After being shot and wounded in the infamous Miller cornfield where so many died at Antietam, Lowell recovered at a temporary hospital in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Sparks flew with a lively volunteer nurse whom he married eleven years later, Kate Mary Roberts (1841-1938). Roberts was one of the enthusiastic young locals who fussed over the recovering Mass 13th boys and sang in a women’s quartet for their entertainment.
Roberts and Lowell exchanged letters while she waited nearly seven years in Harrisburg for his return. Her letters are lost, but she must have questioned why Lowell chose to seclude himself. He responded: “I am myself at loss to sufficiently account for it and have often regretted that I didn’t stop someplace less removed from civilization.” He asked, “So it was supposed that I had faded into a permanent eclipse in the stomach of an aborigine?" The personal letters offer the perspective of a homesick, young veteran trying to make his way in the world. He complains, he opines, and he flirts.
Excerpts from the Kate Mary correspondence appear in the book, but here are the full transcripts. Lowell was in his early twenties when he wrote these private letters, and the syntax turns itself inside-out in sections, but the letters offer historians some good tidbits regarding mining culture in Montana in the late 1860s. By the time he wrote the memoir, Lowell's style had matured into a colorful, literary prose.
The couple reunited upon his return East in 1871. They married in 1873, moved west, and raised a family in Holton, Kansas, where Lowell became a respected attorney, judge, and presidential elector. The journal passed to his second son, my great-grandfather, James Henry Lowell, who was an artist. He met his wife, Clotilde Brocaw, at the Art Students League in New York City and they settled in White Plains, New York. They lived near where I grew up in Glen Rock, New Jersey, and great-grandfather died when I was eight in 1966. The journal then passed to my mother, Marion Rendell Seaton.
Kate Mary and I share the same birthday.
[Postmarked: March 28, 1866, Denver]
March 26, 1866
My Dear Friend.
This is the eve of my departure west for Great Salt Lake City. Imagine me astride a pony gamboling over hill and dale across woodless mountains, destitute of verdure, and rolling barren plains. My companion, a young fellow from Philadelphia, will also gambol over hill and dale, across woodless mountains, destitute of verdure, etc. We have laid in a goodly stock of flour, soda, cream of tartar, salt, pepper, oyster (tinned) bacon, & sardines, six U.S. blankets from which we'll take glimpses of the moon. And with a firmness, which might also be terror and courage, proceed on our winding way. The distance is six hundred miles, which we expect to accomplish in twenty-five or thirty days, if no ill befalls us. Please write me a long letter. I wrote you some days since, asking you to direct to Denver and I now write to inform you of the change henceforth in my address, with greetings to all, I remain,
[Postmarked: December 18, 1868]
Near Diamond City, MT
December 14, 1868
Some time since I wrote to our friend McCauley to learn the chances and changes in human affairs at Harrisburg, and though my fears of what might have happened were dispelled in the gratifying reply, the letter itself was essentially meager. I was surprised to hear that you were not (as I had been told you were about to be) married; on the contrary, you were enlivening Harrisburg as usual with your maidenly presence, and residing with your brother. I wonder if this incongruity of statements cannot be traced to an ignorance on your part of the danger involved by those who will come within the pale of your eyes; be that as it may, Kate, there is no longer that obstacle to my writing you, albeit a disability may exist preventative of a reply. [another suiter] But I must get through this preamble and “speak my piece.” I received your last letter (I presume), forwarded from S. L. City, in Helena. It was handed me as I was sitting on a huge boulder engaged in mental interrogations as how to inflate, in the quickest possible time, my pocket book, which had just sacrificed its all in a pork chop at a neighboring shop. Pregnant with visions of the wealth I was destined to unearth from the auriferous hills around, I procured the necessary tools and started solus for Deer Lodge, fifty miles distant, said to be fabulously rich. I reached the valley of that name just in time to join a large “stampede” to some new place about thirty miles away. On the way thither I endeavored to get from this and that person of the stampeders some clue to the genuineness of the report of this new El Dorado in wild; somebody had whispered he had a “soft thing,” and for all they knew this soft thing might consist of having reduced the question of whether the moon was made of green cheese to a certainty and was regaling himself thrice a day with “rarebits” of which the moon made the chief ingredient. Still the stampede augmented and when we reached our Destination, numbered a thousand at least. Officers were at once elected, President, Recorder, and Surveyor. And recording commenced each claimant coming in order after the manner of seniority as in Post Offices, but being in so methodical a mood as that I fled the ranks and invoking Dame Fortune, set my pegs in a tributary ravine and went to work, and after ten months time spent, my swans turned out to be geese, but having a little courage and a few pounds of flour left, I seized a frying pan, mounted my pony and hastened away from a scene so cruel, a soil so nonfruitful. Thus, Kate, you have the story of mining in a nutshell. Such is the fortune of “Tender footed Pilgrims.” Exceptions are rare even among the craftiest pioneers. Returning to Helena, I encountered an apparition in the jovial figure of (O ye Gods) Morrow P. Lowry, an old comrade of mine whom you will remember. The wonder was mutual; the meeting comical considering the individuals and place. Lowry at the time was exhorting his fellow citizens to vote by all means the Democratic ticket, for it was Election, for which I took him to task, after he had taken me to drink. Who could say nay to an invitation under such circumstances? Who blame? Candour is a part of my nature and I have no more confessions to make.
