“My Dear Mother, With Love Your Affectionate Son”
Richard Blake was a civilian merchant, known as a sutler, at Fort Wallace, Kansas, during the 1860s. At that time Fort Wallace, still located in western Kansas, was a stop on the stage coach line that went through Kansas and on to Colorado. It also served as a military outpost. During his time there, Blake wrote letters to his family describing the area, the men he encountered, and life on the post. Those letters are now among the holdings of the Kansas Collection at Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Among his letters is one written to his mother. In it, he talks of feeling homesick and of his longing for letters from home. In honor of Mothers’ Day, the letter is transcribed here.
Please note that some of the language used by Blake was common during his time, but is considered offensive today.
Fort Wallace, Kansas
July 14, 1867
My Dear Mother,
Another week has gone by and we have had no Mail. consequently I have not heard from any of you, at home or elsewhere. I begin to want to hear, as it is about a month since I got a letter.
Last evening just at dusk we saw on a hill about a mile north of here – about a dozzen [sic] horsemen which a great many took to be Indians – but we were expecting Genl Custer with his command and supposed the horsemen to be the advance guard, which turned out to be correct – it was Genl Custer with what was left of his command. he camped about a mile west of us, and all day to-day we have had the officers up here and quite a lively time. but now all is quiet once more and I am in hopes for the evening as I want to write several letters and no knowing if I will have another chance before the coach goes down which will be on Thursday if nothing happens. The Stages for the present will run once a week, two coaches at a time, and that is a great deal better than being cut off from all communication. I wonder if you know how a person feels when we have nothing to read and nothing but the same story about Indians – with no news of what is going on in the States. I know I feel auful [sic] lonesome sometimes, and hardly know what to do with myself, and generally either go to sleep, or smoke my pipe or go up to see the officers and play whist till I am over the blues.
Brevet Major Genl Custer is Lieut Col. of the 7th Cavalry, which six months ago numbered (1200) twelve hundred men, and since then they have had three hundred recruits, and to-day the whole Regiment, twelve companies do not number over Seven hundred and they have not lost Fifty men in all by death, but they have deserted by tens twenties and fifties, till over seven hundred have gone and now we have “All that is left of them,” left of the Twelve hundred “Stationed here.” I think as every one else with any sense at all thinks, that Genl Sherman, Genl Hancock, Genl Custer and the balance of them have made a grand fizzle. I don’t believe the whole pack of them have killed a dozzen [sic] Indians all told, and only the other day Genl Sherman sent an officer and Ten men from Fort Sedgewick to the Republican River to order Genl Custer to this post. they sure reached Custer but were found a few days afterward, murdered by the confounded Red devils.
I dont remember having told you in my last letter how I spent the Fourth of July, A.D. 1867, in fact I hardly remember what I did write – as I was half asleep when I wrote it having got up at midnight when the Stage arrived, and had to write then or not at all, so will give you a brief sketch now – well to begin we got up as usual eat our breakfast about the same time and opened the Store, which we kept open till twelve o’clock, then as we felt hungry and not going to have dinner till three we eat a box of Sardines and a few crackers – smacked our lips and took a nap till three when we went to dinner and what a dinner. “Oh ye Gods.” Chicken Pie, made from canned chicken, with sobby [sic] crust, and no taste. Then also Oyster Soup – made out [of] Cove oysters with water, with bread and butter. after dinner I took another nap – till dusk when we adjourned up to the Officers quarters – and spent the evening in telling yarns and singing as a [singest?]. I do not excel so did not join in – but listened, and when they sang “Home Sweet Home” I fell well Home sick my heart jumped clean up in my mouth, after that we retired for the night – the day did not seem at all like the 4th of July, more like Sunday, and I cannot now realize that the season is so far advanced.
This evening we had a call from Theodore R. Davis, Special Correspondent and artist for Harper & Bro – he has quite a long article in Harpers Monthly for July – entitled “A Stage Ride to Colorado” with several cuts. I have not yet read it, so cannot say whether it is good or not.
Well all the Officers of the Post came in a while ago – so I had to stop and now it is eleven O’clock so I will stop for the present, but if I get a chance before the coach goes down – I will add a few lines. Give my love to all and all of you write often to your affectionate son.
P.S. July 15/67 Genl Custer is going down to Fort Hays after his wife this evening – and has promised to take our mail down – so I will send this by him. Will try and write again when the Stage goes down. Love to all. With love your aff. Son