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Full text of "Gentlemen rovers, by E. Alexander Powell"

GENTLEMEN 
ROVERS 



E.ALEXANDER POWELL 



GENTLEMEN ROVERS 




Commodore Truxtun leaped into the shrouds. 



GENTLEMEN 
ROVERS 



BY 

E. ALEXANDER POWELL, F.R.G.S, 

AUTHOR OF "THE LAST FRONTIER," ETC. 



ILLUSTRATED 



CHARLES SCRIBNER S SONS 
NEW YORK::::::::::::::::::::::i9i3 



COPYRIGHT, 1913, BY 
CHARLES SCRIBNER S SONS 



Published September, 1913 




THE FINEST GENTLEMAN I KNOW 

MY FATHER 



287955 



"There s a Legion that never was listed, 
That carries no colors or crest, 
But, split in a thousand detachments, 
Is breaking the road for the rest. 

* * * 

The ends o the Earth were our portion, 
The ocean at large was our share, 
There was never a skirmish to windward 
But the Leaderless Legion was there. 

* * * 

We preach in advance of the Army, 
We skirmish ahead of the Church, 
With never a gunboat to help us 
When we re scuppered and left in the lurch. 
But we know as the cartridges finish 
And we re filed on our last little shelves, 
That the Legion that never was listed 
Will send us as good as ourselves. 

* * * 

Then a health (we must drink it in whispers) 
To our wholly unauthorized horde- 
To the line of our dusty foreloopers, 
To the Gentlemen Rovers abroad!" 

The Lost Legion. 



FOREWORD 

THIS book is written as a tribute to some men 
who have been overlooked by History and for 
gotten by Fame. Though they won for us more 
than half the territory comprised within our 
present-day borders, not only have no monuments 
been erected to perpetuate their exploits in bronze 
and marble, but they lie for the most part in for 
gotten and neglected graves, some of them un 
der alien skies. Boyd, Truxtun, Eaton, Reed, 
Lafitte, Smith, Ide, Ward, Walker even their 
names hold no significance for their country 
men of the present generation, yet they played 
great parts in our national drama. After two 
decades of history-making in Hindustan, Boyd 
came back to his own country and ably sec 
onded William Henry Harrison in breaking the 
power of the great Indian confederation which 
threatened to check the white man s westward 
march. When both France and England were 
our enemies, and the gloom of despondency hung 
like a cloud over the land, it was Truxtun and his 

vii 



Foreword 

bluejackets who put new heart into the nation 
by their victories. Eaton and his motley army 
marched across six hundred miles of African des 
ert, and by bringing the Barbary despots to their 
knees accomplished that which had been unsuc 
cessfully attempted by every naval power in 
Europe. Captain Reed, of the General Armstrong, 
after holding off a British force twenty times the 
strength of his own, sunk his vessel rather than 
surrender. To a pirate and smuggler named 
Jean Lafitte, more than any other person save 
Andrew Jackson, we owe our thanks for saving 
New Orleans from capture and Louisiana from 
invasion. Jedediah Smith blazed the route of the 
Overland Trail and showed us the way to Cali 
fornia, and a quarter of a century later Fremont, 
Ide, Sloat, and Stockton made the land beyond 
the Sierras ours. William Walker came within 
an ace of changing the map of Middle America, 
and made the name of American a synonym for 
courage from the Rio Grande to Panama, while 
on the other side of the world another American, 
Frederick Townsend Ward, raised and led that 
ever victorious army whose exploits were General 
Gordon s chief claim to fame. There was not one 
of these men of whom we have not reason to be 
proud. But because they did their work unoffi- 

viii 



Foreword 

cially, in what might aptly be described as "shirt 
sleeve warfare," and because they went ahead 
without waiting for the tardy sanction of those 
who guided our ship of state, the deeds they per 
formed have never received befitting recognition 
from those who follow by the trails they made, 
who grow rich from the mines that they discov 
ered, who dwell upon the lands they won. And 
that is why I am going to ask you, my friends, as 
in the following pages I lead these forgotten heroes 
before you in imaginary review, to raise your 
hats in respect and admiration to this company 
of brave soldiers and gallant gentlemen who so 
stoutly upheld American prestige and American 
traditions in many far corners of the world. 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

FOR RENT: AN ARMY ON ELEPHANTS ... i 

WHEN WE FOUGHT NAPOLEON 19 

WHEN WE CAPTURED AN AFRICAN KINGDOM . 45 

THE LAST FIGHT OF THE "GENERAL ARMSTRONG" 73 

THE PIRATE WHO TURNED PATRIOT .... 89 

THE MAN WHO DARED TO CROSS THE RANGES 125 

THE FLAG OF THE BEAR 153 

THE KING OF THE FILIBUSTERS 179 

CITIES CAPTURED BY CONTRACT 217 



ILLUSTRATIONS 



Commodore Truxtun leaped into the shrouds . Frontispiece 



FACING 
PAGE 



The death of Tippo-Sahib at the storming of Seringa- 

patam 12 

The battle of Tippecanoe 16 

The frigate Philadelphia ran aground in the harbor of 
Tripoli, the Tripolitans capturing Captain Bain- 
bridge and his entire crew 54 

But even in those days the fame of American gunners 

was as wide as the seas 86 

The battle of New Orleans 120 

Westward pressed the little troop of pioneers, across the 

sun-baked lava beds of southwestern Utah . . . 136 

The Sacramento Valley in 1845 164 

General William Walker and his men, after a long and 
stormy voyage, landing at Virgin Bay, en route to 
Costa Rica 196 

General Walker reviewing troops on the Grand Plaza, 

Granada 200 

xiii 



Illustrations 



PAGE 



The programme was always the same: the sudden rush 
of the filibusters with their high, shrill yell; the 
taking of the barracks and the cathedral in the 
Plaza 206 

"Come on, boys!" shouted Ward. "We re going in!" 
and plunged through the narrow opening, a revol 
ver in each hand 230 



FOR RENT: AN ARMY ON ELEPHANTS 



FOR RENT: AN ARMY ON ELEPHANTS 

THE pitiless Indian sun had poured down 
upon the Hyderabad maidan until its sandy 
surface glowed like a stove at white heat. Drawn 
up in motionless ranks, which stretched from end 
to end of the great parade-ground, was a division 
of cavalry: squadron after squadron of scarlet- 
coated troopers on sleek and shining horses; row 
after row of brown and bearded faces peering 
stolidly from under the white turbans. The rays 
of the sun danced and sparkled upon ten thou 
sand lance-points; the feeble breeze picked up 
ten thousand pennons and fluttered them into a 
white-and-scarlet cloud. Now and then the silence 
would be broken by a clash of steel as a horse 
tossed its head or a sowar stirred uneasily in his 
saddle. Sitting a white Arab, a score of paces 
in advance of the foremost rank, very stiff and 
soldierly in his gorgeous uniform, was a tall young 
man whose ruddy cheeks and pleasant eyes looked 
strangely out of place in so Oriental a setting. 



Gentlemen Rovers 

From somewhere within the city walls a bugle 
spoke shrilly and was answered by another and 
then another, each nearer than the one preceding. 
The young man in the splendid uniform barked 
an order, and men and horses stiffened into rigid 
ity as sharply as though an electric current had 
gone through them. Through the twin-towered 
gateway of the city advanced a procession, color 
ful as a circus, dazzling as a durbar. The two 
figures who rode at the head of the glittering cor 
tege formed an almost startling contrast. One of 
them answered in every detail the popular con 
ception of an Asiatic potentate: haughty of man 
ner, portly of person, with a clear, dark skin and 
wonderfully piercing eyes and a great black beard, 
spreading fan-wise upon his breast. An aigret of 
diamonds flashed and scintillated in his flame-col 
ored turban; rubies, large as robin s eggs, gleamed 
in his ears, and hanging from his neck over his 
pale blue surtout was a rope of pearls which would 
have roused the envy of an empress. His com 
panion, to whom he paid marked attention, was 
equally noticeable, though in quite a different 
fashion: a lean, smooth-shaven, lantern-jawed 
man, still in the middle thirties, very cold and 
reserved of manner, with a great beak of a nose 
and a jaw like a granite crag. It did not need 



For Rent: An Army on Elephants 

the cocked hat and gold epaulets of a British 
general to mark him as a soldier. 

As the cortege cantered onto the maidan the 
massed bands of the cavalry burst into a wild, 
barbaric march, brass and kettle-drums crashing 
together in stirring discord. The strains ceased 
as abruptly as they began, and the youthful com 
mander, rising in his stirrups, shot his blade into 
the air and called in a voice like a trumpet: 

"Cheers for his Highness!" 

And back came a guttural roar from ten thou 
sand throats: 

"Long live the Nizam!" 

Obviously gratified at the warmth of his greet 
ing, the ruler of the Deccan wheeled his horse and 
came cantering up to the cavalryman, whose 
sword flashed in salute. 

"Boyd Sahib," he said, "you are a veritable 
magician. You turn ryots into soldiers as read 
ily as a fakir turns a stone into bread. Your men 
are admirable. I congratulate you on their ap 
pearance." 

Then, turning to his taciturn companion: 

"Sir Arthur Wellesley, permit me to present to 
you Boyd Sahib, commander of my cavalry and 
my trusted friend. General Boyd," he added, 
glancing at the Englishman with a malicious 

5 



Gentlemen Rovers 

smile, "is a very brilliant soldier and an Amer 



ican." 



Thus met, when the nineteenth century was 
still in its swaddling-clothes, two extraordinary 
men: Sir Arthur Wellesley, who in later years, 
as the Duke of Wellington, was to gain undying 
fame by conquering Napoleon; and General John 
Parker Boyd, an American soldier of fortune, who 
rendered most gallant service to his own people, 
but whose very name has been forgotten by them. 

Jack Boyd, as his boyhood companions in New- 
buryport used to call him, was born with the 
spirit of adventure strong within him. Almost 
before he had graduated from dresses to knee- 
trousers he would linger about the wharfs of 
the quaint old town, drinking in the stories of 
strange places and stranger doings told him by 
the seafarers who were wont to congregate along 
the water-front, or staring wistfully at the big, 
black merchantmen about to sail for foreign parts. 
He was wont to say that it was a perverse and 
unkind fate which caused him to be born in so 
inauspicious a year as 1764, for, though there 
was no more ardent youngster in all New Eng 
land, his youth caused the recruiting sergeants of 
the Continental Army to whom he applied for 

6 



For Rent: An Army on Elephants 

enlistment to pat him on the shoulder and re 
mark encouragingly: "Come again, son, when 
you re a few years older/ 

Thus it was that he saw unroll before him that 
marvellous moving-picture of the birth of a na 
tion, which began on the greensward at Lexing 
ton and ended before the British lines at York- 
town, without being able to play any greater part 
in those stirring events than does a spectator in 
the thrilling scenes which he pays his five cents 
to see depicted on a screen. Indeed, a twelve 
month passed after the last British soldier left 
our shores before young Boyd achieved the am 
bition of his life by obtaining an ensign s com 
mission in the 2d Regiment of Foot and donned 
the blue coat and buff breeches of an officer in 
the American army. Although within a year he 
had been promoted to lieutenant, his was not the 
temperament which could long endure the mo 
notony of garrison life, with its unending round 
of guard-mounting and small-arms practice and 
company drill. It is scarcely to be wondered at, 
therefore, that before the gold braid on his lieu 
tenant s uniform had time to tarnish he had 
handed in his papers and had booked passage on 
an East Indiaman sailing out of Boston for Ma 
dras. The year 1788, then, saw this youngster of 

7 



Gentlemen Rovers 

four-and-twenty landed on the coast of Coroman- 
del, poor in acquaintances and pocket but rich 
in adventurousness and pluck. 

He could have taken his military talents to 
no better market, for at this period of India s 
troubled history a brilliant career awaited a man 
whose wits were as sharp as his sword. The last 
quarter of the eighteenth century found all In 
dia ablaze with racial and religious hatred. Wars 
were as frequent as strikes are in the United 
States. Though the French were still supreme 
in the south of the peninsula, the English power 
was steadily rising in Bombay, Calcutta, and 
Madras. There were really two distinct strug 
gles in progress: the English were fighting the 
French and the Hindus were fighting the Moham 
medans. The most powerful of the native princes 
at this time were the Nizam of Hyderabad, and 
the Peishwa, as the ruler of the Mahratta tribes 
was called both of whom had, for reasons of pol 
icy, espoused the English cause and Tippoo Sa 
hib, the son of a Mohammedan military adven 
turer who had made himself Sultan of Mysore, 
who was an ally of the French. Ranged on the 
one side, then, were the British, with their allies, 
the Nizam and the Peishwa, while opposed to 
them were the French and Tippoo of Mysore. 

8 



For Rent: An Army on Elephants 

All of the reigning princes of India maintained 
extensive military establishments, and soldiers of 
fortune found at their courts rapid promotion 
and lavish pay. When Boyd landed in India he 
was confronted with the problem which of the 
rival causes he should make his own, and it speaks 
well for his sagacity and foresight that he promptly 
decided to offer his services to the allies of the 
English, for at that time most students of politics, 
in India and out of it, believed that the future of 
the peninsula was to be Gallic rather than Anglo- 
Saxon. 

From Madras Boyd made his way on horseback 
to the Mahratta country, where his attractive per 
sonality and soldierly appearance so impressed the 
Peishwa that he gave the young American the 
command of a cavalry brigade of fifteen hundred 
men. Boyd was now in possession of the raw 
material for which he had hankered, and he forth 
with proceeded to show his extraordinary skill in 
welding, tempering, and sharpening it. From 
daybreak until dark his camp resounded to the 
call of bugles, the words of command, and the 
clatter of galloping hoofs. He hammered his men 
into shape as a blacksmith hammers a bar of 
iron, until they combined the inflexible discipline 
of Prussian foot-guards with the mobility and 



Gentlemen Rovers 

endurance of Texas rangers. His chance to test 
the quality of his handiwork came in 1790, when 
Tippoo Sultan, failing in his attempt to bring on 
a renewal of the war between England and France, 
turned loose his hordes and overran the land. In 
the three years war which followed, the British, 
under Lord Cornwallis, who was striving to re 
gain in India the reputation he had lost at York- 
town, were aided by the Mahrattas and the Nizam, 
who were induced by fear and jealousy to join 
in the struggle against their powerful neighbor. 
Thus Opportunity knocked sharply on Boyd s 
door. Commanding a body of as fine horsemen 
as ever threw leg across saddle, his name quickly 
became a synonym for audacity and daring. Ri 
ding, wholly without support, into the very heart 
of Tippoo s dominions, he would strike a series 
of paralyzing blows, burn a dozen towns, capture 
or destroy immense stores of ammunition, exact 
a huge indemnity, and be back in his own terri 
tory again before any troops could be brought 
up to oppose him. Boyd s flying columns played 
no small part, indeed, in the campaign which 
ended in 1792 with the defeat of Tippoo a de 
feat for which the Sultan had to pay by ceding 
half his dominions, paying an indemnity of three 
thousand lacs of rupees (one hundred million dol- 

10 



For Rent: An Army on Elephants 

lars), and giving his two sons as hostages for his 
future good behavior. 

Boyd, meanwhile, had never let slip an oppor 
tunity for improving his knowledge of Hindu 
stani and its kindred dialects or familiarizing him 
self with the complex conditions, racial, religious, 
and political, which prevailed in Hindustan. 
Realizing that the Mahratta power was on the 
wane, he resigned from the service of the Peishwa, 
and, bearing letters of the highest commendation 
from that ruler to the British envoy at the court 
of the Nizam, he turned his horse s head toward 
Hyderabad. In a letter to his father, written at 
this time, he says: "On my arrival I was pre 
sented to his Highness in form by the English 
consul. My reception was as favorable as my 
most sanguine wishes had anticipated. After 
the usual ceremony was over he presented me 
with the command of two kansolars of infantry, 
each of which consists of five hundred men." 
Continuing, he described in detail the army of 
the Nizam, which at that time consisted of one 
hundred and fifty thousand infantry, sixty thou 
sand cavalry, and five hundred elephants, each 
of which bore a "castle" containing a nabob and 
his attendants. Can t you picture the scene when 
that letter, with its strange foreign postmarks, 



Gentlemen Rovers 

reached the old brick house in the quaint New 
England town; how the parents read and re-read 
that message from the son who was adventuring 
in foreign parts, and how the neighbors dropped in 
of evenings to hear the latest news of the boy they 
all knew, who was carving out a career with his 
sword half the world away? Success is, after all, 
a rather tasteless thing if there are no home folks 
to rejoice in it. 

Fortuna, that capricious beauty whose favor so 
many brave men have sought in vain, seemed to 
have lost her heart to the stalwart American, for 
in 1799, when Tippoo and his savage soldiery once 
more broke loose and swept across the peninsula, 
leaving a trail of corpses and burning villages be 
hind them, the Nizam, recalling the tales he had 
heard of Boyd s exploits as a cavalry leader, gave 
him the command of a division of ten thousand 
turbaned troopers. Nor did the fair goddess de 
sert him even when he was captured by a body 
of Mysore horsemen, taken before Tippoo Sahib 
himself, and, upon his stoutly refusing to turn 
traitor to the Nizam, condemned to death by 
torture. And the torturers of the tyrant of My 
sore bore a most evil reputation. Overpower 
ing the sentries who were set to guard him, he 
succeeded in making his way, thanks to his flu- 

12 




The death of Tippo-Sahib at the storming of Seringapatam. 

From a painting by R. de Moraine. 



For Rent: An Army on Elephants 

ency in Hindustani, through the enemy s lines, 
rejoining the Nizam s forces in time to take part 
in the storming of the Sultan s capital of Serin- 
gapatam, Tippoo being killed in a hand-to-hand 
struggle after a last stand at the city gates. Thus 
died, as he would have wished with his boots 
on the most dangerous adversary with whom 
Britain had to contend in the winning of her 
Eastern empire. 

Early in the nineteenth century Boyd, who, as 
the result of the generous rewards he had received 
from his royal employers, had by this time become 
possessed of considerable means, left the service 
of the Nizam, much against the wishes of that 
monarch, and organized an army of his own. 
Numerically, it wasn t much of an army, as armies 
go, having at no time exceeded two thousand 
men, but it was as businesslike a force as ever 
responded to a bugle. Boyd, whose reputation 
as a cavalry leader extended from Bengal to Mala 
bar, had the horsemen of all India to draw from, 
and he recruited nothing but the best, the men 
with whom he filled his ranks being as hard as 
nails and as keen as razors. His second in com 
mand was an Irish soldier of fortune named Wil 
liam Tone, a brother of Wolf Tone, the famous 
rebel patriot. 



Gentlemen Rovers 

, As Boyd reckoned on counterbalancing the 
smallness of his force by its extreme mobility, he 
adopted the novel expedient of transporting his 
artillery on the backs of elephants, thus making 
it possible for the guns to keep pace with the 
cavalry even on his whirlwind raids, for an ele 
phant, though burdened with a field-piece and 
half a dozen soldiers, can put mile after mile be 
hind it at a swinging, ungainly gait which it will 
tax any horse to maintain. Military history pre 
sents no more fantastic picture than that of this 
sun-tanned Yankee adventurer spurring across an 
Indian countryside with a brigade of beturbaned 
lancers and a score or so of lumbering elephants, 
the muzzles of brass field-guns frowning from 
their howdahs, tearing along behind him. What 
a pity that the folk in Newburyport could not 
have seen him! 

The entire outfit elephants, horses, cannon, 
and weapons was Boyd s personal property, and 
he rented it to those princes who had need of 
and were able to pay for its service precisely as 
a garage rents an automobile. The prices he ob 
tained for it were enormous, and ere long he 
became a wealthy man. From one end of the 
country to the other he led his scarlet-coated 
mercenaries, selling their services in turn to his 

14 



For Rent; An Army on Elephants 

former employers, the Nizam and the Peishwa, 
and to the rulers of Gwalior and Indore. 
When a force was needed for a particularly des 
perate service or for a hopeless hope they sent 
for Boyd. And he always delivered the goods. 
Fighting was going on everywhere, and he never 
lacked employment. But he was far too discern 
ing not to recognize the fact that the power of 
England was steadily, if slowly, increasing, and 
that her complete domination of India, which 
could not much longer be delayed, must inevi 
tably put an end to independent soldiering as a 
profitable profession. In 1808, therefore, he sold 
his army, elephants and all, to Colonel Felose, 
a Neapolitan who had seen service under many 
flags, and with misted eyes and a choking throat 
for the last time rode along the lines of his faith 
ful troopers. A few days later he set sail for 
Paris, for, with the Corsican s star high in the 
heavens, there seemed no better place for such a 
man to seek adventure and advancement. Dis 
appointed in his hope of obtaining a commission 
under the Napoleonic eagles, he turned his face 
toward home, and in 1810, after an absence of 
more than twenty years, he felt the cobblestones 
of his native Newburyport beneath his feet once 
more. 

Boyd s adventurous career under his own flag 

15 



Gentlemen Rovers 

and in the service of his own people forms quite 
another though a scarcely less thrilling story. 
Trained and experienced officers being in those 
days few and far between, the government of 
fered him the colonelcy of the 4th Regiment of 
Infantry, which he promptly accepted, displaying 
such energy in drilling his men that when his 
regiment marched through the streets of Boston 
on its way to Pittsburg the local papers com 
mented editorially on the smartness of its appear 
ance. When William Henry Harrison, then gov 
ernor of the Territory of Indiana (which included 
the present States of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, 
and Wisconsin), realizing the imperative necessity 
of smashing the great Indian confederation which 
Tecumseh, the Shawnee warrior-statesman, was 
so painstakingly building to oppose the white 
man s further progress westward, called for troops 
to do the business, Boyd put his men on flat- 
boats, floated them down to the falls of the Ohio, 
and marched them overland to Vincennes, his 
dusty, footsore column tramping into Harrison s 
stockaded headquarters almost before that vet 
eran frontiersman had realized that they had 
started. Boyd was in direct command, under 
Harrison, of the little expeditionary force of nine 
hundred men throughout the whirlwind cam 
paign which culminated on a drizzling November 

16 




o ? 



rs 3 

CJ 3 

<U (X 

.11 



For Rent: An Army on Elephants 

morning in 1811 on the banks of the Tippecanoe 
River. Tippecanoe was, I suppose, the only bat 
tle which our army ever fought in high hats, for 
the absurd uniform of the American infantry, dis 
carded a few months later, consisted of blue, 
brass-buttoned tail-coats, skin-tight pantaloons, 
and "stovepipe" hats with red, white, and blue 
cockades. Though taken by surprise and out 
numbered six to one, Boyd s soldiery showed the 
result of their training by standing like a stone 
wall against the onset of the whooping redskins, 
pouring in a volley of buckshot at close range 
which left the hordes of warriors wavering, un 
decided whether to come on or to retreat. At 
this psychological moment Boyd ordered up the 
squadron of dragoons which he had been holding 
in reserve for just such an opportunity. "Right 
into line!" he roared in the voice which had re 
sounded over so many fields in far-off Hindustan. 
"Trot! Gallop! Charge! Hip, hip, here we 
go!" It was the charge of the cavalry, delivered 
with all the smashing suddenness with which a 
boxer delivers a solar-plexus blow, which did the 
businesSo The Indians, panic-stricken at the sight 
of the oncoming troopers in their brass helmets 
and streaming plumes of horsehair, broke and ran. 
Tippecanoe was won; Harrison was started on the 
road which was to end in the White House; the 



Gentlemen Rovers 

peril of Tecumseh s Indian confederation was 
ended forever, and the civilization of the West 
was advanced a quarter of a century. 

In the following year, upon the outbreak of our 
second war with England, Boyd, who had been 
commissioned a brigadier-general, commanded a 
division of Wilkinson s army in the abortive 
American invasion of Upper Canada, and, on 
November n, 1813, fought the drawn battle of 
Chrysler s Field. "Taps" were sounded to his 
picturesque career on October 4, 1830. He died, 
not as he would have wished, sword in hand at 
the head of charging squadrons, but quite peace 
fully in his bed, holding the prosaic position of 
port officer of Boston, to which post he had been 
appointed by that other gallant fighter, President 
Andrew Jackson. As the end approached I doubt 
not that in mind he was far away from the brick 
and plaster of the New England city, and that 
his thoughts harked back to those mad, glad days 
when he and his lancers rode across the plains of 
Hindustan and his elephants rocked and rolled 
behind him. 



18 



WHEN WE FOUGHT NAPOLEON 



WHEN WE FOUGHT NAPOLEON 

THIS is the story of some forgotten fights and 
fighters in a forgotten war. The govern 
ments of the two nations which did the fighting 
France and the United States refused, indeed, 
to admit that there was any war at all, and, in a 
sense, they were right, for there was never any 
declaration of hostilities, and there was never 
signed a treaty of peace. But it was a very real 
war, nevertheless, with some of the fiercest battles 
ever fought on deep water, and when it was over 
we had laid the foundations of a navy, we had 
won the respect of the European powers, and we 
had humbled the pride of Napoleon as it had 
been humbled only once before, when Nelson 
annihilated the French fleet in the battle of the 
Nile. 

At the time that this narrative opens Bona 
parte had just finished his wonderful campaign 
in northern Italy, and the French nation, flushed 
with confidence by his remarkable series of vic 
tories, was swaggering about with a chip on its 

21 



Gentlemen Rovers 

shoulder, and defying the nations of the world to 
knock it off. In fact, the leaders of the Reign of 
Terror, drunk with unaccustomed power, had lost 
their heads as completely as the victims whom 
they had guillotined on the Place de la Revolution. 
Thoroughly typical of this insolent and arrogant 
attitude was the French Directory s peremptory 
demand that we instantly abrogate the treaty 
which John Jay, our minister to England, had 
just concluded with that country, basing its un 
warrantable interference with our affairs on the 
ground that the terms of the treaty were injurious 
to the commercial interests of France. Upon our 
curt refusal to accede to this preposterous de 
mand, Charles C. Pinckney, our minister at Paris, 
was notified by the French Government that it 
would hold no further intercourse with him, and 
the very next mail-packet brought the news that 
he had been expelled from France. Not content 
with this extraordinary and uncalled-for affront to 
a friendly nation, French cruisers began seizing 
our ships under a decree of their government au 
thorizing the capture of neutral vessels having on 
board any of the products of Great Britain or her 
colonies, for at this time, remember, France and 
England were at war, as they were, indeed, 
throughout nearly the whole of Napoleon s reign. 
As the bulk of our trade at this period was with 

22 



When We Fought Napoleon 

the British colonies in the West Indies, it was evi 
dent that this decree was aimed directly at us. 
Every packet that came from West Indian waters 
brought news of American ships overhauled and 
plundered, of sailors beaten and kidnapped, and 
of cargoes seized and confiscated by the French, 
the authenticated despatches to the State Depart 
ment naming nearly a thousand vessels which had 
been captured. So bold did the French become 
that one of their privateers actually had the 
audacity to sail into Charleston Roads and, al 
most under the guns of the batteries, to burn to 
the water s edge a British vessel which was lying 
in the harbor. 

Though it was evident that nothing short of a 
miracle could avert war, President Adams, appre 
ciating the ill-preparedness of the United States, 
which had only recently emerged from the Revo 
lution in a weakened and impoverished condition, 
determined to make one more try for peace by 
despatching to France a special mission composed 
of Minister Pinckney, Elbridge Gerry, and John 
Marshall, the last-named later Chief Justice of 
the United States. Though in all our diplomatic 
history we have sent abroad no more able or dis 
tinguished embassy, the reception its members 
received at the hands of the French Government 
was as disgraceful as it was ludicrous. The French 

23 



Gentlemen Rovers 

Directory at this time was composed of low and 
irresponsible politicians of the ward-heeler type 
who had climbed to power during the French 
Revolution, so that, incredible as such a state of 
affairs may seem in these days, the negotiations 
soon degenerated into an attempt to fleece the 
American envoys, who were informed quite frankly 
that their success depended entirely upon their 
agreeing to bribe or, as the French politely put 
it, to give a douceur to certain avaricious mem 
bers of the Directory. Not only this, but the 
American diplomatists were told that, if the bribes 
demanded were not forthcoming, orders would be 
given to the war-ships on the French West Indian 
station to ravage the coasts of the United States. 
The chronicles of our foreign relations contain 
nothing which, for sheer impudence and insult, 
even approaches this attempt to levy blackmail 
on the nation. Even the astute Talleyrand, at 
that time French Foreign Minister, so far mis 
judged the characters of the men with whom he 
was dealing as to insinuate that a gift of money to 
members of the government was a necessary pre 
liminary to the negotiations, and that a refusal 
would bring on war. Then all the pent-up rage 
and indignation of Pinckney burst forth. "War 
be it, then!" he exclaimed. "Millions for defence, 
sir, but not one cent for tribute!" , 

24 



When We Fought Napoleon 

Upon learning of this crowning insult to his 
representatives, President Adams, on March 19, 
1798, informed Congress that the mission on 
which he had built his hopes of peace had proved 
a failure. Then the war-fever, which had tem 
porarily been held in abeyance, swept over the 
country like fire in dry grass. Talleyrand s at 
tempt to whip America into a revocation of Jay s 
treaty had ignominiously failed. He had made 
the inexcusable mistake of underestimating the 
spirit and resources of his opponents. Congress 
promptly abrogated all our treaties with France, 
prohibited American vessels from entering French 
ports, and French vessels from coming into Ameri 
can waters, and voted a large sum for national 
defence. The land forces were increased, the 
coastwise fortifications strengthened, ships of 
war were hurriedly laid down, volunteers from 
every walk of life besieged the recruiting stations, 
Washington reassumed command of the army. 
At Portland, Portsmouth, Salem, Chatham, Nor 
wich, Philadelphia, and Baltimore the shipyards 
resounded to the clatter of tools, for those were 
before the days of big guns and armor-plate, and 
a man-of-war could, if necessary, be built and 
equipped in ninety days. 

Out from behind this war-cloud rose the thrill 
ing strains of "Hail, Columbia." When the war- 

25 



Gentlemen Rovers 

fever was at its height, a young actor and singer 
named Fox a vaudeville artist, we should call him 
nowadays who was appearing at a Philadelphia 
theatre, called one morning on his friend Joseph 
Hopkinson, a young and clever lawyer, and a son 
of that Francis H. Hopkinson whose signature 
may be seen at the bottom of the Declaration of 
Independence. 

"Look here, Joe," said Fox, dropping into a 
chair, "I need some help and you re the only man 
I know who can give it to me. No, no, old man, 
it s not money I m after. To-morrow night I m 
to have a benefit at the theatre, but not a single 
box has been sold; so, unless something can be 
done to attract public attention, I m afraid I shall 
have a mighty thin house. Now it strikes me 
that, with all this war-fever in the air, if I could 
get some patriotic verses, something really fiery 
and inspiriting, written to the tune of The Presi 
dent s March, I might draw a crowd. Several 
of the people around the theatre have tried it, 
but they have all given it up as a bad job, and say 
that it can t be done. So you re my last hope, 
Joe, and I think you could do it." 

Shutting himself up in his study, within an hour 
Hopkinson had completed the first verse and 
chorus of what was to prove one of the greatest 
of our national songs, and had submitted them to 

26 



When We Fought Napoleon 

his wife, who sang them to a harpsichord accom 
paniment. The tune and the words harmonized. 
A few hours later the song was completed and 
was being memorized by Fox. The next morning 
Philadelphia was placarded with announcements 
that that evening Mr. Fox would sing, for the 
first time on any stage, a new patriotic song. 
The house was packed to the doors. As the or 
chestra broke into the familiar opening bars of 
"The President s March," and Fox, slender and 
debonair, bowed from behind the footlights, the 
audience grew hushed with expectancy. When 
the now familiar words, 

"Immortal patriots, rise once more! 
Defend your rights, defend your shore!" 

went rolling through the theatre from pit to gal 
lery, the audience went wild. Eight times they 
made him sing it through, and the ninth time they 
rose and joined in the rousing chorus: 

"Firm, united let us be, 
Rallying round our Liberty. 
Like a band of brothers joined, 
Peace and safety we shall find." 

Night after night the singing of "Hail, Columbia," 
in the theatres was applauded by audiences de- 

27 



Gentlemen Rovers 

lirious with enthusiasm, and within a few days it 
was being sung by boys in the streets of every 
city from Portland to Savannah. Never since 
the days of Bunker Hill had the nation been so 
stirred as it was in that summer of 1798. 