Since then, (fall of '67) I have been in this camp oft and on, as also Lowry. L. often speaks of the ladies I used so shamefully who took part in a Sanitary Fair at Chambersburg, and this leads me to wonder if you don’t now and then think of the gyrations we used to enact in the saddle when free of Ha. [Harrisburg] on those dear old roads and drives of ours, and the times when the speed would relieve you of your head dress, hat and all, while your witchcraft of hair would have its recreation as well. My pen is going astray, Kate, but you can well make the allowance. What has become of Miss Barnett, your old chum? Of Mary, and Ella? Of Sissy, Forbes' inamorata? of Forbes himself? (Lord forgive me for negligence in writing.) Fiske? Warner? Waltrous? and many others? Is it true that Hannah is really to be mated? Where is her fidelity? And Lucy (Bless her) how and where is she? What else shall I write about? Shall I tell you the proficiency I have attained in the culinary arts? Of hot “Pones?” Plum Duffs, Doughnuts & & without end that I throw off with a facility that would make your little heart quicken in admiration? Ah me, what a critic I shall be when I once more dwell in the atmosphere of civilization. But fare well for the present. I shall take this to Helena starting tomorrow.
[Postmarked: March 28, 1869]
Near Diamond City, Montana
February 10, 1869
Last night’s mail brought me your gracious letter. Thanks for it. I am glad mine led you into nothing worse than a facial eccentricity. Paintings and hysterics of a lady on a crowded street are interesting, yet unutterably piteous spectacles. Be it an admonition to you as it is a relief to me that your letter is, as well, the herself of the writer’s unruffled serenity as a chronicle of Harrisburg annals. I will pass over there last and take up some of your enquiries. And first, “Don’t you think?” I do: such inordinate presumption in so small a man as McCauley would extort the sympathies of a stoic. I feel myself unable to add anything to your criticism, which I have endeavored to rescue from decay by the immortalizing power of the pencil, as exhibited on last page, but I marvel at such wanton engulfment of an inoffensive fellow creature, not to encourage apostasy in so valiant a youth, he would find an alternative in the counsel of the sagacious Captain Cuttle to that similarly circumstanced oracle Mr. Bunsbey and a rigid yet exquisitely secure asylum in Montana. It’s too bad about Lucy F. Her misfortune will be regretted by all who can appreciate a truly excellent lady. My thanks to her sister for her kind intention with respect to the wedding cards. I am vain enough to hope that one passage in your letter was rendered to inspire in me a different ambition than is usually inhaled in these mountains. It is true that men of the vilest nature find their element here. It is also true that the minority who lay claim to respectability have a moral preponderance, ever augmenting as the avenues to enterprise are opened by increasing facilities of communication with the States. It is optional here, as elsewhere, for one to become vile or virtuous, pious or profane, as his tendencies incline, and what for good or evil; climate, habit and association have wrought, ad hominem. There is always one consolation for me that my health has wonderfully improved since I left the company of roistering gentlemen. Without that, I could be of little use to myself or friends and there is nothing here that would have enticed me to so “forlorn” a country, and, too, it is but natural that a novice should have been drawn into the vortex from which men ought to issue wiser if not better men. I refer to gold seeking. On one occasion, I was on my way east, when I met Lowry, and turned back. I am now looking forward to the time when the boats will be navigating the Missouri. So much on a theme in which you can scarcely be more than incidentally interested, but which has been necessary to answer your enquiries. Before I go on, I will say that it was McCauley who wrote me that rumour was rife that you were to be married to Mr. Kelly. Thanks to your sister for her suggestion to write articles with sketches to Harpers. A Mr. Maguire is, or has been, engaged on a like undertaking, but whether he completes it or not seems now to depend on his recovery from an unhappy case of Mania à Potu. [delirium tremens] The illustrations were to have been furnished by a Mr. Matthews, a gentleman with whom I spent a week or more in the mountains of Colorado, and an excellent artist. He has also been taking sketches from different localities with a view of having them lithographed and published. His works in Colorado are now in print. It comforts my family much to hear that my essay in the “serenely silent art” is being so honored by your sister. I don’t remember much about it, but I do recollect that it did not suit me and that I put extraordinary pains on it, which I have since discovered does more injury than good. Do you not find that the case? [He overworked the drawing.]
