First Dragoons

A site dedicated to the 1st US Dragoons 1833-1861 (What is a Dragoon?)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Letters Home: Mathias Baker

Mathias Baker ran off from his prosperous New York home and joined the 1st Dragoons in 1845. He accompanied Stephen W. Kearny to Santa Fe in 1846. Returning to Ft. Leavenworth with Lt. John Love to rebuild the company, he writes of the trek back to the states. Baker accompanied Love to New Mexico in 1847, and in 1848, he fought with Company B at Santa Cruz de Rosales. Having superior writing skills, Baker was made Sergeant Major of the regiment On June 7, 1849, Baker died during the Cholera epidemic while at Ft. Leavenworth.

Here are three letters written by Baker while serving with Company B in the years 1846-1847.

Santa Fe, Mexico, Sep 13th 1846
Dear Sister [Mrs. Hugh Martin],
I suppose that by my previous letter you have long since known my starting for Mexico and by this time you will see I have advanced as far as Santa Fe which at present is held by an American Army, commanded by Gen’l Kearney [sic]. You will have seen by the papers that the Mexican soldiers & officers on the approach of the American Army, retired and totally dispersed. The whole country gave up without a gun being fired, if I except the firing of the American Artillery (blank cartridges) on this day of the entry into Santa Fe. I am much disappointed in this country. It is bare of wood and water, mountainous and the only parts they can cultivate is [sic] a few of the valleys that are watered by springs and small streams from the Mountains. The houses of town and country are built of mud bricks dried in the sun, are one story high and have no windows, so when the door is shut the room is dark at mid-day. However they are very warm in the winter & cool in summer. The roofs all flat. They raise corn, wheat onions, no potatoes, have thousands of goats sheep, some cattle, plenty of asses and mules with some fine Pony horses. The silver and gold mines siren to be plenty and no doubt before long Yankee skill & perseverance will bring many to light, as yet undiscovered. The Americans have heretofore been afraid to hunt for and work the mines on account of the Indians, who have been the Real masters of the country. But the American Dragoons will soon learn them to keep quiet. They have no mills for grinding wheat except some small hand concerns, and they have to use to the sieve or what is commonly done [to] eat bran and all. They kill-dry both corn & wheat. They have some apples & peaches as well as melons and their grapes equal those I saw in France. They are fond as a nation of dancing and have Fandangos every night in town & country and the way the Mexican Senora dances could be a caution to a Broadway belle. The beauty of Mexican ladies is not generally great but in some cases is extraordinarily fine and brilliant. They become women very young and marry early, but fade and become old & haggard in proportion. Indian blood is almost universally mixed through out the population & the language is far from the pure Spanish. I have given you some few ideas of this country & people but cannot dwell at length on the subject now. You know I must have something to talk about when I see you. I suppose you are anxious to know when that may be, I cannot say for certainly when for I start the 25th of this month to go some hundreds of miles south into the country, to Chuwauwau and then west into California, to Monterey, about 1400 miles off. This is the most healthy country in the world, and I am much larger and heavier than ever before. It rains only in the Spring & Fall. You would laugh to see what a complexion I have, burnt to the colour of Mahogany and with an immense Moustachios.
This will be carried by Government express to Fort Leavenworth on the Missouri about 1000 miles from this and hence mailed to New York. I wish you would write me and direct to me care of Major E. C. Sumner Santa Fe via Fort Leavenworth, Missouri. I wish you would also have mailed to me the latest N.Y. Weekly Herald. I suppose the difficulties between the two countries have been settled before this time, if not all our troops have to do is to march from our part of of the country to the other for the Mexican Army will not fight.
Well good bye for the present. Remember me to all of the members of our family. I am anxious to hear how brother James’ healt is. I have not heard since he left for England. I hope you are in good health and spirits. I always am,
Affectionately your brother,
M. L. Baker

