Primary tabs


437. George M. Harrison to William H. Herndon.

Richland Jan'y 29th 1867 —

Mr. Herndon:

I will proceed to answer some of your questions, as well as I can. I would answer all if I could. Foot-racing when cool, and bathing swimming &c when warm, were favorite amusements or exercises. Our red boys and white, would frequently race against each other; and sometimes wrestle. In a short race, the white boys generally beat; but a very long race generally, if not always, resulted in favor of the


Indians: and so of wrestling, the whites could throw them, but in a very long continued effort the Indians were apt to be victors. Very few men in the army could successfully compete with Mr Lincoln, either in wrestling or swimming; he well understood both arts. But his good humor & Quaint sayings, always preserved pleasant feeling Chess, Checkers, & Cards, were among the favorite plays or amusements, of both Indians and whites. But smoking is the great pleasure of the Indian. As to songs, I have nothing. Our foe was so insignificant as not to excite the muse. Our food consisted wholy of raw material. Government furnished the army four raw articles, from which we prepared our diet: bacon hams and shoulders, pickled pork — clear sides,flour, and beef cattle — So you see, we were expected to live on bread & Meat alone. When we had coffee & sugar, we bought them; and [page torn] chance for this, was not often. The bacon the pork, and the flour, were of the very best quality; and the cattle were tolerably good. We drew pork chiefly, when near the steamboats — at Fort Wilbourn and at Dixon's Ferry, — at other times always bacon. of these, we always had plenty, unless failing to carry with us enough: which happened two or three times. Once in particular, at an old evacuated Winnebago town, called Turtle Village, after stretching our rations nearly four days, one of our mess, — an old acquaintance of Lincoln, G. B. Fanchier — shot a dove, and having a gill of flour left, we made a gallon and a half of delicious soup, in an old tin bucket that had been lost by indians; this soup we divided among several messes that were hungrier than we were, and our own mess, by pouring in each man's cup a portion of the esculent. Once more, at another time in the extreme northern part of Illinois, We had been very hungry for two days, but suddenly came upon a new cabin — at the edge of a prairie — that the pioneer sovereign squ[att]er family had vacated and skedadled for fear they would lose their scalps, and there were plenty of chickens about said cabin, much hungrier than we were ourselves if poverty is to test the matter, and the boys heard a voice saying "slay and eat" so they went to shooting, clubbing, & running them as long as any could be found. Whilst the killing was going on, I climed to the ridge pole of the smokehouse to distinctly see, what I saw obscurely from the ground, and beheld the cleanest sweetest jole of all I ever saw — alone — half hid by boards and ridge pole, stuck up no doubt for future use. By this time many of the chickens were broiling, for want of grease or gravy to fry them, among the rest were a rooster & a hen belonging to our mess, and the jole belonged to us by the right of discovery & possession, so after broiling the fowels some time, while the bacon was frying, some interested one proposed to give the chickens all the benefit of the grease, by completing the process by frying; the proposition was adopted, and they were soon fried. We began to eat the tough dry chickens and the bacon: and Mr Lincoln came to the repast when we were about finishing, with the querries "eating chicken boys?" "not much sir." — We had ope[ned] principally