On July 6, with the red-white-and-blue ensign 
streaming proudly from her main truck, the sloop 
of war Delaware, twenty guns, of Baltimore, un 
der Stephen Decatur, Sr., put to sea to an ac 
companiment of booming cannon. Cape Henry 
had scarcely sunk below the horizon before she 
was hailed by a merchantman which had been 
boarded and plundered by a French privateer only 
the day before. Upon hearing this news Decatur 
set off in a pursuit as eager as that with which a 
bloodhound follows the trail of a fugitive criminal. 
A few hours later his lookouts reported four ves 
sels dead ahead. Being unable to determine 
which was the privateer, he ran in his guns, closed 
his ports, and keeping on his course until he was 
sure that he had been seen, stood hurriedly off, 
as though afraid of being captured. Just as he 
had anticipated, the Frenchman fell into the trap, 
and piling on his canvas, bore down upon him. 
It was not until the privateersman drew close 
enough to make out the gun-ports and the un 
usual number of men on the American s decks, 
that he discovered Decatur s ruse and attempted 

28 



When We Fought Napoleon 

to escape. But it was too late. The Delaware s 
superior speed enabled her easily to overhaul the 
Frenchman, which proved to be La Incroyable, 
fourteen guns and seventy men. So accurate and 
deadly was the fire poured into her by the Dela 
ware 9 s gunners (forerunners, remember, of those 
bluejackets who handle the twelve-inch guns on 
the dreadnaught Delaware to-day) that within 
ten minutes after the action had commenced the 
French tricolor came fluttering down. We had 
struck our first blow against the power of France. 

The captured vessel was sent into port under a 
prize crew, was refitted, added to the American 
Navy as the Retaliation fitting name! went to 
sea under command of William Bainbridge (the 
same who a few years later was to lose the war 
ship Philadelphia to the Barbary pirates in the 
harbor of Tripoli), and shortly afterward was re 
captured by the French frigate FInsurgtnle, being 
the only vessel of our little navy taken by the 
French. 

By the beginning of 1799 the West Indian waters 
were as effectually patrolled by American war 
ships as a great city is patrolled by policemen. 
The newly built American frigates were objects 
of great amusement and derision to the French 
and British officers stationed in the West Indian 

29 



Gentlemen Rovers 

colonies, for they were far too heavily armed, ac 
cording to European ideas, carrying almost double 
the number of guns usual to vessels of their class. 
It is interesting to recall the fact, however, that 
sixty-odd years later European officers were 
equally derisive and sceptical of another Ameri 
can innovation in war-ships which was destined 
to revolutionize naval warfare the monitor. But 
before long the sceptics were compelled to revise 
their opinions of the fighting qualities of our in 
fant navy. Our fleet was at this time divided 
into two squadrons, both of which made their 
headquarters at St. Christopher, or, as it was 
more commonly called, St. Kitts, on the island 
of Antigua; one, under Commodore Barry, run 
ning as far south as the Guianas, while the other, 
under Commodore Truxtun, cruised northward 
to Santo Domingo, thus effectually cutting off 
from commercial intercourse with the mother 
country the rich French colonies in the Caribbean. 
Truxtun was a most picturesque and romantic 
figure. Short and stout, red-faced, gray-eyed, 
loud-voiced, gallant with women and short-tem 
pered with men, he was as typical a sea fighter 
as ever trod a quarter-deck with a brass telescope 
tucked under his arm. From the time when, 
as a boy of twelve, he ran away to sea, until, 

30 



When We Fought Napoleon 

a national hero, he was laid to rest in Christ 
Church graveyard in Philadelphia, his life was as 
full of hair-breadth escapes and hair-raising ad 
ventures as that of one of Mr. George A. Henty s 
heroes. A sailor before the mast when scarcely 
in his teens, he was impressed into the British 
Navy, where his ability attracted such attention 
that he was offered a midshipman s warrant, 
which he refused. When only twenty years of 
age he commanded his own ship, in which he suc 
ceeded, though at great personal hazard, in smug 
gling large quantities of much-needed powder into 
the rebellious colonies. Eventually his ship was 
captured and he was made a prisoner. Escaping 
from the British prison in the West Indies where 
he was confined, he made his way to the United 
States, obtained letters of marque from the first 
Continental Congress, and was the first to get to 
sea of that long line of privateersmen who, first 
in the Revolution, and afterward in the War of 
1812, practically drove British commerce from 
the Atlantic. At the close of the Revolution 
Truxtun returned to the merchant service, in 
which he rose to wealth and position. When the 
American Navy was organized under the stimulus 
of French aggression, he was offered and accepted 
the command of the thirty-eight-gun frigate Con- 



Gentlemen Rovers 

stellation, a new and very beautiful vessel, splen 
didly officered and manned, and with heels as 
fast as her gun-fire was heavy. 

While cruising off Antigua, on February 9, 1799, 
the Constellation s lookout reported a French 
war-ship, which, upon being overhauled, proved 
to be r Insurgent* , forty guns, which had the repu 
tation of being one of the fastest ships in the 
world, and was commanded by Captain Bar- 
reault, an officer celebrated in the French Navy as 
a desperate fighter and a resourceful sailor. As 
the Constellation, with her crew at quarters and 
her decks cleared for action, came booming down 
upon him, Captain Barreault broke out the 
French tricolor at his masthead and fired a gun 
to windward, which signified, in the language of 
the seas, that he was ready for a yard-arm to 
yard-arm combat. Truxtun s reply was to range 
alongside his adversary, a flag of stripes and stars 
at every masthead, and pour in a broadside 
which raked I lnsurgente s decks from stem to 
stern. The first great naval action in which the 
American Navy ever bore a part had begun. 

Waiting until the Constellation was well abreast 
of her, at a distance of perhaps thirty feet (modern 
war-ships seldom fight at a range of less than 
three miles), Vlnsurgente replied, firing high in an 

32 



When We Fought Napoleon 

attempt to disable the American by bringing down 
her rigging. Midshipman David Porter, a young 
ster barely in his teens, was stationed in the fore- 
top. Seeing that the top-mast, which had been 
seriously damaged by the French fire, was totter 
ing and about to fall, but being unable to make 
himself heard on deck above the din of battle, 
he himself assumed the responsibility of lowering 
the foretopsail yard, thus relieving the strain on 
the mast and preventing a mishap which would 
probably have changed the result of the battle. 
That midshipman rose, in after years, to be an 
admiral and the commander-in-chief of the 
American Navy. 

Barreault, who had a much larger crew than his 
adversary, soon saw that his vessel was in danger 
of being pounded to pieces by the American gun 
ners who were making every shot tell, and that his 
only hope of victory lay in getting alongside and 
boarding, depending upon his superior numbers to 
take the American vessel with the cutlass. With 
this in view, he ordered the boarding parties to 
their stations, sent men into the rigging with grap 
pling-irons with which to hold the ships together 
when they touched, directed the guns to be loaded 
with small shot that they might cause greater exe 
cution at close quarters, and then, putting his helm 

33 



Gentlemen Rovers 

hard down, attempted to run alongside the Con 
stellation. But Truxtun had anticipated this very 
manoeuvre, and was prepared for it. Seizing his op 
portunity and in sea-battles opportunities do not 
last long or come often he whirled his ship about 
as a polo player whirls his pony, and ran squarely 
across the enemy s bows, pouring in a rain of lead 
as he passed, which all but annihilated the board 
ing parties drawn up on the deck of FInsurgente. 

Foiled in his attempt to get to hand-grips with 
his enemy, the Frenchman sheered off and the 
duel at short range continued, the Constellation, 
magnificently handled, sailing first along I lnsur- 
gentes port side, firing as she went, and then, 
crossing her bows, repeating the manoeuvre on 
her starboard quarter. Nothing is more typical 
of the iron discipline enforced by the American 
naval commanders in those early days than an 
incident that occurred when this duel between the 
two frigates was at its height. As a storm of 
shot from the Frenchman s batteries came crash 
ing and smashing into the Constellation, a gunner, 
seeing his mate decapitated by a solid shot, 
became so demoralized that he retreated from 
his gun, whereupon an officer drew his pistol and 
shot the man dead. 

Time after time Truxtun repeated his evolution 
34 



When We Fought Napoleon 

of literally sailing around I* Insurgents, until every 
gun in her main batteries had been dismounted, 
her crew being left only the small guns with which 
to continue the action. It speaks volumes for 
Barreault s bravery that, with half his crew dead 
or wounded, and with a terribly battered and 
almost defenceless ship, he did continue the action, 
his weary, blood-stained, powder-blackened men 
loading and firing their few remaining guns daunt- 
lessly. Seeing the weakened condition of his en 
emy, Truxtun now prepared to end the battle. 
Before the French had time to grasp the full sig 
nificance of his manoeuvre, he had put his helm 
hard down, and the Constellation, suddenly loom 
ing out of the battle smoke, bore down upon Fln- 
surgente with the evident intention of crossing her 
stern and raking her with a broadside to which 
she would be unable to reply. Though no braver 
man than Barreault ever fought a ship, he in 
stantly appreciated that this would mean an un 
necessary slaughter of his men; so, with the tears 
streaming down his cheeks, he ordered his colors 
to be struck, and in token of surrender the flag of 
France slipped slowly and mournfully down. The 
young republic of the West had avenged the in 
sult of Talleyrand. 

It is a remarkable fact that, notwithstanding 

35 



Gentlemen Rovers 

the desperate fighting which characterized this 
battle, the Constellation had only two of her crew 
killed and three wounded, while the French loss 
was nearly twenty times that number. Lieu 
tenant Rodgers and Midshipman Porter were im 
mediately sent aboard the captured vessel with a 
prize crew of only eleven men. After the dead 
had been buried at sea, the wounded cared for 
by the American surgeons, and about half of the 
prisoners transferred to the Constellation, Rodgers 
set such sails on I lnsurgente as the wrecked rig 
ging would permit, and laid his course for St. 
Christopher, it being understood that Truxtun 
would keep within hail in case his assistance was 
needed. During the night a heavy gale set in, 
however, and when day broke upon the heaving 
ocean the Constellation was nowhere to be seen. 
It was a ticklish situation in which the thirteen 
Americans found themselves, for they had their 
work cut out for them to navigate a leaking, shat 
tered, and dismasted ship, while below decks, 
awaiting the first opportunity which offered to 
rise and overpower their captors, were nearly 
two hundred desperate and determined prisoners. 
There were neither shackles nor handcuffs on 
board, and the hatchcovers had been destroyed 
in the action, so that the prisoners were perfectly 

36 



When We Fought Napoleon 

aware that, could they once force their way on 
deck by a sudden rush, the ship would again be 
theirs. But they reckoned without Rodgers, for 
the first men who put their heads above the hatch 
way found themselves looking into the muzzles of 
a pair of pistols held by the American lieutenant, 
whose fingers were twitching on the triggers. 
During the three days and two nights which the 
voyage to St. Christopher lasted, a guard of Ameri 
can bluejackets stood constantly around the open 
hatchway, a pile of loaded small arms close at 
hand, and a cannon loaded with grape-shot trained 
menacingly into the prisoner-filled hold. On the 
evening of the third day, after Truxtun had given 
her up for lost, I Insurgents limped into port with 
the flag of the United States flaunting victoriously 
above that of France. 

The 1st of February of the following year found 
the Constellation, still under the command of 
Commodore Truxtun, cruising off Guadaloupe in 
the hope of picking up some of the French priva 
teers which were using that colony as a base from 
which to prey on our West Indian commerce. 
While loitering off the port of Basse Terre, and 
praying that something would turn up to pay him 
for his patience, Truxtun sighted a vessel coming 
up from the southeast, which from her size and 

37 



Gentlemen Rovers 

build was evidently a French frigate of the first 
class. As she approached, the keen-eyed Ameri 
can naval officers, scanning her through their 
glasses, recognized her as the fifty-two-gun frigate 
La Vengeance, one of the most formidable vessels 
in the French Navy. It was evident from the 
first, however, that she would much rather run 
than fight, this anxiety to avoid an encounter 
being due to the fact that she had on board a 
large number of officials, high in the colonial 
service, whom she was bringing out to the colonies 
from the mother country. No sooner did she per 
ceive the character of the Constellation, therefore, 
than she piled on every yard of canvas and headed 
for Basse Terre and the protecting guns of its 
forts. Never had the Constellation a better op 
portunity to display her remarkable sailing quali 
ties, and never did she display them to better 
advantage. It was well after nightfall, however, 
before she was able to overhaul the flying French 
man, so that it was by the light of a full moon, 
which illumined the scene almost as well as though 
it were day, that the preparations were completed 
for the combat. The sea, which was glasslike in 
its smoothness, as is so often the case in Carib 
bean waters, seemed to be covered with a veil of 
shimmering silver, while the battle-lanterns which 

38 



When We Fought Napoleon 

had been lighted on both vessels swung like giant 
fireflies across the purple sky. 

Seeing that escape was hopeless, the French 
commander hove to and prepared for a desperate 
resistance. Now, Truxtun had made up his mind 
that this was to be no long-range duel, in which 
the Frenchman s heavier metal could not fail to 
give him an advantage, but a fight at close quar 
ters, in which the smashing broadsides which the 
Constellation was specially designed to deliver 
could not fail to tell. Just before the beginning 
of the battle the stout commodore, red-faced, 
white-wigged, cock-hatted, clad in the blue tail 
coat and buff breeches of the American Navy, 
descended to the gun-deck and walked slowly 
through the batteries, acknowledging the cheers 
of the gunners, but emphatically warning them 
against firing a shot until he gave the word. No 
one knew better than Truxtun the demoralizing 
effect of a smashing broadside suddenly delivered 
at close quarters, and it was this demoralization 
which he intended to create aboard the enemy. 
"Load with solid shot," he ordered, and added, 
speaking to his officers so that the men could 
hear: "If a man fires a gun before I give the 
order, shoot him on the spot." Then with board 
ing-nettings triced up, decks sanded, magazines 

39 



Gentlemen Rovers 

opened, and the tops filled with marines whose 
duty it was to pick off the French gunners, the 
Constellation, stripped to her fighting canvas, 
swept grandly into action. As she came within 
range the French commander opened with his 
stern-chasers, and in an instant the ordered decks 
of the American were turned into a shambles. 
The wounded were carried groaning to the cock 
pit, where the white-aproned surgeons, their arms 
bared to the elbow, awaited their grim work, while 
the dead were hastily ranged along the unengaged 
side rows of stark and staring figures beneath 
the placid moon. Again and again the guns of 
La Vengeance belched smoke and flame, and red 
der and redder grew the sand with which the 
Constellation s decks were spread, but she still 
kept coming on. Not until she was squarely 
abreast of the Frenchman did Truxtun, leaping 
into the shrouds, bellow through his speaking- 
trumpet: "Now, boys, give em hell!" The 
American gunners answered with a broadside 
which made La Vengeance reel. The effect was 
terrible. On the decks of the Frenchman the 
dead and dying lay in quivering, bleeding heaps. 
But not for an instant did the French sailors flinch 
from their guns. Broadside answered broadside, 
cheer answered cheer, while the men, French and 

40 



When We Fought Napoleon 

American alike, toiled and sweated at their work 
of carnage. So rapidly were the American guns 
fired that the men actually had to crawl out of the 
ports, in the face of a withering fire, for buckets 
of water with which to cool them off. 

The different tactics adopted by the two com 
manders soon began to show results, for, whereas 
Truxtun had given orders that his men were to 
disregard the upper works and to concentrate 
their fire on the main-deck batteries and the hull, 
the French commander had from the first directed 
his fire upon the American s rigging in the hope 
of crippling her. Shortly after midnight the 
French fire, which had grown weaker and weaker 
under the terrible punishment of the Constella 
tion s successive broadsides, ceased altogether, 
and an officer was seen waving a white flag in 
token of surrender. Twice before, in fact, La 
Vengeance had struck her colors, but owing to the 
smoke and darkness the Americans had not per 
ceived it. And there was good reason for her 
surrender, for she had lost one hundred and 
sixty men out of her crew of three hundred and 
thirty, while the Constellation had but thirty- 
nine casualties out of a crew of three hundred and 
ten. Though the French fire had done small dam 
age to the Constellation s hull, and had killed a 



Gentlemen Rovers 

comparatively small number of her crew, it had 
worked terrible havoc in her rigging, it being dis 
covered, just as she was preparing to run along 
side her capture and take possession, that every 
shroud and stay supporting her mainmast had 
been shot away, and that the mast was tottering 
and about to fall. The men in the top were un 
der the command of a little midshipman named 
James Jarvis, who was only thirteen years old. 
He had been warned by one of his men that the 
mast was likely to fall at any moment, and 
had been implored to leave the top while there 
was still time, which he would have been entirely 
justified in doing, particularly as the battle was 
over. But that thirteen-year-old midshipman 
had in him the stuff of which heroes are made, 
and resolutely refused to leave his post without 
orders. The orders never came, for before the 
crew had time to secure it the great mast crashed 
over the side, carrying with it to instant death 
little Jarvis and all of his men save one. Though 
his name and deed have long since been forgotten 
by the nation for which he died, he was no whit 
less a hero than that other boy-sailor, Casabianca, 
whose self-sacrifice at the battle of the Nile has 
been made familiar by song and story. 

The falling of the Constellation s mast reversed 
42 



When We Fought Napoleon 

conditions in an instant, for the surrendered 
frigate, taking prompt advantage of the victor s 
temporary helplessness, crowded on all sail and 
slowly disappeared into the night. By the time 
the wreck had been chopped away any pursuit of 
her was hopeless. A few days later she put into 
the Dutch port of Curaao in a sinking condition. 

Thus continued until February, 1801, an un 
broken series of American successes, French war 
ships, French privateers, and French merchant 
men alike being sunk, captured, or driven from 
the seas. France s trade with her West Indian 
colonies was paralyzed, and the prestige of her 
navy was enormously diminished. Napoleon, as 
First Consul, had abolished the Directory, and 
was now the virtual ruler of France, having entire 
command of all administrative affairs, both civil 
and military. Forced to admit that from first to 
last his ships had been out-sailed, out-fought, and 
out-manoeuvred by the despised Americans, and 
that a continuance of the war could only result 
in further disaster and loss of prestige, he began 
negotiations which led, about the time that the 
nineteenth century passed its first birthday, to a 
suspension of hostilities. 

During the two and a half years of this unofficial 
war with the most powerful military nation in the 

43 



Gentlemen Rovers 

world our infant navy had captured eighty-four 
armed French vessels, mounting over five hun 
dred guns a success all the more remarkable 
when it is remembered that our entire naval estab 
lishment at the outbreak of hostilities comprised 
but twenty-two vessels, with four hundred and 
fifty-six guns. In other words, we had captured 
almost four times as many ships as we possessed. 
Not only had we practically destroyed French 
commerce on this side of the Atlantic, but our 
own commerce had risen, under the protection of 
our guns, from fifty-seven million dollars in 1797 
to more than seventy-eight million dollars in 1799. 
Most important of all, however, we had shown to 
France and to Europe that, when occasion de 
manded, we both would and could, in the words 
of our national song, defend our rights and defend 
our shore. 



44 



WHEN WE CAPTURED AN AFRICAN 
KINGDOM 



WHEN WE CAPTURED AN AFRICAN 
KINGDOM 

DID you ever, by any chance, leave the 
Boston State House by the back door? 
If so, you found yourself in a quiet and rather 
shabby thoroughfare, cobble-paved and lined on 
the farther side by old-fashioned red-brick houses, 
with white, brass-knockered doors, and iron bal 
conies, and green blinds. That is Derne Street. 
Though a man standing on Boston Common 
could break one of its violet-glass windows with 
a well thrown ball, it is, as it were, a placid back 
water of the busy streams of commerce which 
flow so noisily a few rods away. I wonder how 
many of the smug frock-coated politicians who 
hurry through it as a short cut daily have any 
idea how it got its name; I wonder if any of the 
people who live upon it know. Though the ex 
ploit which this Boston byway was named to 
commemorate has been overlooked by nearly all 
our historians, perhaps because its scene was laid 
in a remote and barbarous country, yet it was a 

47 



Gentlemen Rovers 

feat which, for picturesqueness, daring, and in 
domitable courage, is deserving of a more generous 
share of the calcium light of public appreciation. 
Though I am perfectly aware that history only 
too often makes dull reading, this chronicle, I 
promise you, is as bristling with romance and 
adventure as a hedgehog is with quills. 

You must understand, in the first place, that 
the declining years of the eighteenth century found 
a perfectly astounding state of affairs prevailing 
in the Mediterranean, where the four Barbary 
states Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli 
which stretched along its African shore, collected 
tribute from every nation whose vessels sailed that 
sea as methodically as a street-car conductor col 
lects fares. Asserting that they were no common, 
vulgar buccaneers who plundered vessels indis 
criminately, the Barbary corsairs, claiming for 
themselves the virtual ownership of the Mediter 
ranean, turned it into a sort of maritime toll-road, 
and professed themselves at war with all who re 
fused to pay roundly for using it. Nor was their 
boast that they were the masters of the Middle 
Sea a vain one, scores of captured merchantmen 
and thousands of European slaves laboring under 
the African sun proving indubitably that they 
were amply capable of enforcing their demands. 

48 



Capturing An African Kingdom 

As far as the question of economy was concerned, 
it was about as cheap for a nation to be at war 
with these bandits of the sea as at peace, for so 
heavy was the tribute they demanded that their 
friendship came almost as high as their enmity. 
It cost Spain, at that time a rich and powerful 
empire, upward of three million dollars to obtain 
peace with the Dey of Algiers in 1786. Though 
England boasted herself mistress of the seas, and 
in token thereof English admirals carried brooms 
at their mastheads, she nevertheless spent four 
hundred thousand dollars annually in propitiating 
these African despots. Previous to the Revolu 
tion there were close on a hundred American 
vessels, manned by more than twelve hundred 
seamen, in the Mediterranean, but with the with 
drawal of British protection this commerce was 
entirely abandoned. The ink was scarcely dry 
on the treaty of peace, however, before we had 
despatched diplomatic agents to the Barbary 
coast to purchase the friendship of its rulers, and 
had taken our place in the line of regular contrib 
utors. We were in good company, too, for Eng 
land, France, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Den 
mark, and the Italian states had been paying 
tribute so long that they had acquired the habit. 
Think of it, my friends! Every great seafaring 

49 



Gentlemen Rovers 

nation in the world meekly paying tribute to a 
few thousand Arab cutthroats for the privilege 
of using one of the seven seas, and humbly apolo 
gizing if the payment happened to become over 
due! 

Our friendly relations with the Dey of Algiers 
were of short duration, however, and by 1793 his 
swift-sailing, heavily armed cruisers had captured 
thirteen American vessels, and sixscore American 
slaves were at work on the fortifications of his 
capital. In his prison-yard, indeed, one could 
hear every American inflection, from the nasal 
twang of Maine to the drawl of Carolina. After 
two years of procrastination, Congress, spurred to 
action by public indignation, purchased the liberty 
of the captives and peace with Algiers for eight 
hundred thousand dollars, though the Dey re 
marked gloomily, as he scrawled his Arabic flour 
ish at the foot of the treaty: "If I keep on making 
peace at this rate, there will soon be no one left 
to fight. Then how shall I occupy my corsairs? 
What shall I do with my fighting men? If they 
have no one else to rob and slaughter, they will 
rob and slaughter me!" 

The Bashaw of Tripoli at this time was a pecul 
iarly insolent and tyrannical Arab named Yussuf 
Karamanli, who had gained the throne by the 

5 



Capturing An African Kingdom 

effective method of winning over the body-guard, 
quietly surrounding the palace one night, and de 
posing his elder brother, Ahmet, whom he promptly 
exiled. Despite the annual tribute of twenty-two 
thousand dollars which we were paying to the 
Bashaw, not to mention the seventeen thousand 
dollars worth of presents which we presented bi 
ennially to the officers and officials of his court, he 
complained most bitterly to the American consul 
at Tripoli that he was not getting as much as his 
neighboring rulers, and that unless the matter was 
remedied immediately, he would have to get some 
American slaves to teach him English. Now, 
Yussuf was a bad man to have for an enemy, for 
his cruisers were numerous and loaded to the gun 
wales with pirates who would rather fight than 
eat, and he had, in addition, the reputation of 
being most inconsiderate to those sailors who fell 
into his hands, sometimes going so far as to wall 
a few of them up in the fortifications which he 
was constantly building. To put it bluntly, he 
was not popular outside of his own circle. As 
Mr. Cathcart, the American consul, did not take 
his demands for a larger tribute very seriously, 
the Bashaw wrote to President Jefferson direct, 
mincing no words in saying that the American 
government had better grant his request, and be 



Gentlemen Rovers 

quick about it, or American seamen would find the 
Mediterranean exceedingly unhealthy for them. 

Incredible as it may seem in this day and age, 
the authorities at Washington ordered a vessel to 
be loaded with the arms, ammunition, and naval 
stores demanded by the Bashaw, their total value 
being thirty-four thousand dollars, and hurriedly 
despatched it to Tripoli, with profuse apologies 
for the delay. A few months later the Bashaw, 
who evidently knew a good thing when he saw it, 
suggested that a token of our esteem for him in 
the form of jewels would be highly acceptable, 
whereupon the American minister in London was 
instructed to purchase jewelry to the value of ten 
thousand dollars and have it hurried to Tripoli 
by special messenger. Emboldened by his un 
dreamed-of success in shaking the republican tree, 
the Bashaw reached the very height of audacity 
by again sending a peremptory note to President 
Jefferson, demanding that the United States im 
mediately present him with a thirty-six-gun war 
ship! As no attention was paid to this modest 
request (and in view of the other outrageous con 
cessions made by our government, it is somewhat 
surprising that this demand was not granted also), 
the Bashaw ordered the flagstaff of the American 
consulate to be chopped down as a sign of war, 

52 



Capturing An African Kingdom 

and turned his corsairs loose on American com 
merce in the Mediterranean. The war opened 
most disastrously for the United States, for a few 
months later the frigate Philadelphia ran aground 
in the harbor of Tripoli, the Tripolitans capturing 
Captain Bainbridge and his entire crew. No 
wonder the Bashaw went to the mosque that day 
to give thanks to Allah, for had he not received 
an even larger war-ship than he had demanded, 
and did he not have two hundred American slaves 
to instruct him in the English tongue? "God is 
great!" exclaimed the Bashaw devoutly, as he 
knelt on his silken prayer-rug, and "God is 
great!" echoed the rows of corsairs who knelt 
behind him. 

It was shortly after this American misfortune 
that William Eaton, soldier, diplomat, and Indian- 
fighter, swaggered upon the scene, and things be 
gan to happen with a rapidity that made the 
Bashaw s turbaned head whirl. By birth and up 
bringing Eaton was a Connecticut Yankee, and 
he possessed all the shrewdness, hardihood, and 
perseverance so characteristic of that race. The 
son of a schoolmaster farmer, before he was six 
teen he had run away from home to join the Con 
tinental Army, which he left at the close of the 
Revolution with the chevrons of a sergeant on his 

S3 



Gentlemen Rovers 

coat-sleeve. Far-sighted enough to see the value 
of a college education, he went from the camp 
straight to the college classroom. Graduating 
from Dartmouth in 1790, he re-entered the army 
as a captain, served against the Indians in Georgia 
and Ohio, and in 1798 received an appointment 
as American consul at Tunis. Resolute, energetic, 
and daring, impatient with any one who did not 
agree with his views, no better man could have 
been selected for the place. Thoroughly under 
standing the Arab character, from the very outset 
he took a high hand in his dealings with the Tu 
nisian ruler. He alternately quarrelled with and 
patronized the Bey, bullyragged his ministers, and 
actually horsewhipped an insolent official of the 
court in the palace courtyard, for five years 
keeping up an uninterrupted series of altercations, 
provocations, and procrastinations over the pay 
ment of tribute-money. He acted with such en 
ergy and boldness, however, that he secured to 
the commerce of his country complete immunity 
from the attacks of Tunisian cruisers, and made 
the name American respected on that part of the 
Barbary coast at least. In 1801, as I have al 
ready remarked, the American flagstaff in the 
adjoining kingdom of Tripoli came crashing down 
at the Bashaw s order, and war promptly began 

54 




The frigate Philadelphia ran aground in the harbor of Tripoli, 

the Tripolitans capturing Captain Bainbridge 

and his entire crew. 



Capturing An African Kingdom 

between that country and the United States. Two 
years later the Bey of Tunis, harried beyond 
endurance by the half-insolent, half-patronizing 
fashion in which Eaton treated him, ordered that 
gentleman to leave the country. 

Returning to the United States, Eaton went 
immediately to Washington and laid before Presi 
dent Jefferson and his Cabinet a scheme for bring 
ing the war with Tripoli to a successful conclusion, 
and exchanging our humiliating position as a con 
tributor to a gang of pirates for one more consistent 
with American ideals. The plan which he pro 
posed was, briefly, that the United States should 
assist in restoring to the Tripolitan throne the 
exiled Bashaw, Ahmet Karamanli, on the under 
standing that, upon his restoration, the exaction 
of tribute from the American government and 
the depredations on American commerce should 
cease. Eaton was outspoken in urging the de 
sirability of carrying out this plan, arguing that 
the dethronement of one of the Barbary despots 
would impress the people of all that region as 
nothing else could do. I can see him standing 
there beside the long table in the Cabinet room of 
the White House, his lean Yankee face aglow with 
enthusiasm, his every motion bespeaking con 
fidence in himself and his plan, while Jefferson and 

55 



Gentlemen Rovers 

his sedate, conservative advisers lean far back in 
their chairs and regard this visionary half curi 
ously, half amusedly, as he outlines his schemes 
for overturning thrones and reapportioning king 
doms. From the President and his Cabinet he 
received the sort of treatment which timid gov 
ernments are apt to bestow on men of spirit and 
action. He was given to understand that he was 
at liberty to carry out his plans, but that, if he 
was successful, the government would take all the 
credit, and that, if he failed, he would have to 
take all the blame. The only way to explain the 
astounding apathy of the American government 
to events in the Mediterranean is that a bitter 
political struggle was then in progress in the United 
States, and that the very remoteness of the theatre 
of war probably lessened its importance in the 
eyes of the administration. At any rate, Presi 
dent Jefferson signed the appointment of Eaton 
as American naval agent in the Mediterranean, 
and, happy as a schoolboy at the beginning of the 
long vacation, at the wide latitude of action con 
ferred upon him by this purposely vague commis 
sion, he sailed a few days later with the American 
fleet for Egypt. His great adventure had begun. 
Aware that the dethroned Bashaw had fled to 
Cairo, Eaton landed at Alexandria, and, hastening 

56 



Capturing An African Kingdom 

to the Egyptian capital by camel, succeeded in 
locating the exiled Ahmet, whom he found in 
the depths of poverty and despair. Seated cross- 
legged beside him in a native coffee-house, Eaton 
outlined his plan and proposition. He told Ahmet 
that the United States would undertake to restore 
him to the Tripolitan throne upon his agreeing to 
repay the expenses of the expedition immediately 
upon his restoration, and upon the condition that 
Eaton should be commander-in-chief of the land 
forces throughout the campaign, Ahmet and his 
followers to promise him implicit obedience. Ah 
met snapped at the chance, slim though it was, 
to regain his kingdom, as a starving dog snaps at 
a proffered bone. Eaton s plan of campaign was 
as simple as it was reckless. He proposed to 
recruit a force of Greek and Arab mercenaries, 
officered by Americans, in Alexandria, and, follow 
ing the North African coast-line westward across 
the Libyan Desert, to surprise and capture Derna 
(or, as it was spelled in those days, Derne), the 
capital of the easternmost and richest province of 
Tripoli. With Derna as a base of operations, and 
with the co-operation of the American fleet, he 
held that it would be a comparatively simple 
matter to push on along the coast, taking in turn 
Benghazi, Tobruk, and the city of Tripoli itself. 

57 



Gentlemen Rovers 

The chief merit of the scheme lay in its sheer 
audacity, for of all the leaders who have invaded 
Africa, this unknown American was the only one 
who had the courage to face the perils of a march 
across a waterless, trackless, sun-scorched, and 
uninhabited desert. But there was in Eaton the 
stuff of which great conquerors are made, and 
instead of letting his mind dwell on the dangers 
which the desert had to offer, he dreamed of the 
triumphs which awaited him beyond it. 

