Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart shared edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.
Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.
Part 64: Velazquez returns to the U.S., where she decides to restart her life in the West, far from the post-war ruins of the former Confederacy.
Shortly after Gen. Mansana’s death I took the steamer for the United States and was soon in New York, making but one brief stoppage at Matanzas on the way.
On my return to the United States, I found the financial and political situations, especially at the South, more deplorable than ever. The era of true Reconstruction seemed to be even farther off than it did when Lee surrendered, and the freedmen and carpetbaggers were having things completely their own way throughout the length and breadth of the late Confederacy. The people were oppressed and harried without mercy and without hope of redress by the black and white adventurers whom the fortunes of war had given the control of their affairs, and it was very apparent that there could be no revival of business worth speaking of while such a state of affairs existed. I greatly desired to settle in the South, but my own fortunes were at a low ebb, and I saw very plainly that if I expected to improve them it would be necessary to go elsewhere.
After giving the matter mature consideration and making inquiries in a number of quarters, I determined to try my luck in the mining regions of the Pacific slope, as they seemed to hold out inducements that no other part of the country did. Apart, however, from all questions of pecuniary profit, I was animated by a strong desire to explore for myself a territory concerning which I had heard so much.
Having once resolved to cross the continent in search of a home, I did not stop to make many or very elaborate preparations, being too old a traveler to encumber myself with an excess of baggage. Purchasing a ticket for Omaha, I was soon on my way to that place by the Niagara, Fort Wayne, and Chicago route.
At Omaha, I found snow on the ground and the weather quite cold, too cold for one who had just come from a tropical climate to venture on a stage journey of many hundred miles, through the wilderness with no thicker or warmer clothing than that which I had with me. I was now in somewhat of a predicament and began to regret that I had trusted quite so much to my traveler’s luck and had not furnished myself with a more comfortable outfit.
I went to a dry goods store to purchase some woolen underclothing but was unable to procure any. Fortunately, at the International Hotel, where I was stopping, there was a lady who intended to remain at Omaha for some time and when she learned of my difficulties, offered to sell me hers. This offer I accepted without hesitation, and thus, by the merest chance, found myself equipped in proper style for my long and tedious journey and its necessary exposures to the weather.
At the International I had the good fortune to meet an old friend whom I had not seen for a number of years and with whom it was a pleasure of the most genuine kind to renew my acquaintance. This was the veteran soldier Gen. W.S. Harney. He was, apparently, as glad to see me as I was to see him and insisted on escorting me in to dinner, rather, I think, to the astonishment of some of the guests.
The general had a special table for himself and friends, and as we took our seats the eyes of everybody in the room were fixed on us. The dinner was a good one in its way, the bill of fare being largely made up of buffalo and antelope meat and various kinds of game, and, as I was desperately hungry, I enjoyed it greatly. While we were dining the general chatted very freely and narrated many curious incidents of his career in the army and expressed his views on the late war with the utmost freedom. He said that he was a true Southerner in his sympathies and that his extreme age alone had prevented him from offering his services to the Confederacy. He, however, had helped the Cause as much as he could with his means and influence, and his only regret was that he had not been able to take an active part in the great conflict.
Gen. Harney, it appears, had heard some mention of my adventures and was very anxious to ask me about them. He did not, however, think that the dinner-table of the International Hotel of Omaha was exactly the suitable place to bring up a subject about which I might have some hesitation in speaking, and so deferred asking me any questions until a better opportunity offered.
When we returned to the drawing-room I met some St. Louis people whom I knew, and, engaging in conversation with them, the general politely asked to be excused and said that he would like very much to have a conversation with me in his private parlor after four o’clock.
When he was gone, Gov. C, a tall, lank, shambling backwoodsman, stalked up to me, and, in an awkward sort of a way, introduced himself. He desired to make the acquaintance of Gen. Harney and wished to know if I would not do the “polite thing” for him, that is, give him an introduction to the general. It struck me that, considering his official position, he might as well have introduced himself but, as he apparently did not know how to do this gracefully, I told him that if the general was willing, he and the governor should become acquainted after four o’clock, if he would meet me in the drawing room.
