Small tools

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I have a fondness for tools made from recycled files. I cannot say exactly why other than perhaps it is seeing something worn out given a new life. I have several tools that have been made from re-purposed files. Above is a simple and small marking knife made from a broken file and placed into a bit of scrap wood that was then turned on a lathe to give it a pleasant appearance. Maybe it was done to add a little value or perhaps the smith who did the work felt the need to impart a bit of his craft into such a simple tools. The item beside it is a well used bevel square. I do not recall where I acquired it but it has given me excellent service.

Tools do not have to be ornate or fancy to do their job but many a man likes to hold something he feels is worthy of the art he creates. Fancy brass or german silver do not catch my eye when it comes to a tool but a well turned wooden handle does. Many a tool chest on the frontier hold nicely decorated tools that still function well. The moment where a tool is decorated to the point that it can not be used with a clear conscience it is no longer a tool but a luxury instead.

The northern Prairie and its people

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There is something about the Prairie of the United States that has stolen a piece of my heart. I have seen the vast desert of the Sahara and the great tundra of the Crimea but there is just something about the lands of the Dakota and Cheyenne. I spent the better part of two years traveling it prior to the War and it has forever been imprinted upon my soul. After the war I might have chosen to travel and settle there but I knew my Mrs. Mina would not appreciate the vast space; she did not care for it the way I did prior to the war. I must admit her argument was valid; the war aged me greatly in the physical sense. I am older and slower with too much of a fondness for drink. All things that can get a man killed in a place where a man who was a friend one moment might well be an enemy the next.

I liked the Lakota and Cheyenne; I found them honest and forthright in their dealings with me. In fact they never once cheated me; I cannot say the same for white men in Minnesota. My reception from the Dakota in Minnesota was not so warm with some only wanting gifts instead of a fair trade. I did not feel the same honesty and integrity in their midst as I would later with the Lakota. I spent some time in camp along a place called Cherry Creek with a band of Mniconjou Lakota led by an elder named Bald Eagle. He and a pair of his sons impressed me greatly. The man was a warrior, leader, storyteller, speaker, dancer and could do things from the back of a horse the envy of any Cossack. I liked the man and his children. Good honest people are not all that uncommon but this family was something different. Had I been born Lakota I would have wished for a family such as his. Had the man asked me to fight with him I would have charged hell with nothing more than a bucket of warm spit.

Mrs. Mina took to the family as well becoming friends with several of the women of the camp. I sometimes regret leaving those fine people; I do not know if I shall ever see them again or even if I would be welcome among them. I admit to some surprise when one of those young sons offered me several very fine horses in trade for Mina. I left the decision to her and she informed me that it would take too long to train a replacement for me. That was when I knew I was hers until the day I die.

Mrs. Mina wished a safe home where she could walk to see neighbors with strong stout walls and a warm fire. I could provide that where I settled but I doubt I ever could have in the Dakota Territory; especially after the Dakota War. Damned fool US Army men who couldn’t tell a Dakota from a Crow expanded the war far further west than there was any need to and picked a fight with the Lakota. Red Cloud gave the US Army quite the black eye. It came as no surprise to me to learn of such. I have faced the Cossack, Taureg, Kabyle & Confederate cavalry across the field of battle and I can tell you none come close to the equal of a Lakota or Cheyenne warrior in the saddle. I would much rather fight beside the Lakota than against them. There are those who have called the Lakota and Cheyenne the finest light cavalry in the world; I believe such a claim to be an accurate. I value my life too highly to foolishly throw it away in battle against them.

I have seen the Lakota and Cheyenne in the field and in camp; they are great warriors but not great soldiers. They lack the discipline and organization of the soldier. They have no true supply line, no quartermaster following them with fresh ammunition and rations. Above all they do not have corn; few grass fed horses have the bottom of a corn fed horse. With all of that it is not a the lack of a quartermaster system, discipline or corn that will be their downfall it is the human want for more. Their children will want more… more steel, more something and that will be in the hands of the white man. The white man of the United States want more as well and are more than willing to take it by force and they will. I fear for the future of the Lakota people; even with worthy allies such as the Cheyenne they are greatly outnumbered and outgunned by a government that barely views them as human beings. Their future will rest in the hands of those strong enough to fight for it both on and off the field of battle. I hope they are strong enough; I have little doubt that they are.