To raise the men for so hazardous an expedi 
tion, Eaton had need of all the energy and mag 
netism at his command, alternately employing the 
specious promises of a recruiting sergeant and the 
persuasive arguments of a campaign orator. On 
March 3, 1805, Eaton and the man to whom he had 
promised a kingdom reviewed their forlorn hope 
and it was very forlorn indeed at a spot called 
the Arab s Tower, some forty miles southwest of 
Alexandria. I doubt if so strangely assorted a 
force ever marched and fought under the shadow 
of our flag. The army, if army it could be called, 
consisted of eight Americans besides Eaton: Lieu 
tenant O Barron, Sergeant Peck, and six marines 
borrowed from the American fleet; thirty-four 
Greeks, who went along professedly because they 
wanted to fight the Moslem, but really because 

58 



Capturing An African Kingdom 

they needed the money; twenty-five Egyptian 
Copts, Christians at least in name, who claimed 
to be trained artillerymen, and to lend color to 
their assertion brought with them a small brass 
field-gun; those of Ahmet s personal adherents who 
had fled with him into exile, numbering about 
ninety men; and a squadron of Arab mercenaries, 
whose services had been obtained by the promise 
of unlimited opportunities for loot these with the 
drivers of the baggage-camels bringing the total 
strength of the "Army of North Africa" to less 
than four hundred men. With this motley and ill- 
disciplined force behind him, and six hundred miles 
of yellow sand in front, Eaton turned his horse s 
nose Tripoliward, so that at about the time Presi 
dent Jefferson was delivering his second inaugural 
address the adventurous American was leading his 
little army across the desert, with the courage of 
an Alexander the Great, to conquer an African 
kingdom. 

The task which lay before him was one which 
great military leaders, all down the ages, had de 
clared impossible. For a distance equal to that 
from Philadelphia to Chicago stretched an unbro 
ken expanse of pitiless, sun-scorched desert, boast 
ing no single living thing save ah occasional 
band of nomad Arabs or a herd of gazelles. Mid- 
59 



Gentlemen Rovers 

way between Alexandria and Derna was the in 
significant port of Bomb a, where, according to a 
prearranged plan, the Argus, under Captain Isaac 
Hull the same who became famous a few years 
later for his victories over the British in the War 
of 1812 was to meet the expedition with supplies. 
Unless you have seen the desert it will be difficult 
for you to appreciate how hazardous this ad 
venture really was. Imagine a sea of yellow sand 
with billow after billow stretching in every direc 
tion as far as the eye can see; without a tree, a 
shrub, a plant, a blade of grass; without a river, 
a brook, a drop of water except, at long intervals, 
a stagnant, green-scummed pool; the air like a 
blast from an open furnace-door and overhead a 
sky pitiless as molten brass! During the seven 
weeks of the march the thermometer never dropped 
during the day below 120 degrees. 

The arrangements for the transport had been 
left to Ahmet Pasha, and it was not until the 
expedition was two hundred miles into the desert, 
and the camel-drivers abruptly halted and an 
nounced that they were going back to Egypt, that 
Eaton learned that they had been engaged only to 
that point. As the desertion of the camel-drivers 
and the consequent inability to transport the tents, 
ammunition, and supplies would wreck the expe- 

60 



Capturing An African Kingdom 

dition, Eaton pleaded with the men to stick by 
him two or three days longer, until he could reach 
an encampment of Arabs with whom he could 
make another contract. This they consented to 
do on condition that they were paid in advance. 
By borrowing every piaster which his Americans 
and Greeks had to lend, Eaton succeeded in rais 
ing six hundred and seventy-three dollars, and 
with this the camel-drivers were apparently con 
tent. Nothing shows more strikingly the shoe 
string on which the enterprise was being run than 
the fact that this unexpected disbursement re 
duced Eaton s war-chest to three Venetian sequins 
equivalent to six dollars and fifty-four cents! 
Despite this payment, all but four of the camel- 
drivers deserted the very next night, and the four 
that remained sullenly refused to go any far 
ther. In the darkness of the following night they, 
too, quietly untethered their camels and slipped 
silently away. Here, then, were three hundred 
and fifty men, with a rapidly diminishing supply 
of food and water and absolutely no means of 
transport, as completely marooned as though they 
were on a desert island. 

To make matters worse, if such a thing were 
possible, Eaton learned that Ahmet had induced 
his Tripolitans and the Arabs to refuse to advance 

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Gentlemen Rovers 

until they had news of the arrival of the Argus at 
Bomba. Eaton, striding across to Ahmet s tent, 
shook his fist menacingly in the face of the crin 
ging Tripolitan. "I know you re a coward," said 
he, "and I suspect that you re a traitor and I ve 
a damned good mind to have you shot." The 
Pasha, now thoroughly frightened, replied that 
his men were too tired to march any farther. 
"You can take your choice between marching and 
starving," Eaton retorted, turning on his heel, 
and placing a guard of American marines around 
the tent containing the provisions, he ordered 
them to shoot the first Arab who approached it. 
This resolute action had an immediate effect, 
for the Pasha and his men lost their tired feeling 
with amazing quickness, fifty of the camel-drivers 
returned, and the desperate march was resumed. 
It was but a day or two, however, before the 
Arabs became as turbulent and unruly as ever. 
Then another mutiny broke out, Ahmet and 
his people announcing that they preferred to be 
well-fed cowards rather than starved heroes, and 
that they were going back to the flesh-pots of 
Egypt forthwith. Just as they were on the point 
of departure, however, a messenger who had been 
despatched to Bomba reached camp with the 
news that the Argus was awaiting them in the 

62 



Capturing An African Kingdom 

harbor. These unexpected delays had wholly ex 
hausted the supplies, which were slim enough, 
goodness knows, in the beginning, so that during 
the remainder of the march to Bomba they were 
compelled to kill some of the camels for food, 
living upon them and upon such roots as they 
could gather on the way. 

It was a half-starved and utterly exhausted 
expedition that plodded up the sand dunes which 
overlook the little port of Bomba, so what must 
their despair have been when they found no vessel 
awaiting them in the harbor, and that the town 
itself had been deserted. Captain Hull, appar 
ently having given them up as lost, had departed. 
This time a more serious mutiny occurred, the 
Arabs, desperate with hunger and furious from 
disappointment, preparing to attack Eaton and 
his handful of Europeans. Appreciating the peril 
of his position, Eaton hastily formed his men 
into a hollow square. Just as the Arabs were pre 
paring to charge down upon them the musket of 
one of the marines was prematurely discharged, 
the bullet whistling in uncomfortable proximity 
to the Pasha s ear. So terror-stricken was that 
worthy that he called off his men and attempted 
to parley with Eaton, who, standing alone well in 
front of his command, relieved his mind by telling 

63 



Gentlemen Rovers 

Ahmet his opinion of him in what, according to 
the accounts of those who heard it, must have 
been an epic in objurgation. While the two fac 
tions were growling at each other like angry bull 
dogs one of the Americans, happening to glance 
seaward, suddenly broke the dangerous tension 
by shouting: "A sail! A sail!" Hull, true to 
his promise, was returning, and the expedition 
was saved. Supplies were quickly landed from 
the Argus for the starving men; with full stomachs 
the courage of the Arabs returned, and Eaton and 
his little band once more turned their faces toward 
the setting sun. 

On the evening of April 25 the vanguard sighted 
the walls of Derna. A feat that veteran soldiers 
had jeered at as impossible had been accomplished, 
and Eaton, without the loss of a man, had brought 
his army across six hundred miles of desert, in the 
heat of an African spring, and in the remarkable 
time, when the scantiness of the rations and the 
many delays are considered, of fifty-two days. 
With their goal actually in sight, still another 
mutiny took place, the craven Arabs claiming 
that they were too few in number to attempt the 
capture of a walled and heavily garrisoned city, 
and it was not until Eaton promised them a bonus 
of two thousand dollars if they succeeded in taking 

64 



Capturing An African Kingdom 

it that they could be induced to advance. The 
more one learns of this man the more one must 
admire his unfailing resource, his tenacity of pur 
pose, and his bull-dog courage; for, in addition to 
the appalling natural obstacles which he overcame, 
he was constantly harried by intrigue, treachery, 
and cowardice. 

On the morning of the 26th a message was 
sent to the governor of Derna, under a flag of 
truce, offering him full amnesty if he would sur 
render and declare his allegiance to his rightful 
sovereign, Ahmet. The answer that came back 
was as curt as it was conclusive: "My head or 
yours," it read. Just as the sun was rising above 
the sand-dunes the following morning the Argus, 
the Nautilus, and the Hornet swept grandly into 
the harbor, their crews at quarters, their decks 
cleared for action, and the red-white-and-blue 
ensign of the oversea republic floating defiantly 
from their main trucks. Under cover of a terrific 
bombardment by the war-ships, Eaton s force 
advanced upon the city, planning, with their 
single field-piece, to effect a breach in the walls 
and carry the place by storm. So murderous was 
the fire that the Tripolitan riflemen poured into 
them from the walls and housetops, however, 
that they were thrown into confusion, their single 

65 



Gentlemen Rovers 

piece of artillery was put out of action by a well- 
directed cannon-shot, and Eaton himself was 
severely wounded. Seeing that his raw troops 
were on the verge of panic, and knowing that his 
only chance of holding them together lay in a 
charge, Eaton ordered his buglers to sound the 
advance, and with a cheer like the roar of a storm 
his whole line Americans, Greeks, and Arabs 
swept forward on a run. "Come on, boys!" 
shouted Eaton, as he raced ahead, sword in one 
hand, pistol in the other. "At the double! Fol 
low me! Follow me!" And follow him they did. 
Cheering like madmen they crossed a field swept 
by a withering rifle-fire. They clambered over the 
ramparts, and by the very fury of their assault 
drove back the defenders, who .outnumbered them 
twenty to one. They fought with them hand 
to hand, sabre against cimiter, bayonet against 
clubbed matchlock. Swarming into the batteries, 
they cut down the gunners and turned their guns 
upon the town. The defences of the city once in 
his possession, Eaton directed an assault upon the 
palace, where the governor had taken refuge, 
utilizing his Arab cavalry meanwhile to cut off 
the retreat of the flying garrison. Before the sun 
had disappeared into the Mediterranean, Eaton, at 
a cost of only fourteen killed and wounded (all of 

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Capturing An African Kingdom 

whom, by the way, were Americans and Greeks), 
had made himself master of Derna. His moment 
of triumph came when, still begrimed with dirt 
and powder, his arm in a blood-stained sling, he 
stood with drawn sword before the line formed by 
his ragged soldiers and the trim bluejackets from 
the fleet, and, watching a ball of bunting creep up 
that palace flagstaff from which so recently had 
flaunted the banner of Tripoli, saw it suddenly 
break out into the Stars and Stripes. Our flag, 
for the first and only time, flew above a fortifica 
tion on that side of the Atlantic. 

Reinforced by a party of bluejackets from the 
fleet, Eaton wasted not a moment in preparing 
the city for defence. He was none too soon, either, 
for the Bashaw, learning of the loss of his richest 
province, despatched an overwhelming force for 
its recapture. This army arrived before the walls 
of Derna on May 13, and immediately made an 
assault, which Eaton repulsed, as he did a second 
one a few weeks later. By this time the news of 
Eaton s victory had spread across North Africa 
as fire spreads in dry grass, and thousands of na 
tives, many of them deserters from the Bashaw s 
forces, hastened to assert their undying loyalty 
and to offer their services to Ahmet, for your 
Arab is far-seeing and takes good care to be 

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Gentlemen Rovers 

found on the side which he believes to be the 
winning one. With his army thus largely aug 
mented, with ample supplies, with Derna as a 
base of operations, and with his own prestige 
equivalent to an additional regiment, Eaton had 
completed the preparations for continuing his 
victorious advance along the African coast-line. 
There is little doubt, indeed, that with the co 
operation of the fleet he could have marched on 
to Benghazi, taken that city as easily as he did 
Derna, and in due time planted the American 
flag on the castle of Tripoli itself. 

So it was with undisguised amazement and in 
dignation that on June 12 he received orders from 
Commodore Rodgers to evacuate Derna and to 
withdraw his forces from Tripoli, Colonel Tobias 
Lear, the American consul at Algiers, having, in 
the face of Eaton s successes, signed an inglorious 
treaty of peace with the Bashaw of Tripoli. No 
more degrading terms were ever assented to by a 
civilized power. The Bashaw at first demanded 
two hundred thousand dollars for the release of 
Bainbridge and the Philadelphia s crew, but as 
Eaton had captured a large number of Tripolitans 
in the storming of Derna, an exchange was eventu 
ally arranged, the United States agreeing to pay 
the pirate ruler sixty thousand dollars to boot. 

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Capturing An African Kingdom 

The city of Derna and the great province of which 
it was the capital were surrendered without so 
much as the mention of an equivalent, not even 
the relinquishment of the ransom of the American 
prisoners. The unfortunate Ahmet Pasha, who 
had been decoyed from his refuge in Egypt on the 
promise of American assistance in effecting his 
restoration, was deserted at a moment when suc 
cess was actually ours, and had to fly for his life 
to Sicily, his wife and children being held as hos 
tages by his brother and the heads of his adherents 
being exposed on the walls of the Tripolitan cap 
ital. Thus shamefully ended one of the most 
gallant and romantic exploits in the history of 
American arms; thus terminated an episode which, 
more than any other agency, compelled the rulers 
of the Barbary coast to respect the citizens and 
fear the wrath of the United States. Though an 
expedition of scarcely four hundred men may 
sound insignificant, the humbling of a Barbary 
power was an achievement which every European 
nation had attempted and which none of them 
had accomplished. 

Disappointed and disgusted, Eaton returned to 
the United States in November, 1805, to find 
himself a national hero. From the moment he 
set his foot on American soil he was greeted with 

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Gentlemen Rovers 

cheers wherever he appeared; it was "roses, roses 
all the way." The cities of Washington and 
Richmond honored him with public dinners; 
Massachusetts, "desirous to perpetuate the re 
membrance of an heroic enterprise," granted him 
ten thousand acres of land in Maine; Boston 
named a street after the city which he had cap 
tured against such fearful odds; President Jeffer 
son lauded him in his annual message; and in 
recognition of his services in effecting the release 
of some Danish captives in Tripoli, he was pre 
sented by the King of Denmark with a jewelled 
snuff-box. He was complimented everywhere ex 
cept at the seat of government, and received every 
honor except that which he most deserved a vote 
of thanks from Congress. Though his expedition 
had involved an expense of twenty-three thou 
sand dollars, for which he had given his personal 
notes and the repayment of which exhausted all 
his means, Congress never reimbursed him. Not 
withstanding the astounding indifference and in 
gratitude of the nation on whose flag he had shed 
such lustre, he indignantly rejected the advances 
of Aaron Burr, who tried ineffectually to enlist 
him in his conspiracy to establish an empire be 
yond the Mississippi, and died, poverty-stricken 
and broken-hearted, on June i, 1811. Though 

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Capturing An African Kingdom 

the most modest of monuments marks his resting- 
place in Brimfield churchyard, and though not 
one in a hundred thousand of his countrymen 
have so much as heard his name, his fame still 
lives in that wild and far-off region where it took 
an Italian army of forty thousand men to repeat 
the exploit which he accomplished with four 
hundred. 



THE LAST FIGHT OF THE "GENERAL 
ARMSTRONG" 



THE LAST FIGHT OF THE "GENERAL 
ARMSTRONG" 

WE leaned over the rail of the Hamburg, 
Colonel Roosevelt and I, and watched the 
olive hills of Fayal rise from the turquoise sea. 
Houses white as chalk began to peep from among 
the orange groves; what looked at first sight to 
be a yellow snake turned into a winding road; 
then we rounded a headland, and the U-shaped 
harbor, edged by a sleepy town and com 
manded by a crumbling fortress, lay before us. 
"In there," said the ex-President, pointing eagerly 
as our anchor rumbled down, "was waged one of 
the most desperate sea-fights ever fought, and one 
of the least known; in there lies the wreck of the 
General Armstrong, the privateer that stood off 
twenty times her strength in British men and guns, 
and thereby saved Louisiana from invasion. It is 
a story that should make the thrills of patriotism 
run up and down the back of every right-thinking 
American." 

Everything about her, from the carved and 
gilded figure-head, past the rakish, slanting masts 

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Gentlemen Rovers 

to the slender stern, indicated the privateer. As 
she stood into the roadstead of Fayal late in 
the afternoon of September 26, 1814, black-hulled 
and white-sparred, carrying an amazing spread of 
snowy canvas, she made a picture that brought a 
grunt of approval even from the surly Azorian 
pilot. Hardly had the red-white-and-blue ensign 
showing her nationality fluttered to her peak be 
fore a harbor skiff bearing the American consul, 
Dabney, shot out from shore; for these were 
troublous times on the Atlantic, and letters from 
the States were few and far between. Rounding 
her stern, he read, with a thrill of pride, "General 
Armstrong, New York" 

The very name stood for romance, valor, hair 
breadth escape. For of all the two-hundred-odd 
privateers that put out from American ports at 
the outbreak of the War of 1812 to prey on Brit 
ish commerce, none had won so high a place in 
the popular imagination as this trim-built, black- 
hulled schooner. Built for speed, and carrying a 
spread of canvas at which most skippers would 
have stood aghast, she was the fastest and best- 
handled privateer afloat, and had always been able 
to show her heels to the enemy on the rare occa 
sions when the superior range of her seven guns 
had failed to pound him into submission. Her 

76 



The "General Armstrong" 

list of captures had made rich men of her owners, 
and had caused Lloyd s to raise the insurance on 
a vessel merely crossing the English Channel to 
thirteen guineas in the hundred. 

The story of her desperate encounter off the 
mouth of the Surinam River with the British sloop 
of war Coquette, with four times her weight in guns, 
had fired the popular imagination as had few other 
events of the war. Although her commander, 
Samuel Chester Reid, was not long past his thir 
tieth birthday, no more skilful navigator or daring 
fighter ever trod a quarter-deck, and his crew of 
ninety men Down-East fishermen, old man-o - 
war s men, Creole privateersmen who had fought 
under Lafitte, reckless adventurers of every sort 
and kind would have warmed the heart of bluff 
old John Paul Jones himself. 

Just as dusk was falling the officer on watch 
reported a sail in the offing, and Reid and the con 
sul, hurrying on deck, made out the British brig 
Carnation, of eighteen guns, with two other war- 
vessels in her wake: the thirty-eight-gun frigate 
Rota, and the Plantagenet, of seventy-four. Now, 
as the privateer lay in the innermost harbor, 
where a dead calm prevailed, while the three 
British ships were fast approaching before the 
brisk breeze which was blowing outside, Reid, 
who knew the line which marks foolhardiness from 

77 



Gentlemen Rovers 

courage, appreciating that the chances of his being 
able to hoist anchor, make sail, and get out of 
the harbor before the British squadron arrived to 
block the entrance were almost infinitesimal, de 
cided to stay where he was and trust to the 
neutrality of the port, a decision that was con 
firmed by the assurances of Consul Dabney that 
the British would not dare to attack a vessel lying 
in a friendly harbor. But therein the consul was 
mistaken, for throughout the entire duration of 
the war the British as cynically disregarded the 
observance of international law and the rights of 
neutrals as though they did not exist. 

The Carnation, learning the identity of the 
American vessel from the pilot, hauled close into 
the harbor, not letting go her anchor until she was 
within pistol-shot of the General Armstrong. In 
stantly a string of signal-flags fluttered from her 
mast, and the message was promptly acknowledged 
by her approaching consorts, which thereupon 
proceeded to stand ofF and on across the mouth 
of the harbor, thus barring any chance of the 
privateer making her escape. So great was the 
commotion which ensued on the Carnation s deck 
that Reid, becoming suspicious of the English 
man s good faith, warped his ship under the very 
guns of the Portuguese fort. 

About eight o clock, just as dark had fallen, 

78 



The " General Armstrong " 

Captain Reid saw four boats slip silently from the 
shadow of the Carnation and pull toward him 
with muffled oars. If anything more were needed 
to convince him of their hostile intentions, the 
moon at that moment appeared from behind a 
cloud and was reflected by the scores of cutlasses 
and musket-barrels in all four of the approaching 
boats. As they came within hailing distance 
Reid swung himself into the shrouds. 

"Boats there!" he shouted, making a trumpet 
of his hands. "Come no nearer! For your own 
safety I warn you!" 

At his hail the boats halted, as though in inde 
cision, and their commanders held a whispered 
consultation. Then, apparently deciding to take 
the risk, and hoping, no doubt, to catch the priva 
teer unprepared, they gave the order: "Give way 
all ! " The oars caught the water together, and the 
four boats, loaded to the gunwales with sailors 
and marines, came racing on. 

"Let em have it, boys!" roared Reid, and at 
the word a stream of flame leaped from the dark 
side of the privateer and a torrent of grape swept 
the crowded boats, almost annihilating one of the 
crews and sending the others, crippled and bleed 
ing, back to the shelter of their ship. 

By this time the moon had fully risen, and 
79 



Gentlemen Rovers 

showed the heights overlooking the harbor to be 
black with spectators, among whom were the 
Portuguese governor and his staff; but the castle, 
either from weakness or fear, showed no signs of 
resenting the outrageous breach of neutrality to 
which the port had been subjected. Angered and 
chagrined at their repulse, the British now threw 
all caution aside. The long-boats and gigs of all 
three ships were lowered, and into them were 
crowded nearly four hundred men, armed with 
muskets, pistols, and cutlasses. Reid, seeing that 
an attack was to be made in force, proceeded to 
warp his vessel still closer inshore, mooring her 
stem and stern within a few rods of the castle. 
Moving two of the nine-pounders across the deck, 
and cutting ports for them in the bulwarks, he 
brought five guns, in addition to his famous 
"long torn," to bear on the enemy. With cannon 
double-shotted, boarding-nets triced up, and decks 
cleared for action, the crew of the General Arm 
strong lay down beside their guns to await the 
British attack. 

It was not long in coming. Just as the bells of 
the old Portuguese cathedral boomed twelve a 
dozen boats, loaded to the water s edge with 
sailors and marines, whose burnished weapons 
were like so many mirrors under the rays of the 

80 



The "General Armstrong" 

moon, swung around a promontory behind which 
they had been forming and, with measured stroke 
of oars, came sweeping down upon the lone priva 
teer. The decks of the General Armstrong were 
black and silent, but round each gun clustered its 
crew of half-naked gunners, and behind the bul 
warks knelt a line of cool, grim riflemen, eyes 
sighting down their barrels, cheeks pressed close 
against the butts. Up and down behind his men 
paced Reid, the skipper, cool as a winter s morning. 

"Hold your fire until I give the word, boys," he 
cautioned quietly. "Wait till they get within 
range, and then teach em better manners." 

Nearer and nearer came the shadowy line of 
boats, the oars rising and falling with the faultless 
rhythm which marks the veteran man-o -war s 
man. On they came, and now the waiting Ameri 
cans could make out the gilt-lettered hat-bands 
of the bluejackets and the white cross-belts and 
the brass buttons on the tunics of the marines. 
A moment more and those on the Armstrong s 
deck could see, beneath the shadow of the leather 
shakoes, the tense, white faces of the British 
boarders. 

"Now, boys!" roared Captain Reid; "let em 
have it for the honor of the flag!" and from the 
side of the privateer leaped a blast of flame and 

81 



Gentlemen Rovers 

lead, cannon and musketry crashing in chorus. 
Never were men taken more completely by sur 
prise than were those British sailors, for they had 
expected that Reid, relying on the neutrality of 
the port, would be quite unprepared to resist them. 
But, though the American fire had caused terrible 
havoc in the crowded boats, with the bull-dog 
courage for which the British sailors were justly 
famous, they kept indomitably on. "Give way! 
Give way all!" screamed the boy-coxswains, and 
in the face of a withering rifle-fire the sailors, re 
covering from their momentary panic, bent grimly 
to their oars. Through a perfect hail-storm of lead, 
right up to the side of the privateer, they swept. 
Six boats made fast to her quarter and six more 
to her bow. " Boarders up and away!" bellowed 
the officers, hacking desperately at the nettings 
with their swords, and firing their pistols point- 
blank into the faces they saw above them. The 
Armstrong s gunners, unable to depress the muz 
zles of their guns enough so that they could 
be brought to bear, lifted the solid shot and 
dropped them from the rail into the British 
boats, mangling their crews and crashing through 
their bottoms. From the shelter of the bulwarks 
the American riflemen fired and loaded and fired 
again, while the negro cook and his assistant 

82 



The "General Armstrong" 

played their part in the defence by pouring kettles 
of boiling water over the British who were attempt 
ing to scramble up the sides, sending them back 
into their boats again scalded and groaning with 
pain. 

There has been no fiercer struggle in all the an 
nals of the sea. The Yankee gunners, some of 
them gray-haired men who had seen service with 
John Paul Jones in the Bon Homme Richard, 
changed from cannon-balls to grape, and from 
grape to bags of bullets, so that by the time the 
British boats drew alongside they were little more 
than floating shambles. The dark waters of the 
harbor were lighted up by spurts of flame from 
muskets and cannon; the high, shrill yell of 
the Yankee privateersmen rose above the deep- 
throated hurrahs of the English sailors; the air 
was filled with the shouts and oaths of the com 
batants, the shrieks and groans of the wounded, 
the incessant trampling of struggling men upon the 
decks, the splash of dead and injured falling over 
board, the clash and clang of steel on steel, and 
all the savage, overwhelming turmoil of a struggle 
to the death. Urged on by their officers cries of 
"No quarter! Give the Yankees no quarter!" 
the British division which had attacked the bow 
hacked its way through the nettings, and succeeded 

83 



Gentlemen Rovers 

by sheer weight of numbers in getting a footing 
on the deck, all three of the American lieutenants 
being killed or disabled in the terrific hand-to-hand 
struggle that ensued. 

At this critical juncture, when the Americans 
on the forecastle, their officers fallen and their 
guns dismounted, were being pressed slowly back 
by overwhelming numbers, Captain Reid, having 
repulsed the attack on the Armstrongs quarter, 
led the after division forward at a run, the priva- 
teersmen, though outnumbered five to one, dri 
ving the English overboard with the resistless fury 
of their onset. As the British boats, now laden 
with dead and dying, attempted to withdraw into 
safety, they were raked again and again with 
showers of lead; two of them sank, two of them 
were captured by the Americans. Finally, with 
nearly three hundred of their men three-quarters 
of the cutting-out force dead or wounded, the 
British, now cowed and discouraged, pulled slowly 
and painfully out of range. Some of the most 
brilliant victories the British navy has ever gained 
were far less dearly purchased. 

At three in the morning Reid received a note 
from Consul Dabney asking him to come ashore. 
He then learned that the governor had sent a 
letter to the British commander asking him to 

84 



The " General Armstrong" 

desist from further hostilities, as several buildings 
in the town had been injured by the British fire 
and a number of the inhabitants wounded. To 
this request Captain Lloyd had rudely replied that 
he would have the Yankee privateer if he had to 
knock the town into a heap of ruins. Returning 
on board, Reid ordered the dead and wounded 
taken ashore, and told the crew to save their per 
sonal belongings. 

At daybreak the Carnation, being of lighter 
draught than the other vessels, stood close in for 
a third attack, opening on the privateer with every 
gun she could bring to bear. But even in those 
days the fame of American gunners was as wide 
as the seas, and so well did the crew of the General 
Armstrong uphold their reputation that the Car 
nation was compelled to beat a demoralized re 
treat, with her rigging cut away, her foremast 
about to fall, and with several gaping holes be 
tween wind and water. But Reid, appreciating 
that there was absolutely no chance of escape, 
and recognizing that further resistance would en 
tail an unnecessary sacrifice of his men s lives, by 
which nothing could be gained, ordered the crew 
to throw the nine-pounders which had rendered 
such valiant service overboard and to leave the 
ship. The veteran gunners, who were as much at- 

85 



Gentlemen Rovers 

tached to their great black guns as a cavalryman 
is to his horse, obeyed the order with tears plough 
ing furrows down their powder-begrimed cheeks. 
Then Reid with his own hand trained the long- 
torn down his vessel s hatchway, and pulling the 
lanyard sent a charge of grape crashing through 
her bottom, from which she at once began to sink. 
Ten minutes later, before a British crew could 
reach her side, the General Armstrong went to the 
bottom with her flag still defiantly flying. 

Few battles have been fought in which the odds 
were so unequal, and in few battles have the rela 
tive losses been so astounding. The three British 
war-ships carried two thousand men and one 
hundred and thirty guns, and of the four hundred 
men who composed the boarding party they lost, 
according to their own accounts, nearly three hun 
dred killed and wounded. Of the American crew 
of ninety men, two were killed and seven wounded. 
This little crew of privateersmen had, in other 
words, put out of action more than three times 
their own number of British, and had added one 
more laurel to our chaplet of triumphs on the sea. 

The Americans had scarcely gained the shore 
before Captain Lloyd who, by the way, had been 
so severely wounded in the leg that amputation 
was necessary sent a peremptory message to the 

86 



The " General Armstrong " 

governor demanding their surrender. But the 
men who could not be taken at sea were not the 
men to be captured on land, and the Americans, 
retreating to the mountainous centre of the island, 
took possession of a thick-walled convent, over 
which they hoisted the stars and stripes, and from 
which they defied British and Portuguese alike to 
come and take them. No one tried. 

All of the following day was spent by the British 
in burying their one hundred and twenty dead 
you can see the white gravestones to-day if you 
will take the trouble to climb the hill behind the 
little town but it took them a week to repair the 
damage caused by the battle. And so deep was 
their chagrin and mortification that when two 
British ships put into Fayal a few days later, and 
were ordered to take home the wounded, they 
were forbidden to carry any news of the disaster 
back to England. 

To Captain Reid and his little band of fighters 
is due in no small measure the credit of saving 
New Orleans from capture and Louisiana from 
invasion. Lloyd s squadron was a part of the 
expedition then gathering at Pensacola for the in 
vasion of the South, but it was so badly crippled 
in its encounter with the privateer that it did not 
reach the Gulf of Mexico until ten days later than 

87 



Gentlemen Rovers 

the expedition had planned to sail. The expedi 
tion waited for Lloyd and his reinforcements, so 
that when it finally approached New Orleans, 
Jackson and his frontiersmen, who had hastened 
down by forced marches from the North, had made 
preparations to give the English a warm recep 
tion. Had the expedition arrived ten days earlier 
it would have found the Americans unprepared, 
and New Orleans would have fallen. 

Captain Reid and his men, landing on their na 
tive soil at Savannah, found their journey north 
ward turned into a triumphal progress. The whole 
country went wild with enthusiasm. There was 
not a town or village on the way but did them 
honor. The city of Richmond gave Captain Reid 
a great banquet, and the State of New York pre 
sented him with a sword of honor. But of all the 
tributes which were paid to the little band of 
heroes, none had the flavor of the concluding line 
of a letter written by one of the British officers en 
gaged in the action to a relative in England. "If 
this is the way the Americans fight," he wrote, 
"we may well say, God deliver us from our 



enemies/ 



88 



THE PIRATE WHO TURNED PATRIOT 



THE PIRATE WHO TURNED PATRIOT 

HOW many well-informed people are aware, 
I wonder, that the fact that the American 
flag, and not the British, flies to-day over the 
Mississippi valley is largely due to the eleventh- 
hour patriotism of a pirate ? Of the many kinds 
of men of many nationalities who have played 
parts of greater or less importance in the making 
of our national history, none is more completely 
cloaked in mystery, romance, and adventure than 
Jean Lafitte. The last of that long line of buc 
caneers who for more than two centuries terror 
ized the waters and ravaged the coasts of the 
Gulf of Mexico, his exploits make the wildest 
fiction appear commonplace and tame. Although 
he was as thorough-going a pirate as ever plun 
dered an honest merchant-man, I do not mean to 
imply that he was a leering, low-browed scoundrel, 
with a red bandanna twisted about his head and 
an armory of assorted weapons at his waist, for 
he was nothing of the sort. On the contrary, from 
all I can learn about him, he appears to have been 



Gentlemen Rovers 

a very gentlemanly sort of person indeed, tall 
and graceful and soft- voiced, and having the most 
charming manners. Though he regarded the law 
with unconcealed contempt, there came a crisis 
in our national history when he placed patriotism 
above all other considerations, and rendered an 
inestimable service to the country whose laws he 
had flouted and to the State which had set a 
price on his head. Indeed, we are indebted to 
Jean Lafitte in scarcely less measure than we are 
to Andrew Jackson for frustrating the British in 
vasion and conquest of Louisiana. 

