Women in the Army

Meanwhile, the guide had dispatched one of the two remaining Mexicans, and, though he had a shot in the fleshy part of his leg, he had succeeded in compelling the other to surrender by shooting his horse.

Mrs. Coolidge now, for the first time, discovered blood dripping from a wound made by a musket-ball in her bridle-arm. Hastily winding her scarf about it, she bound the arms of her prisoner with a piece of rope and broke his lance and the locks of his pistols and carbine. The other prisoner was served in the same fashion. The arms of the two dead Mexicans were also broken or disabled. The fleetest and best of the two remaining horses was taken by Mrs. Coolidge in lieu of her own gallant little mustang, which was now gasping out his life on the rocky bottom of the pass. Our gallant couriers then paroled the two prisoners, and galloped rapidly down the cañon, taking the other mustang with them, and leaving the guerrillas to find their way home as they best might. As they mounted their horses, the guide remarked to Mrs. Coolidge that he had heretofore entertained the suspicion that she might be a woman, but that now he knew she was a man.

Fort Union, New Mexico

Fort Union, New Mexico

A swift ride brought them to old Pecos, a distance of 10 miles, where they supped and passed the night. Their wounds were mere scratches and did not necessitate any delay, and the next day, after a long, slow gallop, they reached Las Vegas. Then, keeping their course to the northwest and pushing rapidly forward, they passed the present site of Fort Union, and, having secured a large supply of dried buffalo meat, crossed the wonderful mesa or table-land west of the Canadian River, and encamped for a night and day on the east bank of that stream.

The next stretch for two hundred miles lay through a country infested with Ute and Apache Indians. Three or four days of swift riding would carry them through this dangerous region to a place of security on the Arkansas River. If they should meet a hostile band, it was agreed that they would trust for safety in the swiftness of their steeds, which had already proved themselves capable of both speed and endurance.

They had crossed Rabbit Ear Creek and reached the Cimarrron River, without seeing even the sign of a foe, when, early one morning, the guide, looking eastward over the vast sandy plain, from the camp where they had passed the night, saw far away a body of 50 mounted Indians, whom, after examining with his glass, he pronounced to be Ute coming rapidly towards them. There was no escape, and, in accordance with their program, they mounted their horses and rode slowly to meet them.

The Indians, spying them, formed a semicircle and galloped towards the fearless couple, who put their horses to a canter, and, riding directly against the center of the line of warriors, dashed through it on the run. The Indians, quickly recovering from the astonishment produced by this daring maneuver, wheeled their horses and dashed after them. All but ten of the Indians were soon distanced; these ten continued the pursuit, but in an hour and a half this number was reduced to seven, and in another hour only five remained. They were evidently young braves, who were hoping to distinguish themselves by taking two American soldiers‘ scalps.

On they sped — the pursuers and the pursued — over the wild plain. A space of barely half a mile divided them. The horses, however, of each party seemed so evenly matched in speed and endurance that neither gained on the other. The mustangs, the one ridden by our heroine, the other with only a 90-pound pack on its back, though glossy with sweat, and their nostrils crimson and expanded with the terrible strain upon them, showed no sign of flagging. The guide’s horse, a heavier animal, began at length to show symptoms of fatigue. If there had been time, he would have shifted his saddle on the pack-mustang, but this was not to be thought of. By dint of spurring and lashing the smoking flanks of the now drooping steed, he barely kept his place by the side of his companion.

They were now near a small creek, an affluent of the Arkansas River, when the guide, turning his eyes, saw that only three of the Indians were on their trail, the two others were galloping slowly back. Just as he announced this fact to Mrs. Coolidge, his tired horse fell heavily, throwing him forward upon his head and stunning him senseless.

Apache Before the Storm, Edwards S. Curtis, 1906

Apache Before the Storm, Edwards S. Curtis, 1906

Our heroine, dismounting, dragged her unconscious comrade to the bank of the creek, and, throwing water in his face, quickly restored him to his senses; but, before he could handle his gun, the Indians had come within a hundred paces, whooping fiercely to call back their companions, who just before abandoned the pursuit. They were luckily only armed with bows and arrows, and, circling about the fearless pair, they launched arrow after arrow, though without doing any execution. One of them fell before the rifle of Mrs. Coolidge. A second was brought to earth by the guide, who had by this time revived sufficiently to join in the fight. The third turned and galloped off towards his two companions, who were now hastening to the scene of conflict.

This gave our heroine and her associate in danger time to reload their rifles and to shield their horses behind the bank of the creek. Then, lying prostrate in the grass, they completely concealed themselves from sight. The three Indians, seeing them disappear behind the bank of the creek, and supposing that they had taken to flight again, rode unguardedly within range, and received shots which tumbled two of them from their saddles. The only remaining warrior gave up the contest and galloped away, leaving his comrades dead upon the field. One of the Indian mustangs supplied the place of the guide’s horse, which was wind-broken, and the two now pursued their journey at a moderate pace, reaching Fort Leavenworth, Kansas without encountering any more dangers.

Leavenworth City grew up around Fort Leavenworth, which had been established years earlier in 1827.

Leavenworth City grew up around Fort Leavenworth, which had been established years earlier in 1827.

Mrs. Coolidge (under her pseudonym of James Brown), after delivering her dispatches, was promoted to the rank of sergeant, and was, at her own request, detached from the New Mexican division of the army and ordered to Matamoras, where she did garrison duty without any suspicion being awakened as to her sex. She afterward entered active service and accompanied the army on the march to the city of Mexico. She took part in the storming of Chepultepec, and never flinched in that severe affair, covering herself with honor, and proving what brave deeds a woman can do in the severest test to which a soldier can be put.

During the recent war between the North and the South woman’s position on the frontier was similar to that which she occupied in the War of 1812. The greater part of the army of the United States, which, in time of peace, was stationed along the vast borderline from the Red River of the North to the Rio Grande, had been withdrawn. The outposts, by means of which the blood-thirsty Sioux, the savage Comanche, the remorseless Apache, and numerous other fierce and warlike tribes had been kept in check, were either abandoned, or so poorly garrisoned that the settlements upon the border were left almost entirely unprotected from the treacherous savage, the lawless Mexican bandit, and the American outlaw and desperado.

What made their position still more unguarded and dangerous was the absence of their fathers, husbands, and brothers, as volunteers in the armies. The war fever raged in both the North and the South, and nowhere more hotly than among the pioneers from Minnesota to Texas. This brave and hardy class of men, accustomed as they were to the presence of danger, obeyed the call to arms with alacrity, and the women appear to have acquiesced in the enlistment of their natural protectors, trusting to God and their own arms to guard the household during the absence of the men of the family.