At the appointed hour I descended from my room, where I had been arranging my toilet, and found this model specimen of a statesman pacing uneasily backwards and forwards in the hall, waiting for me. For a wonder, his hat was in his hand instead of on his head, which I took to be an indication that his mother had taught him one or two points of etiquette in his youth, which he had managed to retain in his memory.
When he saw me, he came shambling up with that queer gait of his, and said, with a grin, “I am on hand, you see. We Western men are generally prompt when we have engagements with the fair sex.”
“Yes, I see you are punctual. It is a good habit. I once knew a man who made a large fortune by punctuality.”
“Haw, haw, haw!” roared the governor, stretching, his mouth nearly from ear to ear. “That’s pretty good. All of us people out here are trying to make fortunes and to make ‘em quick, so I guess we’d better make a point of being punctual. Haw, haw, haw!”
I then led him to the general’s private parlor without more ado and gave the desired introduction.
This ceremony performed, the governor evidently did not know what to say or do, but after a moment’s hesitation he extended his hand, and seizing that of the general, shook it as if he were working a pump-handle. The general, who understood what kind of a customer he had to deal with, stood up and saluted his new friend with a characteristic gesture and passed a few formal words with him. After a very brief conversation, the governor, impressed by the general’s peculiar manner and appreciating the force of the maxim that “two are company and three a crowd,” said that he would give himself the pleasure of calling again and bowed himself out.
When we were alone, in compliance with the general’s request I gave him an account of my adventures while acting as an officer in the Confederate army and as a secret-service agent. He appeared to be intensely interested and frequently interrupted me to ask questions or to express commendation. We conversed for two hours, when the announcement was made that supper was ready.
After supper we returned to the private parlor again, and I explained my plans for the future and asked his advice. This he gave in the kindest manner, and, as his experience of affairs in the West and his knowledge of the western country and people was most extensive, it was extremely valuable to me.
He said that I was a young woman yet, and that I would, undoubtedly, have offers of marriage but, for my own sake, he hoped that if I did marry again, I would choose the right kind of a man and not permit myself to fall into the hands of some adventurer. He thought that I was taking a great risk in going out to the mining region and believed that it would be much better for me to settle in my native island or else somewhere in the South. After all that I had done for the South, he said that I ought to be able to live there like a princess.
I told him, however, that the idea of receiving any assistance from the Southern people, situated as they were, was most abhorrent to me, and that, as I was young and in good health, I preferred to seek my own fortune and in my own way.
“Have you any arms?” he inquired.
“Yes, two strong ones,” I replied, holding them out.
The general laughed and said, “Yes, those will be of service to you if you are going to seek your fortune, but out among the mines you will need arms of another kind.”
He then gave me a revolver, saying that I might have need for it, and also a buffalo robe and a pair of blankets, which he was certain I would find useful.
That night I slept but little, thinking of the general’s advice and of the unknown future before me. Towards morning I fell into something like a doze, but before I was fairly asleep I was called and told that it was time to get ready for the stage.
I found Gen. Harney up and waiting for me. We took breakfast together, and as I got up to go to the stage, he said, “Remember the advice of your best friend. I only wish that I was thirty-five years younger — you should not make this journey alone.”
This was so flattering that I could not help permitting my wishes to run in the same channel.
After I was seated in the back of the coach, snugly wrapped up in my blankets and buffalo robe, a basket of eatables was handed in to me, and just as we were about to start the general leaned in, and, kissing me on the forehead, said, “Farewell, my child. If we should never meet again, God will take care of you,” and then turning to the driver, he told him to take good care of me, as I was a particular friend of his.
The driver said, “All right, sir. I will look after her,” and, cracking his whip, off we went, with nearly half the continent yet before me to be traveled before my journey should be ended.