Though the palmy days of piracy in the Gulf 
of Mexico really ended with the seventeenth cen 
tury, by which time the rich cities of Middle 
America had been impoverished by repeated sack 
ings and the gold-freighted caravels had taken to 
travelling under convoy, even at the beginning of 
the nineteenth century these storied waters still 
offered many opportunities to lawless and enter 
prising sea-folk. But the pirates of the nineteenth 
century, unlike their forerunners of the seven 
teenth, preyed on slave-ships rather than on 
treasure-galleons. Consider the facts. On Jan 
uary i, 1808, Congress passed an act prohibiting 
the further importation of slaves into the United 
States. By this act the recently acquired terri- 

92 



The Pirate Who Turned Patriot 

tory of Louisiana, over which prosperity was ad 
vancing in three-league boots, was deprived of 
its supply of labor. With crops rotting in the 
fields for lack of laborers, the price of slaves rose 
until a negro fresh from the coast of Africa would 
readily bring a thousand dollars at auction in 
New Orleans. At the same time, remember, ship 
loads of slaves were being brought to Cuba, where 
no such restrictions existed, and sold for three 
hundred dollars a head. Under such conditions 
smuggling was inevitable. At first the smugglers 
bought their slaves in the Cuban market, and run 
ning them across the Gulf of Mexico, landed them 
at obscure harbors on the Louisiana coast, whence 
they were marched overland to New Orleans and 
Baton Rouge. The smugglers soon saw, however, 
that the slavers carried small crews, poorly armed, 
and quickly made up their minds that it was a 
shameful waste of money to buy slaves when they 
could get them for nothing by the menace of their 
guns. In short, the smugglers became buccaneers, 
and as such drove a thriving business in captured 
cargoes of "black ivory," as the slaves were 
euphemistically called. 

As the demand was greatest on the rich new 
lands along the Mississippi, it was at New Orleans 
that the buccaneers found the most profitable 

93 



Gentlemen Rovers 

market for their human wares, for they could 
easily sail up the river to the city, dispose of their 
cargoes, and be off again with the quick despatch 
of regular liners to resume their depredations. 
But the buccaneers did not confine their atten 
tion to slave-ships, so that in a short time, de 
spite the efforts of British, French, and American 
war-ships, the waters of the Gulf became as un 
safe for all kinds of merchant-vessels as they were 
in the days of Morgan and Kidd. 

As a base for their piratical and smuggling oper 
ations, as well as for supplies and repairs, the buc 
caneers chose Barataria Bay, a place which met 
their requirements as though made to order. 
The name is applied to all of the Gulf coast of 
Louisiana between the mouth of the Mississippi 
and the mouth of another considerable stream 
known as the Bayou La Fourche, the latter a 
waterway to a rich and populous region. The 
Bay of Barataria is screened from the Gulf, with 
which it is connected by a deep-water pass, by 
the island of Grande Terre, the trees on which 
were high enough to effectually hide the masts of 
the buccaneers vessels from the view of inqui 
sitive war-ships cruising outside. Between the 
Mississippi and the La Fourche there is a perfect 
network of small but navigable waterways which 

94 



The Pirate Who Turned Patriot 

extend almost to New Orleans, so that the buc 
caneers thus had a back-stairs route, as it were, to 
the city, which brought their rendezvous at 
Grande Terre within safe and easy reach of the 
great mart of the Mississippi valley. 

Such supplies as the buccaneers did not get 
from the ships they captured, they obtained by 
purchase in New Orleans. For the chains which 
were used in making up the caufles of slaves for 
transportation into the interior, they were accus 
tomed to patronize the blacksmith-shop of the 
Brothers Lafitte, which stood and still stands 
on the northeast corner of Bourbon and St. 
Philippe Streets. Of the history of these broth 
ers prior to their arrival in New Orleans nothing 
is definitely known. From their names, and be 
cause they spoke with the accent peculiar to the 
Garonne, they are credited with having been 
natives of the south of France, though whence 
they came and where they went are questions 
which have never been satisfactorily answered. 
They were quite evidently men of means, and 
might have been described as gentlemen black 
smiths, for they owned the slaves who pounded 
the iron. Being men of exceptional business 
shrewdness, it is not to be wondered at that from 
doing the buccaneers blacksmithing they grad- 

95 



Gentlemen Rovers 

ually became their agents and bankers, the smithy 
in St. Philippe Street coming in time to be a sort of 
clearing-house for many questionable transactions. 
Now Jean Lafitte was an extremely able man, com 
bining a remarkable executive ability with a genius 
for organization, and had he lived a century later 
these traits, together with his predatory instincts 
and his utter contempt for the law, would un 
doubtedly have made him the president of a 
trust. Through success in managing their affairs, 
he gradually increased his usefulness to the buc 
caneers until he obtained complete control over 
them, and ruled them as despotically as a tribal 
chieftain. This was when his genius for organ 
ization had succeeded in uniting their different, 
and often rival, efforts and interests into a sort of 
pirates corporation, composed of all the bucca 
neers, privateers, and freebooters doing business in 
the Gulf, this combination of outlaws, incredible as 
it may seem, as effectually controlling the price 
of slaves and many other things in the Mississippi 
valley as the Standard Oil Company controls the 
price of petroleum to-day. 

The influence of this new element in the buc 
caneer business soon made itself felt. At that 
time New Orleans was a sort of cross between an 
American frontier town and a West Indian port, 

96 



The Pirate Who Turned Patriot 

its streets and barrooms being filled with swagger 
ing adventurers, gamblers, and soldiers of fortune 
from every corner of the three Americas, the pres 
ence of most of whom was due to the activity of 
the sheriffs in their former homes. It was from 
these men, cool, reckless, resourceful, that Lafitte 
recruited his forces. Leaving his brother Pierre 
in charge of the New Orleans branch of the enter 
prise, Jean Lafitte took up his residence on Grande 
Terre, where, under his directions, a fort was 
built, around which there soon sprang up a verita 
ble city of thatched huts for the shelter of the 
buccaneers, and for the accommodation of the 
merchants who came to supply their wants or to 
purchase their captured cargoes. Within a year 
upward of a dozen armed vessels rendezvoused 
in Barataria Bay, and their crews addressed Jean 
Lafitte as "bosse." One of the Baratarians, a 
buccaneer of the walk-the-plank-and-scuttle-the- 
ship school named Grambo, who boldly called 
himself a pirate, and jeered at Lafitte s polite 
euphemism of privateer, was one day unwise 
enough to dispute the new authority. Without 
an instant s hesitation Lafitte drew a pistol and 
shot him through the heart in the presence of the 
whole band. After that episode there was no 
more insubordination. 

97 



Gentlemen Rovers 

By 1813 the Baratarians, who had long since 
extended their operations to include all kinds of 
merchandise, were driving such a roaring trade 
that the commerce and shipping of New Orleans 
was seriously diminished (for why go to New 
Orleans for their supplies, the sea-captains and 
the plantation-owners argued, when they could 
get what they wanted at Barataria for a fraction 
of the price), the business of the banks decreased 
alarmingly under the continual lessening of their 
deposits, while even the National Government 
began to feel its loss of revenue. The waters of 
Barataria, on the contrary, were alive with the 
sails of incoming and outgoing vessels; the wharfs 
which had been constructed at Grande Terre re 
sounded to the creak of winches and the shouts of 
stevedores unloading contraband cargoes, and the 
long, low warehouses were filled with merchandise 
and the log stockades with slaves waiting to be 
sold and transported to the up-country planta 
tions. So defiant of the law did Lafitte become 
that the streets of New Orleans were placarded 
with handbills announcing the auction sales at 
Barataria of captured cargoes, and to them flocked 
bargain-hunters from all that part of the South. 
An idea of the business done by the buccaneers at 
this time may be gained from an official statement 

98 



The Pirate Who Turned Patriot 

that four hundred slaves were sold by auction in 
the Grande Terre market in a single day. 

Of course the authorities took action in the 
matter, but their efforts to enforce the law proved 
both dangerous and ineffective. In October, 1811, 
a customs-inspector succeeded in surprising a band 
of Baratarians and seizing some merchandise they 
had with them, but before he could convey the 
prisoners and the captured contraband to New 
Orleans Lafitte and a party of his men overtook 
him, rescued the prisoners, recovered the property, 
and in the fight which ensued wounded several of 
the posse. Some months later Lafitte killed an 
inspector named Stout, who attempted to inter 
fere with him, and wounded two of his deputies. 
Then Governor Claiborne issued a proclamation 
offering a reward for the capture of Lafitte dead 
or alive, at the same time appealing to the legis 
lature for permission to raise an armed force to 
break up the buccaneering business for good and 
all. The cautious legislators declined to take any 
action, however, because they were unwilling to 
interfere with an enterprise that, however illegal 
it might be, was unquestionably developing the 
resources of lower Louisiana, and incidentally add 
ing immensely to the fortunes of their constitu 
ents. As for the Baratarians, they paid as scant 

99 



Gentlemen Rovers 

attention to the governor s proclamation as though 
it had never been written. Surrounded by groups 
of admiring friends, Lafitte and his lieutenants 
continued to swagger through the streets of New 
Orleans; his men openly boasted of their exploits 
in every barroom of the city, and in places of 
public resort announcements of auctions at Bara- 
taria continued to be displayed. 

Then Governor Claiborne played his last card, 
and secured indictments of the Lafittes on the 
charge of piracy. Pierre Lafitte was arrested in 
his blacksmith-shop and confined without bail 
in the calaboose. Jean Lafitte promptly trumped 
the governor s card by retaining the services of 
Edward Livingston and John R. Grymes, the two 
most distinguished members of the Louisiana bar, 
at the enormous fee of twenty thousand dollars 
apiece. Grymes was then the district attorney, 
but he resigned his office for the fee. When his 
successor accused him in open court of having 
bartered his honor for pirate gold Grymes chal 
lenged him to a duel, and crippled him for life 
with a pistol bullet through the hip. When the 
two eminent lawyers had cleared their poor, inno 
cent, persecuted clients of the unfounded and out 
rageous charges brought against them, and had 
taught them certain legal tricks whereby they 

100 



The Pirate Who Turned Patriot 

could continue doing business at the old stand 
and still keep on the right side of the bars, Pierre 
Lafitte sent them an invitation to visit Barataria 
and collect their fees in person. Livingston, a 
cautious gentleman who had no desire to risk him 
self among the pirates whose virtues he had just 
extolled so highly to a jury, declined the invitation 
with thanks, offering his colleague a commission of 
ten per cent to collect his fee for him. Grymes, 
who was a hard-drinking, high-living Virginian, 
and afraid of nothing on two feet or four, accepted 
the invitation with alacrity, and until the end of 
his life was wont to convulse his friends with lurid 
descriptions of the magnificent entertainment 
which Lafitte provided for him. After a carouse 
which lasted for a week, and which, from Grymes s 
accounts, was a combination of the feasts of Lu- 
cullus with the orgies of Nero, Lafitte sent his legal 
adviser back to New Orleans in a sailing vessel, 
together with several huge chests containing his 
fee in Spanish gold pieces. It is an interesting 
commentary on the customs which prevailed in 
those days that by the time Grymes reached New 
Orleans, after having visited the various planta 
tions along the lower Mississippi and tried his 
luck at their card-tables, not a dollar of his fee 
remained. 



101 



Gentlemen Rovers 

Now, it should be understood that the feeble 
ness which characterized all the attempts of the 
Federal Government to break the power of the 
buccaneers was not due to any reluctance to 
prosecute them, but to the fact that it already 
had its attention taken up with far more pressing 
matters, for we were then in the midst of our 
second war with Great Britain. The long series 
of injuries which England had inflicted on the 
United States, such as the plundering and con 
fiscation of our ships, the impressment into the 
British Navy of our seamen, and the interruption 
of our commerce with other nations, had culmi 
nated on June 18, 1812, by Congress declaring war. 
So unexpected was this action that it found the 
country totally unprepared. Our military estab 
lishment was barely large enough to provide gar 
risons for the most exposed points on our far-flung 
borders; the numerous ports on our seaboard 
were left unprotected and unfortified; and our 
navy consisted of but a handful of war-ships. 
The history of the first two years of the struggle, 
which was marked by brilliant American victories 
at sea, but by a disastrous attempt to invade 
Canada, has no place in this narrative. Early in 
the summer of 1814, however, the British Gov 
ernment, exasperated by its failure to inflict any 

102 



The Pirate Who Turned Patriot 

vital damage in the northern States, determined 
to bring the war to a quick conclusion by the in 
vasion and conquest of Louisiana. The prepara 
tions made for this expedition were in themselves 
startling. Indeed, few Americans have even a 
faint conception of the strength of the blow which 
England prepared to deal us, for with Napoleon s 
abdication and exile to Elba, and the ending 
of the war with France, she was enabled to bring 
her whole military and naval power against us. 
The British armada consisted of fifty war-ships, 
mounting more than a thousand guns. It was 
commanded by Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Coch- 
rane, under whom was Sir Thomas Hardy, the 
friend of Nelson, Rear-Admiral Malcolm, and 
Rear-Admiral Codrington, and was manned by 
the same sailors who had fought so valorously at 
the Nile and at Trafalgar. This great fleet acted 
as convoy for an almost equal number of trans 
ports, having on board eight thousand soldiers, 
which were the very flower of the British Army, 
nearly all of them being veterans of the Napoleonic 
campaigns. Such importance did the British Gov 
ernment attach to the success of this expedition 
that it seriously considered giving the command 
of it to no less a personage than the Duke of Well 
ington. So certain were the British that the ven- 

103 



Gentlemen Rovers 

ture would be successful that they brought with 
them a complete set of civil officials to conduct 
the government of this new country which was 
about to be annexed to his Majesty s dominions, 
judges, customs-inspectors, revenue-collectors, 
court-criers, printers, and clerks, together with 
printing-presses and office paraphernalia, being 
embarked on board the transports. A large num 
ber of ladies, wives and relatives of the officers, 
also accompanied the expedition, to take part in 
the festivities which were planned to celebrate the 
capture of New Orleans. And, as though to ca p 
this exhibition of audacity, a number of ships were 
chartered by British speculators to bring home the 
booty, the value of which was estimated before 
hand at fourteen millions of dollars. Whether the 
British Government expected to be able to per 
manently hold Louisiana is extremely doubtful, 
for it must have been fully aware that the Western 
States were capable of pouring down a hundred 
thousand men, if necessary, to repel an invasion. 
It is probable, therefore, that they counted only 
on a temporary occupation, which they expected 
to prolong sufficiently, however, to give them time 
to pillage and lay waste the country, a course 
which they felt confident would quickly bring the 
govenment at Washington to terms. 

104 



The Pirate Who Turned Patriot 

This formidable armada set sail from England 
early in the summer of 1814 and, reaching the 
Gulf of Mexico, established its base of operations, 
regardless of all the laws of neutrality, at the 
Spanish port of Pensacola. One morning in the 
following September a British brig hove to off 
Grande Terre, and called attention to her presence 
by firing a cannon. Lafitte, darting through the 
pass in his four-oared barge to reconnoitre, met 
the ship s gig with three scarlet-coated officers in 
the stern, who introduced themselves as bearers 
of important despatches for Mr. Lafitte. The 
pirate chief, introducing himself in turn, invited 
his unexpected guests ashore, and led the way 
to his quarters with that extraordinary charm 
of manner for which he was noted even among 
the punctilious Creoles of New Orleans. After a 
dinner of Southern delicacies, which elicited ex 
clamations even from the blase British officers, 
Lafitte opened the despatches. They were ad 
dressed to Jean Lafitte, Esquire, commandant at 
Barataria, from the commander-in-chief of the 
British forces at Pensacola, and bluntly offered 
him thirty thousand dollars, payable in Pensacola 
or New Orleans, a commission as captain in the 
British Navy, and the enlistment of his men in 
the naval or military forces of Great Britain if 

105 



Gentlemen Rovers 

he would assist the British in their impending in 
vasion of Louisiana. Though it was a generous 
offer, no one knew better than the British com 
mander that Lafitte s co-operation was well worth 
the price, for, familiar with the network of 
streams and navigable swamps lying between 
Barataria Bay and New Orleans, he was capable 
of guiding a British expedition through these se 
cret waterways to the very gates of the city be 
fore the Americans would have a hint of its ap 
proach. It is not too much to assert that at this 
juncture the future of New Orleans, and indeed 
of the whole Mississippi Valley, hung upon the 
decision of Jean Lafitte, a pirate and a fugitive 
from justice with a price upon his head. 

Whether Lafitte seriously considered accepting 
the offer there is, of course, no way of knowing. 
That it must have sorely tempted him it seems 
but reasonable to suppose, for he was not an 
American, either by birth or naturalization, and 
the prospect of exchanging his hazardous outlaw s 
life, with a vision of the gallows ever looming be 
fore him for a captain s commission in the royal 
navy, with all that that implied, could hardly 
have failed to appeal to him strongly. That he 
promptly decided to reject the offer speaks vol 
umes for the man s strength of character and for 

106 



The Pirate Who Turned Patriot 

his faith in American institutions. Appreciating 
that at such a crisis every hour gained was of 
value to the Americans, he asked time to consider 
the proposal, requesting the British officers to 
await him while he consulted an old friend and 
associate whose vessel, he said, was then lying in 
the bay. Scarcely was he out of sight, however, 
before a band of buccaneers, acting, of course, 
under his orders, seized the officers and hustled 
them into the interior of the island, where they 
were politely but forcibly detained. Here they 
were found some days later by Lafitte, who pre 
tended to be highly indignant at such unwarrant 
able treatment of his guests. Releasing them with 
profuse apologies, he saw them safely aboard their 
brig, and assured them that he would shortly com 
municate his decision to the British commander. 
But that officer s letter was already in the hands 
of a friend of Lafitte s in New Orleans, who was 
a member of the legislature, and accompanying 
it was a communication from the pirate chief 
himself, couched in those altruistic and patriotic 
phrases for which the rascal was famous. In it he 
asserted that, though he admitted being guilty 
of having evaded the payment of certain customs 
duties, he had never lost his loyalty and affection 
for the United States, and that, notwithstanding 

107 



Gentlemen Rovers 

the fact that there was a price on his head, he 
would never miss an opportunity of serving his 
adopted country. A few days later Lafitte for 
warded through the same channels much valu 
able information which his agents had gathered 
as to the strength, resources, and plans of the 
British expedition, enclosing with it a letter 
addressed to Governor Claiborne in which he 
offered the services of himself and his men in 
defence of the State and city on condition that 
they were granted a pardon for past offences. 

Receiving no reply to this communication, 
Lafitte sailed up the river to New Orleans in his 
lugger and made his way to the residence of the 
governor. Governor Claiborne was seated at his 
desk, immersed in the business of his office, when 
the door was softly opened, and Lafitte, stepping 
inside, closed it behind him. Clad in the full- 
skirted, bottle-green coat, the skin-tight breeches 
of white leather, and the polished Hessian boots 
which he affected, he presented a most graceful 
and gallant figure. As he entered he drew two 
pistols from his pockets, cocked them, and covered 
the startled governor, after which ominous pre 
liminaries he bowed with the grace for which he 
was noted. 

"Sir," he remarked pleasantly, "you may pos- 
108 



The Pirate Who Turned Patriot 

sibly have heard of me. My name is Jean La- 
fitte." 

"What the devil do you mean, sir," exploded 
the governor, "by showing yourself here? Don t 
you know that I shall call the sentry and have 
you arrested?" 

"Pardon me, your Excellency," interrupted 
Lafitte, moving his weapons significantly, "but 
you will do nothing of the sort. If you move 
your hand any nearer that bell I shall be com 
pelled to shoot you through the shoulder, a 
necessity, believe me, which I should deeply 
regret. I have called on you because I have 
something important to say to you, and I intend 
that you shall hear it. To begin with, you have 
seen fit to put a price upon my head?" 

"Upon the head of a pirate, yes," thundered 
the governor, now almost apoplectic with rage. 

"In spite of that fact," continued Lafitte, "I 
have rejected a most flattering offer from the 
British government, and have come here, at some 
small peril to myself, to renew in person the offer 
of my services in repelling the coming invasion. 
I have at my command a body of brave, well- 
armed, and highly disciplined men who have 
been trained to fight. Does the State care to 
accept their services or does it not?" 

109 



Gentlemen Rovers 

The governor, folding his arms, looked long at 
Lafitte before he answered. Then he held out 
his hand. "It is a generous offer that you make, 
sir. I accept it with pleasure." 

"At daybreak to-morrow, then," said Lafitte, 
replacing his pistols, "my men will be awaiting 
your Excellency s orders across the river." Then, 
with another sweeping bow, he left the room as 
silently as he had entered it. 

Governor Claiborne immediately communicated 
Lafitte s offer to General Andrew Jackson, then 
at Mobile, who had been designated by the War 
Department to conduct the defence of Louisiana. 
Jackson, who had already issued a proclamation 
denouncing the British for their overtures to "rob 
bers, pirates, and hellish bandits," as he termed 
the Baratarians, promptly replied that the only 
thing he would have to do with Lafitte was to 
hang him. Nevertheless, when the general ar 
rived in New Orleans a few days later, Lafitte 
called at his headquarters and requested an inter 
view. By this time Jackson was conscious of the 
feebleness of the resources at his disposal for the 
defence of the city and of the strength of the arma 
ment directed against it, which accounts, perhaps, 
for his consenting to receive the "hellish bandit." 
Lafitte, looking the grim old soldier squarely in 

no 



The Pirate Who Turned Patriot 

the eye, repeated his offer, and so impressed was 
Jackson with the pirate s cool and fearless bearing 
that he accepted his services. 

On the loth of December, 1814, ten days after 
Jackson s arrival in New Orleans, the British 
armada reached the mouth of the Mississippi. 
Small wonder that the news almost created a 
panic in the city, for the very names of the ships 
and regiments composing the expedition had be 
come famous through their exploits in the Na 
poleonic wars. It was a nondescript and motley 
force which Jackson had hastily gathered to repel 
this imposing army of invasion. Every man 
capable of bearing arms in New Orleans and its 
vicinity planters, merchants, bankers, lawyers 
had volunteered for service. To the local com 
pany of colored freedmen was added another one 
composed of colored refugees from Santo Domingo, 
men who had sided with the whites in the revo 
lution there and had had to leave the island in 
consequence. Even the prisoners in the cala 
boose had been released and provided with arms. 
From the parishes round about came Creole 
volunteers by the hundred, clad in all manner 
of clothing and bearing all kinds of weapons. 
From Mississippi came a troop of cavalry under 
Hinds, which was followed a few hours later by 

in 



Gentlemen Rovers 

Coffee s famous brigade of "Dirty Shirts," com 
posed of frontiersmen from the forests of Ken 
tucky and Tennessee, who after a journey of eight 
hundred miles through the wilderness answered 
Jackson s message to hurry by covering the one 
hundred and fifty miles between Baton Rouge 
and New Orleans in two days. Added to these 
were a thousand raw militiamen, who had been 
brought down on barges and flat-boats from the 
towns along the upper river, four companies of 
regulars, Beale s brigade of riflemen, a hundred 
Choctaw Indians in war-paint and feathers, and 
last, but in many respects the most efficient of 
all, the corps of buccaneers from Barataria, under 
the command of the Lafittes. The men, dragging 
with them cannon taken from their vessels, were 
divided into two companies, one under Captain 
Beluche (who rose in after years to be admiral- 
in-chief of Venezuela) and the other under a 
veteran privateersman named Dominique You. 
These men were fighters by profession, hardy, 
seasoned, and cool-headed, and as they swung 
through the streets of New Orleans to take up the 
position which Jackson had assigned them, even 
that taciturn old soldier gave a grunt of appro 
bation. 

Jackson had chosen as his line of defence an 
112 



The Pirate Who Turned Patriot 

artificial waterway known as the Rodriguez Ca 
nal, which lay some five miles to the east of the 
city, and along its embankments, which in them 
selves formed pretty good fortifications, he dis 
tributed his men. On the night of December 23 
a force of two thousand British succeeded, by 
means of boats, in making their way, through 
the chain of bayous which surrounds the city, to 
within a mile or two of Jackson s lines, where 
they camped for the night. Being informed of 
their approach (for the British, remember, had 
the whole countryside against them), Jackson, 
knowing the demoralizing effect of a night attack, 
directed Coffee and his Tennesseans to throw 
themselves upon the British right, while at the 
same moment Beale s Kentuckians attacked on 
the left. Trained in all the wiles of Indian war 
fare, the frontiersmen succeeded in reaching the 
outskirts of the British camp before they were 
challenged by the sentries. Their reply was a 
volley at close quarters and a charge with the 
tomahawk for they had no bayonets which 
drove the British force back in something closely 
akin to a rout. 

Meanwhile Jackson had set his other troops at 
work strengthening their line of fortifications, so 
that when the sun rose on the morning of the day 

113 



Gentlemen Rovers 

before Christmas it found them strongly intrenched 
behind earthworks, helped out with timber, sand 
bags, fence-rails, and cotton-bales whence arose 
the myth that the Americans fought behind bales 
of cotton. The British troops were far from be 
ing in Christmas spirits, for the truth had already 
begun to dawn upon them that men can fight as 
well in buckskin shirts as in scarlet tunics, and 
that these raw-boned wilderness hunters, with 
their powder-horns and abnormally long rifles, 
were likely to prove more formidable enemies than 
the imposing grenadiers of Napoleon s Old Guard, 
whom they had been fighting in Spain and France. 
On that same day before Christmas, strangely 
enough, a treaty of peace was being signed by the 
envoys of the two nations in a little Belgian town, 
four thousand miles away. 

On Christmas Day, however, the wonted con 
fidence of the British soldiery was somewhat re 
stored by the arrival of Sir Edward Pakenham, 
the new commander-in-chief, for even in that hard- 
fighting day there were few European soldiers who 
bore more brilliant reputations. A brother-in- 
law of the Duke of Wellington, he had fought side 
by side with him through the Peninsular War; 
he had headed the storming party at Badajoz; 
and at Salamanca had led the charge which won 

114 



The Pirate Who Turned Patriot 

the day for England and a knighthood for him 
self. An earldom and the governorship of Loui 
siana, it was said, had been promised him as his 
reward for the American expedition. 

Pakenham s practised eye quickly appreciated 
the strength of the American position, which, 
after a council of war, it was decided to carry 
by storm. During the night of the 26th the 
storming columns, eight thousand strong, took up 
their positions within half a mile of the American 
lines. As the sun rose next morning over fields 
sparkling with frost, the bugles sounded the ad 
vance, and the British army, ablaze with color, 
and in as perfect alignement as though on parade, 
moved forward to the attack. As they came 
within range of the American guns, a group 
of plantation buildings which masked Jackson s 
front were blown up, and the British were startled 
to find themselves confronted by a row of ship s 
cannon, manned as guns are seldom manned on 
land. Around each gun was clustered a crew of 
lean, fierce-faced, red-shirted ruffians, caked with 
sweat and mud: they were Lafitte s buccaneers, 
who had responded to Jackson s orders by run 
ning in all the way from their station on the Bayou 
St. John that morning. Not until he could make 
out the brass buttons on the tunics of the advan- 

"5 



Gentlemen Rovers 

cing British did Lafitte give the command to fire. 
Then the great guns of the pirate-patriots flashed 
and thundered. Before that deadly fire the scarlet 
columns crumbled as plaster crumbles beneath a 
hammer, the men dropping, first by twos and 
threes, then by dozens and scores. In five min 
utes the attacking columns, composed of regi 
ments which were the boast of the British army, 
had been compelled to sullenly retreat. 

The British commander, appreciating that the 
repulse of his forces was largely due to the fire of 
the Baratarian artillery, gave orders that guns be 
brought from the fleet and mounted in a position 
where they could silence the fire of the buccaneers. 
Three days were consumed in the herculean task 
of moving the heavy pieces of ordnance into posi 
tion, but when the sun rose on New Year s morn 
ing it showed a skilfully constructed line of in- 
trenchments, running parallel to the American 
front and armed with thirty heavy guns. While 
the British were thus occupied, the Americans had 
not been idle, for Jackson had likewise busied 
himself in constructing additional batteries, while 
Commodore Patterson, the American naval com 
mander, had gone through the sailors boarding- 
houses of New Orleans with a fine-tooth comb, im 
pressing every nautical-looking character on which 

116 



The Pirate Who Turned Patriot 

he could lay his hands, regardless of nation 
ality, color, or excuses, to serve the guns. With 
their storming columns sheltered behind the 
breastworks, awaiting the moment when they 
would burst through the breach which they con 
fidently expected would shortly be made in the 
American defences, the British batteries opened 
fire with a crash which seemed to split the heavens. 
Throughout the artillery duel which ensued splen 
did service was rendered by the men under Lafitte, 
who trained their guns as carefully and served 
them as coolly as though they were back again 
on the decks of their privateers. The storming 
parties, which were waiting for a breach to be 
made, waited in vain, for within an hour and 
thirty minutes after the action opened the Brit 
ish batteries were silenced, their guns dismounted, 
and their parapets levelled with the plain. The 
veterans of Wellington and Nelson had been out 
fought from first to last by a band of buccaneers, 
reinforced by a few-score American bluejackets 
and a handful of nondescript seamen. 

Pakenham had one more plan for the capture 
of the city. This was a general assault by his 
entire army on the American lines. His plan of 
attack was simple, and would very probably have 
proved successful against troops less accustomed 

117 



Gentlemen Rovers 

to frontier warfare than the Americans. Colonel 
Thornton, with fourteen hundred men, was directed 
to cross the river during the night of January 7, 
and, creeping up to the American lines under cover 
of the darkness, to carry them by assault. His 
attack was to be the signal for a column under 
General Gibbs to storm Jackson s right, and for 
another, under General Keane, to throw itself 
against the American left, General Lambert, who 
had just arrived with two fresh regiments, being 
held in reserve. So carefully had the British 
commanders perfected their plans that the battle 
was already won in theory. 

No one knew better than Jackson that this was 
to be the deciding round of the contest, and he 
accordingly made his preparations to win it with 
a solar-plexus blow. He also had received a rein 
forcement, for the long-expected militia from Ken 
tucky, two thousand two hundred strong, had just 
arrived, after a forced march of fifteen hundred 
miles, though in a half-naked and starving con 
dition. Our history contains nothing finer, to my 
way of thinking, than the story of how these moun 
taineers of the Blue Ridge, foot-sore, ragged, and 
hungry, came pouring down from the north to 
repel the threatened invasion. The Americans, 
who numbered, all told, barely four thousand men, 

118 



The Pirate Who Turned Patriot 

were scattered along a front of nearly three miles, 
one end of the line extending so far into a swamp 
that the soldiers stood in water to their waists 
during the day, and at night slept on floating logs 
made fast to trees. 

Long before daybreak on the morning of the 
8th of January the divisions of Gibbs and Keane 
were in position, and waiting impatiently for the 
outburst of musketry which would be the signal 
that Thornton had begun his attack. Thornton 
had troubles of his own, however, for the swift 
current of the Mississippi, as though wishing to 
do its share in the nation s defence, had carried 
his boats a mile and a half down-stream, so that 
it was daylight before he was able to effect a 
landing, when a surprise was, of course, out of 
the question. But Pakenham, naturally obstinate 
and now made wholly reckless by the miscarriage 
of his plans, refused to recall his orders; so, as the 
gray mists of the early morning slowly lifted, his 
columns were seen advancing across the fields. 

"Steady now, boys! Steady!" called Jack 
son, as he rode up and down behind his lines. 
"Don t waste your ammunition, for we ve none 
to spare. Pick your man, wait until he gets 
within range, and then let him have it! Let s get 
this business over with to-day!" His orders were 

119 



Gentlemen Rovers 

obeyed to the letter, for not a shot was fired un 
til the scarlet columns were within certain range. 
Then the order "Commence firing" was repeated 
down the line. Neither hurriedly, nor excitedly, 
nor confusedly was it obeyed, but with the ut 
most calmness and deliberation, the frontiersmen, 
trained to use the rifle from boyhood, choosing 
their targets, and calculating their ranges as un 
concernedly as though they were hunting in their 
native forests. Still the British columns pressed 
indomitably on, and still the lean and lantern- 
jawed Jackson rode up and down his lines, cheer 
ing, cautioning, exhorting, directing. Suddenly he 
reined up his horse at the Baratarian battery 
commanded by Dominique You. 

