Friday, June 20, 2014

Stories of Civil War Soldiers - Daniel McDonald

Stories of Civil War Soldiers
Daniel McDonald

This is the first of the five stories of Civil War Soldiers of the Oak Creek Valley from Part III:

“American Centennial at the Homeplace: The Founding (1833-1876)”

Daniel McDonald

Jane Truesdale and I had married in June 1859 and looked forward to continue farming with my older brother, Harry, and grandfather, Henry. Harry’s boy, Alex, had become a good worker on the farm, as well. I also made regular freight runs over to the west, to Houston and back, part of our family business. The war pulled us away from all this, but never a day went by that I didn’t think of returning to our farm, with Jane, and raising our family there. I really loved that farm along Oak Creek.

As soon as Colonel Patton got his commission, his grandson, Lewis, my brother-in-law, Jane’s brother, began helping him recruit troops. Lewis liked to joke that I was his “first recruit.” I don’t remember it quite that way, but I’ve always played along with the story. Even though younger than me, he was real good at what he did. I’m a decent worker, not a leader, by nature. My wife, Jane, and her brother, Lewis, they were raised by their parents, Hugh and Victoria (Patton) Truesdale, to be leaders, and they were. I feel lucky to have been able to be around them, and maybe have a little of that rub off on me.

After about a year of being a cavalry soldier in Lewis’s Company, he promoted me to Sergeant under his leadership. I worked really hard to justify his confidence in me. And, it seemed to work. By the time the war ended, I had learned to lead my men, and actually kind of enjoyed it. 

Jane had gone to live with her Truesdale grandparents, who lived near Jefferson City, not far from where my brother, Harry, and his wife, Sarah, and their two younger daughters, lived. Since our assignments and patrols never took us too far from central Missouri, I was able to obtain a number of furloughs to spend time with Jane, and them, when duty allowed. We managed to have a son, William, born 31 Jan 1864. William had a lot of Truesdale blood, I always said, because he was born big and mature, and continued that way. I think that is why we always called him William and not Bill or Billie. His mother raised him to be a man while he was still in diapers. He was smart, handsome and humble - at least he got one characteristic from me.

As I recall, as 1864 became 1865, about the time William had his first birthday, actually, Lewis and I, along with David Baldridge and Liam Olson, also serving in the regiment, in other companies, began to meet and plan our hoped-for return to the Oak Creek valley. Lewis said Colonel Patton was behind the planning, but I was never involved in that part. Indeed, by the first of May we were being mustered out, gathering supplies, and about ready to head south.

Lewis and Caroline had gotten married the prior year, so it was hard for both of us to leave our loved ones, but, we expected that they would be able to join us before long, later in the year, certainly before winter set in.

Lewis and I left first. He hoped and expected to find GranPa Henry and Alex on our arrival, as they had remained in the caves and the wilds of the valley all during the war. A message had been received by Colonel Patton from Henry that was written in November of 1863. That was now nearly eighteen months past and we were concerned as we approached the ridge above where the mill had been as we rode down the west side of Oak Creek, leading mules with filled packs.

Catching sight of Henry and Alex, dressed like mountain men, was a total thrill, once we recognized that it really was them. GranPa Henry looked old and tough. Alex looked all grown up, though still small, but tough as nails, just like his GrandPa. What a sight... We were home.

Learning that the war was actually ended and that more family and neighbors would be coming yet that year, they were as anxious as we were to get to work on crops and additional housing. That is easy to say, now, looking back. At the time, looking out across the valley, all grown up in trees, bushes and other vegetation, not homes, and barns and cultivated fields, it did seem a daunting task ahead of us. But, we each got right to work.

We soon discovered that they had been planting seeds saved from the prior year in individual hills with fish, like the pilgrims and the Indians had. Those were all planted. Seeing the mules, Henry was anxious to retrieve the plow from the cave where he had cached it to get to work on some real crops, with the new seed we had brought. Since the season was already a bit late, that took a high priority. 

Another priority was self-protection. We had brought extra rifles and ammunition. Henry and Alex were very pleased with this. They had survived with bow and arrow. There was still a high probability that outlaws and raiders might still be in the area. We took precautions, and continually reminded ourselves, all through the summer, that we were “home” but not necessarily “safe.” 

David and Liam were about ten days behind us in arriving in the valley. They also brought more mules with more packs of supplies and some of their equipment to begin to salvage what they could around the mill. Liam brought some of his blacksmithing tools, and hoped to set up shop near the mill. David hoped to get a saw mill operating fairly quickly and the grist mill at a minimal level by the fall harvest, assuming there would be one. 

We decided to build the first small cabin near the mill site, not too far from the caves where Henry and Alex had been living, and all of us based there in the early days. The second house was to be for the McDonalds on McDonald land, but further west than the original home; closer to the former Truesdale place, where Jane and I had started our married life. We decided to build a double cabin, with a dog-trot separating them. Jane, William and I would live on one side, Henry and Alex on the other, with a little room for visitors.

I helped as I could, also, with the first two houses built over in the central valley, one for Lewis and his extended family and the other for the Olson’s, under some agreement he had made with Colonel Patton. They each made several visits during the summer. Col. Patton was returning quickly to involvement in his earlier political activities. He still served as a County Commissioner, which apparently had benefits for us in the valley to assure our continued ownership interests and political entities. We learned that David Baldridge would resume his duties as Eastern Township Trustee, for example, with responsibilities for roads and bridges, among other things. 

That interested me, as after we got the crops in, I wanted to begin to get the roads back in shape so that the freight runs could be resumed. I had agreed with my brother, Harry, and the now much expanded freight line he was affiliated with, to be the local contact, to set up local pick-up and delivery points, and to be responsible for the mail routes to the local post office when it was resumed by the Olsons in Oak Springs.

By the fall, when a few other families arrived along with the rest of our families, we resumed the “Fourth Sunday” tradition in September. It was very useful for joint planning and keeping in touch with what others were doing. It was at that first gathering that I attended that I fully realized how much planning was going on in Oak Springs. 

I’d been spending my time on the farm and on the roads. We got the first freight wagon through from Houston in late September, just before the meeting, and the first freight wagon through from Salem, to the north, in early October. In November the first wagon headed on south east to Eminence. By spring, regular service had fully resumed, including regular mail service.

Jane and William were able to make the trip down with Colonel Patton in his carriage in mid-October. A few weeks later, Owen Olson, his wife, Anna, and daughter, Allison, along with a very pregnant Caroline (McDonald) Truesdale, and Nellie Truesdale arrived in the central valley via a “covered wagon” to join Lewis. The baby, their first, a boy named James, was born the first week of February. 

Upcoming Stories of Civil War Soldiers and Others

*** David Baldridge
*** Lewis Truesdale
*** Gideon Inman
*** Owen Olson

May we each have a Homeplace, if only in our hearts!

Dr. Bill  ;-)

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