Like an unpracticed swimmer plunging still,
with too much labour, drowns, for want of skill.
When you next go to Philadelphia slip into the Academy of Art and take notes from [Benjamin] West’s “Death on a White Horse,” a work which embodies the mystery of magic strokes. You will be repaid for your trouble and materially assisted in your crayon heads.
So it was supposed that I had palled into a permanent eclipse in the stomach of an aborigine. O horrible, pray give me a more graceful exit than that. Speaking of Indians in this connection, I will mention an incident that happened this morning. A party of Flatheads passed through here last night and camped a mile away. One of them took from my yard an axe, without which I could scarcely be happy. I rode to their camp and caught them all at prayers, a manner of devotion taught them by some Jesuit priests and performed in a manner somewhat unique. I suspect the observance was enforced more by their zealous chief than embraced by his more worldly followers. Be that as it may, I entered the chief’s lodge and made known my business, whereupon he strode through the lodges shouting fiercely, and in less than a minute, a down looking rascal appeared with the axe, but quickly put space between him and his terribly incensed chief. I spent a few minutes “talking” with my Nemesis and started to return when, lo! My nag was unsaddled and feeding with the herd, and nothing would do but to sit down to a Buffalo steak, etc. I staid with these jolly chaps an hour or two and called for the horse, which was saddled and made ready the due time by an industrious squaw. It is worth notice that this [illegible] between them and the white the original treaty has remained inviolable and the one, solitary instance, they have adopted many of the customs of the pioneers, cultivated the soil, and herd large bands of horses and cattle, and every fall pass through here on their way to the buffalo range on the Yellowstone and Muscleshell, [sic: Lowell employs the same spelling as Meriwether Lewis of the Musselshell River.] the hunting grounds of the Crows whose title, however, they dispute on every such occasion, thereby keeping alive the old warlike customs such as war dances and other superstitious follies, which else would have probably been laid aside along with their many other barbarities. They are returning earlier than usual to save what few horses their foes have failed to steal. These last are likewise foes to the whites whom they have been annoying all winter and so have broken into their occupation of hunting trapping, etc. in these grounds, so profuse in game.
What admirable good sense dame Myers shows in her solicitude for Lill’s welfare. Still there is something heartless in that young lady's conclusions to let the chap with three children slide, although [the choice] may be expected in one of her universally allowed perfections. If Lill says truly, the three children had a narrow escape. Leroy Parsons is just the person to give the ploughmen to . . . he has travelled a good deal and known how to prevaricate. I wonder if Forbes has settled permanently in the land of “the anthropophagic” and men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders, whereof such things to hear doth Ella seriously incline? [He refers to James LaSalle Forbes, a friend and Mass 13th vet who married another volunteer nurse, Ella Small, and took over his family’s indigo plantation in India.] I meant Lilly when I spoke of his inamorata, but I am glad to hear of the Philadelphia one, whom I now recollect as the paragon of vocalists whose charms inspired much literary effort of the sentimental kind in opera-distracted Forbes. Do you know anything of Captain John [Klelement] that used to board at Mrs. Dolls? There were some governmental affairs with which he is, or was connected and with which I am privy to, the solution to which I would, out of curiosity, like to know. If they have been made public you may have heard something about it. The story is too long for this sort of intercourse, even if you should be interested in it. Please remember me to Ella and Mary, Lucy and Hannah.
