was going on in my heart." The young couple "lived in Fort Union. Our honeymoon in the old fort was a happy one." It was not clear if they resided at the first post or the earthwork, but probably the latter. A few weeks after their marriage Richard accompanied Kit Carson to establish Camp Nichols, and Marion joined him there later, as recorded in a previous chapter. How she persuaded her dear friend Carson to let her go is also part of the story of life at Fort Union. [283]

     She "knew that Colonel Carson would not think it was very safe" and began conspiring how she could obtain his consent to join her husband at Camp Nichols. She hosted a dinner party, with Carson as the guest of honor, knowing that "he liked my cooking." She did her best. "I prepared the pot-roasted buffalo meat the way I knew that he loved, with the red chili pods mixed with it." Carson enjoyed the meal but was not persuaded. "I think that he saw through my little ruse," Marion recalled, "but enjoyed it." Before she could even beg for his permission, Carson informed her, "I promised your mother I would look out for you, Marian. You are safer here than at Camp Nichols." [284]

     Carson, she remembered, "stood under the hanging coal oil lamp in our quarters, a slight man with a frown between eyes that showed an infinite capacity for tenderness." What good food could not achieve tears were able to accomplish. With no sense of shame or guilt, Marion proclaimed, "when he saw the tears that were gathering he said, 'Little Maid Marian, believe me, I will take you out to Camp Nickols as soon as it is safe for you there.'" Within a month, as she remembered, "Colonel Carson, true to his word came to get me." He could not deny his "Little Maid Marian." [285]

     Marion was apparently the only officer's wife at Camp Nichols. A soldier was assigned to cook for the Russells, leaving the young bride free time to read and go riding. There were at least four other women at the little post, "two Mexican laundresses" who were wives of New Mexico Volunteers and "two Indian squaws" who were wives of Indian scouts. Marion had little to do and spent part of her time watching "the Mexican women pounding dirt out of the soldiers clothing" or "the squaws tanning buckskin." Richard and Marion returned to Fort Union when Camp Nichols was closed in September 1865. [286]

     They were soon transferred to Fort Bascom, where their first child, a girl, was born in March 1866. The child, Hattie Eliza Russell, died five months later. The Russells returned to Fort Union and remained there until Richard was mustered out of the service in 1867. Mrs. Russell experienced the problem of drunkenness and the punishment for it before they left Fort Union. Looking back some 60 years, she recalled:

     "I remember my last Fourth of July at Fort Union. Some of the soldiers had free whiskey given them. One that had been assigned us as cook became intoxicated and wandered away. I went ahead with the cooking for I know what Independence Day meant to the soldiers. Louis was a good boy and Independence Day came but once a year. However, that evening a drunken private came to our quarters where I was alone. He ordered me in a loud insulting voice to prepare supper for him. An officer who happened to be passing heard his loud voice. He came in and broke his cane over the drunken private's back. That private was sentenced to thirty days of the California Walk. I tried hard to harden my heart against him, but I was glad when he was mustered out of the army before his punishment ended." [287]

     Marion had earlier observed and described the "California Walk," used to punish enlisted men found guilty of disciplinary infractions. A soldier sentenced to this particular punishment carried a "four-foot length of green log" on his shoulders and marched "around the flag pole from daylight until dark. One hour of marching was followed by one hour of rest." Marion believed the name had been given to this sentence by members of the California Volunteers who had made the difficult march from California to New Mexico during the early part of the Civil War. Marion had great sympathy for the lives of enlisted men. She probably echoed the opinion of many soldiers when she commented that "the stern military discipline seemed cruel to me." [288] She liked almost everything else about the army, however, and was sorrowful when they left military life and Fort Union.

     "At last there came a day," Marion reminisced with a combination of fondness and sadness, "when we left Fort Union forever; Fort Union that had sheltered and protected me since I was seven. I tried not to look back, for a new life was beginning for me." For five years, with a partner (Joseph A. DeHague, a former lieutenant who had served with Russell in the army) they operated a trading post in Tecolote, a village on the Santa Fe Trail about 35 miles southwest of Fort Union. They provided some supplies (including salt) for Fort Union and served as the army forage agent at Tecolote for a while. [289]

     After "Mr. DeHague had absconded with much of our money," Marion related, she and Richard sold their store in Tecolote in 1871 and settled on a ranch at Stonewall, Colorado. Marion bore a total of nine children, "admitting the fact that . . . it seems that must have been too many." As noted above, Richard was murdered in 1888. When Marion dictated her memoirs her living descendants included six children, sixteen grandchildren, twenty-two great-grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren. She declared, as she "watched my young descendants swimming" at a family reunion: "Surely all these young amphibians could not have resulted from that old Fort Union marriage." Marion, who never forgot her close ties to the military post and the Santa Fe Trail, died on Christmas Day in 1936 after being stuck by an automobile on the route of the old Santa Fe Trail in Trinidad, Colorado. Because of her famous reminiscences, the popular Land of Enchantment, Marion Sloan Russell is one of the best-known residents of Fort Union and, undoubtedly, the most-recognized woman connected with the history of the post and the Santa Fe Trail. [290]

