Authors: Harold Keith
Ann and Lane Livingston
of Hutchinson, Kansas
Few Americans know how savagely the Civil War raged or how strange and varied were its issues in what is now Oklahoma and the neighboring states of Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas.
Rifles for Watie
was faithfully written against the historical backdrop of the conflict in this seldom-publicized, Far-Western theater.
In my research, I drew heavily upon the sources of the region. I read the diaries and journals of Civil War veterans, most of them Union, in the State historical collections of Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Tennessee, all of which I visited. I had access to the hundreds of personal letters written during the war by the mixed-blood Cherokees and now contained in the Frank Phillips Collection at the University of Oklahoma. My chief sources of published material were the
War of the Rebellion
The Confederate Veteran,
The Texas Road
A History of Oklahoma,
The Union Indian Brigade in the Civil War,
Dr. Morris L. Wardell's
A Political History of the Cherokee Nation,
Mabel Washbourne Anderson's
The Life of General Stand Watie,
and Bell Irvin Wiley's
The Life of Billy Yank
The Life of Johnny Reb.
Jeff Bussey's flight on foot from Boggy Depot to Fort Gibson had its actual counterpart. Larry Lapsley, a Negro slave, escaped in 1864 from northern Texas to Fort Gibson over the same route. His account, later published in the Kansas Chronicles, was very useful. So was General James G. Blunt's account of his Civil War experiences, also published in the Kansas Chronicles.
Because I wanted an authentic flavor of the war in the Far West, I visited and interviewed in the summers of 1940 and 1941 twenty-two Confederate war veterans then living in Oklahoma and Arkansas, and wrote down their reminiscences. Two were in units commanded by General Stand Watie: Daniel Ross of Locust Grove, Oklahoma, Second Cherokee Mounted Rifles and Jim Long of Gravette Arkansas, Company C, Arkansas Cavalry, attached to Watie's command. Besides Ross, the veterans from Oklahoma were George Frank Miller of Carmen, John W. Harvey of Okmulgee, James R. Arnn of Rush Springs, John A. Willis of Duncan, Frank B. Harrison of Ardmore, Josephus White of Bethany, Wiley Bearden of Sulphur, William H. Freeman of Wetumka, Burrell Nash of Sulphur, William B. Cantwell of Ada, William J. Briscoe of County Line, L. N. Gammell of Purcell, Joseph A. Chipman of Pauls Valley, John F. Trible of Sulphur, Marshall M. Clark of Duncan, J. L. Johnson of Foster, Charles H. Gordon of Ardmore, and Augustus Wilson of Ardmore. I also talked to Tom Wisdom of Mulberry, Arkansas, and Thomas Harris of Ozark, Arkansas. My obligation to all their memories is very deep.
While gathering information for my master's thesis in history at the University of Oklahoma, I talked several times to George W. Mayes of Pryor and Oklahoma City. He personally knew General Watie and his son, Saladin. He was a boy when the war began and made two attempts to join the Watie outfit, both frustrated by his father, Wash Mayes, who fought in the Watie brigade.
The eagerness of northern manufacturers to sell arms to the seceding states resulted in a traffic so common that it became a national scandal. For those who would like more information, I suggest an hour spent with
Firearms of the Confederacy,
by Claud E. Fuller and Richard D. Steuart, printed by Standard Publications, Inc., Huntington, West Virginia; or a talk with my friend, Don Rickey, custodian of the Custer Monument, Crow Agency, Montana, who first called it to my attention. Repeating rifles, invented by Christopher Miner Spencer, got into the war late but they got in.
The plot is wholly fictional. I know of no attempt by General Watie to secure repeating rifles. I found it necessary to alter the lives of Generals Watie and James G. Blunt, Colonel William Penn Adair, and Major Elias Cornelius Boudinot only when they came into direct contact with my hero, Jeff Bussey. Noah Babbitt was a real-life itinerant printer and pedestrian of the early 1870's who occasionally wandered through Kansas, setting type for the
I do not know whether he fought in the Civil War. The other characters are almost totally imagined. They do, however, represent families and names typical of the region and the time. Incidentally, General Watie's name is pronounced as though it were spelled “weighty.”
I am grateful to Dr. E. E. Dale, research professor emeritus of history at the University of Oklahoma and my teacher in the 1920's there, and to Dr. Edwin C. McReynolds, professor of history, for reading the galleys. Each took valuable time from a book he was writing to help with mine.
I am indebted to Virginia, my wife, for typing, for advice, and for tolerating our lack of social life as I tried to fit the five-year writing labor around my duties as sports publicist at the University of Oklahoma. I am also indebted to Mrs. Addie Lee Barker, my assistant in sports publicity at Oklahoma, and to Kathleen Keith, my daughter, for typing. Professor Dwight Swain, Mrs. Mary H. Marable, Dr. Jim Haddock, Bill Hoge, and Beatrice Frank all gave valuable assistance.
University of Oklahoma
January 10, 1957
The mules strained forward strongly, hoofs stomping, harness jingling. The iron blade of the plow sang joyously as it ripped up the moist, black Kansas earth with a soft, crunching sound, turning it over in long, smooth, root-veined rectangles.
Leather lines tied together over his left shoulder and under his right arm, Jeff trudged along behind the plow, watching the fresh dirt cascade off the blade and remembering.
Remembering the terrible Kansas drouth of the year before when it hadn't rained for sixteen long months. The ground had broken open in great cracks, springs and wells went dry, and no green plant would grow except the curly buffalo grass which never failed. That drouth had been hard on everybody.
Jeff clutched the wooden plow handles and thought about it. He recalled how starved he had been for wheat bread, and how his longing for it grew so acute that on Sundays he found excuse to visit neighbor after neighbor in hopes of being invited to share a pan of hot biscuits, only to discover that they, too, took their corn bread three times a day.
A drop of perspiration trickled down his tan, dusty face. It was a pleasant face with a wide, generous mouth, a deep dimple in the chin, and quick brown eyes that crinkled with good humor. The sweat droplets ran uncomfortably into the corner of his mouth, tasting salty and warm.
But now the drouth was broken. After plenty of snow and rain, the new land was blooming again. Even his mother was learning to accept Kansas. Edith Bussey had lived all her life in Kentucky, with its gently rolling hills, its seas of bluegrass, its stone fences festooned with honeysuckle, and its stately homes with their tall white columns towering into the drowsy air. No wonder she found the new Kansas country hard to like.
She had called Kansas an erratic land. Jeff remembered she had said it was like a child, happy and laughing one minute, hateful and contrary the next. A land famous for its cyclones, blizzards, grasshoppers, mortgages, and its violently opposed political cliques.
Jeff ducked his head and wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his homespun shirt, never taking his eyes off the mules. He would never forget the scores of covered wagons he had seen, during the drouth last fall, on the Marais des Cygnes road that went past his father's farm as one-third of the hundred thousand people living in Kansas Territory gave up, abandoning their claims and heading back to their wives' folks.