A FRONTIER INCIDENT.
“Fortune favors the Brave.”
Written for the “Spirit of the Times,” by the author of “Tom Owen, the Bee Hunter.”
A frontier military post, in peace or war, to a great number of persons, is
a place of much fun and frolic. We are obliged to such a place for much past
pleasure, and many pleasing recollections. The soldier’s life is one of incident,
few of them indeed are dull talkers, and although all of them may not tell a
story as well as Mathews, still the poorest of them in this way can detail events
so thrilling in their character, that the manner is unnoticed in the interest
of the subject itself. Then again, these military posts have some good fellows,
as hangers on, that are no where else to be met with,--gentlefolks that at College
were remarkable for their low standing with the Faculty, and for their popularity
with the boys. Mad scape-graces that after graduating as doctors, or lawyers,
lost all their practice at home, the one by quoting too largely from the imagination
instead of the “statutes,” the other by some unfortunate propensity to feel
ladies’ hands instead of their pulses, in an unprofessional manner. Good dogs
indeed, but unsuited to the times, and where else could they find a field for
gibes and jests, like a new country? or more fit companions than the officers
of a frontier garrison? Beside, the officers are so glad to meet with such refined
company where they least expected it, and the hangers on are so delighted to
meet with champagne and pate de foie gras, where they least expected
it. Thus, both parties are always pleased, always ready to be happy, and to
do their best to make all around them so, and a frontier garrison is a jolly
Major Freeman, was the name of the commander of one of these military posts ; he possessed the most generous and warmest of hearts, and as is the consequence sometimes with such persons, he was exceedingly passionate. Educated in a camp from his infancy, he had learned to command even in his boyhood, as naturally as he learned to grow, without knowing any thing about the matter, except that he grew, and commanded, and took one as much as a matter of course as the other. As manhood and middle age came on, as might be expected, his influence among his equals amounted to the highest respect, and with his inferiors it was wonderful ; they would quail before his angry eye, and tongue, as if they saw lightning, and heard thunder, and yet Maj. Freeman was loved, almost idolized, by all who knew him, and the helpless injured innocent, though the humblest being under his command, would from him receive redress and protection. In early life the Major had won the fame of a brave and prudent man, but many years of inglorious ease, had made him the master spirit in feats of the trencher ; in this active service he told the best story, had the “choicest brands,” the best cook, and with a delicacy almost unknown, always turned his back, or shut up his eyes, whenever you drank at his table or sideboard. In him we had a frontier lion, and the way said lion and his companions used to destroy the beasts of the forest, including a considerable number of fowls of the air, was a “huckleberry above the persimmon” of any native in the country, and astonished said natives beyond anything else, save the idea of a “man’s keeping two varmints in a grass patch, when he might shoot a dozen by going a little way into the woods.” These “varmints” were two beautiful deer, which the Major had purchased when they were fawns, from some wandering Indians ; he had fed them with milk from his own hand, and now that they were full grown, they adorned the garrison park, the favorites on which he bestowed those affections, which would most probably under other circumstances, have been lavished on a wife and children. These deer in fact were sacred ; if the roe eat up the dahlias, jessamines, or other choice flowers of the neighboring gardens,--if the buck kicked over every child he met, and then half kicked out its eyes—for these things were their constant pastimes—the Major would pleasantly observe that, “flowers were made for Fanny to eat, and Dick’s heels were perfectly harmless if the young ones were out of the way ;” all was wrong, if so the deer were right.
On a fine summer evening, the jolly good fellows of the garrison, as they were wont, headed by the Major, were whiling away the time in the most agreeable manner, by turns humorous and pathetic, the feelings softened by choice wine, the mind disposed to quiet, until we had arrived at that point of all others the most agreeable,--that hallucination, when one is entirely satisfied with himself, and feels at peace and good will with all mankind. In this humor, for the first time in our memory, we were interrupted. A tall, scape-gallows looking fellow, thrust a strange face in at the door without notice or ceremony ; the Major’s eye flashed for a moment, but grew mild as he discovered it was “one of the people” (the soldiers were under better discipline) that had interrupted us, and at the same time demanded what the fellow wanted. The reply was prompt, and as follows. “I comprehend that you are fond of venison in thish-ere place ; well, I have a fine buck to sell,--a ra’l smasher, and you can have him for precious little plunder, and no mistake.” The name of venison acted upon our senses like a charm, and we congratulated each other with a friendliness and cordiality, that would have done honor to friends meeting after a long separation. While this was going on, the Major bargained for the buck, provided he liked its appearance on sight, and purse in hand, and followed by his gallant companions in knives and forks, went out to see the carcass.
Oh horror! who shall describe the scene that ensued? On the grass before us lay a magnificent buck, slightly wounded, with his feet bound, and panting from fear, as if his heart would fly out of his mouth, and “big round tears were rolling down his dappled cheeks.” In this affecting plight the Major discovered his favorite Dick ; speechless with rage, he looked at the poor prisoner, and then at its keeper, and choking like a drowning man, he at last exclaimed with the voice of thunder—
“Damnation, fellow, where did you get that deer!”
The astonished countryman knew the man he was dealing with, and his anger appalled him ; and in choking accents he replied, as soon as his fright would let him speak,--“I caught the thing in the river below, I did.”
“You are a liar!” roared the Major, — “you have been robbing my premises, and you shall rot in prison, you shall ——!” then drawing a knife, he stepped forward, and with one dash unloosed the deer, which struggled upon its feet and limped away ; then turning as we thought to unloose the robber’s windpipe, who had, on the appearance of the knife, broke, and made good his escape before he could be molested. The Major in his rage, gasped convulsively, for a moment, and then giving utterance to the wildest imprecations, disappeared. The effect of all this on our party was dreadful ; it was the first time in his life that he had ever left his guests, without a smile, and an invitation to “walk in and be at home.” We viewed each other  with rueful countenances, and returned unbidden to the room we had so recently left. Here we found the Major, moody and dispirited, and this humor increased upon him as we heard the report of a rifle, which deposited its contents in the unfortunate deer’s head, by the Major’s orders, to release the poor creature from its sufferings. In the midst of this embarrassing situation, there burst into the room, contrary to all military etiquette, a “regular,” his eyes staring and his mouth open. This piece of ill manners, and second interruption, and that too, from one of his own corps, was too much for the Major, as he then felt, and probably taking advantage of this event to give loose to his pent-up feelings, he leaped across the table, seized the poor private by the throat, and hurled him to the floor, exclaiming—
“You poltroon, and will you too, without a single mark of respect, enter into the presence of your superiors? Do you think I will pardon your impertinence as I did that scoundrel of a countryman’s, on the score of ignorance?”
“No, no!” cried the poor soldier, “forgive me, your two deer are safe, and the one just shot is”——
The man said no more ; the Major reeled for a moment like one about to faint, then throwing his purse at the poor soldier’s head, gave three cheers, in which all present joined so loudly and heartily, and with such unison, that the tumblers and decanters on the table chimed like the ringing of distant bells. Happiness was most singularly and unexpectedly restored to our little party, and the poor deer which had caused the only unwelcome interruption in our long social intercourse, apologized to our entire satisfaction, in the richest steaks and haunches that ever graced our board, and as we paid our devoirs to these delicious viands, there flashed the brightest wit, and passed the happiest hours, that ever blessed the old campaigners of the Frontier Garrison.
Source: New York Spirit of the Times 10.35 (31 October 1840): 409. University of Virginia Alderman Library.
Erin Bartels prepared this typescript.  Original reads “each her.”
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