What the Canteens Held

One evening, some days after leaving Quincy, we again ran across Blott, and seemingly not different from what he was at first. Accosting him, Uncle Job asked:
“How do you find yourself to-night, Blott?” but this as if seeking diversion rather than from any interest in the poor wretch.
“Oh, I’m just runnin’ by gravity. The insects is botherin’ me, but not’s bad, not’s bad. Why, they made more noise than a fannin’ mill at one time, givin’ me no peace, nor lettin’ me sleep,” Blott answered, kicking mechanically at some object before him. “Tell me,” he went on, with the old scared look, “how’re the stars appearin’ to you to-night, Mr. Job? Sorty as if rain was comin’?”
“No; how do they look to you?”
“Like red blotches with purple rings about ’em, an’ movin’ here an’ there quick, as if they was alive.”
“You are ill, Blott,” Uncle Job answered, sympathetically.
“No; it’s nothin’ but them toothache drops, an’ it’ll work off. You think it’s whisky, mebbe, but it ain’t, for I’ve drunk it for years, an’ it’s never hurt me before, an’ I don’t believe it’ll hurt any one. No; it’s the drops an’ the malary,” Blott answered.
“What makes you think you have malaria, Blott?” Uncle Job asked.
“Why, I’ve had it ever since Black Hawk’s war, six years ago. It come of sleepin’ out nights.”
“Were you in that war?” Uncle Job asked, his voice showing more interest.
“Was I? I was one of the main guys; had a horse, an’ helped pull the cannon an’ things. The malary come on me first at Stillman’s Run, where Black Hawk scart us stiff.”
“Is that why the battle is called Stillman’s Run?”
“It wa’n’t a battle, just a volley an’ a whoop an’ a scramble to git away. Why we were that scart you could have stood on our coat-tails, they stuck out so.”
8“Tell us about it; I am sure it must be interesting,” Uncle Job responded, offering Blott a chair and taking one himself.[*]
[*] In Mr. Holmes’ references to Blott he at first manifested some impatience with was not strenuous in the matter and so I have included it, feeling it worthy of regard because relating to an historical event of great importance to the people of the Upper Mississippi Valley, in which Blott took a part.—THE AUTHOR.
“You see we were all cooped up at Fort Dixon,” Blott went on, seating himself, “when Major Stillman determined to go an’ do somethin’. So we marched out, full of expectation an’ ignorance, in the direction where Black Hawk was. When he heard we was comin’ he sent out three Injuns with a white flag to meet us. These we took prisoners, an’ some of our people killed one of ’em. Then the boys in front lit out after the mounted scouts Black Hawk had sent to see what become of his flag, an’ succeeded in killin’ two of these. When Black Hawk saw this he took to the woods, an’ by an’ by, when our fellers come along, the Injuns gave a great whoop an’ fired in the air, not hurtin’ anybody. At that we turned an’ run, an’ them in the camp hearin’ us comin’ an’ thinkin’ we was Injuns, lit out, every one on his own hook, an’ never stopped till they’d got under cover. It seems funny now, but it wasn’t funny then. I happened to be on a long-legged mare that you couldn’t see for the dust when she was runnin’, an’ so kept ahead. It was lucky for me, too, for them who got off first in the panic, thinkin’ in the dark that them who was tearin’ after was Injuns, fired, an’ so a lot of our people was killed that way. Scart! Why we thought every bush or shadder was an Injun, an’ one of our fellers’ bridle ketchin’ on a stump, an’ he thinkin’ it was an Injun, jumped off to surrender; but when he saw what it was, he gave the tree a whack, an’ mountin’, never stopped till he’d reached Dixon. If anythin’ on earth can make an Injun laugh, they must have laughed that day.”
“What was Black Hawk doing in Illinois, anyway?” Uncle Job asked.
“He came over from Iowa to have a dog-feast an’ a talk with the Pottawatamies an’ plant corn for his people, he said. Anyway, if he’d meant war, he wouldn’t have brought his women an’ children, would he? But our people was scart, an’ said it was contrary to the treaty. ‘Tain’t likely, though, that our boys would have killed the flag of truce bearer, or shot Black Hawk’s scouts, or run away, as they did finally, but a wagon breakin’ down that had a barrel of whisky aboard, some of our soldiers drank all they could an’ filled their canteens with the rest. It was their drinkin’ of this stuff that brought on the trouble, an’ for that reason it ought to be called the “Canteen War.”