Having been away since writing the above. I have returned to find it where I left it, although I gave the rascally carrier [a tip] to put it in the mail. I am very sorry it happened.
[Postmarked: Diamond City, Montana, May 8, 1869]
Diamond City, M.T.
May 8th 1869
Your letter made the trip in 19 days. A feat that should have publicity and the letter deposited among the governmental archives as an example of the postal precocity of the Year of our Lord “Sixty-nine.” Everything and everybody hereabouts is passive, save the elements, which, rain and wind together give an intimation that there does exist such things as activity and perseverance. Someone taking advantage of the wind a short time ago set fire and burned up the largest city in Montana, Helena, which has caused much depression among those who, ignoring its geographical disadvantages, would have made it the Metropolis from all accounts. The highways and rivers will this season be thronged with “pilgrims” bound for the mountains and I hope they will get what they want. If you have noticed how, when the accidents of time and place have made popular some enterprise whose most prominent features were hazard and its consequent excitement, and as in this case, inevitable hardship, men will be found there in multitudes to take their chances. Examples were never so trite as here in the gold regions. I presume that one third of the population of this territory has gone to “White Pine” in Nevada within six months from the strength of a few rich discoveries of silver lodes; while Idaho, Dakota, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, & Oregon have all sent their quotas, to say nothing of California, which of itself has sent enough to people Montana man for man with its present population. It is first so with the mines of Montana which never were nor ever will be individually lucrative although they may and undoubtedly will be worked for years and years.
The ranchmen of the Missouri Valley have had lively times recently with the Crow Indians who have violated the treaty. Having first received a large store of presents from our “philanthropic” government, they have “run off” all the horses for miles around.
Our own camp is unmolested, always, they making the circuit to reach the terrified yeomen of the valley to ravage on their stock; their object has always been to steal, nothing more—the ranchmen thinking they are bent on slaughter make no resistance so the rascals act with perfect impunity. I think their spring operations are about to close and peace will once more reign.
I think I will be ready to go East in about three months. Please write me once more at least, and if you will not rob yourself, I should like to see the photo spoken of. I'll take care of and return it, if it’s “all.” I believe Forbes in his last letter to me spoke of that beard as something extra, that was three or four years ago, so that we may safely predict the expected photo will be full length; the subject standing gracefully on the chine of a barrel or the shoulders of a native. One of the blessings of the late fire in H. [Helena] was the destruction of a couple of saloons where faces were done off in a most damnable style, judging from the agonizing looks that meet one’s eyes at their entrances. Why don’t you stick pins into your brother? Is it possible you have lost the sleight since one of your unhappy victims has been abroad! A young man who knew me at home has very kindly furnished me the information that he perceives very little change in my size, height, but recommended the use of a celebrated wash (“Burnetts Kalceon” I think) once a day as a certain specific for removing tan and bronze and I have consented to think over it. I am right glad to hear you have not grown to any such ponderous [stature]; if I had my wish, you would never vary from my recollections of the “Dutchess.” I am sure there will remain sufficient for a pleasant reminder. That was a terrible blow of Dame Fortune’s in sending Capt. Hewitt and his bride to Texas. I heard one who has been there, a man of good standing, but a little profane sometimes—say that if he had an estate in Texas and one in He–l, he would choose the latter place to live in. His denunciation of the place is mild in comparison with some others from there—and of all dreary localities, forts do take the palm. I should think Mr. Small would be proud of that baby, if anything could reconcile Mary, that ought to, certainly—methinks I see him going to the bank with all the frills of a young man or, in a fit of abstraction, asking Ella her name and parentage.
I am longing to see some of your productions in crayon, and shall kick everything over that obstruction, the quick passage of time, until I am safely stowed away in a Missouri steamboat or a seat in a car destined for “America.”