upon the jole for it was sweet an[d] rich indeed — "They are much like eating saddle bags, but I think the stomach can accomplish much to day, but what have you got there with the skeletons, George,?" "We did have a sweet jole of a hog sir, but you are nearly too late for your share, at the same time making room for him to approach the elm bark dish. He ate bacon fat, a moment; then commenced dividing by mouthful to the boys who came to see what "Abe" was at, and saying to them funny remarks suited to the time and the jole. at the time of eating, as w[ell] as at other times, he was occasionally with his m[en] — but he always slept at home. He was acquainted with nearly every body, and he had determined as he told me, to become a candidate for the next legislature. The mess unanimously pitched upon him as our water bearer and he accepted the office; so immediately after pitching tent, he took the bucket and started for water. This always, by special agreement, — exculpated him from the onerous duties of getting fuel, cooking &c. Indeed he was the best water man in camp, for he always succeeded quickly no matter how difficult the task from the greatness of the crowd and scarcity of water, our Lincoln was so well known, so facetious, and so strong. Please excuse the digression. The flour and the meat furnished were always of so good a quality that without vegatables condiments &c. except common salt, which was bountifully furnished, we could easily prepare a palatable diet for any class of woodsman. Our only variety was found in the different modes of cooking. The meat, we could boil, — when we could get a pot, — broil, roast, or fry: the latter was generally practiced, in order to save all the grease for the bread; to shorten and to fry. The bread we could bake, or fry; the latter mode was generally practiced, for it was the less trouble, and the less time of the two modes: the former mode we usually practiced by wrapping the stiff shortened dough in a spiral manner around our ramrods, then sticking the rods in the ground before the fire, where it would nicely bake into a most esculent bread; the dough was coiled into a long snake like shape, the one end stuck upon the top of the rod, to keep it from slipping down on the ground, and then wraped closely and firmly roud and round and round and round the rod, then stuck before the fire. The beef cattle were used almost exclusively by the Indian part of our army. I think they got nothing to eat but fresh beef, that is beef cattle, which they killed when convenient, hung the quarters on trees and cut off hunks for boiling or roasting as they wanted: in this fix the quarters would sometimes remain for several days, in the months of June & July, & exposed to the action of sun and flies. Some of the Indians were very fond of bread, for they would stroll around camp and steal, beg, or buy every, morsel that they could get. The main object with them in becoming part of the army probably was to get plenty of beef, but the ostensible object was revenge on their enemies — the Sacs and Foxes. Having boiled a piece of beef, one of them would take the whole, and immediately the others would form a circle around him, when he would cut off each ones piece and toss it to him or on the ground by him, like feeding dogs. Our utensils for cooking &c. consisted of a frying pan with a short handle, a tin water bucket — furnished by Government — and pocket knives or bowie knives, hatchets, tin cups, a coffee pot & elm bark for dishes. kneading tray


— furnished by our selves — Our coffee we would parch in the frying pan, grind in a tin cup by placing the cup on the solid ground or a log and punching it with the end of a hatchet handle until it would do to boil in the coffee pot, and cool in our tin cups: and if a cup or cups should be pilfered or lost, we had to enter into partnership until another was procured. The noise throughout camp, early of a morning, made by this mode of grinding coffee, was striking in a high degree: the chuck, chuck, chuck, chuck; would make one think of a thousand wood chucks sitting all a round, on fences, on logs, on stumps, and on chunks, each one exerting himself to the utmost.

As to wet days, I have little to say, as there was but one rain during the whole time that I was out from home in the army; at that time there was also quite a storm of wind, and all of us passed the time trying to hold up the tents and keep off as much rain as posible; but in spite of our efforts we got a thorough drenching: this was at sycamore creek some 20 or 30 miles above Dicksons ferry; the very spot where stillman was encamped when the Indians attacked him and killed so many of his men, well known as Stillman's defeat. At this time our company was alone and overstayed the time, and our rations failed to hold out, and we hastened back to Dixon's in a hurry: when we got there we found prepared for us, an abundant supply of boiled bacon and light bread of an excellent quality, cooked in vessels borrowed from Mr. Dixon, by the soldiers — Mrs Dixon also gave us Ten gallons of sweet fresh milk and several pounds of butter, with which to finish the repast. Several of our men ate so much, and ate so fast, no wonder they got sick At last — Were very near dying of colic. This is the way we passed the da[ys] We passed our evenings by jumping, playing checkers, chess, swimming our horses, which was a favorite sport when near Rock-river, to give them exercise and cool them, and telling tales, stories &c. &c.

Yours truly
Geo. M. Harrison

Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 2991 — 94



1. Clear sides of pork do not include ribs.

2. Site of Beloit, Wisconsin.

3. Jowl, in this case probably a cured hog jowl

4. Dixon's Ferry, a supply point on the Rock River during the Black Hawk War.