Friday, July 18, 2014

Helpful Drunk

Old Ben had stopped off at the local bar after work Friday to celebrate the coming of the weekend. After having a few drinks too many, he decided to take a shortcut through the graveyard on his way home. Unfortunately, in the dark he didn't see the fresh-dug hole left open for a funeral the next day and he fell in. He wasn't hurt, but try as he might, he couldn't get out of the hole. No matter how he scrambled and jumped, it was just too deep. He began calling for help, yelling as loud as he could, but nobody heard him and his voice eventually grew ragged and coarse. He finally settled down to spend the cold night in the ground until the mortician would come in the morning.

An hour later, another drunk came walking through the graveyard. Sure enough, he fell in the same hole. Ben sat in the corner watching the drunk jumping and scrambling trying to get out. Finally, just being helpful, in his ragged voice he croaked to the drunk, "You can't get out, you know."

But he did.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Roses for Alice

Ruins of Fort Davis
In far West Texas at the lonely military outpost of Fort Davis, trouble was in the wind. It was early in 1861 and in the civilized area's hundreds of miles to the east, war was coming. Most of the officers at this remote site were from the north and they vowed if war broke out, they would return there to fight for the Union. A few men were from the south and they vowed to fight for the Confederacy.  Military discipline was maintained and for the most part, the men who had been stationed together, worked together, and lived together for many months remained civil to each other no matter which side their allegiances fell.

Alice Walpole was the young, beautiful wife of a lieutenant who had recently graduated from West Point and had been assigned duty at Fort Davis. He was the youngest and most recently arrived officer at the fort, but he worked hard, was a good leader, and had quickly become friends with the other officers. Alice however, was not happy. She loved her husband, but hated the dry, barren land of this part of Texas. She was from Alabama and West Texas could not be more different from the lush climate and green landscape of her Alabama home. 

Having been only recently married, she was young and without child. This left her having nothing in common with the older wives living in the fort with their officer husbands. Alice's husband was often gone on patrol so she spent a lot of time in lonely vigil. She kept thinking of all the things back home she missed and finally decided what she missed most were the roses which bloomed in her mother's garden. She longed for an earlier time, the times when she would be with her mother working the soil in the flower gardens around her home, talking and laughing with no cares, surrounded by the sweet smell of the carefully tended roses which grew in abundance.

In the first week of April with her husband once again out on patrol chasing Indians, Alice decided to hunt for any early roses that might be growing along Limpia Creek just outside the fort. She thought if she could find some, she would bring them back and plant them around the little frame house she and her husband lived in. If she watered and took care of them, maybe they would bloom and their house wouldn't seem so barren. If enough bloomed, Alice could sit outside with her eyes closed and their sweet smell would make it seem as if she was back in the land she missed so much.

The morning air was chilly so she pulled her bright-blue wool cloak around her shoulders and set out to search the creek for roses. She ignored the recent reports of Indians close by as her brave husband and his troops were on patrol and surely had the Indians on the run far away from the fort.

Later that same night, Lieutenant Walpole returned to the fort, but Alice never did. The band of raiding Apaches her husband was in search of had eluded the troops, came back to the creek to water their horses, and there they found and kidnapped poor Alice Walpole.

As darkness fell, word of her disappearance spread through the fort. After being relieved, a guard came in and reported that earlier that day he had seen a woman in a blue cloak rushing by on a trail outside the fort. He had been surprised to see a woman alone outside the safety of the fort. After noting she seemed to be carrying an arm-full of white roses, he called to her, but she didn't stop or answer. He rushed down the trail after her to ensure she made it back to the fort safely, but she seemed to have vanished into the air. With this information, the men searched where the guard reported seeing Alice. Extensive searches were conducted over many days, but other than a blue cloak and an Apache arrow apparently dropped by one of the Indians, no trace of Alice was found.

Soon, word came that Fort Sumter had been fired upon and war had been declared. The men left to go back to fight for one side or the other. One morning, after most of the troops had left, the post commander who had been ordered to oversee the closure of the fort arrived at his office to find that unseen by anyone, somebody had slipped in and left a vase of 7 white roses on his desk. He had never seen roses in the area and was bewildered, but with all of the last minute chores he was seeing to, he didn't have the time to investigate further. The next morning when he arrived back in his office, the vase with its 7 white roses was gone. A short time later that same morning, the last 7 officers left in the fort came to his office and resigned their commissions. All 7 intended to offer their services to the Confederacy. One of those officers was young Lieutenant Walpole.

A few days later the fort was officially closed and the remaining troops left. The last officer to leave was Lieutenant Walpole who made one more search for his beloved Alice. When he left, all searching ended forever and Alice was forgotten.

Buffalo Soldiers (historical photo)
After closing, the buildings of Fort Davis were stripped for their wood and stones by the local ranchers. After the end of the Civil War, Buffalo Troops were assigned to the post to guard against the still raiding Indians. Beginning in 1867, they rebuilt the buildings and grounds, eventually making the fort larger than the first one. It remained in operation until 1891 and today is one of the best preserved historic forts in America.

Stories persist however, that Alice never left the fort. The men who manned Fort Davis beginning in 1867 had not heard of poor Alice or the story of the roses mysteriously left on the previous post commander's desk. They had no idea why they occasionally got a whiff of roses inside a post building or in the middle of the large parade ground. The troops reported this numerous times, but it was always chalked up to wild imaginations or too much of the local rotgut whiskey.

It wasn't until the old fort was being restored and it's history was being researched that the story of Alice was uncovered through letters, diaries, and official reports. Then it all started making sense. Through the years since the Buffalo Soldiers left, visitors continue to report briefly seeing out of the corner of the eye, a young, beautiful woman with a blue cloak over her shoulders hurrying by followed briefly by the sweet smell of roses. Most often though, her visits are unseen. She lets people know she is still there by the scent of roses; the scent of roses where there are none.