May 9th Sunday
It may be two or three days before I get this to Diamond but I will have it ready should I have an opportunity by hook or crook to send it sooner. I should like to step in to the tall spire church today and put the sapient Charles A. to the trouble of finding me a seat. Choir music might make me fidgety at first, and I should rely on the grave utterances of Mr. Robinson for the restoration of my equilibrium; altogether the prospect seems rather cheering, if the realization is improbable. I think the Clements family you speak of is the one in question. Mrs. C is a spare woman, tall and retired in her way. I believe they were from Ridgeway County, seat of Elk Co., but the Captain persisted in calling it Clementville in oppositions to all geographers. Mrs. C. will find Omaha a city of great pretensions, but one in which a lady will need at least one male protector. It may be, the captain has invested in real estate in Omaha and she is going to look after it. I think this is quite probable as he has quite a leaning for speculations of that nature; and therein might be traced the mystery spoken of, if I were disposed to speculate upon others’ private affairs. I believe Mrs. C. is a worthy woman, who remonstrated time and again against the evil counselors that made Capt C. a bad, bad man. He read in my presence more than one letter from his wife while the tears would be running from his eyes, but these unseemly exhibitions would occur only when remorse would unman him and make him a mere baby.
I should like very much to hear your experience among the Moravians, if you conclude to make the visit there. I am far worse off for matter to write about than you could possibly be where everything is stirring and congenial. It is some years (I don’t like to be particular how many) since I have seen you and I think one good talk and look at you would be worth a dozen letters at least, much as I relish them. Please remember me again to the girls.
I shall be disappointed if your picture makes not one of the party in the charade photograph. L.
[Postmarked: Diamond City, July 1, 1869]
Diamond City, M.T.
The happy event of the day is the receipt of mail: of the mail, your letter. Great is the overland mail dispensation. It is a moral as well as social success. It dispenses the mail with much promptitude and dispenses with many anathemas and much profanity. The coach line loiterers on whose devoted heads fill this need may now rest in quiet. Peace to their manes! I have just been taking a long look the Photo. If that venerable individual on your left (right) had arranged his forelock a la Calhoun, I should have given the alarm of Si-a-wash (Indians.) My apprehensions were, however, cozily assuaged as the eye lit on him of the Plume. Shade of Piercy Shafton!  Is it possible McCauley has been studying the graces! Else why that faultlessness of posture of the arm from the elbow even to one tip of the plume; of the setting of that leg! In admiring, one feels himself a Pagan or a lackey. Great is McCauley as a charadist. The freshness of Lucy and bloom of Hannah is a pretty strong satire on old Time. The world seems to have dealt kindly with you all. Is not that a Miss Wallace for whom the intrepid Zouave seems anxious to lay down his life? The one who came from the West. I think so. Where deserved compliments would be out of taste one may ban impertinence so I shall kiss the sweet figure in the foreground and take the consequences of the absurdity. It would be justice to the [illegible] to invoke him success, but that is unnecessary for us. You say, “When people find out where they can get a good article they are sure to go there.” Thanks Kate for the picture. I wish I could more suitably make return for what I owe you from past association and present obligation. You had some difficulty in getting through with the letter. Did you not overtalk yourself in your eagerness to finish up the house business! I think your conscience a monster to urge a task on you in such a plight. Why, Dr. Rutherford's medicine has alone so essentially polished me off that I hadn't the resolution even to da-n him. Add to this the cold and flounces and it will not be unpardonable if I indulge a little vanity in receiving a letter under such circumstances. But don’t do it any more, rather go to sleep and dream. You dwell in marble halls sweetly oblivious to carpets and the appeals of an insatiable conscience. You are exerting quite a public spirit in Harrisburg: no doubt I shall find things much changed. There is really nothing to write about that will not bore you. The snow has quite disappeared from our mountaintops—a thing quite rare in this high country—hence the streams and rivers are so low that mining operations are really alarmed and dispirited and predict a speedy close of the season. This much necessarily make all business ruinous. The despair of the freshly arrived emigrants would be ludicrous if it wasn't pitiable. They swarm the streets of Helena and active places pictures of discomfiture and chagrin. Are these the struggles of all new states? Or has the completion of the railroad, and the ecstasies of over-zealous progressionists made this an instance of peculiar hardship! Of the last somebody deserves hanging and I would like to pick out a few of the victims [to] bleed! Uneasy, roving spirits will find, as did Goldsmiths traveler, that here, happiness, “like the circle bounding earth and skies, allures from afar yet as we follow, flies.” Though personally I would like so far to recoil from this position as to say that (barring all unselfish considerations) I haven’t a regret for what's gone and done.
