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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 5, No. 2
June, 1927


Christian F. Sommer.

Page 185

During a life long service in and with the Army, I met and became acquainted with a considerable number of officers, especially, those of the so-called Old Army; in my opinion the most perfect fighting machine this country, or any other country, for that matter, has ever had in its service.

The American officer, chosen as he is, from the people, and not as in most other countries, from the preferred classes or the nobility, but nevertheless with the many finer traits found among that element, has in addition, a good many superior traits not found among those and as a rule is practically free from most of the snobbishness and arrogance of the officers of foreign armies. Moreover, he is brainier and more resourceful than his foreign compeers.

I first met Brevet Major General Edward Hatch, Colonel 9th U. S. Cavalry, in 1884, when the Oklahoma Boomer agitation was at its height. He was ordered to Caldwell, Kansas. where I was then stationed as agent of the Chief Quartermaster, Department of the Missouri. He had been ordered to establish headquarters there and had received instructions to establish camps at various points, to prevent the land hungry hordes from entering into the Indian Territory under the famous Captain David L. Payne. These had made several attempts to enter the Indian Territory for the purpose of gaining footholds in the Oklahoma lands which at that time had not been assigned to any indian tribes and, therefore, by the Boomer element, were considered vacant lands and as such, subject to settlement. Part of the regiments were already stationed in the Indian Territory and the remainder were to be concentrated at Caldwell to be used by General Hatch for scouting purposes.

The General had ordered two of his staff officers, the adjutant and the quartermaster, to proceed to Caldwell, in advance of his arrival, to provide facilities for the accommodation of himself and his staff, and camp grounds for such

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troops as were due to arrive there. As I had already provided the latter, they had only to secure hotel accommodations for the General and themselves. They came at once to my office to ascertain what provision I had already made and, as the city authorities of Caldwell had granted me permission to use the city Fair Grounds, with its stables and other buildings—then unoccupied—for the purpose, practically everything was in readiness for reception of the troops.

As I had never met General Hatch, I naturally asked these officers what kind of a man he was, his general disposition, method of transacting business, etc., and they both assured me that he was the salt of the earth, that all his officers loved him and his men simply worshiped him. One of the officers, however, stated that the General had a peculiar way of "sizing up" new acquaintances and that he wanted to give me a pointer on that score, so that I might know how to act when I would be put to this test. As he told me, the General had a large assortment of clever stories, some possible, other impossible, and when occasion arose, he would spring one of the latter on the new acquaintance and judge him by the way he accepted this strange tale. If he smiled and took it all in as a possible occurrence, he usually judged him to be a dummy, but if he remonstrated and doubted the veracity or possibility of the story, he rated him a man of self assertion and keen judgment.

As a sample of the yarns which the General used for this purpose, he quoted an occurrence at Fort Union, N. M., where, at the traders store, he and a couple of other officers were discussing strange incidents, which happened to them in their childhood, or early age. A young officer had just joined —,appointed from civil life—and without any military experience whatever, and to him and others present the General related that he had an uncle who owned a whaling vessel, and yearly went out on a whaling expedition in arctic waters which sometimes lasted for several months or until sufficient "blubber" had been obtained to pay for the expense of the trip and a good snug sum besides for the owner and those interested with him. He related in detail, their success being, caught and dispatched about a hundred whales; and they were about ready to return to their home port when a terrific storm

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suddenly sprung up, all the sails reefed or shortened, and this, while they were surrounded on all sides by threatening icebergs. His uncle, stern and brave, was on the bridge issuing commands to the crew and mates, as to navigation of the vessel, when all of a sudden it struck a submerged iceberg, and a huge wave forced it on top and across the berg. The terrific shock caused the vessel, or at least the bridge part of it, to break in two in the center, and his uncle, who was standing there, brave and cool, slipped down the cleft, and another wave just then raising the stern of the vessel, cut his uncle in two, the upper half of him washing overboard by the same wave, while the lower half fell dawn in the hold of the vessel. Of course great consternation ensued, but the upper half of the uncle disappeared and could not be found, while the lower half was duly prepared for burial at sea and with proper ceremonies conveyed to the wild waves and the ship arrived at its home harbor with the flag at half mast and the sad story to be told to his many devoted friends and relatives.

