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Loreta’s Civil War: Ruffianly white men

August 10, 2017

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.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 66: Velazquez encounters a Mormon community, makes new friends, and marries again as she looks ahead to a new life.

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After breakfast that morning, I inquired for the superintendent and road agent, Mr. Rube Thomas, but learned that he was not in the town. I then asked for Mr. J. Stewart, another road agent, and a very affable, obliging gentleman. This gentleman was, fortunately for me, in Cheyenne, and he waited on me very promptly when he received my message and expressed himself as willing to do anything in his power to assist me.

I desired to go to Camp Davy Russell, and Mr. Stewart, in the kindest manner, said that he would procure a conveyance and drive me there himself. He did so, and during our drive he took a great deal of pains to point out the features of interest and to explain a number of useful points about the country, its people, and its prospects. On reaching the camp, I presented to Gen. Stephenson a letter of introduction from Gen. Harney and was very kindly received by him. After a conference with Gen. Stephenson, I returned to Cheyenne with Mr. Stewart but found that, in consequence of the crowded condition of the stage, I would have to remain until the next day.

Mr. Stewart, knowing how uncomfortable I was at the hotel, then offered to take me to Laporte and place me in rather better quarters. This kind offer I eagerly accepted, and soon found myself under the excellent care of Mrs. Taylor, the station-keeper’s wife, and her sister, who did all that was in their power to make me comfortable and to make the time pass agreeably. I passed several pleasant days with these hospitable ladies, employing my time in horseback riding, rambling over the mountains, gathering mossagates, and visiting the wigwams of the Indians.

The red men smiled on me in a rather disdainful sort of way and evidently regarded me as an enemy. I wished most sincerely that I understood their language, if only for the purpose of explaining my friendly feelings towards them. I had much more respect for these savages than I had for the ruffianly white men who were dispossessing them of their country. In one camp I did find an old woman who spoke English quite well and had a long conversation with her. She said that vice was almost unknown among her people before the white men came, but that they corrupted the young girls and supplied the men with whiskey until now there was getting to be fewer and fewer good Indians every day.

The coaches at each trip continued to be so crowded that it was impossible for me to get a place in one, and, as I was anxious to proceed, the agent at length arranged to put on an extra for the accommodation of myself and several other travelers who also were waiting somewhat impatiently. When I was about starting, Mr. Stewart gave me a letter of introduction to the Mormon proprietor of the Kimble House in Salt Lake City.

After a few days’ travel we came to Echo City at the entrance of Echo Canon, where we met with an accident, which might have had unpleasant consequences, but, as no lives were lost, we regarded it as rather an agreeable variation of the monotony of our journey.

A water spout in the mountains had flooded the road, and the driver, in attempting to force his way through a rather bad-looking place, managed to get the coach and the horses stuck fast in a quicksand. The passengers were obliged to swim out on the backs of the horses and escaped with no other damage than wet clothing. Fortunately, we were near the house of a Mormon, who received us very hospitably, and who, while his three wives were endeavoring to make us as comfortable as circumstances would permit, went and got two yoke of oxen and pulled the coach out.

I had heard so much against the Mormons that I was under the impression they were all thieves and cutthroats. I confess that I was most agreeably disappointed in them from this, my first acquaintance, to the time of my taking a final leave of Utah. The homes, farms, dress, and behavior all indicated that they were a hard-working, industrious people, while they appeared to be entirely free from many of the worst vices of the Gentiles.

While stopping at this house in Echo Canon, I ventured to make a few inquiries about their customs and beliefs, which were very politely answered, and I was in the midst of a very interesting conversation with one of the wives, a woman of about fifty-five, when I was interrupted by the driver calling upon me to get into the coach.

The rain having freshened the air somewhat, I asked the driver to permit me to sit with him outside as we went through the canyon in order that I might see the scenery. He consented and assisted me to a seat on the box, and as we passed through the canyon, he explained the points of interest to me. He was quite a handsome young fellow and very intelligent.

On entering the Bear River Valley, my eye met on all sides little white cottages or neat log houses, surrounded by well-cultivated and well-watered farms and orchards where not many years before was but a burning plain, covered with sage bushes, and the home of the Ute Indian, the buffalo, the elk, the antelope, the coyote, and the silver gray fox. Through the untiring industry and good management of people who had been driven from their homes in Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri, this desert had been transformed into the paradise I beheld. The Mormons fled here to escape persecution, desiring only to get as far away from their enemies as possible, and after many years of toil and hardship they achieved results of which they had a right to be proud, and which entitled them to a more kindly consideration than had been accorded them when residing in the States.

