Passages Three

Do you save things? I do. When I’m walking along a creek bed or a forest path I find things. Odd things. Pretty things. Curious things. Sometimes I put them in my pocket. Momentos…

When I return home I put these things on the window sill in my cabin, or my bookshelves, or anyplace I can find to tuck them in. They remind me, sometimes decades later, of trips I took, vacations Kathy and I shared, people I’ve met or moments I am glad I can still recall.

The items are certainly meaningless and practically valueless to anyone beyond me. My descendants will be left scratching their cumulative heads wondering why on earth I kept this stuff. If they only knew the sacred memories they served up.

Below is one of Forrest’s interesting saves…

A Dark Date with Destiny

In 1974, a relation of Algernon Smith marched into my gallery reeking of a very strong libation, and handed me three little books. Then he started slurring his words about the original owner of the books, not knowing that I probably knew more about the man than he did. When he mentioned his price, which was three times too high, I grabbed my wallet before he could change his mind.

I was excited as the relative strode smiling from my office, rubbing his hands together. He probably didn’t realize that he would soon spend his new money on Jim Beam and then have nothing to show for our deal, and I would have these three treasures warming a shelf near my desk for the rest of my life.

Here is why the books are important to me.

In 1863, Lt. Algernon Smith was assigned as Aide-de-Camp to Major General Alfred Terry, which brings his story close to me because 92 years, and a few wars later, I too would be assigned Aide-de-Camp to a Major General.

Algernon was born in 1842, and his life started on an auspicious roll through college, and even the Civil War. He had several horses shot from under him and each time he toppled to the ground unhurt. He survived the fierce battle at Cold Harbor, the fight at Drury’s Farm, and others. In 1865, he took a bullet at Ft. Fisher, near the Cape Fear River, and was severely wounded.

He bounced back, and in 1867, after the war was over, Algernon found himself assigned to the 7th US Cavalry Regiment commanded by General George Armstrong Custer, a man who washed his teeth with salt, but in whose company Algernon was particularly comfortable.

For the next nine years Custer and Smith fought side by side through some major Indian wars, including The Battle on the Washita in 1868, and The Yellowstone Campaign in 1873. Three years later Mother Luck took a ferocious turn against him.

It was June 25, 1876, when as Commander of Company E, Algernon rode into the Valley of the Little Bighorn River with the whole of the 7th US Calvary. Within a few hours 258 of those fighting men were dead, including Custer. A bullet had cleaved a tunnel through his side even as another pierced his gallant breast. Algernon abandoned his men to join his commander on “Last Stand Hill,” where they fell together, side by side. Algernon’s body, riddled with arrows, lay supine upon the hard baked ground. He was 33 years old. They both failed to hear the last brash roll of musketry as it rolled across the hot Montana sky. Fickle is the finger that points at success.

The best book on the Custer fight, Son of the Morning Star, was written by Evan Connell, who was almost a hermit.

Nevertheless he never failed to walk down the hill from his house in Santa Fe, and meet me for Coffee at the Plaza Café. Both his memory and his golden words are two of my treasures that I will never hide.

In one of my next lives I want to be Evan Connell. f