     A short time before Richard and Marion Russell left Fort Union in 1866, Captain Andrew Jonathan Alexander, Third Cavalry, and his wife, Eveline Martin Alexander, arrived at the post en route to duty in the district. They were nearly newlyweds, having been married on November 3, 1864. Captain Alexander, a native of Kentucky, had received his first appointment as an officer from civilian life early in the Civil War. While serving in New Mexico, Alexander received notice of his promotion to major in the Eighth Cavalry (he apparently declined an appointment as major in the Ninth Cavalry). Mrs. Alexander, daughter of a prominent New York family, kept a diary of their service in New Mexico, 1866-1867, and sent copies of it to her family to keep them informed of military life on the frontier. The diary was published over a century later. [291]

     Eveline Alexander, 23-year-old daughter of Enos and Cornelia Martin, was well educated, class-conscious, and wedded to the traditions of her respectable and religious upbringing. She did not entirely approve of army life. On the way to New Mexico, she wrote, "it distresses me to travel on the Sabbath and to see the day so little regarded as it is in the army." There was no chaplain with the regiment, "which I regret" she noted, but she and Andrew "had a service" in which she read from "the Dutch church liturgy" and the Bible. Eveline's sense of propriety was greatly incensed when a lieutenant in her husband's regiment had "forgotten himself so far as to be profane in my presence, which I cannot but consider the greatest possible insult a gentleman can offer one, and which I always resent." [292]

     She also found the environment difficult. On the march to New Mexico, she recorded that "it was too hot to wear a dress, and during the march I rode in the ambulance in a white wrapper and managed to survive." [293] Undoubtedly Eveline accommodated herself to military conditions because her diary does not show her as being constantly resentful or uncomfortable. In fact, she apparently enjoyed camping out, even during the winter in New Mexico. "A winter camp," she wrote, "was quite a novelty to me and presented a beautiful picture with the numerous campfires lighting up the pines, or the huge cottonwoods, and the white tents gleaming in the moonlight." On the trip from Fort Union to Fort Bascom, she continued, "we had a Sibley tent and stove and were quite comfortable, though the weather was right cold for camping out." That was several months after she had arrived in New Mexico. By the time she left New Mexico in 1867, Eveline was looking forward "to be living again in the open air. . . . I shall be glad enough to exchange my comfortable bedroom for a tent." [294] She had adapted well since she came West the previous year.

     After a 68-day march with a column of troops from Fort Smith, Arkansas, the Alexanders arrived at Fort Union on August 14, 1866. On August 20 Captain and Mrs. Alexander left the post, with three companies of troops (one company of Third Cavalry and two companies of Fifty-Seventh Colored Infantry), to establish a new military post, Fort Stevens, in Colorado Territory. During the few days she was at Fort Union on this occasion (the Alexanders returned later), Eveline briefly described the third post which was still under construction. "The new Fort Union . . . has very fine officers' quarters that have just been completed [actually, only some of them were completed]. They are built of adobe with zinc roofs and are very comfortable and nice looking." [295]

     She also visited the remains of the first post "to return the calls I had received from Captain Shoemaker's family." The original buildings had been reassigned to the district arsenal, commanded by Shoemaker. Mrs. Alexander was amused to discover that "some of the old houses had quite a flower garden, which had sprung up from the mud on their roofs." She also noted that some of the original quarters had "been torn down." Near the first post she "saw the house where George and Mary had lived, which was partly in ruins." This was the old sutler's dwelling, where Captain Alexander's brother George M. Alexander and his wife had resided while George was the post sutler, 1856-1859. [296] The fact that the sutler's home near the first post was abandoned would indicate that a new sutler's complex must have been built by 1866 closer to the third fort. George Alexander died in 1866, presumably prior to the arrival of Andrew and Eveline. [297]

     Before the new Fort Stevens was established it was abandoned. Captain Alexander and his command were engaged in combat with a band of Utes in Colorado and then joined the garrison at Fort Garland where Colonel Carson was in charge. It is interesting to note that almost every officer's wife in New Mexico during and immediately after the Civil War, whose diaries or memoirs have been published, had an occasion to spend some time with the legendary Carson. Eveline saw him to be "a most interesting, original old fellow." He told her much about Indians. In November 1866 the Alexanders returned to Fort Union for a few weeks. They spent some time in Santa Fe, returned to Fort Union in time to celebrate Christmas, and were sent to Fort Bascom at the end of the year. [298]

     At Fort Union they were provided quarters in the home of the post commander, Major Marshall. This was before the new commanding officer's quarters were completed at the third post. Eveline described Mrs. Marshall as "a very pretty woman." She noted that Major Marshall was "very much an invalid, the result of wounds received during the war." Because of those injuries, Marshall was retired from the service the following year. Eveline also met Mrs. Henry Bankhead, who would die of cholera at Fort Wallace, Kansas, the following year. [299]