Fort Leavenworth Dec. 10 1846
Dear Nephew,
I was much pleased to receive your letter in fact I was delighted to receive a communication from any one East, but was most highly gratified to get a letter from you which is perhaps the first one you have sent to any one. Your first inquiry is “are you in the Army” and next add that my previous letter must have been miscarried as none had been received.” That must be the reason, the letter must have been miscarried and therefore you left in ignorance of my whereabouts. And so you hope I am not in the Army! Why not? Should a consideration of fear keep an American back when he may be wanted by his country to fight for its causes? No my dear boy; you should not have any selfish feelings on such a subject, you should hope and wish for a x welfare that would go to the x , but at the same time feel proud of a relative’s determination in such a matter. Yes, my dear boy, I am in the Army, and although I do not rank as high as some yet without the influence of powerful friends, but my merit alone am already a N. C. Officer of B Troop of the U.S. Dragoons. I went out last spring under Gen Kearney [sic] and was with him in entering the Mexican Territory and in the taking of Santa Fe. When Gen. Kearney [sic] left for California our Company was broken up and the men out in other companies to fill them up, and our officers ordered to the U.States to fill up a new company. Some are now in Ohio, St. Louis & [et]c recruiting for us and by spring our Troop will be organized and sent to the seat of War. As to the exact point I cannot say, perhaps, to join the Southern Army commanded by Gen Taylor or which is very probable ordered to California. But the whereabouts is very uncertain as a soldier seldom knows where his presence may be wanted for an hour ahead.
We had a hard time of it in coming from Santa Fe this time of the year. Scarcely any grass was left, and very little wood. We had two six mule teams and one four mule carriage and put in much corn as we could carry besides our own food. We could only give our mules but two quarts a day! Yet enough of them lived to bring our waggons to this post, having lost about Ten, but we replaced them by saddle mules and by the saddle party (17.) walking the last 150 miles. Yet notwithstanding all this we made the trip in thirty one (31) days! We had plenty of Buffalo and Antelope meat on the way with an occasional Squirrel, Hare. Turkey & [et]c. Some shoot the Prairie Dogs but I don’t fancy them as for friends and inhabitants of their holes [,] Owls, a Rattlesnake and a horned frog! This is singular, but true and the Frog is a most curious and beautiful animal, entirely harnless. The Dog is about the size of a plump rabbit and their meat and [et]c resembles a squirrel, but they resemble very much a bull pup as they sit at the mouth oftheir holes and bask at you. They live in Towns, never above, for when you come across a dog hole you will see debris in extent all dug up huge rattle snakes running in and out of the holes, here and there, an Owl hopping in and out, the prairie dog shaking his little tail and shirilly barking, while here and there is the most curious of all curious animals the horned frog. The Grass grows around a dog town. For hundreds of mile in the Buffalo range, we see in all directions as far as the eye the eye can reach the ground blackened by Buffalo. To look at this you would not expect they could run very fast but it takes a very fast horse to keep up with them. Their meat is most excellent and no butter can compare to the marrow in their bones. A person can eat four fold the quantity of this meat than of Beef, and feel no inconvenience. The road is infested part of the way by the Comanche Indians, but we saw none of them except one evening, when by a timely precaution we perhaps saved ourselves from a night attack. The place is called Rocky Point and is noted for many attacks being made there by the Indians on Traders & others. We noticed on coming into Camp we noticed some dung from Indian ponies grazing at a . . . .and suspected immediately that some of these devils were in the neighborhood. As soon as we got supper over a few of us went out armed to the teeth to reconnoitre. We had had proceeded about one hundred yards when the Mules were panicked, when up jumps an Indian from behind a rock and starts off with the speed of a Deer. He was distant–above 90 or 100 yds when he started, and it being after dark he certainly could be x seen again, but on [letter damaged hereon] carbine at the rascal but none of the Balls hit him as he . . . . coursed and suddenly disappeared among the rocks. . . . . him/loading as we ran, but could find no trace . .. . . put on guard to keep watch but we sure . . . . more by them. They know the difference between a Dragoon . . . . I find my letter must come to a close for . . . .
Fort Leavenworth April 28, 1847