The young officer listened very attentively to the General’s story and with a sad smile merely said: "What an awful experience for one so young. Did he have any insurance to protect his poor family? The General’s reply is not known, but just as the story was finished, another officer (by the way he was a major in the Quartermaster Department, also on duty at Fort Union) took the answer out of the General’s mouth, by saying that he also while quite a youngster had been on a whaling trip—not as a guest with an uncle, but as a common sailor before the mast, and that while near Iceland one day the outlook discovered a whale of unusual size, how everybody was piped on deck and started in the four whale boats with harpoons and guns to capture the animal, how he struggled, but they finally succeeded in towing him along side the vessel, where he was promptly sawed in three parts and the parts hauled aboard to gain the blubber, barbs, etc., the last to be done was to dispose of his entrails and stomach. When the latter was finally cut loose from the surrounding ribs and vertebrae, the man discovered an unusual lump within, and to see what it was, cut it open, and he continued

"General, what do you think that darn whale had swallowed?" Several guesses were made by those present, when the Major

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addressing General Hatch, coolly stated, "No, General, that was the upper half of your poor uncle!"

The ultimate result of the Major’s story was not known to my informant, but he surmised that the assembled gentlemen had a hearty laugh and ordered the drinks charged to the General.

I found the General, upon acquaintance, exactly as indicated by the statements of these two officers, a strikingly handsome gentleman, kind, companionable and fully possessed of all the fine qualities I have given the officers of our Army. He had a magnificent record from his participation in the Civil War and had a large circle of warm friends in the Army and in civil life. I soon found that he was very fond of outings and picnics and the first time he visited my home he broached the subject to my wife, suggested that she invite a couple of lady friends whom he had met with her and join him in a picnic the following Sunday, to be held at Gueda Springs. The General had heard of these Springs, between Caldwell and Arkansas City, and some one had recommended the location to him as a suitable location for a camp, as it was very close to the border of the Indian Territory. The General had just received his Daugherty wagon with four mules and driver from Fort Riley, and wanted to try it out, so he took the "lead" loaded down with the lady guests and provisions and I followed behind with my surrey bringing the children and a gentleman friend. None of us knew the road, but by frequent inquiries we found the place at last, but not up to our expectations. There was sure enough a spring, but it was entirely undeveloped and no attempt had been made to make it attractive to visitors nor were there any provisions for taking care of guests. There were only about half a dozen houses, no hotels, and only one small store. The General had laid in a very fine supply of eatables, made a wounderful host, and I never enjoyed a luncheon more than this identical one, with its caviare sandwiches, fried chicken, and other delicacies, supplemented by ice cold Anheuser-Busch and Mocha coffee. It was a beautiful day, the country looked its very best, and a spirit of gaiety and jollification prevailed. The ’General told some very funny stories and made himself very much admired by all. The General’s driver acted as butler and he

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brought along an accordion, which he played with a great, deal of eclat, and of course everybody danced.

The small spring was the only visible water supply at the time and of course would not suffice for a camp, especially one of mounted troops, so Gueda Springs was eliminated as a prospective observation camp, but personally, I shall always remember it with a certain amount of dread. I made the acquaintance there, for the first time, with the Kansas chigger, a pest I had heard about but had never before encountered. It seems as if it took me months to get thoroughly rid of them and their poisonous sting. I tried several remedies, but they all failed until I got-hold of some old rancid bacon rind, which finally conquered them. It was somewhat of a comfort, though, to observe that all the other members of the party, for quite a while thereafter, when we met would rub their ankles and other parts of their anatomy.

The following Sunday my wife had the General and practically all of the members of the camping party at our house for dinner and, I am sure, it was as thoroughly enjoyed as the previous Sunday’s outing. It was a beautiful day, one of those glorious sunshiny temperate days that Kansas is famous for, and, after the last course, the party adjourned to the porch for coffee and talk. I thought it a good opportunity to get the General away from the female part of the party and had the maid bring the coffee to a small table at the end of the porch.

It so happened that I had in the morning read, in the Kansas City Times, a full report of the arrival in New York City, of the famous Obelisk, (Cleopatra’s Needle), which the Egyptian government had presented to this country as an expression of its good will toward the country in appreciation for something which this country had done for the benefit of Egypt. We do, habitually, so many silly things for the benefit of other countries and people, that I do not remember what we were credited with that time which caused them to give us some of their mementoes of other ages—and I doubt if any of my readers have now the slightest recollection of these facts —but this does not really matter. The Kansas City Times gave a complete telegraphic report of all the difficulties encountered in bringing this huge stone pillar across the Atlantic; how a special naval cruise had been sent across to bring it

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over, as no commercial vessel could be found to handle it, and of the engineering skill and labor required in bringing it from its original place of 3000 years standing to the nearest harbor. The paper then added some additional comment on the subject of "Lost Arts" and regretted that it was unknown to this generation of wiseacres how the ancestors of the persent population of Egypt had managed to transport this huge monster from the place where it was cut out of a block of granite; brought out of the two acre quarry, where a couple of other similar giants had been reposing for centuries and transported over swampy fields and sandy deserts to the place where it was found in modern times without, insofar as is known, any hoisting apparatus or suitable means of land or water transportation. The article urged scientists to study the problem and to fully convey any information on this subject to the paper.