"What s this? What s this?" he exclaimed. 
"You have stopped firing? What the devil does 
this mean, sir?" 

"Of course we ve stopped firing, general," said 
the buccaneer, touching his forelock man-o -war 
fashion. "The powder s good for nothing. It 
might do to shoot blackbirds with, but not red 



coats." 



Jackson beckoned to one of his aides-de-camp. 

"Tell the ordnance officer that I will have him 
shot in five minutes as a traitor if Dominique 
complains again of his powder," and he galloped 

120 




1 1 

T: u 

* 

<u Q 



s I 

^ .S 



The Pirate Who Turned Patriot 

off. When he passed that way a few minutes later 
the rattle of the musketry was being punctuated 
at half-minute intervals with the crash of the 
Baratarian guns. "Ha, friend Dominique," called 
Jackson, "I m glad to see you re at work again." 
"Pretty good work, too, general," responded the 
buccaneer. "It looks to me as if the British have 
discovered that there has been a change of powder 
in this battery." He was right. Before the com 
bined rifle and artillery fire of the Americans the 
British columns were melting like snow under a 
spring rain. Still their officers led them on, cheer 
ing, pleading, threatening, imploring. Pakenham s 
arm was pierced by a bullet; at the same instant 
another killed his horse, but, mounting the pony 
of his aide-de-camp, he continued to encourage 
his disheartened and wavering men. Keane was 
borne bleeding from the field, and a moment 
later Gibbs, mortally wounded, was carried after 
him. The panic which was just beginning to seize 
the British soldiery was completed at this critical 
instant by a shot from one of the Baratarians 
big guns which burst squarely in the middle of 
the advancing column, causing terrible destruc 
tion in the solid ranks. Pakenham s horse fell 
dead, and the general reeled into the arms of an 
officer who sprang forward to catch him. Terri- 

121 



Gentlemen Rovers 

bly wounded, he was carried to the shelter of a 
spreading oak, beneath which, five minutes later, 
he breathed his last. Then the ebb-tide began. 
The shattered regiments, demoralized by the 
death of their commander, and themselves fear 
fully depleted by the American fire, broke and ran. 
Ten minutes later, save for the crawling, agonized 
wounded, not a living foe was to be seen. But 
the field, which had been green with grass half an 
hour before, was carpeted with scarlet now, and 
the carpet was made of British dead. Of the six 
thousand men who took part in the attack, it is 
estimated that two thousand six hundred were 
killed or wounded. Of the Ninety-third Regi 
ment, which had gone into action nine hundred 
strong, only one hundred and thirty-nine men 
answered to the roll-call. The Americans had 
eight men killed and thirteen wounded. The 
battle had lasted exactly twenty-five minutes. 
At eight o clock the American bugles sounded 
"Cease firing," and Jackson whom this victory 
was to make President of the United States 
followed by his stafF, rode slowly down the lines, 
stopping at each command to make a short ad 
dress. As he passed, the regimental fifes and 
drums burst into "Hail, Columbia," and the rows 
of weary, powder-grimed men, putting their caps 

122 



The Pirate Who Turned Patriot 

on the ends of their long rifles, swung them in the 
air and cheered madly the victor of New Orleans. 
There is little more to tell. On March 17 the 
British expedition, accompanied by the judges and 
customs-inspectors and revenue-collectors, and by 
the officers wives who had come out to take part 
in the festivities which were to mark the conquest, 
set sail from the mouth of the Mississippi, reach 
ing Europe just in time to participate in the Water 
loo campaign. In the general orders issued by 
Jackson after the battle the highest praise was 
given to the Lafittes and their followers from Bara- 
taria, while the official despatches to Washington 
strongly urged that some recognition be made of 
the extraordinary services rendered by the erst 
while pirates. A few weeks later the President 
granted a full pardon to the inhabitants of Bara- 
taria, his message concluding: "Offenders who 
have refused to become the associates of the enemy 
in war upon the most seducing terms of invitation, 
and who have aided to repel his hostile invasion 
of the territory of the United States, can no longer 
be considered as objects of punishment, but as 
objects of generous forgiveness." Taking advan 
tage of this amnesty, the ex-pirates settled down 
to the peaceable lives of fishermen and market- 
gardeners, and their descendants dwell upon the 

123 



Gentlemen Rovers 

shores of Barataria Bay to this day. As to the 
future movements of the brothers Lafitte, beyond 
the fact that they established themselves for a 
time at Galveston, whence they harassed Spanish 
commerce in the Gulf of Mexico, nothing definite 
is known. Leaving New Orleans soon after the 
battle, they sailed out of the Mississippi, and out 
of this story. 



124 



THE MAN WHO DARED TO CROSS 
THE RANGES 



THE MAN WHO DARED TO CROSS 
THE RANGES 

ABOUT the word frontiersman there is a 
pretty air of romance. The very mention 
of it conjures up a vision of lean, sinewy, brown- 
faced men, in fur caps and moccasins and 
fringed buckskin, slipping through virgin forests 
or pushing across sun-scorched prairies advance- 
guards of civilization. Hardy, resolute, taciturn 
figures, they have passed silently across the pages 
of our history and we shall see their like no more. 
To them we owe a debt that we can never repay 
nor, indeed, have we even publicly acknowledged 
it. We followed by the trails which they had 
blazed for us; we built our towns in those rich 
valleys and pastured our herds on those fertile 
hillsides which theirs were the first white men s 
eyes to see. The American frontiersman was 
never a self-seeker. His discoveries he left as a 
heritage to those who followed him. In almost 
every case he died poor and, more often than not, 
with his boots on. David Livingstone and Henry 

127 



Gentlemen Rovers 

M. Stanley, the two Englishmen who did more 
than any other men for the opening up of Africa, 
lie in Westminster Abbey, and thousands of their 
countrymen each year stand reverently beside 
their tombs. To Cecil Rhodes, another Anglo- 
African pioneer, a great national memorial has 
been erected on the slopes of Table Mountain. 
Far, far greater parts in the conquest of a wilder 
ness, the winning of a continent, were played by 
Daniel Boone, William Bowie, Kit Carson, Davy 
Crockett; yet how many of ? those who to-day 
enjoy the fruits of the perils they faced, the hard 
ships they endured, know much more of them than 
as characters in dime novels, can tell where they 
are buried, can point to any statues or monuments 
which have been erected to their memories? 

There are two million four hundred thousand 
people in the State of California, and most of them 
boast of it as "God s own country." They have 
more State pride than any people that I know, 
yet I would be willing to wager almost anything 
you please that you can pick a hundred native 
sons of California, and put to each of them the 
question, "Who was Jedediah Smith?" and not 
one of them would be able to answer it correctly. 
The public parks of San Francisco and Los 
Angeles and San Diego and Sacramento have in- 

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The Man Who Crossed the Ranges 

numerable statues of one kind and another, but 
you will find none of this man with the stern old 
Puritan name; they are starting a hall of fame 
in California, but no one has proposed Jedediah 
Smith as deserving a place in it. Yet to him, per 
haps more than to any other man, is due the fact 
that California is American: he was the greatest 
of the pathfinders; he was the real founder of the 
Overland Trail; he was the man who led the way 
across the ranges. Had it not been for the trail 
he blazed and the thousands who followed in his 
footsteps the Sierra Nevadas, instead of the Rio 
Grande, might still mark the line of our frontier. 
The westward advance of population which took 
place during the first quarter of the nineteenth 
century far exceeded the limits of any of the great 
migrations of mankind upon the older continents. 
The story of the American onset to the beckoning 
West is one of the wonder-tales of history. Over 
the natural waterway of the great northern lakes, 
down the road to Pittsburg, along the trail which 
skirted the Potomac, and then down the Ohio, 
over the passes of the Cumberland into Tennessee, 
round the end of the Alleghanies into the Gulf 
States, up the Missouri, and so across the Rockies 
to the head waters of the Columbia, or south- 
westward from St. Louis to the Spanish settle- 

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Gentlemen Rovers 

ments of Santa Fe, the hardy pioneers poured in 
an ever-increasing stream, carrying with them 
little but axe, spade, and rifle, some scanty house 
hold effects, a small store of provisions, a liberal 
supply of ammunition, and unlimited faith, cour 
age, and enterprise. 

During that brief period the people of the United 
States extended their occupation over the whole 
of that vast region lying between the Alleghanies 
and the Rockies a territory larger than all of 
Europe, without Russia annexed it from the 
wilderness, conquered, subdued, improved, cul 
tivated, civilized it, and all without one jot of 
governmental assistance. Throughout these years, 
as the frontiersmen pressed into the West, they 
continued to fret and strain against the Spanish 
boundaries. The Spanish authorities, and after 
them the Mexican, soon became seriously alarmed 
at this silent but resistless American advance, and 
from the City of Mexico orders went out to the 
provincial governors that Americans venturing 
within their jurisdiction should be treated, when 
ever an excuse offered, with the utmost severity. 
But, notwithstanding the menace of Mexican 
prisons, of Indian tortures, of savage animals, of 
thirst and starvation in the wilderness, the pioneers 
pushed westward and ever westward, until at last 

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The Man Who Crossed the Ranges 

their further progress was abruptly halted by the 
great range of the Sierra Nevada, snow-crested, 
and presumably impassable, which rose like a 
titanic wall before them, barring their further 
march. 

It was at about the time of this halt in our 
westward progress that Captain Jedediah Smith 
came riding onto the scene. You must picture 
him as a gaunt-faced, lean-flanked, wiry man, 
with nerves of iron, sinews of rawhide, a skin 
like oak-tanned leather, and quick on his feet as 
a catamount. He was bearded to the ears, of 
course, for razors formed no part of the scanty 
equipment of the frontiersman, and above the 
beard shone a pair of very keen, bright eyes, with 
the concentrated wrinkles about their corners that 
come of staring across the prairies under a blazing 
sun. He was sparing of his words, as are most 
men who dwell in the great solitudes, and, like 
them, he was, in an unorthodox way, devout, his 
stern and rugged features as well as his uncom 
promising scriptural name betraying the grim 
old Puritan stock from which he sprang. His hair 
was long and black, and would have covered his 
shoulders had it not been tied at the back 
of the neck by a leather thong. His dress was 
that of the Indian adapted to meet the require- 



Gentlemen Rovers 

ments of the adventuring white man : a hunting- 
shirt and trousers of fringed buckskin, embroidered 
moccasins of elkhide, and a cap made from the 
glossy skin of a beaver, with the tail hanging down 
behind. On hot desert marches, and in camp, he 
took off the beaver-skin cap and twisted about his 
head a bright bandanna, which, when taken with 
his gaunt, unshaven face, made him look uncom 
monly like a pirate. These garments were by no 
means fresh and gaudy, like those affected by the 
near-frontiersmen who take part in the produc 
tion of Wild West shows; instead they were very 
soiled and much worn and greasy, and gave evi 
dence of having done twenty-four hours* duty a 
day for many months at a stretch. Hanging on 
his chest was a capacious powder-horn, and in his 
belt was a long, straight knife, very broad and 
heavy in the blade a first cousin of that deadly 
weapon to which William Bowie was in after years 
to give his name; in addition he carried a rifle, 
with an altogether extraordinary length of barrel, 
which brought death to any living thing within a 
thousand yards on which its foresight rested. His 
mount was a plains-bred pony, as wiry and unkempt 
and enduring as himself. Everything considered, 
Smith could have been no gentle-looking figure, 
and I rather imagine that, if he were alive and ven- 

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The Man Who Crossed the Ranges 

tured into a Western town to-day, he would prob 
ably be arrested by the local constable as an unde 
sirable character. I have now sketched for you, 
in brief, bold outline, as good a likeness of Smith 
as I am able with the somewhat scanty materials 
at hand, for he lived and did his pioneering in the 
days when frontiersmen were as common as traffic 
policemen are now, added to which the men who 
were familiar with his exploits were of a sort more 
ready with their pistols than with their pens. 

The dates of Smith s birth and death are not 
vital to this story, and perhaps it is just as well 
that they are not, for I can find no record of when 
he came into the world, and only the Indian war 
rior who wore his scalp-lock at his waist could have 
told the exact date on which he went out of it. 
It is enough to know that, just as the nineteenth 
century was passing the quarter mark, Smith was 
the head of a firm of fur-traders, Smith, Jackson 
& Soublette, which had obtained from President 
John Quincy Adams permission to hunt and trade 
to their hearts content in the region lying beyond 
the Rocky Mountains. It would have been much 
more to the point to have obtained the permission 
of the Mexican governor-general of the Californias, 
or of the great chief of the Comanches, for they 
held practically all of the territory in question 



Gentlemen Rovers 

between them. Those were the days whose like we 
shall never know again, when the streams were 
alive with beaver, when there were more elk and 
antelope on the prairies than there are cattle now, 
and when the noise made by the moving buffalo 
herds sounded like the roll of distant thunder. 
They were the days when a fortune, as fortunes 
were then reckoned, awaited the man with un 
limited ammunition, a sure eye, and a body inured 
to hardships. What the founder of the Astor 
fortune was doing in the Puget Sound country, 
Smith and his companions purposed to do in the 
Rockies; and, with this end in view, established 
their base camp on the eastern shores of the 
Great Salt Lake, not far from where Ogden now 
stands. This little band of pioneers formed the 
westernmost outpost of American civilization, for 
between them and the nearest settlement, at the 
junction of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, 
stretched thirteen hundred miles of savage wilder 
ness. Livingstone, on his greatest journey, did 
not penetrate half as far into unknown Africa 
as Smith did into unknown America, and while 
the English explorer was at the head of a large 
and well-equipped expedition, the American was 
accompanied by a mere handful of men. 

In August, 1826, Smith and a small party of his 



The Man Who Crossed the Ranges 

hunters found themselves in the terrible Painted 
Desert, that God-forsaken expanse of sand and 
lava where the present States of Arizona, Utah, 
and Nevada meet. Water there was none, for 
the streams had run dry, and the horses and pack- 
mules were dying of thirst and exhaustion; the 
game had entirely disappeared; the supplies were 
all but finished and five hundred miles of the 
most inhospitable country in the world lay be 
tween them and their camp on Great Salt Lake. 
The situation was perilous, indeed, and a decision 
had to be made quickly if any of them were to get 
out alive. 

"What few supplies we have left will be used 
up before we get a quarter way back to the camp," 
said Smith. "Our only chance and I might as 
well tell you it s a mighty slim one, boys is in 
pushing on to California." 

"But California s a good four hundred miles 
away," expostulated his companions, "and the 
Sierras lie between, and no one has ever crossed 
them." 

"Then I ll be the first man to do it," said Smith. 
"Besides, I ve always had a hankering to learn 
what lies on the other side of those ranges. Now s 
my chance to find out." 

"I reckon there ain t much chance of our ever 



Gentlemen Rovers 

seeing Salt Lake or California either/ grumbled 
one of the hunters, "and even if we do reach the 
coast the Mexicans 11 clap us into prison." 

"Well, so fur s I m concerned," said Smith de 
cisively, "I d rather be alive and in a Greaser 
prison than to be dead in the desert. I m going 
to California or die on the way." 

History chronicles few such marches. West 
ward pressed the little troop of pioneers, across 
the sun-baked lava beds of southwestern Utah, 
over the arid deserts and the barren ranges of 
southern Nevada, and so to the foot-hills of that 
great Sierran range which rears itself ten thousand 
feet skyward, forming a barrier which had there 
tofore separated the fertile lands of the Pacific 
slope from the rest of the continent more effectu 
ally than an ocean. The lava beds gave way to 
sand wastes dotted with clumps of sage-brush and 
cactus, and the cactus changed to stunted pines, 
and the pines ran out in rocks, and the rocks be 
came covered with snow, and still Smith and his 
hunters struggled on, emaciated, tattered, almost 
barefooted, lamed by the cactus spines on the 
desert, and the stones on the mountain slopes, until 
at last they stood upon the very summit of the 
range and, like that other band of pioneers in an 
earlier age, looked down on the promised land after 

136 



$ 




The Man Who Crossed the Ranges 

their wanderings in the wilderness. No explorer 
in the history of the world, not Columbus, nor 
Pizarro, nor Champlain, nor De Soto, ever gazed 
upon a land so fertile and so full of beauty. The 
mysterious, the jealously guarded, the storied land 
of California lay spread before them like a map 
in bas-relief. Then the descent of the western 
slope began, the transition from snow-clad moun 
tain peaks to hillsides clothed with subtropical 
vegetation amazing the Americans by its sudden 
ness. Imagine how like a dream come true it 
must have been to these men, whose lives had been 
spent in the less kindly climate and amid the 
comparatively scanty vegetation of the Middle 
West, to suddenly find themselves in this fairy 
land of fruit and flowers ! 

"It is, indeed, a white man s country," said 
Smith prophetically, as, leaning on his long rifle, 
he gazed upon the wonderful panorama which un 
rolled itself before him. "Though it is Mexican 
just now, sooner or later it must and shall be ours." 

Heartened by the sight of this wonderful new 
country, and by the knowledge that they must 
be approaching some of the Mexican settlements, 
but with bodies sadly weakened from exposure, 
hunger, and exhaustion, the Americans slowly 
made their way down the slope, crossed those fer- 



Gentlemen Rovers 

tile lowlands which are now covered with groves 
of orange and lemon, and so, guided by some 
friendly Indians whom they met, came at last to 
the mission station of San Gabriel, one of that re 
markable chain of outposts of the church founded 
by the indefatigable Franciscan, Father Junipero 
Serra. The little company of worn and weary men 
sighted the red-tiled roof of the mission just at 
sunset, and though Smith and his followers came 
from stern New England stock which prided it 
self on having no truck with Papists, I rather 
imagine that as the sweet, clear mission bells 
chimed out the angelus they lifted their hats and 
stood with bowed heads in silent thanksgiving for 
their preservation. 

I doubt if there was a more astonished com 
munity between the oceans than was the monastic 
one of San Gabriel when this band of ragged 
strangers suddenly appeared from nowhere and 
asked for food and shelter. 

"You come from the South from Mexico?" 
queried the father superior, staring, half-awed, at 
these gaunt, fierce-faced, bearded men who spoke 
in a strange tongue. 

"No, padre," answered Smith, calling to his aid 
the broken Spanish he had picked up in his trading 
expeditions to Santa Fe, "we come from the East, 

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The Man Who Crossed the Ranges 

from the country beyond the great mountains, 
from the United States. We are Americans," he 
added a little proudly. 

"They say they come from the East," the 
brown-robed monks whispered to each other. 
"It is impossible. No one has ever come from 
that direction. Have not the Indians told us 
many times that there is no food, no water in that 
direction, and that, moreover, there is no way to 
cross the mountains ? It is, indeed, a strange and 
incredible tale that these men tell. But we will 
offer them our hospitality in the name of the 
blessed St. Francis, for that we withhold from 
no man; but it is the part of wisdom to despatch 
a messenger to San Diego to acquaint the governor 
of their coming, for it may well be that they mean 
no good to the people of this land." 

Had the good monks been able to look forward 
a few-score years, perhaps they would not have 
been so ready to offer Smith and his companions 
the shelter of the mission roof. But how were 
they to know that these ragged strangers, begging 
for food at their mission door, were the skirmishers 
for a mighty host which would one day pour over 
those mountain ranges to the eastward as the 
water pours over the falls at Niagara; that within 
rifle-shot of where their mission stood a city of 



Gentlemen Rovers 

half a million souls would spread itself across 
the hills; that down the dusty Camino Real, 
which the founder of their mission had trudged 
so often in his sandals and woollen robe, would 
whirl strange horseless, panting vehicles, putting 
a mile a minute behind their flying wheels; that 
twin lines of steel would bring their southernmost 
station at San Diego within twenty hours, instead 
of twenty days, of their northernmost outpost at 
Sonoma; and that over this new land would fly, 
not the red-white-and-green standard of Mexico, 
but an alien banner of stripes and stars ? 

The four years which intervened between the 
collapse of Spanish rule in Mexico and the arrival 
of Jedediah Smith at San Gabriel were marked by 
political chaos in the Californias. When a gov 
ernor of Alta California rose in the morning he 
did not know whether he was the representative 
of an emperor, a king, a president, or a dictator. 
As a result of these perennial disorders, the Mex 
ican officials ascribed sinister motives to the most 
innocent episodes. No sooner, therefore, did Gov 
ernor Echeandia learn of the arrival in his prov 
ince of a mysterious party of Americans than 
he ordered them brought under escort to San 
Diego for examination. Though those present 
probably did not appreciate it, the meeting of 

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The Man Who Crossed the Ranges 

Smith and Echeandia in the palace at San Diego 
was a peculiarly significant one. There sat at his 
ease in his great chair of state the saturnine Mex 
ican governor, arrogant and haughty, beruffled 
and gold-laced, his high-crowned sombrero and 
his velvet jacket heavy with bullion, while in front 
of him stood the American frontiersman, gaunt, 
unshaven, and ragged, but as cool and self-pos 
sessed as though he was at the head of a conquer 
ing army instead of a forlorn hope. The one was 
as truly the representative of a passing as the other 
was of a coming race. Small wonder that Eche 
andia, as he observed the hardy figures and deter 
mined faces of the Americans, thought to himself 
how small would be Mexico s chance of holding 
California if others of their countrymen began to 
follow in their footsteps. He and his officials 
cross-examined Smith as closely as though the 
frontiersman was a prisoner on trial for his life, 
as, in a sense, he was, for almost any fate might 
befall him and his companions in that remote 
corner of the continent without any one being 
called to account for it. Smith described the 
series of misfortunes which had led him to cross 
the ranges; he asserted that he desired nothing so 
much as to get back into American territory again, 
and he earnestly begged the governor to provide 

141 



Gentlemen Rovers 

him with the necessary provisions and permit him 
to depart. His story was so frank and plausible 
that Echeandia, with characteristic Spanish sus 
picion, promptly disbelieved every word of it, for 
why, he argued, should any sane man make so 
hazardous a journey unless he were a spy and well 
paid to risk his life? For even in those early days, 
remember, the Mexicans had begun to fear the 
ambitions of the young republic to the eastward. 
So, despite their protests, he ordered the Americans 
to be imprisoned and no one knew better than 
they did that, once within the walls of a Mexi 
can prison, there was small chance of their seeing 
the outside world again. Fortunately for the ex 
plorers, however, it so happened that there were 
three American trading-schooners lying in San 
Diego harbor at the time, and their captains, de 
termined to see the rights of their fellow country 
men respected, joined in a vigorous and energetic 
protest to the governor against this high-handed 
and unjustified action. This seems to have fright 
ened Echeandia, for he reluctantly gave orders for 
the release of Smith and his companions, but or 
dered them to leave the country at once, and by 
the same route by which they had come. 

When the year 1827 was but a few days old, 
therefore, the Americans turned their faces north- 

142 



The Man Who Crossed, the Ranges 

ward, but instead of retracing their steps in ac 
cordance with Echeandia s orders, they crossed 
the coast range, probably through the Tejon Pass, 
and kept on through the fertile region now known 
as the San Joaquin Valley, in the hope that by 
crossing the Sierra farther to the northward they 
would escape the terrible rigors of the Colorado 
desert. When some three hundred miles north of 
San Gabriel they attempted to recross the ranges, 
but a feat that had been hazardous in midsum 
mer was impossible in midwinter, and the entire 
expedition nearly perished in the attempt. Several 
of the men and all the horses died of cold and 
hunger, and it was only by incredible exertions that 
Smith and his few remaining companions, terribly 
frozen and totally exhausted, managed to reach the 
Santa Clara Valley and Mission San Jose. So 
slow was their progress that the news of their 
approach preceded them and caused considerable 
disquietude to the monks. Learning from the 
Indians that he and his tatterdemalion followers 
were objects of suspicion, Smith sent a letter to 
the father superior, in which he gave an account 
of his arrival at San Gabriel, of his interview with 
the governor, of his disaster in the Sierras, and 
of his present pitiable condition. "I am a long 
way from home," this pathetic missive concludes, 



Gentlemen Rovers 

" and am anxious to get there as soon as the nature 
of the case will permit. Our situation is quite un 
pleasant, being destitute of clothing and most of 
the necessaries of life, wild meat being our prin 
cipal subsistence. I am, reverend father, your 
strange but real friend and Christian brother, 
Jedediah Smith." As a result of this appeal, the 
hospitality of the mission was somewhat grudg 
ingly extended to the Americans, who were by 
this time in the most desperate condition. 

Hardships that would kill ordinary men were but 
unpleasant incidents in the lives of the pioneers, 
however, and in a few weeks they were as fit as 
ever to resume their journey. But, upon think 
ing the matter over, Smith decided that he would 
never be content if he went back without having 
found out what lay still farther to the northward, 
for in him was the insatiable curiosity and the in 
domitable spirit of the born explorer. But as his 
force, as well as his resources, had become sadly 
depleted, he felt it imperative that he should first 
return to Salt Lake and bring on the men, horses, 
and provisions he had left there. Accordingly, 
leaving most of his party in camp at San Jose, he 
set out with only two companions, recrossed the 
Sierra at one of its highest points (the place he 
crossed is where the railway comes through to-day) 

144 



The Man Who Crossed the Ranges 

and after several uncomfortably narrow escapes 
from landslides and from Indians, eventually 
reached the camp on Great Salt Lake, where he 
found that his people had long since given him 
and his companions up for dead. 

Breaking camp on a July morning, in 1827, 
Smith, with eighteen men and two women, turned 
his face once more toward California. To avoid 
the snows of the high Sierras, he chose the route 
he had taken on his first journey, reaching the 
desert country to the north of the Colorado River 
in early August. It was not until the party had 
penetrated too far into the desert to retreat that 
they found that the whole country was burnt 
up. For several days they pushed on in the hope 
of finding water. Across the yellow sand wastes 
they would sight the sparkle of a crystal lake, and 
would hasten toward it as fast as their jaded 
animals could carry them, only to find that it was 
a mirage. Then the horrors preliminary to death 
by thirst began: the animals, their blackened 
tongues protruding from their mouths, staggered 
and fell, and rose no more; the women grew de 
lirious and babbled incoherent nothings; even the 
hardiest of the men stumbled as they marched, or 
tried to frighten away by shouts and gestures the 
fantastic shapes which danced before them. At 



Gentlemen Rovers 

last there came a morning when they could go no 
farther. Such of them as still retained their facul 
ties felt that it was the end that is, all but Jede- 
diah Smith. He was of the breed which does not 
know the meaning of defeat, because they are 
never defeated until they are dead. Loading him 
self with the empty water-bottles, he set out alone 
into the desert, determined to follow one of the 
numerous buffalo trails, for he knew that sooner 
or later it must lead him to water of some sort, 
even if to nothing more than a buffalo-wallow. 
Racked with the fever of thirst, his legs shaking 
from exhaustion, he plodded on, under the pitiless 
sun, mile after mile, hour after hour, until, strug 
gling to the summit of a low divide, he saw the 
channel of a stream in the valley beneath him. 
The expedition was saved. Stumbling and sli 
ding down the slope in his haste to quench his 
intolerable thirst, he came to a sudden halt on 
the river-bank. It was nothing but an empty 
watercourse into which he was staring the 
river had run dry! The shock of such a dis 
appointment would have driven most men stark, 
staring mad. Only for a moment, however, 
was the veteran frontiersman staggered; he knew 
the character of many streams in the West 
that often their waters run underground a 

146 



The Man Who Crossed the Ranges 

few feet below the surface, and in a moment he 
was on his knees digging frantically in the soft 
sand. Soon the sand began to grow moist, and 
then the coveted water slowly began to filter up 
ward into the little excavation he had hollowed. 
Throwing himself flat on the ground, he buried 
his burning face in the muddy water and as he 
did so a shower of arrows whistled about him. A 
war-party of Comanches, unobserved, had followed 
and surrounded him. He had but exchanged the 
danger of death by thirst for the far more dread 
ful fate of death by torture. Though struck 
by several of the arrows, he held the Indians 
off until he had filled his water-bottles; then, 
retreating slowly, taking advantage of every par 
ticle of cover, as only a veteran plainsman can, 
blazing away with his unerring rifle whenever 
an Indian was incautious enough to show a por 
tion of his figure, Smith succeeded in getting back 
to his companions with the precious water. With 
their dead animals for breastworks, the pioneers 
succeeded in holding the Indians at bay for six- 
and-thirty hours, but on the second night the 
redskins, heavily reinforced, rushed them in the 
night, ten of the men and the two women being 
killed in the hand-to-hand fight which ensued, 
and the few horses which remained alive being 



Gentlemen Rovers 

stampeded. I rather imagine that the women 
were shot by their own husbands, for the women 
of the frontier always preferred death to capture 
by these fiends in paint and feathers. 

How Smith, calling all his craft and experience 
as a plainsman to his assistance, managed to lead 
his eight surviving companions through the en 
circling Indians by night, and how, wounded, 
horseless, and provisionless as they were, he suc 
ceeded in guiding them across the ranges to San 
Bernardino, is but another example of this for 
gotten hero s courage and resource. Having lost 
everything that he possessed, for the whole of his 
scanty savings had been invested in the ill-fated 
expedition, Smith, with such of his men as were 
strong enough to accompany him, set out to rejoin 
the party he had left some months previously at 
Mission San Jose. Scarcely had he set foot within 
that settlement, however, before he was arrested 
and taken under escort to Monterey, where he was 
taken before the governor, who, he found to his 
surprise and dismay, was no other than his old en 
emy of San Diego, Don Jose Echeandia. This time 
nothing would convince Echeandia that Smith 
was not the leader of an expedition which had 
territorial designs on California, and he promptly 
ordered him to be taken to prison and kept in 

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The Man Who Crossed the Ranges 

solitary confinement as a dangerous conspirator. 
Thereupon Smith resorted to the same expedient 
he had used so successfully, and begged the cap 
tains of the American vessels in the harbor of 
Monterey for protection. So forcible were their 
representations that Echeandia finally agreed to 
release Smith on his swearing to leave Califor 
nia for good and all. To this proposal Smith 
willingly agreed and took the oath required 
of him, but, upon being released from prison, 
was astounded to learn that the governor had 
given orders that he must set out alone that his 
hunters would not be permitted to accompany him. 
His and their protestations were disregarded. 
Smith must start at once and unaccompanied. 
He was given a horse and saddle, provisions, 
blankets, a rifle and nothing more. It was a 
sentence of death which Echeandia had had pro 
nounced on this American frontiersman, and both 
he and Smith knew it. Without having com 
mitted any crime unless it was a crime to be an 
American Jedediah Smith was driven out of the 
territory of a supposedly friendly nation, and told 
that he was at perfect liberty to make his way 
across two thousand miles of wilderness to the 
nearest American outpost if he could. 

Striking back into that range of the Sierras 
149 



Gentlemen Rovers 

which lies southeast of Fresno, Smith suc 
ceeded in crossing them for a fourth time, evi 
dently intending to make his way back to his old 
stamping-ground on the Great Salt Lake. Our 
knowledge of what occurred after he had crossed 
the ranges for the last time is confined to tales 
told to the settlers in later years by the Indians. 
While emerging from the terrible Death Valley, 
where hundreds of emigrants were to lose their 
lives during the rush to the gold-fields a quarter 
of a century later, he was attacked at a water- 
hole by a band of Indians. For many years 
afterward the Comanches were wont to tell with 
admiration how this lone pale-face, coming from 
out of the setting sun, had knelt behind his dead 
horse and held them off with his deadly rifle all 
through one scorching summer s day. But when 
nightfall came they crept up very silently under 
cover of the darkness and rushed him. His scalp 
was very highly valued, for it had cost the lives 
of twelve Comanche braves. 

But Jedediah Smith did not die in vain. Tales 
of the rich and virgin country which he had found 
beyond the ranges flew as though with wings 
across the land; soon other pioneers made their 
way over the mountains by the trails which he 
had blazed; long wagon- trains crawled westward 

150 



The Man Who Crossed the Ranges 

by the routes which he had taken; strange bands 
of horsemen pitched their tents in the valleys 
where he had camped. The mission bells grew 
silent; the monk in his woollen robe and the 
caballero in his gold-laced jacket passed away; 
settlements of hardy, energetic, nasal-voiced folk 
from beyond the Sierras sprang up everywhere. 
Then one day a new flag floated over the presidio 
in Monterey a flag that was not to be pulled 
down. The American republic had reached the 
western ocean, and thus was fulfilled the dream 
of Jedediah Smith, the man who showed the way. 