“So that is where you got the malaria, was it?” Uncle Job interrupted. “But were you in the battle of Bad Axe, too, in that war?” he went on, tilting his chair against the wheelhouse and crossing his legs, as if going to make a night of it.
“Well, I should say I was; but shakin’ an’ as full of malary as a ‘possum is of fat.”
“Tell us about it, please,” Uncle Job demanded, lighting a cigar and offering one to Blott.
“Well, we lined up there finally, with Black Hawk’s warriors an’ twelve hundred Injun women an’ children in the willows on the water’s edge between us an’ the river. When we’d got ’em cornered they wanted to surrender, but this our fellers wouldn’t have, an’ disregardin’ the white flag, as before, shot ’em down like rabbits whenever one showed his head.”
“That was cruel.”
“Yes, but clean-like an’ satisfyin’ to our boys, who didn’t want any prisoners, but was in for finishin’ it onct for all.”
“Was there no outcry?”
“Not a cry. The men an’ squaws just dropped in their tracks like lead when we shot ’em down, them as was only hurt tryin’ to creep away into the swamps.” NORFLOXACIN
“Did the Indians show fight?”
“When they saw they was bein’ shot like pigeons, an’ no attention was paid to the white flag, they fired back, an’ so a lot of our fellers was killed that needn’t have been. Some of the Injun women tried to swim the river with their little ones, but the men on the steamboat killed or drove ’em back. Some did git over, though, but the Sioux killed an’ scalped these, I heard.”
“Did you take any prisoners?”
“Yes; some women an’ children, but not many men.”
“It is shameful that white men will be so cruel, even in the heat of anger,” Uncle Job exclaimed, puffing out great clouds of smoke.
“Mebbe, but that’s the way they fight Injuns. ‘Tain’t as if one man was fightin’ another, but like he’d fight a panther or wildcat.”
“Was Black Hawk in the battle?”
“No. He was up the river with some warriors, tryin’ to git our army to chase him, so’s to give his squaws an’ children a chance to git across; but our people was too smart for that.”
“Was Black Hawk a brave man?” Uncle Job asked.
“Yes; a badger to fight an’ a fox to git away if need be.”
“What became of him when the war was over?”
“He surrendered, an’ they sent him to Jefferson Barracks, an’ when I saw him he was draggin’ a ball an’ chain around like any common thief. Afterward, though, they let him off on his agreein’ to go to Iowa.”
“Was he a good general?” Uncle Job persisted.
“Yes; like a lightnin’-bug on a dark night in battle. First here an’ then there, an’ so quick you couldn’t git a bead on him. He never slept in a campaign, some claimed. Torpid Liver an’ Split Ear, our Injun scouts, said he could go a week without sleepin’, though I didn’t believe that; but in the chase from Stillman’s Run to Bad Axe he couldn’t have slept more’n an’ hour a day. Except for his copper color, he was as fine a lookin’ man as I ever saw; an’ when he put his eyes on you ’twas as if two coals of fire was just droppin’ into your stomach, they were so fierce an’ hot-like. For all that, he wasn’t cruel, an’ didn’t drink, an’ was agin scalpin’ an’ torturin’ white prisoners, or deviltry like that, though when fightin’ other Injuns he follered the custom of his people.”
“I saw such an Indian once,” I spoke up, remembering the chief who had rescued my father and mother. “He looked like a king, and his eyes burned you.”
“You never saw any one like Black Hawk unless it was him, for there ain’t any other such Injun,” Blott answered.
“What else happened in the war?” Uncle Job asked, lighting a fresh cigar.
“Nothin’, except such things as always happen in Injun wars. Shootin’ an’ burnin’ an’ skirmishin’ here an’ there, day an’ night, an’ women an’ children scart to death, though mostly without cause,” Blott answered, making a furtive dive at some object before him.
“Were you hurt in any way?”
“No, ‘cept I got the malary; an’ for months I didn’t do nothin’ but take quinine an’ whisky, first one an’ then the other.”
“The other mostly, I fear,” Uncle Job interrupted, drily. “When you got well why did you not quit drinking?”
“I never got well, or if I felt better, the fear of the thing kept me from quittin’. Oh, it’s awful!—the malary, I mean; an’ I feel it comin’ on now, an’ if you’ll excuse me I’ll go an’ git somethin’ to head it off afore it gits the start.” Saying which, Blott rose to his feet and hurried away before Uncle Job could ask him another question.
“Poor devil, he will never overcome his malaria as long as there is whisky to be had,” Uncle Job remarked, as we watched him disappear down the stairway.