The wild life

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During the war many a night was spent under the canvas of the US equivalent of the French tentes d’abri. I rarely set my own instead preferring to toss it on the ground over my ground cloth as one more layer between the heat stealing ground and my hide. Many others used them in the same manner but many used them as intended as a two man tent that gave a modicum of shelter from the elements. It was a life that some might call difficult sleeping night after night in the rough with only a bit of canvas or nothing at all between us and the weather which was, as often as not, wet and uncomfortable. With the open ends it was also often rather inviting to the wild life. I recall one of my men waking screaming in the night because a racoon decided to cuddle up to his warm carcass. Another one of my men was woke by a deer nibbling on his toes and I was woke at least once by a deer huffing in my face wondering what a smelly creature such as I was doing there.

It was not uncommon for us to see wild life of a variety of types. From the very beginning of the war we occasionally saw wild life from cats and rats to buffalo and everything in between. On the frontier we often saw buffalo, antelope and the occasional deer with coyotes and wolves often heard in the distance. It was admittedly a pleasant distraction from the day to day boredom of the army. I have always enjoyed seeing animals in the wild but admit a preference for those that walk on four legs instead of those that preferred to sport six or none at all choosing instead to slither upon the ground like a politician or lawyer.

As hungry soldiers tired of the same old army rations we were often quite pleased to find a rabbit in a snare or a deer in the sights of a picket. Domestic livestock was often every bit as welcome; especially those who refused to give the oath of allegiance to the United States. Those who refused were clearly rebels and thus could expect nothing less than to be treated as hostile enemies of the soldier and thus to be treated as such. But as we were not heathens we were always quick to extend an invitation to dinner for which they were expected to provide a large share of the meat.

The things we leave behind

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Once in a while a man stumbles across an old friend. People who stay at my inn do sometimes leave items accidentally or just choose to leave them because they have something new to replace it or are tired of carrying it. In this case I suspect the original owner had purchased one of the newer spirit level levels and no longer needed this plumb bob. It is a simple affair that will work regardless of any outside force except perhaps a windstorm.

Simply place the long flat surface on what you wish to see is level and look at the string of the plumb bob. If it is vertical to the line on the wood and the plumb is centered in the hole for it you have a level surface; if not you know what you need to work on. It does not get much simpler than that and it is a tool that has certainly been around since Christ walked this earth, if not well before. It was a tool like this that I saw used in several construction projects in north africa and used myself a time or two here.

Instead of turning it into a bit of kindling I expect I will set it in my tool chest or see if any of my friends or customers need a good level as this is surely one with much life left in her.

A price of War

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The cost of the War of Rebellion is often calculated in monies spent and lives lost. All too often it is those left behind who pay a dear price. Parents, siblings, wives and children lose a part of themselves when a family member is lost. Perhaps twenty percent of the men who frequent my tavern are veterans of the war and several of those men left part of themselves upon the battlefield. All of them left part of their souls there. I have known men whose mind was broken others who were forever scarred by what they saw and did. The war left an indelible stamp upon all who suffered through it. Even those who were not on the sharp end of the spear, those families and loved ones left behind suffered in near constant dread of a letter advising them that their loved one was gone to god. If they were lucky such a letter would arrive from an officer or friend of the deceased. If they were not so lucky their loved one just never came home having been buried as but one more known but unto God. Some handled that constant dread with no apparent ill impact upon them. Others… others suffered that anguish of the discovery that a loved one was gone. Most, but not all, were able to pick themselves up and continue with their lives.

I have known loved ones of the fallen to never smile again. To lose someone you love in war is to have them ripped from you and forever lost. The angel of death comes for us all and all too often those left behind suffer for it. I am a soldier, a man used to death. Up until the last of my soldiering days I had no loved ones who might suffer my loss. I had friends and acquaintances who might have mourned my passing for a few days but none who might have loved me. My Mina changed all of that. For the first time in my life I had someone who depended upon me, who loved me and who I loved. Her loss would have destroyed me and I believe now my loss would have equally hurt her. Neither of us had family, now we have children we have adopted into our little family. Orphans all, who we have welcomed into our home and made part of our family.

Was the Union truly worth saving? Was freeing the slaves worth the blood and treasure expended? Some have said no; I disagree. I have seen the ugliness inherent in slavery and applaud its destruction. Is the United States worth saving? I do not know but I do know this: compared to any nation on the continent it is. There is hope in the United States, a hope that things will improve. The United States and all of her ideals are a beacon to the rest of the world. While she may well have stumbled she did not fall. While her warts and scars are substantial they are merely superficial. The ideals she represents are worth preserving. I look to those children and hope for the future. I can hope and pray that this nation is on the road to a better world.