There is an attempt being made to form a kind of society here in Eagle City (Thompsons.) Several extra families have moved in and mamas deck out daughters in true and complete beau-catcher style. Although standing aloof, my natural delicacy of sentiment receives an occasional shock, and susceptibility to mirth extraordinary incentives in divers times and places. With some of the lords of the place exists a consciousness of elevated birth and aristocratic breeding which touches the liveliest chords of merriment. Kentucky and Missouri are blended together with one sympathizing fraternizing bond of social union. Judging from their intentions there is no doubt that Montana is destined to become a highly cultivated and refined community.
You must please remember me to the girls and write soon again.
 An affected young courtier of Elizabethan times, in Sir Walter Scott's Monastery.
[Postmarked: Diamond City, August 7]
Diamond City, M.T.
August 5, 1869
I am exceeding glad your advice was so prompt—so near it is to the eve of my departure to the States—a few weeks at the farthest and I shall wave a long and unregretful farewell to these old hills. By what route to go—whether by the Missouri River or by rail—I need some inspiration to decide. Canst thou not propound a solution? I think thou canst. Late advices say that there are many steamboats stranded high and dry on the Missouri, and that that mode of navigation has met with a sudden and violent termination. So, all that remains in that direction would be to charter a boat that will carry five or six persons to be propelled with oars or by means of a sail, according to circumstances. The advantage of this route is its novelty, which is a great argument in favor where one is desirous of making the best of this, the probable last trip of the kind for a long time—but it is 3100 miles from head of navigation to St. Louis, a long distance surely and will occupy about forty or fifty days. It will take, by the other route, about thirteen days to Chicago, or five days by coach and eight by rail. Here again, a coach ride of five days is fraught with the most poignant suffering and I know a man who has travelled thus whose resentment has not cooled at a distance of five years. Naturally, one, under the circumstances, sighs for an “Avatar” or “Hyperion” to avoid the crooked ways of the Missouri and the debilitating effects of a coach ride.
Business being very dull, I took a tramp of nine days with fishing rods and rifle. We made a party of four and reached this classic village night before last, having had good luck and a jolly time. Glad there were no ladies along for we saw Indian sign and therefore kept pretty watchful, and probably the Indians, if any were about, kept pretty watchful also—for the tribes at this time of year are broken up into small parties, unless on the war path, and when white men are about they can beat us in vigilance. I shot two splendid fat elk and was in at the death of a bruin. It seems that my comrade, whom I had left but a few minutes, came face to face with the gentleman and at once gave him a shot, which took effect in his foot, and fell (they drop always when injured even in the least), but before the assailant could load, the bear came bouncing and bellowing straight at him, upon which said assailant “clomb” a pine and shouted for me, and I cautiously approached the scene. I had little to fear, however, as my rifle carries sixteen loads, and the first shot was enough and penetrated the throat, the most vital “bear shot” that can be made. The lock of my companion’s rifle was wrenched out and the stock was pretty well scratched to pieces, he having left it at the foot of the tree which he had climbed and which the bear evidently thought a pretty plaything. We cast our lines in Deep Creek and in consequence, we can tell the largest fish story extant. The creek was literally thronged with the finest, though not the largest, trout ever caught any place. There is really no fun fishing in such a place. For one is continually sad to think his friends and the world besides are not there to applaud and admire. Moral—there is no class of people who enjoy themselves better than a well appointed hunting and fishing party! I said my leave of the mountains would be unregretful—it is so. I have been long enough, though perhaps not more than long enough in this kind of school and my failure is attributable to the perfidy of one in a high public position, Charles Durkee, the Governor of Utah. [Durkee promised Lowell a position in Salt Lake City and failed to make good on his promise.]