I thought I saw a great opportunity to draw out the General’s idea on this subject, which interested me greatly and asked him if he had read the article on this subject in the Kansas City Times, and what he thought of the subject of "lost arts." He promptly replied that in his opinion there wasn’t any such thing as "lost arts." And when I opined that any such problem as could not be understood by the average human being, and the solution of which no key seemed applicable, was of necessity a "lost art," but he could not agree to that, and said he could elucidate the subject by relating an occurrence in which he played the principal part. I immediately scented that some story would be forthcoming, which would be told especially to test my credulity, and quietly lighted another cigar determined not to interrupt the effort while the General took another cup of coffee.

I shall outline this story as near as possible as he told it, and I am quite sure that I have not forgotten any vital part of it, because I have thought of it so often and retold it to friends on account of its many strange features.

He said:
"My father came to this country from England when I was a youngster, and I was with him always when not in school. He had been connected with an English firm, manufacturing all kinds of machinery and was delighted to introduce modern English machinery into this country. He had

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solicited and obtained a number of orders for sawmills and boilers from owners of timbered lands in Pennsylvania, where the Alleghany Mountains at that time were covered with forests. We were up north of where Altoona is now located, assembling the necessary machinery for six steam sawmills. All the parts pertaining to these mills, even the saw blades had arrived and been placed and we were now awaiting the arrival of the six boilers which were to furnish the power for these mills. They were shipped on a separate vessel for the reason that the vessel which brought over the machinery could not, for some reason, carry the boilers. My father had made arrangements with the people who operated the Schuylkill Canal to transport these boilers, immediately upon arrival, to the different locations, and he was anxiously awaiting their arrival every day having been notified by the shipping company that they had been unloaded at Philadelphia and turned over to the Canal company for further transportation. Then, instead, one day the mail brought a letter from the Canal people, saying that they were unable to comply with their agreement, as the boilers were larger in circumference by several feet than the boiler covered by the manifest and could not pass under the many bridges that crossed the Canal in connection with the local roads. Under the circumstances the company "threw up the sponge" and simply refused to carry out their contract, which apparently they were prevented from filling on account of causes over which they had no control.

"My poor father became frantic. Here was a good many thousand dollars worth of machinery, part of it paid for and in place to be operated, and no power, or means to produce power, available. He declared himself a ruined man, liable to be held responsible for the unfortunate mistake, might have to pay for it and probably would lose his position. I tried to console and comfort him, but without effect. He sought advice from various people he met and from the mechanics employed, but no one could suggest a remedy or anything tangible which could produce these boilers. I went to bed, but couldn’t sleep; kept racking my brain to bring to mind things that I had studied, and finally came to the conclusion that the boilers if properly made, would float, and I got up and told my father that if he would send me down to Philadelphia with an order on his bankers to advance me $200.00, I would make

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an effort to have the boilers towed up by one or more barges. He at first wouldn’t listen to me but finally upon the earnest solicitation of one of the bosses, he consented, and I was given the order and dispatched to Philadelphia, about fifty miles on horseback and the rest of the way by stage, and rail.

"As soon as I arrived at Philadelphia, I went down to the shipping wharf to assure myself that the boilers were actually there and to take measurements of them. I then went to the banking firm and obtained the $200.00 and I negotiated with a firm dealing in machinery to send a mechanic down to the wharf to close up, airtight, the manholes and if necessary, to pump the air out of the boilers. The mechanic finished the first boiler in a couple of hours and, as soon as that was accomplished, I hired six laborers with bandspikes to do the rest.

"When the men sent by the Barge company came to me, and asked me what to do I took them down to the boiler, already prepared for the bath, and told them to roll it over the curb of the dock and to obtain a couple of loading platforms; to roll the boiler on those and then to place a one-inch rope around it, after which they should gently push it into the Schuylkill River. They looked at each other and then at me and one of them, acting as spokesman, asked me if I wanted to drown or just plant the boiler, and they had quite a discussion between themselves as to whether I was mentally unbalanced and whether they would be held responsible, with me, for the lost boiler.

"I drew myself up to my full height and threw my chest out and told them briefly but sharply that they would either do as I told them or quit and go away. They finally concluded to do as directed and had the boiler on top the curb when one of them turned to me and said ‘you better kiss it good-bye before we give it another ’push because you will never see it again. A considerable number of people among them some naval cadets, had assembled on the dock and overheard the different remarks. A young midshipman suggested to one of the laborers that he jump on the boiler when it was ready to drop and grab an oar to steer it so it wouldn’t float away, but no laborer took advantage, of the suggestion. However, finally the boiler rolled

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off the pier, struck the water with a splash and lay floating there like a cork.