THE FLAG OF THE BEAR 



THE FLAG OF THE BEAR 

BECAUSE the battles which marked its es 
tablishment were really only skirmishes, in 
which but an insignificant number of lives were 
lost, and because it boasted less than a thousand 
citizens all told, certain of our historians have 
been so undiscerning as to assert that the Bear 
Flag Republic was nothing but a travesty and a 
farce. Therein they are wrong. Though it is 
doubtless true that the handful of frontiersmen 
who raised their home-made flag, with its emblem 
of a grizzly bear, over the Californian presidio of 
Sonoma on that July morning in 1846 took them 
selves much more seriously than the circumstances 
warranted, it is equally true that their action 
averted the seizure of California by England, and 
by forcing the hand of the administration at 
Washington was primarily responsible for adding 
what is now California, Nevada, Arizona, New 
Mexico, Utah, and more than half of Wyoming 
and Colorado to the Union. The series of in 
trigues and affrays and insurrections which re- 



Gentlemen Rovers 

suited in the Pacific coast becoming American 
instead of European form a picturesque, exciting, 
and virtually unwritten chapter in our national 
history, a chapter in which furtive secret agents 
and haughty caballeros, pioneers in fringed buck 
skin, and naval officers in gold-laced uniforms ail 
played their greater or their lesser parts. 

To fully understand the conditions which led 
up to the "Bear Flag War," as it has been called, 
it is necessary to go back for a moment to the first 
quarter of the last century, when the territory of 
the United States ended at the Rocky Mountains 
and the red-white-and-green flag of Mexico floated 
over the whole of that vast, rich region which lay 
beyond. Under the Mexican regime the territory 
lying west of the Sierra Nevadas was divided into 
the provinces of Alta (or Upper) and Baja (or 
Lower) California, the population of the two 
provinces about 1845 totalling not more than 
fifteen thousand souls, nine-tenths of whom were 
Mexicans, Spaniards, and Indians, the rest Ameri 
can and European settlers. The foreigners, among 
whom Americans greatly predominated, soon be 
came influential out of all proportion to their 
numbers. This was particularly true of the 
Americans, who, solidified by common interests, 
common dangers, and common ambitions, ob- 

156 



The Flag of the Bear 

tained large grants of land, built houses which in 
certain cases were little short of forts, frequently 
married into the most aristocratic of the Cali- 
fornian families, and before long practically con 
trolled the commerce of the entire territory. 

It was only to be expected, therefore, that the 
Mexicans should become more and more appre 
hensive of American ambitions. Nor did Presi 
dent Jackson s offer, in 1835, to buy Southern 
California an offer which was promptly refused- 
serve to do other than strengthen these apprehen 
sions. And to make matters worse, if such a 
thing were possible, Commodore T. ApCatesby 
Jones, having heard a rumor that war had broken 
out between the United States and Mexico, and 
having reason to believe that a British force was 
preparing to seize California, landed a force of 
bluejackets and marines, and on October 21, 1842, 
raised the American flag over the presidio at Mon 
terey. Although Commodore Jones, finding he 
had acted upon misinformation, lowered the flag 
next day and tendered an apology to the provin 
cial officials, the incident did not tend to relieve 
the tension which existed between the Mexicans 
and the Americans, for it emphasized the ease 
with which the country could be seized, and hinted 
with unmistakable plainness at the ultimate in- 



Gentlemen Rovers 

tentions of the United States. That our govern 
ment intended to annex the Californias at the first 
opportunity that offered the Mexicans were per 
fectly aware, for, aroused by the descriptions of 
the unbelievable beauty and fertility of the coun 
try as sent back by those daring souls who had 
made their way across the ranges, the hearts of 
our people were set upon its acquisition. The 
great Bay of San Francisco, large enough to shel 
ter the navies of the world and the gateway to 
the Orient, the fruitful, sun-kissed land beyond 
the Sierras, the political domination of America, 
and the commercial domination of the Pacific 
such were the visions which inspired our people 
and the motives which animated our leaders, and 
which were intensified by the fear of England s 
designs upon this western land. 

As the numbers of the American settlers gradu 
ally increased, the jealousy and suspicion of the 
Mexican officials became more pronounced. As 
early as 1826 they had driven Captain Jedediah 
Smith, the first American to make his way to 
California by the overland route, back into the 
mountains, in the midst of winter, without com 
panions and without provisions, to be killed by 
the Indians. In 1840 more than one hundred 
American settlers were suddenly arrested by the 

158 



The Flag of the Bear 

Mexican authorities on a trumped-up charge of 
having plotted against the government, marched 
under military guard to Monterey, and confined 
in the prison there under circumstances of the 
most barbarous cruelty, some fifty of them being 
eventually deported to Mexico in chains. Thomas 
O. Larkin, the American consul at Monterey, upon 
visiting the prisoners in the local jail where they 
were confined, found that the cells had no floors, 
and that the poor fellows stood in mud and water 
to their ankles. Sixty of the prisoners he found 
crowded into a single room, twenty feet long and 
eighteen wide, in which they were so tightly packed 
that they could not all sit at the same time, much 
less lie down. The room being without windows 
or other means of ventilation, the air quickly be 
came so fetid that they were able to live only by 
dividing themselves into platoons which took turns 
in standing at the door and getting a few breaths 
of air through the bars. These men, whose only 
crime was that they were Americans, were con 
fined in this hell-hole, without food except such 
as their friends were able to smuggle in to them 
by bribing the sentries, for eight days. And this 
treatment was accorded them, remember, not be 
cause they were conspirators for no one knew 
better than the Mexican authorities that they were 



Gentlemen Rovers 

not but because it seemed the easiest means of 
driving them out of the country. Throughout the 
half-dozen years that ensued American settlers 
were subjected to a systematic campaign of an 
noyance, persecution, and imprisonment on in 
numerable frivolous pretexts, being released only 
on their promise to leave California immediately. 
By 1845, therefore, the harassed Americans, in 
sheer desperation, were ready to grasp the first 
opportunity which presented itself to end this 
intolerable tyranny for good and all. 

It was not only the outrageous treatment to 
which they were subjected, however, nor the weak 
ness and instability of the government under 
which they were living, nor even the insecurity of 
their lives and property and the discouragements 
to industry, which led the American settlers to 
decide to end Mexican rule in the Californias. 
Texas had recently been annexed by the United 
States against the protests of Mexico, an American 
army of invasion was massed along the Rio Grande, 
and war was certain. It required no extraor 
dinary degree of intelligence, then, to foresee that 
the coming hostilities would almost inevitably re 
sult in Mexico losing her Californian provinces. 
Now it was a matter of common knowledge that 
the Mexican Government was seriously consider- 

160 



The Flag of the Bear 

ing the advisability of ceding the Californias to 
Great Britain, and thus accomplishing the three 
fold purpose of wiping out the large Mexican debt 
due to British bankers, of winning the friendship 
and possibly the active assistance of England in 
the approaching war with the United States, and 
of preventing the Californias from falling into 
American hands. The danger was, therefore, that 
England would step in before us. Nor was the 
danger any imaginary one. Her ships were 
watching our ships on the Mexican coast, and her 
secret agents who infested the country were keep 
ing their fingers constantly on the pulse of public 
opinion. Though it remains to this day a matter 
of conjecture as to just how far England was pre 
pared to go to obtain this territory, there is little 
doubt that she had laid her plans for its acquisi 
tion in one way or another. If California was to 
be added to the Union, therefore, it must be by a 
sudden and daring stroke. 

Meanwhile the authorities at Washington had 
not been idle. Though Larkin was ostensibly the 
American consul at Monterey and nothing more, 
in reality he was clothed with far greater powers, 
having been hurried from Washington to California 
for the express purpose of secretly encouraging an 
insurrectionary movement among the American 

161 



Gentlemen Rovers 

settlers, and of keeping our government informed 
of the plans of the Mexicans and British. Re 
ceiving information that a powerful British fleet 
the largest, in fact, which had ever been seen 
in Pacific waters was about to sail for the coast 
of California, the administration promptly issued 
orders for a squadron of war-ships under Commo 
dore John Drake Sloat to proceed at full speed to 
the Pacific coast, the commander being given 
secret instructions to back up Consul Larkin in 
any action which he might take, and upon receiv 
ing word that the United States had declared war 
against Mexico to immediately occupy the Cali- 
fornian ports. Then ensued one of the most 
momentous races in history, over a course ex 
tending half-way round the world, the contestants 
being the war-fleets of the two most powerful 
maritime nations, and the prize seven hundred 
thousand square miles of immensely rich territory 
and the mastery of the Pacific. Commodore Sloat 
laid his course around the Horn, while the Eng 
lish commander, Admiral Trowbridge, chose the 
route through the Indian Ocean. The first thing 
he saw as he entered the Bay of Monterey was the 
American squadron lying at anchor in the harbor. 
Never was there a better example of that form 
of territorial expansion which has come to be 

162 



The Flag of the Bear 

known as "pacific penetration" than the American 
conquest of California; never were the real de 
signs of a nation and the schemes of its secret 
agents more successfully hidden. Consul Larkin, 
as I have already said, was quietly working, under 
confidential instructions from the State Depart 
ment, to bring about a revolution in California 
without overt aid from the United States; the 
Californian coast towns lay under the guns of 
American war-ships, whose commanders likewise 
had secret instructions to land marines and take 
possession of the country at the first opportunity 
that presented itself; and, as though to complete 
the chain of American emissaries, early in 1846 
there came riding down from the Sierran passes, 
at the head of what pretended to be an exploring 
and scientific expedition, the man who was to set 
the machinery of conquest actually in motion. 

The commander of the expedition was a young 
captain of engineers, named John Charles Fre 
mont, who, as the result of two former journeys 
of exploration into the wilderness beyond the 
Rockies, had already won the sobriquet of "The 
Pathfinder." Born in Savannah, of a French 
father and a Virginian mother, he was a strange 
combination of aristocrat and frontiersman. Dash 
ing, debonair, fearless, reckless, a magnificent 
horseman, a dead-shot, a hardy and intrepid ex- 

163 



Gentlemen Rovers 

plorer, equally at home at a White House ball 
or at an Indian powwow, he was probably the 
most picturesque and romantic figure in the 
United States. These characteristics, combined 
with extreme good looks, a gallant manner, and 
the great public reputation he had won by the 
vivid and interesting accounts he had published 
of his two earlier journeys, had completely cap 
tured the popular imagination, so that the young 
explorer had become a national idol. In the spring 
of 1845 he was despatched by the National Gov 
ernment on a third expedition, which had as its os 
tensible object the discovery of a practicable route 
from the Rocky Mountains to the mouth of the 
Columbia River, but which was really to lend 
encouragement to the American settlers in Cali 
fornia in any secession movement which they 
might be planning and to afford them active as 
sistance should war be declared. Just how far 
the government had instructed Fremont to go in 
fomenting a revolution will probably never be 
known, but there is every reason to believe that 
his father-in-law, United States Senator Benton, 
had advised him to seize California if an oppor 
tunity presented itself, and to trust to luck (and 
the senator s influence) that the government would 
approve rather than repudiate his action. 

All told, Fremont s expedition numbered barely 
164 




.5 a 

l! 

~ o 

K^ M 

> .5 



C c 

1 -5 



The Flag of the Bear 

threescore men no great force, surely, with 
which to overthrow a government and win an 
empire. In advance of the little column rode the 
four Delaware braves whom Fremont had brought 
with him from the East to act as scouts and 
trackers, and whose cunning and woodcraft he was 
willing to match against that of the Indians of 
the plains. Close on their heels rode the Path 
finder himself, clad from neck to heel in fringed 
buckskin, at his belt a heavy army revolver and 
one of those vicious, double-bladed knives to 
which Colonel Bowie, of Texas, had already given 
his name, and on his head a jaunty, broad-brimmed 
hat, from beneath which his long, yellow hair fell 
down upon his shoulders. At his bridle arm rode 
Kit Carson, the most famous of the plainsmen, 
whose exploits against the Indians were even then 
familiar stories in every American household. 
Behind these two stretched out the rank and file 
of the expedition bronze-faced, bearded, reso 
lute men, well mounted, heavily armed, and all 
wearing the serviceable dress of the frontier. 

Fremont found the American settlers scattered 
through the interior in a state of considerable 
alarm, for rumors had reached them that the Mex 
ican Government had decided to drive them out 
of the country, and that orders had been issued 

165 



Gentlemen Rovers 

to the provincial authorities to incite the Indians 
against them. As they dwelt for the most part 
in small, isolated communities, scattered over a 
great extent of country, it was obvious that, if 
these rumors were true, their lives were in immi 
nent peril. They had every reason to expect, 
moreover, that the news of war between Mexico 
and the United States would bring down on them 
those forms of punishment and retaliation for 
which the Mexicans were notorious. They were 
confronted, therefore, with the alternative of aban 
doning the homes they had built and the fields 
they had tilled and seeking refuge in flight across 
the mountains, or of remaining to face those perils 
inseparable from border warfare. Nor did it take 
them long to decide upon resistance, for they were 
not of the breed which runs away. 

Leaving most of his men encamped in the foot 
hills, Fremont pushed on to Monterey, then the 
most important settlement in Upper California, 
and the seat of the provincial government, where 
he called upon Don Jose Castro, the Mexican com 
mandant, explained the purposes of his expedition, 
and requested permission for his party to proceed 
northward to the Columbia through the San Joa- 
quin valley. This permission Castro grudgingly 
gave, but scarcely had Fremont broken camp be- 

166 



The Flag of the Bear 

fore the Mexican, who had hastily gathered an 
overwhelming force of soldiers and vaqueros, set 
out upon the trail of the Americans with the 
avowed purpose of surprising and exterminating 
them. Fortunately for the Americans, Consul 
Larkin, getting wind of Castro s intended treach 
ery, succeeded in warning Fremont, who instead 
of taking his chances in a battle on the plains 
against a greatly superior force, suddenly oc 
cupied the precipitous hill lying back of and 
commanding Monterey, known as the Hawk s 
Peak, intrenched himself there, and then sent 
word to Castro to come and take him. Although 
the Mexican commander made a military dem 
onstration before the American intrenchments, he 
was wise enough to refrain from attempting to 
carry a position of such great natural strength 
and defended by such unerring shots as were 
Fremont s frontiersmen. Four days later Fre 
mont, feeling that there was nothing to be gained 
by holding the position longer, and confident 
that the Mexicans would be only too glad to see 
his back, quietly broke camp one night and re 
sumed his march toward Oregon. 

Scarcely had he crossed the Oregon line, how 
ever, before he was overtaken by a messenger on 
a reeking horse, who had been despatched by 

167 



Gentlemen Rovers 

Consul Larkin to inform him that an officer with 
urgent despatches from Washington had arrived 
at Monterey and was hastening northward to 
overtake him. Fremont immediately turned back, 
and on the shores of the Greater Klamath Lake 
met Lieutenant Archibald Gillespie, who had 
travelled from New York to Vera Cruz by steamer, 
had crossed Mexico to Mazatlan on horseback, 
and had been brought up the Pacific coast to 
Monterey in an American war-ship. The exact 
contents of the despatches with which Gillespie 
had been intrusted will probably never be known, 
for having reason to believe that his mission was 
suspected by the Mexicans, and being fearful of 
arrest, he had destroyed the despatches after 
committing their contents to memory. These 
contents he communicated to Fremont, and the 
fact that the latter immediately turned his horse s 
head Californiawards is the best proof that they 
contained definite instructions for him to stir up 
the American settlers to revolt and so gain Cali 
fornia for the Union by what some one has aptly 
described as "neutral conquest." 

The news of Fremont s return spread among the 
scattered settlers as though by wireless, and from 
all parts of the country hardy, determined men 
came pouring into camp to offer him their serv- 

168 



The Flag of the Bear 

ices. But his hands were tied. His instruc 
tions from Washington, while ordering him to 
lend his encouragement to an insurrectionary 
movement, expressly forbade him to take the in 
itiative in any hostilities until he received word 
that war with Mexico had been declared and 
that word had not yet come. These facts he 
communicated to the settlers. Fremont s assur 
ance that the American Government sympathized 
with their aspirations for independence, and could 
be counted upon to back up any action they might 
take to secure it, was all that the settlers needed. 
On the evening of June 13, 1846, some fifty Ameri 
cans living along the Sacramento River met at 
the ranch of an old Indian-fighter and bear-hunter 
named Captain Meredith, and under his leader 
ship rode across the country in a northwesterly 
direction through the night. Dawn found them 
close to the presidio of Sonoma, which was the 
residence of the Mexican general Vallejo and the 
most important military post north of San Fran 
cisco. Leaving their horses in the shelter of the 
forest, the Americans stole silently forward in the 
dimness cf the early morning, overpowered the 
sentries, burst in the gates, and had taken posses 
sion of the town and surrounded the barracks be 
fore the garrison was fairly awake. General Va 
llejo and his officers were captured in their beds, 

169 



Gentlemen Rovers 

and were sent under guard to a fortified ranch 
known as Sutter s fort, which was situated some 
distance in the interior. In addition to the pris 
oners, nine field-guns, several hundred stands of 
arms, and a considerable supply of ammunition 
fell into the hands of the Americans. The first 
blow had been struck in the conquest of California. 

The question now arose as to what they should 
do with the town they had captured, for Fremont 
had no authority to take it over for the United 
States, or to muster the men who took it into the 
American service. The embattled settlers found 
themselves, in fact, to be in the embarrassing posi 
tion of being men without a country. After a 
council of war they decided to organize a pro-tern. 
government of their own to administer the terri 
tory until such time as it should be formally an 
nexed to the United States. I doubt if a govern 
ment was ever established so quickly and under 
such rough-and-ready circumstances. After an 
informal ballot it was announced that William B. 
Ide, a leading spirit among the settlers, had been 
unanimously elected governor and commander-in- 
chief "of the independent forces"; John H. Nash, 
who had been a justice of the peace in the East 
before he had emigrated to California, being named 
chief justice of the new republic. 

For a full-fledged nation not to have a flag of 
170 



The Flag of the Bear 

its own was, of course, unthinkable; so, as most of 
its citizens were hunters and adventurers, when 
some one suggested that the grizzly bear, because 
of its indomitable courage and tenacity and its 
ferocity when aroused, would make a peculiarly 
appropriate emblem for the new banner, the 
suggestion was adopted with enthusiasm, and a 
committee of two was appointed to put it into 
immediate execution. A young settler named 
William Ford, who had been imprisoned by the 
Mexicans in the jail at Sonoma, and who had 
been released when his countrymen captured the 
place, and William Todd, an emigrant from Illi 
nois, were the makers of the flag. On a piece of 
unbleached cotton cloth, a yard wide and a yard 
and a half long, they painted the rude figure of a 
grizzly bear ready to give battle. This strange 
banner they raised, at noon on June 14, amid a 
storm of cheers and a salute from the captured 
cannon, on the staff where so recently had floated 
the flag of Mexico, and from it the Bear Flag 
Republic took its name. 

Scarcely had Fremont received the news of the 
capture o f Sonoma and the proclamation of the 
Bear Flag Republic than word reached him that 
a large force of Mexicans was on its way to re 
take the town. Disregarding his instructions 
from Washington, and throwing all caution to 

171 



Gentlemen Rovers 

the winds, Fremont instantly decided to stake 
everything on giving his support to his imperilled 
countrymen. His own men reinforced by a num 
ber of volunteers, he arrived at Sonoma, after a 
forced march of thirty-six hours, only to find the 
Bear Flag men still in possession. The number 
of the enerriy, as well as their intentions, had, it 
seems, been greatly exaggerated, the force in ques 
tion being but a small party of troopers which 
Castro had despatched to the Mission of San 
Rafael, on the north shore of San Francisco Bay, 
to prevent several hundred cavalry remounts 
which were stabled there from falling into the 
hands of the Americans. Realizing the value of 
these horses to the settlers in the guerilla campaign 
which seemed likely to ensue, Fremont succeeded 
in capturing them after a sharp skirmish with the 
Mexicans. Hurrying back to Sonoma, he learned 
that during his absence Ide and his men had re 
pulsed an attack by a body of Mexican regulars, 
under General de la Torre, reinforced by a band 
of ruffians and desperadoes led by an outlaw 
named Padilla, inflicting so sharp a defeat that 
the only enemies left in that part of the country 
were the scattered fugitives from this force, these 
being hunted down and summarily dealt with by 
the frontiersmen. Having now irrevocably com 
mitted himself to the insurgent cause, and feeling 

172 



The Flag of the Bear 

that, if he were to be hanged, it might as well be 
for a sheep as for a lamb, Fremont decided on the 
capture of San Francisco. The San Francisco of 
1846 had little in common with the San Francisco 
of to-day, remember, for on the site where the 
great Western metropolis now stands there was 
nothing but a village consisting of a few-score 
adobe houses and the Mexican presidio, or fort, 
the latter containing a considerable supply of arms 
and ammunition. Accompanied by Kit Carson, 
Lieutenant Gillespie, and a small detachment of 
his men, Fremont crossed the Bay of San Fran 
cisco in a sailing-boat by night, and took the Mex 
ican garrison so completely by surprise that they 
surrendered without firing a shot. The gateway 
to the Orient was ours. 

Fremont now prepared to take the offensive 
against Castro, who was retreating on Los Angeles, 
but just as he was about to start on his march 
southward a messenger brought the great news 
that Admiral Sloat, having received word that 
hostilities had commenced along the Rio Grande, 
had landed his marines at Monterey, and on July 7, 
to the thunder of saluting war-ships, had raised 
the American flag over the presidio, and had 
proclaimed the annexation of California to the 
Union. When the Bear Flag men learned the 
great news they went into a frenzy of enthusiasm; 



Gentlemen Rovers 

whooping, shouting, singing snatches of patriotic 
songs, and firing their pistols in the air. Quickly 
the standard of the fighting grizzly was lowered 
and the flag of stripes and stars hoisted in its 
place, while the rough-clad, bearded settlers, who 
had waited so long and risked so much that this 
very thing might come to pass, sang the Doxology 
with tears running down their faces. As the folds 
of the familiar banner caught the breeze and 
floated out over the flat-roofed houses of the little 
town, Ide, the late chief of the three-weeks re 
public, jumping on a powder barrel, swung his 
sombrero in the air and shouted: "Now, boys, all 
together, three cheers for the Union ! " The moist 
eyes and the lumps in the throats brought by the 
sight of the old flag did not prevent the little 
band of frontiersmen from responding with a roar 
which made the windows of Sonoma rattle. 

Now, as a matter of fact, Admiral Sloat had 
placed himself in a very embarrassing position, 
for he had based his somewhat precipitate action 
in seizing California on what he had every reason 
to believe was authentic news that war between 
the United States and Mexico had actually begun, 
but which proved next day to be merely an un 
confirmed rumor. If a state of war really did 
exist, then both Sloat and Fremont were justified 
in their aggressions; but if it did not, then they 

i74 



The Flag of the Bear 

might have considerable difficulty in explaining 
their action in commencing hostilities against a 
nation with which we were at peace. So Sloat be 
gan "to get cold feet, 57 asserting that he was forced 
to act as he had because he had received reliable 
information that the British, whose fleet was lying 
oft Monterey, were on the point of seizing Cali 
fornia themselves. Fremont, on his part, claimed 
to have acted in defence of the American settlers 
in the interior, who without his assistance would 
have been massacred by the Mexicans. At this 
juncture Commodore Stockton arrived at Mon 
terey in the frigate Congress, and as Sloat was now 
thoroughly frightened and only too glad to trans 
fer the responsibility he had assumed to other 
shoulders, Stockton, who was the junior officer, 
asked for and readily obtained permission to as 
sume command of the operations. Fremont, 
who had reached Monterey with several hundred 
riflemen, was appointed commander-in-chief of 
the land forces by Stockton, and was ordered to 
embark his men on one of the war-ships and pro 
ceed at once to capture San Diego, at that time 
by far the most important place in California. 
Stockton himself, after raising the American flag 
over San Francisco and Santa Barbara, sailed 
down the coast to San Pedro, the port of Los 
Angeles, where he disembarked a force of blue- 



Gentlemen Rovers 

jackets and marines for the taking of the latter 
city, within which the Mexican commander, Gen 
eral Castro, had shut himself up with a consider 
able number of troops, and where he promised to 
make a desperate resistance. 

As Stockton came marching up from San Pedro 
at the head of his column he was met by a Mexican 
carrying a flag of truce and bearing a message 
from Castro warning the American commander in 
the most solemn terms that if his forces dared to 
set foot within Los Angeles they would be going 
to their own funerals. "Present my compliments 
to General Castro," Stockton told the messenger, 
"and ask him to have the kindness to have the 
church bells tolled for our funerals at eight o clock 
to-morrow morning, for at that hour I shall enter 
the city." Upon receipt of this disconcerting 
message Castro slipped out of Los Angeles that 
night, without firing a shot in its defence, and at 
eight o clock on the following morning, Stockton, 
just as he had promised, came riding in at the 
head of his men. 

After garrisoning the surrounding towns and 
ridding the countryside of prowling bands of 
Mexican guerillas, Stockton officially proclaimed 
California a Territory of the United States, insti 
tuted a civil government along American lines, 
and appointed Fremont as the first Territorial 

176 



The Flag of the Bear 

governor. Before the year 1846 had drawn to a 
close these two Americans, the one a rough-and- 
ready sailor, the other a youthful and impetuous 
soldier, assisted by a few hundred marines and 
frontiersmen, had completed the conquest and 
pacification of a territory having a greater area 
and greater natural resources than those of all 
the countries conquered by Napoleon put together. 
Thus ended the happy, lazy, luxury-loving society 
of Spanish California. Another society, less lux 
urious, less light-hearted, less contented, but more 
energetic, more progressive, and better fitted for 
the upbuilding of a nation, took its place. There 
are still to be found in California a few men, 
white-haired and stoop-shouldered now, who 
were themselves actors in this drama I have de 
scribed, and who delight to tell of those stirring 
days when Fremont and his frontiersmen came 
riding down from the passes, and the embattled 
settlers of Sonoma founded their short-lived 
Republic of the Bear. 



177 



THE KING OF THE FILIBUSTERS 



THE KING OF THE FILIBUSTERS 

IN one of the public squares of San Jose, which 
is the capital of Costa Rica, there is a marble 
statue of a stern-faced young woman, with her 
foot planted firmly on a gentleman s neck. The 
young woman is symbolic of the Republic of Costa 
Rica, and the gentleman ground beneath her heel 
is supposed to represent the American filibuster 
and soldier of fortune, William Walker. Now, 
before going any farther, justice requires me to 
explain that Walker s downfall was not due to 
Costa Rica, as the citizens of that little republic 
would like the world to believe, and as the bom 
bastic statue in the plaza of its capital would lead 
one to suppose, but to a far greater and richer 
power, whose victories were won with dollars in 
stead of bayonets, whose capital was New York 
City, and whose name was Cornelius Vanderbilt. 
To the younger generation the name of William 
Walker carries no significance, but to the gray- 
heads whose recollections antedate the Civil War 
the mention of it brings back a flood of thrilling 

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Gentlemen Rovers 

memories, while throughout the length and breadth 
of that wild region lying between the Isthmus of 
Tehuantepec and the Isthmus of Panama it is 
still a synonym for unfaltering courage. His 
weakness was ambition; his fault was failure. 
Had he succeeded in realizing his ambitions and 
he failed only by the narrowest of margins he 
would have been lauded as another Cortez, and 
would have received stars and crosses instead of 
bullets. Had his life not been cut short by a 
Honduran firing-party, it is possible, indeed 
probable, that, instead of there being six states in 
Central America there would be but one, and in 
that one the institution of slavery might still 
exist. Though I have scant sympathy with the 
motives which animated Walker, and though I 
believe that his death was for the best good of the 
Central American peoples, he was the very antith 
esis of the cutthroat and blackguard and outlaw 
which he has been painted, being, on the contrary, 
a very brave and honest gentleman, of whom 
his countrymen have no reason to feel ashamed, 
and that is why I am going to tell his story. 

The eldest son of a Scotch banker, Walker was 
born in 1824 in Nashville, Tennessee. His father, 
a stiff-necked Presbyterian who held morning and 
evening prayers, asked an interminable grace be- 

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The King of the Filibusters 

fore every meal, and took his family to church 
three times on Sunday, had set his heart on his 
son entering the ministry, and it was with a pulpit 
and parish in view that young Walker was edu 
cated. By the time that he was ready to enter the 
theological school, however, he decided that he 
preferred M.D. instead of D.D. after his name, 
whereupon, much to his father s disappointment, 
he insisted on taking the medical course at the 
University of Tennessee, following it up by two 
years at the University of Edinburgh. Thor 
oughly equipped to practise his chosen profession, 
he opened an office in Philadelphia, but in a few 
months the routine of a doctor s life palled upon 
him, so, taking down his brass door-plate, he went 
to New Orleans, where, after two years of study, he 
was admitted to the bar. But he soon found that 
briefs and summonses were scarcely more to his 
liking than prescriptions and pills, so, with the 
prompt decision which was one of his most marked 
characteristics, he closed his law-office and ob 
tained a position as editorial writer on a New 
Orleans newspaper. Within a year the restless 
ness which had led him to abandon the church, 
medicine, and the bar caused him to give up 
journalism in its turn. At this time, 1852, the 
Californian gold fever was at its mad height, and 

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Gentlemen Rovers 

to the Pacific coast were pouring streams of for 
tune-seekers and adventure-lovers from every 
quarter of the globe. One of the latter was 
Walker, and it was while editor of the San Fran 
cisco Herald, when only twenty-eight years old, 
that his amazing career really began. 

Walker was not of the sort who could content 
himself for any length of time within the stuffy 
walls of an editorial sanctum. His fingers were 
made to grasp something more virile than the 
pen. Nor did he make any attempt to win a for 
tune with pick and shovel in the gold fields. His 
ambitions were neither intellectual nor mercenary, 
but political, for from his boyhood days in Nash 
ville he had dreamed, as all boys worth their salt 
do dream, of some day founding a state, with 
himself as its ruler, in that wild and savage region 
below the Rio Grande. Enlisting half a hundred 
kindred souls from the hordes of the reckless, the 
adventurous, and the needy which were pouring 
into California by boat and wagon-train, Walker 
chartered a small vessel and set sail from San 
Francisco for the coast of Mexico. His avowed 
object was a purely humanitarian one: to protect 
the women and children living along the Mexican 
frontier from massacre by the Indians, the state 
of Sonora being at that time more under the 

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The King of the Filibusters 

dominion of the Apaches than it was under that 
of Mexico. But it was not the protection of the 
women and children though they needed pro 
tection badly enough, goodness knows which led 
Walker to embark on this hare-brained expedition. 
He was lured southward by a dream of empire, 
an empire of which he should be the ruler, and 
which should be founded on slavery. By this 
time, remember, the slavery question in the 
United States had become exceedingly acute, the 
future of the institution on this continent largely 
depending upon whether the next States admitted 
to the Union should be slave or free. Walker was 
a sincere, even fanatical, believer in slavery. 
Born and reared in an atmosphere of slavery, to 
Walker it was as sacred, as God-given an institu 
tion as the Fast of Ramadan is to the Moslem or 
the Feast of the Passover to the Jew. Convinced 
that friction over this question would sooner or 
later force the slave-holding States to secede from 
the Union, he determined to extend the area of 
slavery by conquering that portion of northern 
Mexico immediately adjacent to the United States, 
to establish an independent government there, and 
eventually to annex his country to the South, thus 
counteracting the growing movement for aboli 
tion, which, with the admission of new Northern 

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Gentlemen Rovers 

territories, already hinted at the overthrow of 
slavery. 