Pray, present your cousin my appreciation of her correct taste. If she will join me, we will interdict all from listening, who get “so tired of hearing you talk,” and then will have you all to ourselves. As to your letter, in reflecting yourself on the pages you write, you cannot fail to do good, if making your correspondent think the world and all of you is doing good, which proposition may well occupy a little consideration when you get time. Will write you from Leavenworth, at which point, I will probably stay for a while.
In haste for the mail,
[Postmarked: Fort Benton, October 1, 1869]
Benton City, M.T.
October 1st 1869
In former letter to you I have spoken pretty confidently of returning East this fall, and six weeks ago, did really leave Diamond City with that intention. I brought with me a case of my own and several for other parties to get through the courts at this place—they have detained, and will detain me here the remainder of the winter. “Why this is thus?” What manner of evil I have done to involve upon me the chastening—doubly keen, as I had indulged such pleasant anticipations in pursing that object—puzzles the understanding, but so it is. You would say if you could see Benton that it is not a very desirable place to stay in any length of time. I don’t believe there is a spot within a circuit of forty miles from here that would encourage a ranch man to “set his stakes” or an artist to produce his materials—but as this is the Head of Navigation of the Missouri, and as all or nearly all the material that supplies the territory must land here, something of a town was inevitable. Indeed, the arrival of steamboats, and with them, new States faces, and the business incident to the landing, storing and forwarding of merchandize make it a pretty lively place. After the busy season has passed, the inhabitants can turn their attention—and the matter requires attention, not to say, ability—to the extinction of Wharf Rats. The loosely constructed dwellings and the insidious character of these creatures make a great calamity to the human family—or that part located here—quite imminent, both by direct assault and a steady and torturing anxiety as the scarred and generally harassed appearance of the veteran inhabitants testifies. I have the good fortune to occupy rooms with a well regulated family who enter into the business of destroying these vermin with much gusto and am rapidly convalescing from the infirmities both of body and mind with which my earlier experiences with Benton rats invested me.
There have been more Indian “atrocities” perpetrated hereabouts, and the quiet that has succeeded is deemed by many to be ominous of a general war. Reports are brought in that several tribes are combining for an attack upon the weaker settlements. The fur trade heretofore carried on at this point is entirely suspended and the whereabouts of the Indians is unknown even to the most intrepid scouts. The different points of defense are being strengthened by U.S. Troops and the people generally are vigilant against surprise. The approaches to Benton are so open and the means of defense so ample that it seems improbable that operations will be directed here. Still, wiser and more experienced men think differently. I believe I have for the present exhausted my stock and your patience, and hope you will not regard the briefness of this as a criterion for your reply.
[Postmarked: Fort Benton, November 12, 1869]
Benton City, M.T.
November 10th 1869
You will think my epistolary offerings rather prodigal but I shall not abate unless you confess your patience exhausted. It may be you are sprinkling yourself in divers places for recreation’s and entertainment’s sake. If so I would thank you to write me a chronicle of your travels. Didn’t you say that if you could impart profit or good by the use of your pen you ought to be satisfied? I think thou didst—therefore impart—and break this never-to-be-sufficiently-confounded silence. Did you receive my letter from here? I hope not. It was written while under the more than disappointment of a long anticipated pleasure of seeing you, and unless you speedily send me good counsel, I shall run desperate in consequence. I will do—or leave undone—anything you say—always. I could not go home this fall, although I did reason myself into such a determination. More practical considerations finally demanded that I should remain. I had property here, which could not be disposed of in any way shape or manner, nor could I well leave it—again. I was retained on a trial here which lasted much longer than was expected, which debut as an (un)professional has induced me to undertake a more legitimate practice when it becomes expedient to do so. There now, I have bored you with my affairs because I would be proud of your confidence though I don’t think I am justified in asking it to the extent I could wish. Like most of our cities, there is little here that would extort from the rigidly righteous an appliance of the term, exemplary. It has been for years a trading post and its permanency as a community was established by the Canadian French who followed the early expedition sent hither by Girard and others, the prestige of whom, however, is fast on the wane. There are no churches, but that is no fault of the people. Liberality in affairs of that kind is a tried characteristic. Perhaps the want of refinement and the absence of conveniences and adornments and other things not set forth in the 9th and 10th verses of the 10th chapter of Matthew has kept the influence of Christianity or its teachings from our midst. There is one institution, which does credit to the place that is a fine library and reading room. This has been accessible to the public about two weeks and bids fair to become a permanency. At present, the place is very dull. There have been here representative chiefs of the Crows, Piegans and Bloods to met General Sully’s offer of a conference, or rather a “big medicine talk.” There were some of the finest specimens of the Indian I ever saw—stalwart looking fellows, but as ever, inveterate beggars. I understand a peace was propitiated.