     During the short time the Alexanders were at Fort Union Eveline enjoyed horseback riding around Fort Union with Andrew, and he appreciated the opportunities for wolf hunting there. Eveline noted that "the country around here is very fine for running wolves, as it is smooth and not undermined by prairie dogs." In one diary entry she recorded: "Andrew had a successful wolfhunt today and brought home a fine skin." She also remarked that "running wolves and foxes is the only amusement one has here, . . . and I am sorry to say the frequent windstorms and dust make any outdoor exercise almost impracticable." [300]

     The Alexanders were present when the annual caravan of officers and recruits arrived from the states on November 24, 1866. Among the newcomers were Rev. John Woart and family, the new post chaplain. Although Eveline and Andrew had been at Fort Union less than three weeks, they opened their small quarters (three rooms and a kitchen), as was the army custom, to some of the visitors. Captain Joseph G. Tilford, Third Cavalry, his wife, baby, nurse, and sister-in-law, shared the Alexander's quarters. In addition, Eveline noted that four other guests "take their meals with us, so we have quite a houseful." [301] Fortunately, the visitors were soon assigned to their own quarters at Fort Union or another duty station.

     Meanwhile, on November 29, Thanksgiving Day, the Alexanders "had quite a dinner party." The usual diners were joined by Chaplain Woart and family, Mrs. Charles J. Whiting, and Captain Henry Inman (quartermaster). Eveline proudly stated: "We had a very successful dinner and all seemed to enjoy themselves." Although she was not lonely amidst such numbers, Eveline expressed a longing for her family back home with whom she had enjoyed Thanksgiving the previous year. [302]

     In December the Alexanders made a trip to Santa Fe in an ambulance on official business. There Andrew received his promotion to the rank of major in the Eighth Cavalry. Eveline described the trip and confirmed the reputation of Kozlowski's Ranch for serving fine food. "They gave us a delightful supper and breakfast consisting of trout, broiled turkey, omelette, potatoes, etc." She toured the historic sites of Santa Fe and noted the Americanization that was taking place. "The city," she wrote, "is not as curious and interesting in appearance as Taos, as here the American element is decidedly visible." [303]

     Eveline and Andrew enjoyed New Mexico although their initial stay was destined to be brief (approximately nine months). In a letter to her mother, December 16, 1866, Eveline wrote: "To hear many of the officers' wives here talk you would think New Mexico was a purgatory, and their husbands are no better." She assured her mother, "on the contrary I have enjoyed myself exceedingly here, and have never had a sad hour." [304]

     The Alexanders were back at Fort Union in time for Christmas, but it was a hectic day for them since they were leaving the next day to move to Fort Bascom. Eveline and Andrew attended chapel, which she described as "very prettily trimmed with greens and looked really like Christmas." The Alexanders "had all the noncommissioned officers of G Company to take eggnog and lunch with us. A sort of farewell to G Company. It passed off very successfully." They were at Fort Bascom before the end of the year. [305]

     In the spring of 1867, when Andrew was sent on an inspection tour in the district, Eveline moved back to Fort Union and lived with the Shoemakers at the arsenal for about a month. There she was "comfortable and contented." She enjoyed visiting with Captain Shoemaker and declared "I am quite contented with the old gentleman." Shoemaker was a good host and always popular with officers' wives. "Captain Shoemaker," Eveline recorded, "has a buggy and pair of horses, with which he takes me to drive whenever the wind does not blow too hard." Eveline spent much of her time at the arsenal "sewing and mending, as my clothes are beginning to give out a little." [306]

     Because the Alexanders were planning to travel to the states as soon as Andrew's inspection tour was completed, Eveline had her "things packed." As was common practice, she disposed of some items. "I sold my stove and my crockery," she wrote, "as I thought the money was easier to pack around than the articles; at all events the transportation would cost less." She had paid $20 for the stove at Little Rock, Arkansas, had used it for a year, and sold it for $15. "You see," she concluded, "I am getting to be quite a manager. I am now trying to sell my ambulance!" After all, Andrew had "to attend to Uncle Sam's interests, and it is as well for one of us to look after the family affairs." [307] In the spring of 1867 the Alexanders left New Mexico and traveled the Mountain Route of the Santa Fe Trail to the states. They later served at other posts in Arizona and New Mexico, and Andrew was the member of the special board that revised army regulations in the early 1870s. In 1873 and 1874 the Alexanders returned to Fort Union, when Andrew served as post commander (September 15, 1873, to March 23, 1874; April 13 to May 5 and November 22 to December 12, 1874). [308]

     If Eveline kept a diary during that time, it has not been found. It would be interesting to have her observations from that time to compare with her earlier observations of life at the post. Unfortunately, the memoirs of Marion Russell and the diary of Eveline Alexander do not compare in content of information about the post and the daily lives of its inhabitants with the unpublished letters of Katie Bowen at the first Fort Union. There was no one like Katie Bowen at the third Fort Union, no similar body of letters about life at the post, but a few officers' wives besides Marion Russell and Eveline Alexander provided some in sights. [309]

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