Financed by Southern friends whose motives 
were probably considerably less altruistic than his 
own, Walker landed at Cape San Lucas, the ex 
treme southern point of the Mexican territory of 
Southern California, in October, 1852, with an 
"army of invasion" of forty-five men. Instead 
of hastening to protect the women and children 
of whom he had talked so feelingly, he sailed 
up the coast to the territorial capital of La Paz, 
which he seized, where he issued a proclama 
tion announcing the annexation of the neighbor 
ing state of Sonora, in which he had not yet set 
foot, giving to the two states the name of the 
"Republic of Sonora," and proclaiming himself 
its first president. As soon as the news of this 
initial success reached San Francisco, Walker s 
sympathizers there busied themselves in recruiting 
reinforcements, three hundred desperadoes who 
boasted that they were afraid of nothing "on two 
feet or four" being shipped to him at La Paz a 
few weeks later. These men were looked upon 
as hard cases even in the San Francisco of the 
early fifties, and, if they had not consented to 
leave the country to assist Walker, many of them 
would probably have left it sooner or later at the 

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The King of the Filibusters 

end of a rope in the hands of the local vigilance 
committee. When this force of scoundrels ar 
rived at La Paz and found themselves under the 
command of a quiet, mild-mannered, beardless 
youth of twenty-eight, instead of the brawny, 
foul-mouthed, swashbuckling leader whom they 
had expected, they promptly hatched a scheme to 
blow up the magazine, seize the ship and the stores 
of the expedition in the ensuing confusion, and 
make their way back to the United States, leav 
ing Walker to shift for himself. Warning of the con 
spiracy reaching him, however, Walker displayed 
for the first time those traits which were later to 
make his name a word of terror in the ears of men 
who bragged that they feared neither God nor 
man. Arresting the ringleaders, he had two of 
them tried by court-martial and shot within an 
hour; two of the others he ordered flogged and 
drummed out of camp, to take their chances among 
the hostile Mexicans and Indians. But, though 
this act gained Walker the fear and respect of his 
followers, the newcomers among them had no 
stomach for a leader who could punish, so when 
he called for volunteers to accompany him in the 
conquest of Sonora less than a hundred men 
offered to follow him. 

From the very first the shadow of failure hung 
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Gentlemen Rovers 

over the enterprise. To begin with, there is no 
more savage and desolate region on the American 
continent than the peninsula of Lower California, 
it being so barren and destitute that even the liz 
ards have to scramble for an existence. Mexicans 
and Indians hung upon the flanks of the little col 
umn night and day, as buzzards follow a dying 
steer. There was neither medicine nor medical 
instruments with the expedition, and the wounded 
died from lack of the most elementary care. 
Their shoes gave out and the men marched bare 
foot over sun-scorched rocks and needle cactus, 
leaving a trail of crimson behind them in the sand. 
Their provisions were soon exhausted, and their 
only food was beef which they killed on the march. 
For years afterward the route of that ill-fated 
expedition could be traced from La Paz to the 
Colorado River by the bleaching skeletons of the 
men who fell by the way. By the time the head 
of the Gulf of California was reached the expedi 
tion had dwindled to barely twoscore men. It 
was no longer a question of conquering Sonora; 
it was a question of getting back to the States 
alive. 

With sinking heart, but imperturbable face, 
Walker led his little band of starving, fever- 
racked, exhausted men toward the Californian 

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The King of the Filibusters 

line. Three miles of road led through a moun 
tain pass into the United States and safety. But 
the pass was held by a force of Mexican sol 
diery under Colonel Melendrez, and his Indian 
allies were scattered over the plain below. And, 
as though to give a final touch of irony to the 
situation in which Walker and his men found 
themselves, from their position on the Mexican 
hillside they could look across into American ter 
ritory, could see the American flag, their flag, 
fluttering over the military post south of San 
Diego, could even see the sun glinting upon the 
bits and sabres of the troop of American cavalry 
drawn up along the border. Four Indians bearing 
a flag of truce approached. They bore a message 
from the Mexican commander to the filibusters. 
If they would surrender their leader and give up 
their arms, Melendrez sent word, they would be 
permitted to leave the country unmolested. But 
after you have fought and bled and marched and 
starved with a man for a year, you are not likely 
to abandon him, particularly when the end is in 
sight, so they sent back word to Melendrez that 
if he wanted their arms he would have to come 
and take them. Meanwhile the American com 
mander, Major McKinstry, had drawn up his 
troopers along the boundary-line and awaited the 

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Gentlemen Rovers 

result of the unequal struggle like an umpire at a 
foot-ball game. Walker, who knew perfectly well 
that he deserved no aid from the United States, 
and that he would get none, appreciated that if 
he was to get out of this predicament alive it 
must be by his own wits. Concealing a dozen of 
his men among the rocks and sage-brush which 
lined the road on either side, with the remainder 
of his force he pretended to beat a panic-stricken 
retreat. Melendrez, confident that it was now 
all over but the shouting, swept down the road in 
pursuit. But as the Mexicans rode into the am 
bush which Walker had prepared for them the 
hidden filibusters emptied a dozen saddles at a 
single volley, and the soldiers, terrified and de 
moralized, wheeled and fled for their lives. Thirty 
minutes later the President, the Cabinet, and all 
that remained of the standing army of the late 
Republic of Sonora stumbled across the American 
boundary and surrendered to Major McKinstry. 
It was May 8, 1854, and in such fashion Walker 
celebrated his thirtieth birthday. 

Sent to San Francisco as a political prisoner, 
Walker was tried for violating the neutrality laws 
of the United States, was acquitted for the mem 
bers of a Californian jury could not but sympathize 
with such a man and once again found himself 

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The King of the Filibusters 

writing editorials for the San Francisco Herald. 
His narrow escape from death in Mexico had only 
served to whet his appetite for adventure, however, 
so when he was not doing his newspaper work he 
was poring over an atlas in search of some other 
land where a determined man might carve out a 
career for himself with his sword. Staring at the 
map of Middle America, his finger again and again 
paused, as though by instinct, on Nicaragua. 
Here was indeed a fertile field for the filibuster. 
Not only was the country enormously rich in 
every form of natural resources, but it had a 
kindly and moderately healthy climate, and, what 
was the most important of all, owing to its peculiar 
geographical position, it commanded what was at 
that time one of the great trade-routes of the 
world. At this time there were three routes to 
the Californian gold-fields : one, the long and weary 
voyage around the Horn; another, by the danger 
ous and costly Overland Trail; and the third, 
which was the shortest, cheapest, and most pop 
ular, across Nicaragua. If you will glance at the 
map, you will see that, barring the Isthmus of 
Panama, which is several hundred miles farther 
south, Nicaragua is the narrowest neck of land 
between the two great oceans, and that in the 
middle of this neck is the great Lake Nicaragua, 

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Gentlemen Rovers 

which is upward of fifty miles in width. An Amer 
ican corporation known as the Accessory Transit 
Company, of which the first Cornelius Vander- 
bilt was president, had obtained a concession from 
the Nicaraguan Government to transport pas 
sengers across Central America by this route. Pas 
sengers en route from New York or New Orleans 
to the gold-fields were landed by the company s 
steamers at Greytown, on the Atlantic coast 
of Nicaragua, and transported thence by light- 
draught steamers up the San Juan River to Lake 
Nicaragua. Here they were transferred to larger 
steamers and taken across the lake to Virgin Bay, 
the twelve-mile journey from there to the port of 
San Juan del Sur, on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua, 
being performed in carriages or on the backs of 
mules. During a single year twenty-five thou 
sand passengers crossed Nicaragua by this route. 
It did not take Walker long to appreciate, there 
fore, that the man who succeeded in making him 
self master of this, the shortest route to California, 
would be in a position of considerable strength. 
Not only this, but Nicaragua was torn by internal 
dissensions; the army was divided into a dozen 
factions; the peasantry were down-trodden and 
poverty-stricken; the government was inconceiv 
ably corrupt; and the usual revolution was, of 
. 192 



The King of the Filibusters 

course, in progress, in which the sister republics 
of Honduras and Costa Rica were preparing to 
take a hand. Everything considered, Nicaragua s 
only hope of salvation from anarchy lay in find 
ing for a ruler a man with an inflexible sense of 
justice and an iron hand. Walker determined to 
be that man. 

In view of what I have already told of his ex 
ploits, you have doubtless pictured Walker as a 
tall, broad-shouldered man of commanding pres 
ence. As a matter of fact, he was nothing of the 
sort. In height he was but five feet five inches, 
and correspondingly slender. A remarkably square 
jaw and a long chin lent strength and determina 
tion to features which were plain almost to the 
point of coarseness. His eyes, which were of a 
singularly light gray, are universally spoken of as 
having been his most noticeable feature, for they 
were so large and fixed that the eyelids scarcely 
showed, and so penetrating that they seemed to 
bore holes into the person at whom they were 
looking. He was extremely taciturn, and when he 
did speak it was briefly and to the point. He had 
an unusual command of English, however, and 
his words were always carefully chosen. A 
stranger to fear, men who followed him on his 
campaigns assert that even under the most trying 



Gentlemen Rovers 

and perilous circumstances they had never seen 
him change countenance or betray emotion by so 
much as the contraction of a muscle. He was 
wholly lacking in personal vanity, and when in 
the field wore his trousers tucked into his boots, a 
flannel shirt open at the neck, and a faded black 
campaign hat. In a land where all three habits 
were universal, he neither drank, smoked, nor 
swore; he never looked at women; his word, once 
given, was never broken; the justice he meted 
out to disobedient followers, though stern to the 
point of brutality, was absolutely impartial. 
Highly ambitious, it is paying but the barest jus 
tice to his memory to say that his aspirations, 
however little we may sympathize with them, 
were wholly political and never mercenary, his 
whole career showing him to be utterly careless 
of wealth. Taking everything into consideration, 
we have good reason to be proud that William 
Walker was an American. 

In 1854, as I have already remarked, Nicaragua 
was split asunder by civil war. The opposing 
parties were the Legitimists and the Democrats. 
What they were fighting about is of no conse 
quence; perhaps they did not know themselves. 
In any event, in August of that year an American 
named Byron Cole, acting as an agent for Walker, 

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The King of the Filibusters 

arrived at the headquarters of the Democratic 
forces with a novel offer. Briefly, he agreed to 
contract to supply the Democratic party with 
three hundred American "colonists liable to mil 
itary duty," these settlers to receive a grant of 
fifty-two thousand acres of land, and to have the 
privilege of becoming citizens of Nicaragua. This 
contract was approved and signed by General 
Castillon, the Democratic leader, and with it in 
his pocket Cole hastened to San Francisco and 
Walker. After taking the precaution of submit 
ting the contract to the civil and military authori 
ties in San Francisco, and receiving their assur 
ances that it did not violate the neutrality laws of 
the United States, Walker immediately set about 
recruiting his "colonists," and in May, 1855, just 
a year after his escape from Mexico, he was ready 
to sail. Although, as I have said, the Federal 
authorities had passed upon the legality of the 
contract, it was a noticeable fact that the peace 
able settlers took with them Winchester rifles in 
stead of spades, and Colt s revolvers instead of 
hoes, and that the hold of the brig Festa, on which 
they sailed from San Francisco, was filled with 
ammunition and machine guns instead of agricul 
tural implements and machinery. 

After a long and stormy voyage down the 



Gentlemen Rovers 

Pacific coast Walker and his men landed, on 
June 16, at the port of Realejo, in Nicaragua, 
where he was met by Castillon. Walker was at 
once commissioned a colonel; Achilles Kewen, who 
had just come from Cuba, where he had been 
fighting under the patriot Lopez, a lieutenant- 
colonel; and Timothy Crocker, a fighting Irish 
man, who was a veteran of Walker s Sonora expe 
dition, a major; the corps being organized as an 
independent command under the name of La 
Falange Americana the American Phalanx. At 
this time the Transit route from the Atlantic to 
the Pacific was held by the Legitimist forces, and 
these Walker was ordered to dislodge, it be 
ing essential to the success of the Democrats that 
they gain possession of this interoceanic highway. 
Accordingly, a week after setting foot in Nica 
ragua, Walker, at the head of fifty-seven of his 
Americans and one hundred and fifty native sol 
diers, set out for Rivas, a town on the western 
shore of Lake Nicaragua held by twelve hundred 
of the enemy. The first battle of his Nicaraguan 
campaign ended in the most complete disaster. 
At the first volley his native allies bolted, leaving 
the Americans surrounded by ten times their 
number of Legitimists. The enemy instantly 
perceived this defection, and pressed the Phalanx 

196 




CQ 

E 3 
> 



i5 * 
"* 
2 ^ 



c g & 

<u 



The King of the Filibusters 

so hard that its members were driven to take 
shelter behind a row of adobe huts. No one knew 
better than Walker that if the enemy charged he 
and his men were done for, so he decided to do the 
charging himself. Out from behind the huts 
dashed the red-shirted filibusters, firing as they 
came, and so ferocious was their onslaught that 
they succeeded in cutting their way through the 
encircling army and escaping into the jungle. 
Though six of the Americans were killed, inclu 
ding Walker s two lieutenants, Kewen and Crocker, 
and twice as many wounded, the battle of Rivas 
established the reputation of Americans in Cen 
tral America for years to come, for a hundred and 
fifty of the enemy fell before their deadly fire. 

Bleeding and exhausted from battle and travel, 
Walker and his men, after an all-night march 
through the jungle, limped into the port of San 
Juan del Sur, and, finding a Costa Rican vessel in 
the harbor, they seized it for their own use. Still 
bearing in mind the necessity of getting control 
of the Transit route, Walker gave his men only a 
few days in which to recover from their wounds 
and weariness, and then was off again, this time 
for Virgin Bay, the halting-place for passengers 
going east or west. Though in the fight which 
ensued Walker was outnumbered five to one, his 

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Gentlemen Rovers 

losses were only three natives killed and a few 
Americans wounded, while one hundred and fifty 
of the enemy fell before the rifles of the filibusters. 
This disparity of losses emphasizes, as does noth 
ing else, the deadliness of the American fire. 

After the fight at Virgin Bay Walker received 
from California fifty recruits, thus bringing the 
force under his command up to some four hun 
dred men, about a third of whom were Americans. 
The Legitimists, learning that he was planning to 
again attack Rivas, hastened to reinforce the gar 
rison of that town by hurrying troops there from 
their headquarters at Granada, which was farther 
up the lake, planning to give Walker a warm and 
unexpected reception. But it was Walker who did 
the surprising, for, having his own channels of 
secret information, he no sooner learned of the 
weakened condition of Granada than he deter 
mined to direct his efforts against that place, 
instead of Rivas, and by capturing it to give the 
Legitimist cause a solar-plexus blow. Embarking 
his men on a small steamer with the announced 
intention of attacking Rivas, as soon as night 
fell he turned in the opposite direction and, with 
lights out and fires banked, steamed silently up the 
lake. Dawn found him off Granada, the garrison 
and inhabitants of which were sleeping off a 



The King of the Filibusters 

drunken debauch with which they had celebrated 
a recent victory. Even the sentries drowsed at 
their posts. Unobserved, the Americans landed 
in the semi-darkness of the early dawn, and it 
was not until they had reached the very outskirts 
of the town that a sentry suddenly awakened to 
their presence and gave the alarm by letting off 
his rifle, the shot being instantly answered by a 
crackle of musketry as the Americans opened fire. 
Charge!" shouted Walker, "Get at em! Get at 
em! "and dashed forward at a run, a revolver in 
each hand, with his followers, cheering like madmen, 
close at his heels. "Los Filibusteros! Los Filibus- 
teros!" screamed the terror-stricken inhabitants, 
catching sight of the red shirts and scarlet hat-bands 
of the Americans. " Run for your lives ! " The de 
moralized garrison made a brief and ineffective 
stand in the Plaza, and then threw down their arms. 
Walker was master of Granada. He at once in 
stituted a military government, released over a 
hundred political prisoners confined in the local 
jail, policed the town as effectually as though it 
were a New England village, and when he caught 
one of his native soldiers in the act of looting, ran 
him through with his sword. 

Walker was now in a position to dictate his own 
terms of peace, and, four months after he and his 

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Gentlemen Rovers 

fifty-seven followers landed in Nicaragua, an 
armistice was arranged and the side to which the 
Americans had lent their aid was in power. A 
native named Rivas was made provisional presi 
dent, and Walker was appointed commander-in- 
chief of the army, which at that time numbered 
about twelve hundred men. Though insignificant 
in numbers when judged by European standards, 
this was really a remarkable force, and perhaps 
the most effective for its size known to military 
history. The officers had all seen service under 
many flags and in many lands in Cuba, Mexico, 
Brazil, Spain, Algeria, Italy, Egypt, Russia, India, 
China and the men, nearly all of whom had been 
recruited in San Francisco, boasted that "Cali 
fornia was the pick of the world, and they were 
the pick of California." There was scarcely a 
man among them who could not flick the ashes 
from a cigar with his revolver at a hundred feet, 
or with his rifle hit a dollar held between a man s 
thumb and forefinger at a hundred yards. All 
the strange, wild natures for whom even the mi 
ning-camps of California had grown too tame 
were drawn to Walker s flag as iron filings are 
drawn to a magnet. Frederick Townsend Ward, 
the New England youth who raised, trained, and 
led the Ever- Victorious Army, who rose to be an 

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The King of the Filibusters 

admiral-general of China, and who performed the 
astounding exploits for which General Charles 
Gordon received the credit, gained much of his 
military training under Walker; Joaquin Miller, 
"the poet of the Sierras," was another of his de 
voted followers, while scores of the other men who 
fought under the blue-and-white banner with the 
scarlet star in later years achieved name and fame 
in many different lands. 

Says General Charles Frederic Henningsen, 
the famous English soldier of fortune who was 
Walker s second in command: "I have heard two 
greasy privates disputing over the correct reading 
and comparative merits of ^Eschylus and Euripides. 
I have seen a soldier on guard incessantly scrib 
bling strips of paper, which turned out to be a 
finely versified translation of his dog s-eared copy 
of the Divina Commedia" The same officer, who 
had fought with distinction under Don Carlos in 
Spain, under Schamyl in the Caucasus, and 
under Kossuth in Hungary, who had introduced 
the Minie rifle into the American service, and 
was a recognized authority on the use of artil 
lery, and therefore knew whereof he spoke, also 
testifies to the heroism and astounding fortitude 
of Walker s men. " I have often seen them march 
ing with a broken or a compound-fractured arm in 

201 



Gentlemen Rovers 

splints, and using the other to fire the rifle or re 
volver. Those with a fractured thigh, or with 
wounds which rendered them incapable of re 
moval, often (or rather, in early times, always) 
shot themselves, sooner than fall into the hands 
of the enemy. Such men do not turn up in the 
average of every-day life, nor do I ever expect to 
see their like again. I was on the Confederate 
side in many of the bloodiest battles of the late 
war, but I aver that if, at the end of that war I 
had been allowed to pick five thousand of the 
bravest Confederate or Federal soldiers I ever saw, 
and could resurrect and pit against them one thou 
sand of such men as lie beneath the orange-trees 
of Nicaragua, I feel certain that the thousand 
would have scattered and utterly routed the five 
thousand within an hour. All military science 
failed, on a suddenly given field, before assailants 
who came on at a run, to close with their revolvers, 
and who thought little of charging a battery, 
pistol in hand." As a matter of fact, at the first 
battle of Rivas, ten Americans, all officers of the 
Phalanx, armed only with bowie-knives and re 
volvers, actually did charge and capture a battery 
manned by more than a hundred Costa Ricans, 
half of the little band being killed in that astound 
ing exploit. Some estimate of the deeds of these 

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The King of the Filibusters 

unsung heroes, so many of whom lie in unmarked 
graves beneath an alien sky, may be gathered 
from the surgical reports, which showed that the 
proportion of wounds treated was one hundred and 
thirty-seven to every hundred men. 

For several months after the taking of Granada 
and the establishment of a provisional govern 
ment, the dove of peace hovered over Nicaragua 
as though desirous of alighting, but in February, 
1856, it was driven away, at least for a time, by 
a fresh splutter of musketry along the southern 
frontier, where Costa Rica, alarmed by Walker s 
reputed ambition to make himself master of all 
Middle America, had begun an invasion with the 
expressed purpose of driving the gringos from 
Central American soil. After a few months of 
desperate fighting, in which the Americans fully 
maintained their reputation for reckless bravery, 
the Costa Ricans were driven across the border, 
and for a brief time the harassed Nicaraguans 
were able to exchange their rifles for their hoes. 
The country now being for the moment at peace, 
Rivas called a presidential election, announcing 
himself as the candidate of the Democrats. The 
Legitimists, recognizing in Walker the one strong 
man of the country, had the political shrewdness 
to choose him, their former enemy, to head their 

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Gentlemen Rovers 

ticket. Two other candidates, Ferrer and Salazar, 
were also in the field. The election was regular 
in every respect, the voting being entirely free 
from the usual disturbances. According to the 
Nicaraguan constitution, every male inhabitant 
over eighteen years of age, criminals excepted, is 
entitled to the suffrage. When the votes were 
counted it was found that Rivas had received 867 
votes; Salazar, 2,087; Ferrer, 4,447; and Walker, 
15,835. By such an overwhelming majority, and 
in an absolutely fair election, was William Walker 
made President of Nicaragua the first and only 
time an American has ever been chosen ruler of a 
foreign and independent state. 

In all its troubled history Nicaragua has never 
been governed so justly and so wisely as it was by 
the American soldier of fortune. Had he been 
free from foreign interference there is little doubt 
that he would have made Nicaragua a progressive, 
prosperous, and contented country, and that he 
would in time have brought under one govern 
ment and one flag all the states lying between 
Yucatan and Panama. But that was precisely 
what the peoples of those states were fearful of, 
so that, a few weeks after Walker was inaugu 
rated, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, and San 
Salvador declared war. This time Walker took 

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The King of the Filibusters 

the field with three thousand trained and seasoned 
veterans, while opposed to him were twenty-one 
thousand of the allies. To describe the campaign 
that ensued would be as profitless as it would be 
tedious. The programme was always the same: 
the march by night through the silent, steaming 
jungle, and the stealthy surrounding of the threat 
ened town in the early dawn; the warning crack 
of a startled sentry s rifle; the sudden rush of the 
filibusters with their high, shrill yell; the taking 
of the barracks and the cathedral in the Plaza, 
nearly always at the pistol s point; and the panic- 
stricken retreat of the little brown men in their 
uniforms of soiled white linen. Everywhere the 
arms of Walker were triumphant, and had he not 
at this time deliberately crossed the path of a 
soldier of fortune of quite another kind, in a few 
months more he would have realized his life-dream 
and have made himself the ruler of a Central 
American empire. 

Upon investigating national affairs after his 
election, Walker found that the Accessory Transit 
Company had not lived up to the terms of its con 
cession from the government of Nicaragua. By 
the terms of its charter it had agreed to pay to the 
Nicaraguan Government ten thousand dollars an 
nually, and ten per cent of its net profits. The 

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Gentlemen Rovers 

company claimed, and the government as stoutly 
denied, that the ten thousand dollars had been 
regularly paid, though the concessionaires ad 
mitted that the ten per cent on the profits had 
not been paid, giving as their excuse that there 
had been no profits. Upon an examination of the 
books it was quickly discovered that the company 
had so juggled with the accounts as to make it ap 
pear that there were no profits, when, as a matter 
of fact, the enterprise was an enormously profitable 
one. Upon discovering the fraud which had been 
perpetrated upon the government and people of 
Nicaragua, Walker demanded back payments to 
the amount of two hundred and fifty thousand 
dollars, and upon the company insolently refusing 
to pay them, he promptly revoked its charter, 
and seized its steamboats, wharves, and ware 
houses as security for the debt. Though this 
action was perfectly justifiable under the circum 
stances, it was, in view of the instability of Walk 
er s position, an unwise move, for it made an 
implacable enemy of one of the most powerful 
and perhaps the most unscrupulous of the finan 
ciers of the time. 

Cornelius Vanderbilt was not a person who 
could be bluffed or frightened. Infuriated at the 
action of the filibuster President, he immediately 

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The King of the Filibusters 

withdrew from service the ships of the Transit 
Company in both oceans, thus cutting off commu 
nication between Nicaragua and the United States, 
and thereby Walker s source of supplies. But the 
grim old financier was not content with that. Re 
cruiting a force of foreign adventurers on his own 
account, he despatched them to Central America 
with orders to assist the Costa Ricans, whom he 
liberally supplied with money, arms, and ammuni 
tion, in their war against Walker. Turning then 
to Washington, he had little difficulty in inducing 
Secretary of State Marcy, who was known to be 
one of his creatures, to use the government forces 
in driving Walker out of Nicaragua. To Com 
modore Mervin, who was his personal friend, 
Secretary Marcy communicated his wishes, or 
rather Vanderbilt s wishes, and these Mervin in 
turn transmitted to Captain Davis, commanding 
the man-of-war St. Mary V, who was ordered to 
proceed at full speed to San Juan del Sur, on the 
Pacific coast of Nicaragua, and to force Walker 
out of that country. Never has the government 
of the United States lent itself to the designs of 
predatory wealth so disgracefully and so flagrantly 
as it did when, at the dictation of Cornelius Van- 
derbilt, and without a shadow of right or excuse, 
it used the American navy to oust William Walker 

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Gentlemen Rovers 

from the presidency to which he had been legally 
elected by a sovereign people. Its unjustified 
persecution of Walker to serve the spite of a 
money-lord forms one of the darkest stains on 
our national history. 

When Davis arrived in Nicaragua he found 
Walker, his forces terribly reduced by death, fever, 
and desertion (for his means of supply had, as I 
have said, been stopped), besieged by the allies in 
the town of Rivas. Food was running short, the 
hospital was filled with wounded, and many of 
his men were helpless from fever. Captain Davis 
demanded that Walker surrender to him upon the 
ground of humanity, but the indomitable filibuster 
replied that when he did not have enough men 
left to man the guns he intended to take refuge 
on board his little schooner, the Granada y which 
lay in the harbor, and seek his fortune elsewhere. 
"You will not do that," answered Davis, "for 
I am going to seize your vessel." With his 
only hope of escape thus cut off, there was 
nothing for Walker to do but capitulate. There 
fore, on May I, 1857, William Walker, President 
of Nicaragua, whose title was as legally sound as 
that of any ruler in the world, surrendered to the 
forces his own country had sent against him, and 
one more argument was given to those who claimed 

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The King of the Filibusters 

that it was not liberty which we upheld and wor 
shipped, but the almighty dollar. When Walker 
arrived in New York a few weeks later he found 
the city bedecked with flags and bunting in his 
honor. On but two other occasions has the 
American metropolis given such a reception to a 
visitor: once when Kossuth, the Hungarian pa 
triot, rode up Broadway, and years later, when 
Dewey returned, fresh from his victory at Manila. 
Walker s drive from the Battery to Madison Square 
was like a triumphal progress, for his gallantry in 
action and his successes against overwhelming 
odds had aroused the admiration of his country 
men, just as his outrageous treatment by the gov 
ernment had excited their indignation. Though 
legally he had serious grounds for complaint, he 
received scant consideration when he placed his 
demands for reparation before the Department 
of State at Washington. But the cold shoulder 
turned toward him by official Washington was 
more than made up for by the welcome he re 
ceived in the South, where he was acclaimed as a 
hero and a martyr. He was banqueted in every 
town and city from Baltimore to New Orleans, 
and when he entered a box in the opera-house of 
the latter place, the audience, forgetting the play, 
rose as one man to cheer him. 

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Gentlemen Rovers 

Within a month Walker had raised enough 
money and recruits in the South to enable him to 
try his fortunes once more in Nicaragua. Sailing 
from New Orleans with one hundred and fifty 
men, he landed at San Juan del Norte, on the Car 
ibbean side, marched upon and captured the 
town of Castillo Viejo together with four of the 
Transit Company s steamers, and was, indeed, in 
a fair way to again make himself master of Nica 
ragua when the United States once more inter 
fered, the frigate Wabash, under command of 
Commodore Hiram Pawlding, dropping anchor in 
a position where her guns commanded the fili 
busters camp, her commander demanding Walk 
er s immediate surrender. The flag-officer who 
presented Walker with Pawlding s demand tact 
lessly remarked: "General, I m sorry to see you 
here. A man like you deserves to command bet 
ter men." "If I had even a third of the force you 
have brought against me," Walker responded 
grimly, "I d soon show you who commands the 
better men." For the third time in his career 
Walker was forced to surrender to his own coun 
trymen, and was sent north under parole as a 
prisoner of war. But, although Pawlding had 
acted precisely as Davis had done, President 
Buchanan, instead of thanking him, not only pub- 

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The King of the Filibusters 

licly reprimanded him, but retired him from 
active service, and when Walker presented him 
self at the White House as a prisoner, refused to 
receive his surrender, or to recognize him as being 
in the custody of the United States. All of which, 
however, was scant consolation for Walker. 

To regain the presidency of which he had been 
unjustly deprived had now become an obsession 
with Walker. In spite of a proclamation issued 
by President Buchanan forbidding him to take 
further part in Central American affairs, he 
sailed from Mobile, on December i, 1858, with a 
hundred and fifty of his veterans. His voyage 
was brought to a sudden and wholly unlooked-for 
termination, however, for he was wrecked in a 
gale off the coast of Honduras, whence he was 
rescued by a British war-ship which happened to 
be in the vicinity and brought back to the United 
States. By this time Walker had become almost 
as much of a nightmare to the governments of the 
United States and Great Britain (for the latter, 
both because of the proximity of her colony of 
British Honduras and of her large financial inter 
ests in the other Central American countries, had 
no desire to see that region again plunged into 
war) as Napoleon was to the Holy Alliance, and 
as a result both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts 

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Gentlemen Rovers 

of Nicaragua were patrolled by the war-ships of 
the two nations to prevent Walker s return. Ap 
preciating that, under the circumstances, it was 
about as easy for him to land on Nicaraguan soil 
as it was to land on the moon, Walker, with 
a hundred of his devoted followers, slipped silently 
out of Mobile harbor on an August night in 1860, 
and landed, a few days later, on a little island off 
the coast of Honduras known as Ruatan. 

And so we come to the last chapter in this ex 
traordinary man s extraordinary career. Within 
a day after his landing at Ruatan, Walker had 
crossed to the mainland and captured the im 
portant seaport of Trujillo. But the ill-fortune 
which from the beginning had dogged him like 
a shadow was not to desert him now, for scarcely 
had the flag of Honduras which fluttered above the 
barracks been replaced by the blue-and-white 
banner of the filibusters when a British frigate 
dropped anchor off the town. Twenty minutes 
later a boat s crew of British bluejackets tossed 
their oars as they ran alongside Trujillo wharf, 
and a naval officer immaculate in white and 
gold, stepping ashore, inquired for General Walk 
er, and presented him with a message. It was 
from Captain Salmon, commanding the British 
man-of-war Icarus, which lay outside, and de- 

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The King of the Filibusters 

manded the immediate evacuation of the city by 
the filibusters, as the British Government held a 
mortgage on the revenues of the port and intended 
to protect them, by force if necessary. Walker 
answered that as he had made Trujillo a free port, 
the British claims were no longer valid. "Cap 
tain Salmon instructs me to inform you, sir," 
replied the British officer, as he prepared to re- 
enter his gig, "that he will give you until to 
morrow morning to make your decision. If you 
do not then surrender he will be compelled to 
bombard the town." As a strong force of Hondu- 
rans had in the mean time appeared on the land 
side of the city and were preparing to attack, 
Walker realized that his position had become un 
tenable, so that night he and his men slipped 
silently out of the sleeping city and started down 
the coast with the intention of making their way 
overland to Nicaragua. When the British landed 
the next morning they were only just in time to 
prevent the sick and wounded whom Walker had 
been forced to leave behind him in his retreat from 
falling into the hands of the ferocious Hondu- 
rans. Learning of Walker s flight, Salmon imme 
diately started down the coast on the Icarus in 
pursuit. 

They overtook Walker at a little fishing village 
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Gentlemen Rovers 

near the mouth of the Rio Negro, several boat 
loads of sailors and marines being sent up the 
river to take him. But the coast of Honduras is 
a good second to the Gold Coast in the deadliness 
of its climate, so that when the landing party 
reached the little cluster of wretched hovels where 
Walker and his men had taken refuge, they found 
the filibusters too far gone with fever to oppose 
them. To Captain Salmon s demand for an uncon 
ditional surrender, Walker, who was so weak that 
he could scarcely stand, inquired if he was sur 
rendering to the English or to the Hondurans. 
Captain Salmon twice assured him distinctly that 
it was to the English, whereupon the filibusters, 
at Walker s orders, laid down their arms and were 
taken aboard the Icarus. No sooner had he ar 
rived back at Trujillo, however, than Captain 
Salmon, breaking the word he had given as an 
officer and a gentleman, and in defiance of every 
law of humanity, turned his prisoners over to the 
Honduran authorities. Salmon, who was young 
and pompous and had a life-size opinion of him 
self and his position, interceded for all of the 
prisoners except Walker, and obtained their re 
lease, but he informed the filibuster chieftain that 
he would plead for him only on condition that 
he would ask his intercession as an American 

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The King of the Filibusters 

citizen. But Walker, imbittered by the treat 
ment he had received at the hands of his own 
government and disdaining to turn to it for as 
sistance in his adversity, answered proudly: "The 
President of Nicaragua is a citizen of Nicaragua/ 
and turned his back upon the Englishman who 
had betrayed him. 