[Postmarked: Fort Benton, November 22, 1869]
Benton City M.T.
November 21st 1869
I have been looking over your last letter dated July 12th—more than four months ago—not a line in over four months—and I cannot help thinking that the lapse is greater than it ought or would be if I hadn’t done something direful to deserve it. Does this silence mean it is well enough as it is, or too bad to be repaired? Or is it a pretty conceit of a pretty young lady whose pretty name is Kate? If anything worse than all this, the Lord (if you won’t) forgive me, for whatever “good behavior marks” I have received in the past. I can “Thank you for ’t” but if you don’t write me something, there is no telling what modicums of mischief I shall enact in the future; so pray, be civil. I have been writing you about tri-monthly and thinking seriously of making it tri-weekly to bore you into an answer. Beware of such an infliction as that, for I’ll make them every-one-long, ones of which this will be but as a postscript. Did you ever hear of a correspondence ex parte before? It’s like the playing of Hamlet—with the part of Hamlet omitted by “particular desire.” I mean, as absurd, I shall pursue this subject farther in my next, in the meantime studying up something to say that will overwhelm you with remorse. You will see what I’ll say, an’ it pleases Providence to give me leisure.
In these parts, we are going to have peace–and a medicine talk—and a treaty, but I won’t anticipate what to come—and you will be apprised by this letter that there is nothing current to communicate.
[Postmarked: Fort Benton, Dec. 26, 1869]
Benton City, M.T
December 26, 1869
As my letters have failed in carrying terror to your soul, and aside from your assurance to the contrary, I suspect you will think my zeal in writing outruns discretion. If so, take into account the incompleteness of my last in answer to your two letters, a deficiency this is intended to supply. Or, on the other hand, take nothing into consideration, but bring your action of trespass, for I am resolved to write! Yesterday, Christmas, we underwent one disappointment and enjoyed one of its usual concomitants. We made sanguine calculations on some skating. A few days before, the river gorged up a little ways below town and everything bid fair for a pond, but the weather changed, the gorge was broken and the pleasing vision fled. To make up for this deficiency, the ladies drew together in solemn conclave and devised a ball and things went smoothly on for a day until two rebellious young damsels seceded which reduced the number to three and thus broke up the arrangement. The three remaining ani-break-upites thereupon concocted a dinner at which we flatter ourselves the anti-dancites were pretty effectually cut to pieces, expunged and obliterated. And so passed our Christmas, each going to its home at once gratified and revenged. It must be pretty severe on you to forego the pleasure of skating who enjoyed it better than anybody. I court the recreation because there is a great void in our social system that makes some substitute necessary and it is with me the “want of good company” that makes it desirable.
From what I have seen I am partly of your thinking in regard to the fascination Harrisburg has over comers, but I have had a treasonable disinclination to ever locate there since I became weaned of it, notwithstanding I have had some pretty warm friends within its limits. Absence and wanderings make great changes in one’s inclinations while the affections remain unchanged.
You are not the only one who has been “mystified” by my choosing “such wild places” to live in. I am myself at loss to sufficiently account for it and have often regretted that I didn’t stop someplace less removed from civilization. I thank you for your kind words on the subject. I shall do the best I can under the circumstances. Charley Fahnestock sent me a letter filled with an history of your last year’s anniversary, which I have no doubt was very entertaining. I shall want you to tell me whether this ensuing one is as successful. I have not yet hit upon any name for your “Quartette.” I never knew you at loss before for a term, so try and give it one. You shall come out here as soon as you please and I’ll see you have crowded houses. So I will. Do you play on the piano yet? I would so like to see and hear you, but as that is at present out of the question, I must rely on your letters, which I prize as so many jewels.
P.S. I read that account of the accident to J. P. Lowell, but do not know the “party.”