Having passed the Bear River Valley, we were soon in the great metropolis of Mormondom, and driving through wide streets and avenues, past houses that were evidently the abodes of thrifty well-to-do people, the coach at length drew up before the door of the Kimble House.

The proprietor came out and ushered us up stairs to the parlor, a large, airy room, plainly but comfortably furnished, and soon a little girl came and said that she would show me my room. The furniture in this was somewhat primitive in its style, but everything was neat and clean, and the accommodations, if not exactly such as the Fifth Avenue Hotel offers, were all that any reasonable person had a right to expect.

So soon as I was fairly settled in the hotel, I presented the proprietor the letter of introduction from the road agent at Cheyenne and had quite a long conversation with him. He gave me much good advice about my future movements and seemed disposed, in every way, to be as kind and obliging as he could. From him I learned that there were a number of old Confederate soldiers in the city and vicinity but as I was anxious to get to the El Dorado, where I expected to make my fortune, with as little delay as possible, I made no attempt to find any of them.

After taking a rest for a day or two in Salt Lake City, I again started on my journey westward. At Ruby Valley in Nevada I met a gentleman who was engaged in mining operations, and he advised me strongly to go to the Reese River gold regions. I was not greatly prepossessed with him, and yet he was certainly a man of intelligence and cultivation, and, as what he told me only served to confirm what I had heard from other persons, I concluded to take his advice. On arriving at Austin, a new city in the mountains near the Reese River, I accordingly left the stage and took lodgings at the Exchange Hotel, which was kept by a Slavonian by the name of Mouinely.

The sleeping apartment assigned me at Austin was not the most agreeable, being next to a room occupied by some drunken fellows who kept up a terrible noise nearly all night, and as I thought that most likely I would have to put up with this sort of thing nearly all the time I remained in the hotel, I determined for lodgings elsewhere. A gentleman to whom I spoke about the matter said that he knew of a private house where rooms were sometimes to be had and offered to go and see if I could obtain accommodation there.

While he was gone, the chambermaid brought from the room next to mine two pairs of pistols, two large knives, and a razor and informed me that their owner was a noted desperado, called Irish Tom, and that he had killed two men.

I had some curiosity to see this individual, but did not care particularly to make his acquaintance. My curiosity was soon gratified, for he came to the parlor inquiring for his weapons. Instead of being angry with the chambermaid for having taken them from his room to show them to me, he seemed to feel rather complimented that I should feel an interest in them and him. He was a tall, good-looking Irishman with a very pleasant face and had as little of the ruffian in his appearance as any man I had met on the frontier. I was informed that he never attempted to hurt well-behaved people, and that he often submitted to the grossest kind of insults from some of his intimates. Men of his acquaintance had been known to slap him in the face, and he would take no notice but walk away as if nothing had happened. With others, however, he would have no mercy but would produce a pistol or knife at the slightest provocation.

Tom was rather noted for his polite bearing towards the ladies, which I considered as an evidence that he was not as bad, by any means, as he might have been. My friend who had gone to look for lodgings for me returned and said that he had secured me a very good room. I accordingly left the hotel and had reason to congratulate myself in my change of quarters. My landlady was a Pennsylvanian and was disposed to do all in her power to make me comfortable and to assist me in carrying out the object I had in view in taking up my residence in Austin. She introduced me to a restaurant-keeper, who agreed to supply me with my meals, and also to a number of the prominent people of the place — the judge, the doctor, the Methodist minister, and others.

The aristocracy of Austin was made up of an odd lot of people, who, however, had the best possible opinion of themselves, even if they did use bad grammar, swear hard, and drink unlimited quantities of whiskey. I, however, always had a happy faculty of adapting myself to circumstances, and I was soon on excellent terms with most of my new acquaintances.

Among my friends was an individual of about sixty years of age, who, from his conversation, seemed to have been at one time accustomed to mingle in really good society. He was a widower and was extensively engaged in mining operations. I had not known him more than a couple of days before he asked me to marry him and offered to give me an interest in his mines if I would accept him. I thought that this was a rather abrupt style of courtship and felt constrained to decline. He took my refusal good-naturedly enough and was evidently not sufficiently in love with me to break his heart because he could not get me.

Subsequently I met a gentleman who paid me attention and to whom I became sincerely attached. We were married in a very quiet manner, for neither of us desired any more than we could help to be made the subjects of the gossip of a mining town.

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