He was tried by court martial on September u, 
1860, and after the barest formalities was sen 
tenced to be shot at daybreak the next morning. 
The place selected for his execution was a strip 
of sandy beach, and to it the condemned man 
walked as coolly as though taking a morning 
stroll. Before him tramped a detachment of 
slovenly Honduran infantry, who, with their 
brown, wizened faces, their ill-fitting uniforms, 
and their jaunty caps, looked more like monkeys 
than men; behind him marched the firing-party, 
with weapons at the charge; beside him was a 
priest bearing a crucifix and murmuring the prayers 
for the dying. As the little procession came to a 
halt within the hollow square of soldiery, Walker 
waved away the handkerchief with which they 
would have blindfolded him, and, cool and straight 
and soldierly as though in command of his 
Phalanx, took his stand before the firing-party. 

"I die a Roman Catholic," he said in Spanish 

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Gentlemen Rovers 

in a voice clear and unafraid. "The war which I 
made upon you was wrong and I take this opportu 
nity of asking your pardon. I die with resigna 
tion, though it would be a consolation for me to feel 
that my death is for the good of society." As he 
ceased speaking, the officer in command of the 
troops dropped the point of his sword, the levelled 
rifles of the firing-party spoke as one, and Walker 
fell. But, though every bullet entered his body, 
he still lived. So a sergeant stepped forward with 
a cocked revolver and blew out his brains. With 
that shot there passed the soul of a very brave 
and gallant gentleman who deserved from his 
country better treatment than he received. 



216 



CITIES CAPTURED BY CONTRACT 



CITIES CAPTURED BY CONTRACT 

I HAVE known men who, from need of money 
or from love of adventure, have contracted to 
do all sorts of seemingly impossible things. Some 
conquered apparently unconquerable chasms by 
means of daring bridges; others built railways 
across waterless, yellow deserts, where experts had 
asserted that no railway could go; one contracted 
to find and raise a treasure galleon sunk three 
hundred years ago; another agreed to compose 
an opera in a week; while still another engaged 
to find a man who for two years had been lost in 
equatorial Africa. It took a New Englander, 
however, to sign a contract to capture walled and 
hostile cities, at a stipulated price per city, just 
as a Chicago meat-packer would contract to supply 
a government with beef at so much a pound. 

The man who entered into this amazing agree 
ment was baptized Frederick Townsend Ward, 
but bore at his death the adopted name of 
Hwa. Though born within biscuit-throw of Salem 
wharves he was by residence a citizen of the world, 

219 



Gentlemen Rovers 

and by profession a soldier of fortune. Now the 
trouble with most soldiers of fortune is that they 
don t make good in the end. They are generally en 
tertaining fellows, with vast stores of information 
on an amazing variety of subjects, wide acquaint 
anceships with personages whose names you see 
in the daily papers, and an intimate knowledge 
of the little-known places, but they rarely save 
any money, they seldom rise to high positions, 
and they usually end their checkered careers by 
being ingloriously arrested for breaking the neu 
trality laws, or by dying, picturesquely but quite 
uselessly, between a stone wall and a firing-party. 
That Frederick Ward was a striking exception 
merely proves the soundness of my remarks. 
Though he was a soldier of fortune (he fought 
under at least six flags) he did make money, for 
he capitalized his remarkable military genius by 
signing a contract to capture rebellious cities, at 
seventy-five thousand dollars a city, and took a 
dozen of them, one after another; he rose to be 
an admiral-general of China, and a Mandarin of 
the Red Button, which was equivalent to being a 
Dewey, a Kitchener, and a Cromer rolled into 
one; and though he died when scarcely thirty, it 
was on the walls of a captured city, directing a 
victorious charge. Though the Manchu dynasty 

220 



Cities Captured by Contract 

of China, to which he gave an additional half- 
century of existence, has fallen, the soldiers of the 
new republic continue to invoke his spirit as that 
of a god of battles, and the priests of Confucius 
still burn incense before his tomb. 

The story of how this adventurous American 
youth recognized the splendid fighting material 
into which the Chinese were capable of being 
transformed; how he took that material and 
heated and hammered and tempered it into a 
serviceable weapon, and gave that weapon a keen 
cutting edge; how, with a force which never num 
bered more than six thousand men, he broke the 
backbone of a rebellion which turned China into 
a shambles; and how his battalions came to be 
known, in the annals of time, as the "Ever-Vic 
torious Army," forms a chronicle of courage and 
thrilling incident the like of which can not be 
found in history. If the almost incredible ex 
ploits of Ward have escaped the notice of our his 
torians, it is because, at the time they took place, 
Americans were too intent on the business of their 
own great slaughter-house to be interested in a 
similar performance going on, in much less work 
manlike fashion, half the world away. Though 
British writers slightingly allude to Ward as "an 
obscure Yankee adventurer," the officer who suc- 

221 



Gentlemen Rovers 

ceeded him, General Charles George Gordon, 
merely completed the work which his predecessor 
had begun, and built his military reputation on 
the foundations which the American had laid. 
Though the name of Frederick Townsend Ward 
holds but little meaning for the vast majority of 
his countrymen, it is still a name to conjure with 
in that country which he saved from anarchy. 

Though a youth in appearance and in years, 
Ward was a seasoned veteran long before he set 
out on his last campaign. Before he was five-and- 
twenty he had had enough experiences to satisfy 
a dozen ordinary men. Coming from New Eng 
land seafaring stock, it was only to be expected 
that a passion for adventure should course through 
his veins. From the time he donned short trousers 
he dreamed of a cadetship at West Point, and a 
commission under his own flag. But it was des 
tined that his military genius should profit another 
country than his own, and that he should fight 
and die under an alien banner. His father, a stern 
old merchant captain, held that there was no 
training for a boy like that to be had in the school 
of the sea, and so, when young Ward was scarce 
half-way through his teens, he was packed off 
aboard a sailing-vessel bound for the China seas. 
By the time he was twenty he held a first mate s 

222 



Cities Captured by Contract 

warrant, and had paid for it with three long voy 
ages. Joining Garibaldi s famous Foreign Legion, 
he saw service under that great soldier in the war 
between the Republic of the Rio Grande and 
Brazil. Afterward he helped the young Republic 
of Uruguay to defeat Manuel Rosas, the Argen 
tine dictator. At the outbreak of the Crimean 
War he obtained a lieutenant s commission in a 
regiment of French zouaves, and followed the tri 
color until the Treaty of Paris brought that bloody 
campaign to an end. Turning his steps toward 
Latin America again, he joined William Walker 
in his ill-fated Nicaraguan adventure, and after 
that leader s execution in Honduras he offered 
his sword and services to Juarez, and helped to 
win for him the presidency of Mexico. With the 
triumph of Juarez, peace settled for a time upon 
the western hemisphere, and Ward, finding no 
market for his military talents, was driven by 
financial necessities to take up the occupation of 
a ship-broker in New York City. But the shackles 
of trade soon proved intolerable to this man of 
action. He was like a race-horse harnessed to a 
milk-wagon. Though his talk was of cargoes and 
bottomry and tonnage, his thoughts were far 
away, on those distant seaboards of the world 
where history was in the making. At the begin- 

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Gentlemen Rovers 

ning of 1859, the only country in the world where 
righting on a large scale was going on was China, 
which was being devastated by the great Taiping 
Rebellion. In the spring of that year Ward, un 
able to longer resist the call to action which was 
forever sounding in his ears, turned the key in 
the door of his New York office, saddled his horse, 
and, unaccompanied, rode across the continent to 
San Francisco, where he booked a passage for 
Shanghai. It was no random adventure which he 
had undertaken. He had laid his plans carefully 
and knew exactly what he intended doing. Nor 
did the magnitude of his project dishearten him. 
He had set out to save an empire, and he intended 
to win fame and fortune in doing it. 

The conditions which prevailed in China be 
tween 1850 and 1863 can be compared only to the 
French Reign of Terror, or to the rule of the Mahdi 
in the Sudan. About the time that the nineteenth 
century was approaching the half-way mark, a 
Chinese schoolmaster named Hung-siu-Tseuen, 
inflamed by the partially comprehended teachings 
of Christian missionaries, had inaugurated a prop 
aganda to overthrow the Confucian religion, and 
incidentally the reigning dynasty. There speedily 
rallied to his banners all the floating scoundrelism 
of China. In 1852 the rebel hordes had moved 

224 



Cities Captured by Contract 

into the province of Hunan, murdering, pillaging, 
and burning as they went; advanced down the Kiang 
River to the Yang-tse, down which they sailed, 
capturing and sacking the cities on its banks. 
Making Nanking his capital, the rebel leader as 
sumed the title of Tien Wang, or "Heavenly King," 
and proclaimed the rule of the Ping Chao, or "Peace 
Dynasty," which, with the prefix Tai ("great") 
gave the rebellion its name, Taiping. Wang s 
great hordes of tatterdemalions, flushed with their 
unbroken series of successes, gradually overran 
the silk and tea districts, the richest in the empire, 
threatened Peking, and advanced almost to the 
gates of Shanghai, carrying death and destruction 
over fifteen of the eighteen provinces of China. 
Perhaps it will give a better idea of the magnitude 
of this rebellion when I add that reliable authori 
ties estimate that it cost China two billion five hun 
dred million dollar s y and twenty million human lives. 
By the autumn of 1859 such of the imperial forces 
as remained loyal had been whipped to a stand 
still, and the European powers having interests 
in China had their work cut out to defend the 
treaty ports; the rebels were undisputed masters 
of all Central China; the rivers were literally 
choked with corpses, and the smoke of burning 
cities overhung the land. The atrocities com- 

225 



Gentlemen Rovers 

mitted by order of the Taiping leader shocked 
even the dulled sensibilities of China. On one 
occasion, six thousand people, suspected of an 
intention to desert, were gathered in the pub 
lic square of Nanking. A hundred executioners 
stood among the prisoners with bared swords, and, 
at a signal from the Wang, slashed off heads until 
their arms were weary, and blood stood inches 
deep in the gutters. Ward had indeed chosen a 
good market in which to sell his services. 

Through an English friend in the Chinese serv 
ice, Ward obtained an introduction to Wu, the 
Taotoi of Shanghai, and to a millionaire merchant 
and mandarin named Tah Kee. The plan he 
proposed was as simple as it was daring. He 
offered to recruit a foreign legion, with which he 
would defend Shanghai, and at the same time 
attack such of the Taiping strongholds as were 
within striking distance, stipulating that for every 
city captured he was to receive seventy-five thou 
sand dollars in gold, that his men were to have 
the first day s looting, and that each place taken 
should immediately be garrisoned by imperial 
troops, leaving his own force free for further opera 
tions. Wu on behalf of the government, and Tah 
Kee as the representative of the Shanghai mer 
chants, promptly agreed to this proposal, and 

226 



Cities Captured by Contract 

signed the contract. They had, indeed, every 
thing to gain and nothing to lose. It was also 
arranged that Tah Kee should at the outset fur 
nish the arms, ammunition, clothing, and commis 
sary supplies necessary to equip the legion. 
These preliminaries once settled, Ward wasted no 
time in recruiting his force, for every day was 
bringing the Taipings nearer. A number of brave 
and experienced officers, for the most part soldiers 
of fortune like himself, hastened to offer him their 
services, General Edward Forester, an American, 
being appointed second in command. The rank 
and file of the legion was recruited from the scum 
and offscourings of the East, Malay pirates, Bur 
mese dacoits, Tartar brigands, and desperadoes, 
adventurers, and fugitives from justice from every 
corner of the farther East being attracted by the 
high rate of pay, which in view of the hazardous 
nature of the service, was fixed at one hundred 
dollars a month for enlisted men, and proportion 
ately more for officers. The non-commissioned 
officers, who were counted upon to stiffen the ranks 
of the Orientals, were for the most part veterans 
of continental armies, and could be relied upon to 
fight as long as stock and barrel held together. 
The officers carried swords and Colt s revolvers, 
the latter proving terribly effective in the hand-to- 

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Gentlemen Rovers 

hand fighting which Ward made the rule; while 
the men were armed with Sharp s repeating car 
bines and the vicious Malay kris. Everything con 
sidered, I doubt if a more formidable aggregation 
of ruffians ever took the field. Ward placed his 
men under a discipline which made that of the 
German army appear like a kindergarten; taught 
them the tactics he had learned under Garibaldi, 
Walker, and Juarez; and finally, when they were 
as keen as razors and as tough as rawhide, he en 
tered them in battle on a most astonished foe. 

The first city Ward selected for capture was 
Sunkiang, on the banks of the Wusung River, 
some twenty-five miles above Shanghai. In 
choosing this particular place as his first point of 
attack, Ward showed himself a diplomatist as 
well as a soldier, for it was one of the seven sacred 
cities of China, and to it had been wont to come 
thousands of pilgrims from the most distant prov 
inces, to prostrate themselves in the temple of 
Confucius, the oldest and most revered shrine in 
the empire. Its capture by the Taipings and their 
desecration of its altars had sent a thrill of horror 
through the imperialists, such as was not even 
caused by the loss of the great metropolis of 
Nanking. 

Ward, who appreciated the necessity of winning 
228 



Cities Captured by Contract 

the recognition and confidence of the higher au 
thorities, well knew that the regaining of this 
sacred city would endear him to the religious heart 
of China as nothing else could do. But Sunkiang, 
with its walls twenty feet high and five miles in 
circumference, and with a garrison of five thousand 
fanatics to defend those walls, was no easy nut 
to crack even for a powerful force well supplied 
with artillery. The idea of its being taken by 
Ward and his five hundred desperadoes was pre 
posterous, unthinkable, absurd. He first tried the 
weapon he had so painstakingly forged on a July 
morning, in 1860. Just as his European critics in 
Shanghai had prophesied, the attack on Sunkiang 
proved the most dismal of failures. His stealthy 
approach being discovered by the Taipings, he 
was greeted with such a withering fire upon reach 
ing the walls that, being without supports, and 
perceiving the hopelessness of the situation, he 
ordered his buglers to sound the retreat. 

But Ward was one of those rare men to whom 
discouragements and disasters are but incidents, 
annoying but not disheartening, in the day s 
work. He spent a fortnight in strengthening the 
weakened morale of his force, and then he tried 
again, making his onset with the suddenness and 
fury of a tiger s spring just at break of day. 

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Gentlemen Rovers 

Slipping like ghosts through the grayness of the 
dawn, Ward and his men stole across the surround 
ing rice-fields, and were almost under the city 
walls before the Taiping sentries discovered their 
approach. As the first rifle cracked, Ward and 
one of his lieutenants raced ahead with bags of 
powder, placed them beneath the main gate of 
the city, and lighted the fuse. Like an echo of 
the ensuing explosion rose the shrill yell of the 
legionaries, who dashed forward like sprinters in 
a race. Instead of the gates being blown to pieces 
as they had expected, they found that they had 
been forced apart only enough for one man to 
pass at a time and on the other side of that door 
of death five thousand rebels waited eagerly for 
the first of the attackers to appear. "Come on, 
boys!" roared Ward, his voice rising above the 
crash of the musketry, "We re going in!" and 
plunged through the narrow opening, a revolver 
in each hand. Hard on his heels crowded his 
legionaries. Though they were going to what was 
almost certain death, such was the magnetism of 
their leader that not a man hung back, not a man 
faltered. Before half a dozen men were through 
they were attacked by hundreds, but, so deadly 
was the fire they poured in with their repeaters, 
they were able to hold off the defenders until the 

230 




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Cities Captured by Contract 

whole attacking force was within the gate. Then 
began one of the most desperate and unequal fights 
in history. The key to the city was the howitzer 
battery, which was stationed on the top of the 
massive main gate, forty feet above. Up the 
narrow ramps the legionaries fought their way, 
five hundred against five thousand, hacking, stab 
bing, firing, at such close range that their rifles 
set fire to their opponents clothing, driving their 
bayonets into the human wall before them as a 
field-hand pitchforks hay. Wherever there was 
space for a man to plant his feet or swing 
his sword, there a Taiping was to be found. 
The passageway was choked with them, but 
they sullenly gave way before the frenzy of 
Ward s attack as a hillside slowly disintegrates 
before the stream from a hydraulic nozzle. Ward 
was wounded, and his men were falling about him 
by dozens, but those that were left, mad with the 
lust of battle, fought on, until with a final surge 
and cheer they reached the top, and the position 
which commanded the city was in their hands. 
Then the Taipings broke and fled, some to be 
overtaken and slaughtered by the legionaries, 
others throwing themselves into the streets be 
low. Bayoneting the rebel gunners, the howitzers 
were turned upon the city, raking the streets, 

231 



Gentlemen Rovers 

sweeping the crowded walls and house-tops, and 
leaving heaps of dead and dying where Taiping 
regiments had stood before. . 

For four-and-twenty hours Ward and the ex 
hausted survivors of his legion, without food and 
without water, held the gate in the face of the 
most desperate efforts to retake it. Then the 
Chinese reinforcements for which he had asked 
tardily arrived, and Sunkiang was an Imperial 
city again. The American had taken the first 
trick in the great game he was playing. It was at 
fearful cost, however, for of the five hundred men 
who followed him into action, but one hundred 
and twenty-eight remained alive, and of these 
only twenty-seven were without wounds. In 
other words, the casualties amounted to more than 
ninety-four per cent of the entire force. Ward had 
ridden out of Shanghai a despised adventurer to 
whom the foreign officers refused to speak. He 
returned to that city a hero and a power in China. 
The priesthood acclaimed him as the saviour of the 
sacred city; the emperor made him a Mandarin of 
the Red Button; the merchants of Shanghai voiced 
their relief by adding a splendid estate to the 
promised reward of seventy-five thousand dollars. 
His reputation would have been secure if he had 
never fought another battle. 

232 



Cities Captured by Contract 

Leaving Sunkiang heavily garrisoned by im 
perial troops, Ward withdrew to Shanghai for the 
purpose of recruiting his shattered forces. Such 
a glamour of romance now surrounded the legion 
that Ward was fairly besieged by European as 
well as Oriental volunteers. Shortly after the 
capture of Sunkiang, Ward had occasion to visit 
Shanghai with reference to the care of his wounded. 
While riding through the streets of the city he 
was arrested by a British patrol, and despite his 
protestations that he was an officer in the imperial 
service, was hustled aboard the flag-ship of Admiral 
Sir James Hope, which lay in the harbor, and was 
placed in close confinement. In reply to his in 
quiries he was told that he was to be tried for 
recruiting British man-o -war s-men for service in 
his legion. Though the arrest was high-handed 
and unjustified, there seemed no immediate pros 
pect of release, for the American consul-general 
refused to interfere on the ground that Ward, by 
taking service under the Chinese government, 
had forfeited his right to American protection; 
the imperial authorities were powerless to take 
any action; while the British were notoriously 
fearful of the dangerous ascendancy which this 
American might gain if his successful career was 
permitted to continue. The only hope for Ward 

233 



Gentlemen Rovers 

and for China lay in his escape. A friend 
perfected a plan of flight. While visiting Ward, 
who was confined in an outside cabin of the flag 
ship, with a marine constantly on guard at the 
door, he synchronized his watch with that of the 
cabin clock, and whispered to the prisoner that he 
would be in a sampan under his cabin window at 
precisely two o clock in the morning. Taking off 
his coat and shoes that he might be unhampered 
in the water, Ward sat on the edge of his berth 
with his eyes on the face of the clock. Just as 
the minute-hand touched the figure II, Ward 
made a dash for the window and sprang head 
foremost through the sash, for the windows of the 
old fashioned men-of-war were much larger than 
the ports of modern battle-ships. He had hardly 
touched the water before he was pulled aboard a 
sampan, which disappeared in the darkness long 
before the flag-ship s boats could be manned and 
lowered. This daring exploit enormously in 
creased Ward s prestige among both Chinese and 
Europeans, with whom the British, as a result of 
their insolent and overbearing attitude, were in 
tensely unpopular. Some days later Admiral 
Hope sent a m essage to Ward requesting an inter 
view, and, upon Ward assuring him that he would 
no longer recruit his ranks from the British navy, 

234 



Cities Captured by Contract 

the old sea fighter became his strong partisan and 
friend. 

With his ranks once more repleted, Ward made 
preparations for a second venture. This time it 
was the city of Sing-po toward which he turned; 
but the Taipings, getting wind of his intentions, 
secretly threw an overwhelming force into the 
place under a renegade Englishman named Savage. 
Ward was without artillery with which to breach 
the walls, and, after several desperate assaults, in 
leading which he was severely wounded, he was 
forced to retire. Ten days later, regardless of his 
wounds, he tried again, but this time he was taken 
in the rear by a Taiping army of twenty thousand 
men, his little force being completely surrounded. 
So certain was the rebel leader that the famous 
general was within his grasp, that he consulted 
with his officers as to what methods of torture 
they should use upon him. But he was a trifle 
premature, for Ward struck the Taiping cordon 
at its weakest point, fought his way through, and 
reached Shanghai with a loss of only one hundred 
men. His secret agents bringing him word that 
the powerful force from which he had just escaped 
was to be used in the recapture of Sunkiang, 
Ward, by making night marches, slipped unper- 
ceived into that city. When the Taipings at- 

235 



Gentlemen Rovers 

tempted to carry it by storm a few days later, 
instead of meeting with the half-hearted resist 
ance which they had grown to expect from Chinese 
garrisons, they were astounded to see the hel- 
meted figure of the dreaded American upon the 
walls, and were greeted with a blast of rifle fire 
which swept away their leading columns and 
crumpled up their army as effectually as though it 
had encountered an earthquake. 

Dangerously weakened by half a dozen wounds, 
Ward was reluctantly compelled to go to Paris in 
the fall of 1860 for surgical attention. Back at 
Shanghai again at the beginning of the following 
summer, he found that the Taipings, emboldened 
by his absence, were flaunting their banner within 
sight of the city walls. From end to end of the 
empire there existed an unparalleled reign of 
terror, the rebels now having grown so strong 
that they demanded the recognition of the Euro 
pean powers. Ward, meanwhile, had become 
convinced that the true solution of the problem 
lay in raising an army of natives, rather than for 
eigners, for not only was the supply of Chinese 
unlimited, but his experience had shown him that 
there was splendid fighting material in them if 
they were properly drilled and led. When he 
asked permission of the imperial government to 

236 



Cities Captured by Contract 

raise and drill a Chinese force, therefore, it was 
gladly granted. 

An opportunity to put his theories regarding the 
fighting capabilities of the Chinese to a test soon 
came. Learning that a force of rebels, ten thou 
sand strong, was advancing in the direction of 
Shanghai, Ward sallied forth from his head 
quarters at Sunkiang with two thousand five hun 
dred men, struck the Taiping army, curled it up 
like a withered leaf, and drove it a dozen miles 
into the interior. Pressing on, he captured the 
city of Quan-fu-ling, which the rebels had gar 
risoned and fortified, and with it several hundred 
junks loaded with supplies. Throughout these 
actions his Chinese displayed all the steadiness 
and courage of European veterans. That he 
showed sound judgment in pinning his faith to 
natives is best proved by the fact that from that 
time on he never met with a reverse. His motto 
was "Cold steel," and his tactics would have de 
lighted the old-time sea fighters, for, appreciating 
the fact that few Oriental troops are capable of 
remaining steady under a galling long-range fire, 
he invpriably threw his men against the enemy in 
an overwhelming charge, and finished the business 
at close quarters with the bayonet. 

Moving up from Sunkiang with a thousand of 

237 



Gentlemen Rovers 

his men, Ward joined a combined force of French 
and British bluejackets, who had with them a 
light howitzer battery, in an attack on Kaschiaou, 
just opposite Shanghai, which was the city s main 
source of supplies, and which the rebels had seized 
and fortified. Using the contingent from the war 
ships as a reserve, Ward and his Chinamen did the 
work alone, carrying the stockades by storm and 
capturing two thousand rebels, as a result of which 
the enemy fell back from the neighborhood of 
Shanghai. So strongly impressed were the British 
officers with the behavior of Ward s soldiery that 
Sir James Mitchel, the commander-in-chief on the 
China station, strongly urged that the task of sup 
pressing the rebellion be placed in the American s 
hands, and that he be empowered to raise his force 
to ten thousand men. A few weeks later Ward 
received an imperial rescript acknowledging his 
great services to China, and appointing him an 
admiral-general of the empire, the highest rank 
that the emperor could bestow. With this came 
the authority to recruit his force to six thousand 
men, and its baptism, by imperial order, with the 
sonorous and thrilling title of Chun Chen Chun, 
or the Ever-Victorious Army. 

As the barometer of Ward s fortunes steadily 
rose, that of his native country began to fall, 

238 



Cities Captured by Contract 

the dark cloud of secession hanging threateningly 
over the land. It has been said of Ward that he 
denationalized himself by marrying a Chinese 
wife and adopting a Chinese name, but there is 
no doubt that it was only his stern sense of duty 
which kept him at the task he had undertaken in 
China when the guns of Sumter boomed out the 
beginning of the Civil War. He immediately 
sent a contribution of ten thousand dollars to the 
Union war fund, however, with a message that his 
services were at the disposal of the North whenever 
they were required. At the time of the Trent 
affair, when war between England and the United 
States was momentarily expected, and the British 
in China had laid plans to seize American shipping 
and other property in the treaty ports, Ward 
effected a secret organization of American sym 
pathizers and prepared to surprise and capture 
every British war-ship and merchant vessel in 
Chinese waters. In view of his success in equally 
daring exploits, there is good reason to believe 
that he would have accomplished even so startling 
a coup as this. 

While recruiting his army to its newly author 
ized strength, Ward did not give the Taipings a 
moment s rest. He kept several flying columns 
constantly in the field, attacking the rebels at 

239 



Gentlemen Rovers 

every opportunity, cutting up their outposts, har 
rying their pickets, breaking their lines of com 
munication, and demoralizing them generally. 
One day Ward would be reported as operating in 
the south, and the Wang would draw a momentary 
breath of relief, but the next night, without the 
slightest warning, he would suddenly fall upon a 
city a hundred miles to the northward and carry 
it by storm. By such aggressive tactics as these 
Ward struck fear to the heart of the Taiping 
leader, who saw the despotism he had built up 
crumbling about him before the American s 
smashing blows. It was said, indeed, that the 
mere sight of Ward s white helmet in the van of 
a storming party was more effective than a brigade 
of infantry. With a thousand men of his own 
corps and six hundred royal marines he attacked 
and captured Tsee-dong, a walled city of consider 
able strength, and cleared the rebels from the sur 
rounding region as though with a fine-tooth comb. 
The town of Wong-kadza was in the possession 
of the Taipings, and Ward decided to capture it. 
General Staveley, who had succeeded Sir James 
Mitchel in command of the British forces, offered 
to co-operate with him. It was agreed that they 
should rendezvous outside the town. Ward 
reached there first with six hundred of his men. 

240 



, Cities Captured by Contract 

Without waiting for the British to come up, he 
ordered his bugles to sound the charge, and after 
a quarter of an hour of desperate fighting he car 
ried the stockade, and the rebels broke and ran, 
Ward s men killing more of them in the pursuit 
than they themselves numbered. When General 
Staveley arrived a few hours later he was chagrined 
to see the imperial standard flying over the city 
and to find that the impetuous American had 
done the work and reaped the glory. The allied 
forces now pressed on to the Taiping stronghold 
of Tai-poo, which was held by a strong and well- 
armed garrison. While the British engaged the 
attention of the rebels in front with a fierce artil 
lery fire, Ward and his Chinamen made a detour 
to the rear of the city, and were at and over the 
walls almost before the garrison realized what had 
happened. 

The Ever-Victorious Army now numbered 
nearly six thousand men. It was well drilled and 
under an iron discipline; it was fairly well armed; 
it was magnificently officered; it was emboldened 
with repeated successes. The man who was the 
maker and master of such a force might well go a 
long way. That Ward dreamed of eventually 
making himself dictator of China there can be 
but little doubt. Louis Napoleon, remember, 

241 



Gentlemen Rovers 

climbed to a throne on the bayonets of his soldiers. 
By this time the American soldier of fortune had 
become by long odds the most popular figure in 
the empire; the army was with him to a man; 
he possessed the confidence of the great man 
darins and merchant princes; and he had to his 
credit an almost unparalleled succession of vic 
tories. Dictator of the East! What American 
ever had a more ambitious dream and was within 
such measurable distance of realizing it? It is 
no exaggeration to say that, had Ward lived, the 
whole history of the Orient would have been 
changed, and China, rather than Japan, would 
doubtless have held the balance of power in the 
Farther East. 

In April, 1862, Ward, the Viceroy Lieh, and the 
French and British commanders held a council of 
war in Shanghai. Ward suggested a plan of cam 
paign designed to break the Taiping power in 
that part of China for good and all. Briefly put, 
his scheme was to capture a semicircle of cities 
within a radius of fifty miles of Shanghai and the 
coast. This would result in the rebels being held 
within their own lines by a cordon of bayonets, 
and, as they had utterly devastated the regions 
they had overrun, would mean starvation for 
them. Thus cut off from the seaboard, Ward 

242 



Cities Captured by Contract 

argued, they would be unable to obtain ammu 
nition and supplies, and the rebellion would soon 
wither. The series of operations was carried out 
as planned, Ward s corps being reinforced by 
three thousand French and British. It ended in 
the capture, in rapid succession, of the cities of 
Kah-ding, Sing-po, Najaor, and Tsaolin. In every 
case Ward insisted on being given the post of 
honor; he and his Chinamen, who fought with an 
appalling disregard for life, carrying the defences 
at the bayonet s point, while his European allies 
covered his advance with artillery fire and sup 
ported his whirlwind attacks. Leaving garrisons 
barely large enough to hold the captured cities, 
he pushed on by forced marches to Ning-po, which 
was a large and strongly fortified city. Twice his 
storming parties were driven back. The third 
time the men, exhausted by the continuous fight 
ing in which they had been engaged and the long 
marches they had been called upon to perform, 
momentarily faltered in the face of the terrible 
fire which greeted them. Instantly Ward ordered 
the recall sounded, formed them into line within 
easy rifle-range of the city walls, and calmly put 
them through the manual of arms with as much 
precision as though they were on parade, while a 
storm of bullets whistled round them, and men 

243 



Gentlemen Rovers 

were momentarily dropping in the ranks. Then, 
his men once more in hand, the bugles screamed 
the charge and the yellow line roared on to victory. 

Ward gave his last order to advance he had 
forgotten how to give any other on September 
21, 1862. With a regiment of his men he was 
about to attack Tse-Ki, a small fortified coast 
town a few miles from Ning-po. With his habitual 
contempt for danger he was standing with General 
Forester, his chief of staff, well in advance of his 
men, inspecting the position through his field- 
glasses. Suddenly he clapped his hand to his 
breast. "I ve been hit, Ed!" he exclaimed, and 
fell forward into the arms of his friend. Very 
tenderly his devoted yellow men carried him 
aboard the British war-ship Hardy, which was 
lying in the harbor, but the naval surgeons shook 
their heads when an examination showed that the 
bullet had passed through his lungs. "Don t 
mind me," whispered Ward. "Take the city." 
So Forester, heavy at heart, ordered forward the 
storming parties. That night the great captain 
died. The last sound he heard was his Chinamen s 
shrill yell of triumph. 

With extraordinary solemnity the dead soldier 
was laid to rest in the temple of Confucius in Sun- 
kiang, the most sacred shrine in China and the 

244 



Cities Captured by Contract 

very spot where he had established his head 
quarters after his first great victory. His body, 
which was followed to the grave by imperial vice 
roys, European admirals, generals, and consuls, 
and Chinese mandarins, was borne between the 
silent lines of his Ever-Victorious Army. By 
order of the emperor his name was placed in the 
pantheon of the gods. Temples to commemorate 
his victories were built at Sing-po and Ning-po, 
and a magnificent mausoleum was erected in his 
honor in Sunkiang. In it the yellow priests of 
Confucius still burn incense before his tomb. In 
all his history there can be found no hint of dis 
honor, no trace of shame. He was a great soldier 
and a very gallant gentleman, but he has been 
forgotten by his own people. To paraphrase the 
lines of Matthew Arnold : 

"Far hence he lies, 
Near some lone Chinese town, 
And on his grave, with shining eyes, 
The Eastern stars look down." 



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