My Dear Boy,
I received your letter a short time since and from its date, I see that it has laid in the office for some time. In the Army, we know not at which moment our services may be required and although we may be at this post to day, yet we may be about some fifty miles by the morrow. Such as been the case with me during the past winter. I have been ordered to take charge of a party to go among the Indians, and in one quarter of an hour have been in my saddle, and on my journey, fully armed and equipped. Such is a Dragoon’s life, he must have always, all his accoutrements ready, and in the proper place, so that whether we are ordered night or day, it makes no difference in the dispatch. I have been called upon at 10 O Clock at night and traveled without moment’s rest the distance of one hundred and forty miles. Some say a soldier’s life is an easy or lazy life. In some respects, the Infantry does lead such a life (as garrison), but no one can say our Corps, (that is the Dragoons) are ever idle. I will give you a small detail of my duties during the day. I rise at Reveille (that is early dawn.) The men are all formed into line and the roll called = one half hour. After Drill Call is blown, and we mount our horses and Exercise with Carbine, Sabre and pistol for an hour or so. Then comes breakfast call. The men are all paraded and they march into the eating room. But previous to this all the horses are thoroughly groomed and watered. In mornings we have ourselves except we may be on Guard or on some fatigue party, which a non commissioned officer (like myself) always has charge of—in x. (for a non commissioned officer is not supposed to labor at all) At 12 O Oc[lock] Stable Call, when all the horses are led into line and watered. At One O Clock Dinner. At Two—Drill for something like an hour. At Six P.M. stable call, the horses groomed, watered, & [et]c. At sun down, Retreat sounds, all are paraded during the fifteen minute of the Band playing, from thence to supper and at 9 Oclock Tattoo sounds, all parade again answer to their names. Half an hour after this call sounds second Tattoo, at which all the lights in the garrison are put out, and all have retired to bed. Such is a garrison life of a Dragoon, and considering the different set of arms he has to use, as well as his horse equipage, all of which must be in a clean state, I am sure no one can say he has an idle and lazy life. At our leisure moments, we repair to the library and read the papers & periodicals of the day and take perhaps some work home to our quarters to peruse. I have been very busy since I last wrote you. Lately a number of Recruits have arrived from St Louis all of which now being drilled. Three of us have that duty to perform, dividing the men into different squads. I need not say it is a very serious task to be drilling a lot of green horns and especially when they are sometimes so Dutch as not to understand or be understood. Our Company is about full and will be organized either here or at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis in about three weeks, when we will get orders to proceed either to join Gen. Scott or, once again, to visit Santa Fe, I prefer the latter, on account of the climate for it is the most healthy climate in the world. Wherever I go, I shall sit down before I start, and let you know so you will do in the public print the departure of B. Company. I should like much to see you all again, but no one cannot say when. Certainly not until the close of the War and maybe not for some years afterwards. You must let me hear from you, as soon as you receive this, for I know not how soon I may be on my way to Mexico, and be sure to give me all the news concerning the family & [et]c. & [et]c. I am enjoying the best of health and satisfied and contented with my present mode of life.
When the war closes, I may perhaps leave the Army, but I do not promise for I may have inducement held forth to help me, for the balance of my life. But if such shall be the case, I shall see you much more and perhaps more for I can get a furlough (that is, leave of absence) when the Army is laying still. My dear boy, make as rapid progress as possible in your studies, for perhaps you may in time be thrown on the world like myself and then you will see the advantages of improving one’ self in early life. Give my love to Pa & Ma, as well as other friends and relatives. I much need close, so good bye and believe me to be an uncle that wishes you all the happiness this world can bestow.
M. S. Baker
Corporal B Troop & 1st Regiment
of U.S. Dragoons

PS. Please say, I received the x papers and should be pleased to receive any that my friends would take the trouble to send me.


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