"The assembled people cheered the act and came around congratulating me for what they considered a wonderful deed, but I told them as I now tell you that it was just a plain case of knowing ‘how.’

"That evening the six boilers were linked together, ready to be towed up the canal, labor paid for and discharged and a letter dispatched to my dear old father, stating that the boilers would reach him in about three days and to make necessary preparations for their arrival, also that I would come with them to expedite their delivery and save traveling expenses.

"And so you see," said the General, "while I was not extra smart, as a boy, I felt that my scheme would work, and it did. Some equally smart Egyptian of course has devised some equally simple means of bringing the obelisk from the quarry to the place where we found it."

Of course I had concluded that this was the test story General Hatch would apply to me and I at once set out to tell him that this was a very pretty story, telling what a very smart youngster had once done, but that I didn’t believe a word of it. I told him that I was not a marine and couldn’t swallow such awful fabrications, and still adhered to the opinion, that even if it was true it didn’t indicate in any way how this 60,000 pound rock was carted some 3000 miles even if it was conjecture that it had been shipped down the Nile, because it was quite certain that the Obelisk couldn’t float, and navigation at that time was practically unknown to the Egyptians except by ordinary sailboats, also that the only large vessel I had ever heard of, relating back to those ages, was Noah’s Ark, and I was quite sure that Father Noah never hired out his good old Ark to haul rock for the Egyptians.

My better half had come out and overheard some of the discourse and pulled my sleeve to gently let me know that she wanted to see me inside, and of course, I obeyed. She gave me an awful scolding not alone for abusing a guest but to contradict a gentleman of the General’s standing in and outside the Army, and she made me go in and tell him that of course I believed every word he had said and that

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closed the incident. The General afterwards laughingly told me that he was fully aware of her noble deed in convincing me that he couldn’t prevaricate and remarked that the world and mankind in general would be a whole lot better off if men would listen to their views and follow their advice.

During the latter part of 1884 and the spring of 1885, the 9th Cavalry was gradually withdrawn from duty in the Indian Territory and General Hatch returned to Fort Riley. The regiment was afterward transferred to forts in Nebraska, with headquarters at Fort Niobrara, and while stationed there the General met a fatal accident with a run away team which he personlly was driving to a tally-ho coach, in which a number of ladies were seated, as I remember it, one of the lines (he was driving four spirited horses), broke and the teams became unmanageable, the coach upset but the General kept clinging to the lines attempting to stop the team. He died a few days afterward as a result of the internal and external injuries. His remains were buried in the Fort Leavenworth National cemetery and a large imposing monument placed thereon by the officers and enlisted men of the 9th Cavalry.

As I visit Fort Leavenworth quite often, I occasionally drop into the cemetery to place a rose on his lonely grave and to show my relatives stationed there that I never forget kindness shown to me and mine.

I have now arrived at a place where if General Hatch were alive, I would go to him and apologize for my lack of faith in his story and uncalled for words which I uttered on that occasion and if you will bear with me for just a minute I will tell it all. I was transferred to Jefferson Barracks in 1892 and, being a Knight Templar, joined Ascalon Commandery, K. T. They were drilling the Commandery about that time so that its drill corps might partake in the Triennial Conclave to be held at Denver, Colorado, and I had offered to and was assisting it, in the work.

After finishing the evenings work we were assembled around the banquet table to partake of some refreshments, and while thus engaged, a gentleman incidentally asked me if I had met General Edward Hatch, adding that he used to be with them and helped them with their work while he

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was stationed at Jefferson Barracks, and, that he always had some good stories to tell. I replied that I knew the gentleman quite well, and admired him very much and had enjoyed his stories. I added about his peculiarity in testing new acquaintances and his experience with me. I related, as I have above, his experience as told me and added that of course I didn’t take it to be true, but only invented for the purpose of testing my credulity which presented itself when I tried to discuss "lost arts." Directly across from me was sitting an elderly gentleman whom I had quite often seen but never conversed with, quite lame, but otherwise ruddy and bright.

As soon as the word had left my mouth, of my unbelief in the story related by Generl Hatch, he accosted me, rose up with considerable dignity and said: "You did wrong, Sir Knight, you did General Hatch a great injustice when you disputed his story of dropping the boilers down in the Schuylkill canal! I was there, and saw it, and am willing and ready to swear to it, and what he did any thoughtful man could have done, he only employed natural means and understood the theories of vacuum. I am truly sorry he is dead, I liked him very much."

I had heard the members of the Commandery addressing him quite often as Captain, and took him to be an ordinary sea captain of some sailing vessel. He promptly introduced himself to me and stated that he was a retired Captain of the Navy, who had served some thirty years when retired for injuries received in the service.

Christian F. Sommer.

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