It was 1879 and a group of Buffalo soldiers from the 19th Calvary were tracking Chief Victorio also known as Apache Wolf. Victorio had taken his people and left the San Carlos reservation. They were responsible for killing several settlers, attacking wagon trains, and stealing many horses. They were on their way to Mexico. The Buffalo soldiers, who were made up of black men, many ex-slaves had been tracking this band for several weeks now. These soldiers were known for their knowledge and care of their horses and for always finishing the job they started. Being out for several weeks, they were running low on food and water.
Trooper Jones, who everyone called “Jonesy” was sent ahead to try and find some water. Jonesy would ride his bay horse for several miles and walk several miles so as not to wear the mount out. While walking, he noticed up ahead something crawling. He mounted the bay and galloped up to the spot. He got down and approached. Not sure what it was, maybe a coyote, a wolf, no it was a dog. A big gray sable. As he got down on one knee the dog stirred. “So, you are not dead” Jonesy said. “What are you doing out here fella, all alone and with an arrow in you?” Jonesy knew the Indians kept dogs to guard their camps and alert them when someone was approaching. But an Indian wouldn’t just shoot a dog and leave it to die, they would eat it. This dog was hurt bad and in terrible shape. Talking to the dog, Jonesy said, “what am I gonna do with you fella”? Just then the dog tilted his head and let out a low whimper. Jonesy who was very good at treating the horses’ ailments and injuries would never let an animal suffer. He knew what he had to do. He removed his revolver from his holster.
After hours of a hard ride, Jonesy met up with the other Buffalo soldiers. Sgt. Parker came up and asked “what are you doing with that wolf”? Jonesy said “it ain’t no wolf, it’s a dog and he’s hurt”. Jonesy was glad he hit that rattlesnake with one shot from his revolver. He knew the dog would never survive a snake bite in his condition. Sgt. Parker noticed the arrow in the dog and said “ok, we can make camp here”. Jonesy put the dog down in the shade of a bush and started a fire. With the help of five other men and a sack over the dog’s head, Jonesy cut the arrow out with a skinning knife he heated in the fire. Bandaged and arrow free the dog just laid there. Jonesy mixed up some biscuits and water into a mush and put it near the dog’s nose. “Come on, fella”, said Jonesy, “you have to eat”. “I know you’re hurt bad but this will give you strength”. The dog didn’t move.
Trooper Washington, who really didn’t get along with anyone, came over and yelled at Jonesy. “What are you wasting good food on that dang dawg for; he won’t live to see the morning”. Jonesy whispered, “hey fella, that ornery old boy just might be right, but I’m gonna stay with you tonight and just see if you wake up come sunrise”. During the night, Jonesy would wake up and look over at the dog. The biscuits were still there and the dog hadn’t moved. Jonesy knew what it felt like to be alone and hurt. He couldn’t help think about the dog. “What kind of dog are you, where did you come from, how old are you”? Jonesy thought about the Indians, “Nope, you’re not an Indian dog”. “Bet you would be fine looking if I cleaned you up a bit”. “If only you could talk and tell me what happened and where you belong”? The dog just laid there dreaming of green fields. He was running with another dog, just a bit smaller then him but with long black fur. They were chasing something, but what? Everything was fuzzy. There were also people, but they were not dark like these men.
Jonesy woke up sensing something was wrong. He looked up and saw Trooper Washington kneeling down holding the pan of mush. The dog was eating from the pan. Jonesy looked puzzled. Washington noticing Jonesy said “I just came over to throw this mush out and saw the dawg’s eyes open. Next thing I knows he was eating.” Washington then snarled, “Don’t git no ideas bout givin this dang dawg any of my food. I still think he won’t live through the day.” He threw the pan down and walked away. “Well, ain’t that something” said Jonesy, “I never seen that boy do a nice thing the whole time I’ve known him and here is feeding this poor animal.” What Jonesy and the other men didn’t know was that when Washington was a young boy working the cotton fields in Georgia he was kind to another animal.
The plantation master had him a big gray dog. The dog didn’t like his master and the master didn’t treat the dog very well. Young Washington would sneak away and play with the big gray dog and would bring him what little left over food he had. That dog was his only friend in the world. Washington’s father would tell him, “if the master catches you with that dog he gonna whip you good.” But the boy didn’t care; he would endure anything to spend time with his friend. He cherished the time he spent with that big dog and it was the happiest time of his life. They would run through the woods together, swim in the creek and sometimes they would just lie under a tree and the boy would talk to the dog. He would tell that dog “If you were mine I would never hit or yell at you. You would have plenty to eat and you would sleep inside with me.” Many times, he thought about taking the dog and running away. But he knew his mother would miss him. Washington’s mother would always say that someday he would have his own dog. But for some reason he didn’t believe her.
His mother always talked of good things and hope. She would tell young Washington that one day he would be a fine man and do great things. That he would not be a slave all his life. But his father was right and one day the master caught him with the dog. He got whipped good, but that didn’t hurt as bad as when the master sold that dog to some slave hunters a few weeks later. From that day on, Washington spoke very little and never made friends with anyone or thing.
The Sergeant told Jonesy to break camp and get up ahead and find some water. He saddled up his bay horse and looked at the dog. Jonesy said, “Come on, fella, time to get moving.” He picked the dog up and put him across the horse. Sgt. Parker came up and told Jonesy, “If that dog is coming with us, he’s coming on his own power. I can’t let your horse carry that extra weight.” Jonesy pleaded with him stating the dog wasn’t strong enough to travel on his own. But the Sergeant didn’t give in and Jonesy placed the dog on the ground. He poured some water from his canteen into a dish and put it by the dog. As the men pulled out, the dog just laid there. One soldier looked back, Trooper Washington. They traveled for a full day and caught up with Jonesy near a small waterhole. They unsaddled and watered their horses and set up camp. Jonesy asked permission to ride back and look for the dog. Sgt. Parker said no. Jonesy checked all the horses for any injuries or ailments and then laid out his bedroll. He had a hard time sleeping but finally dozed off.
Washington had guard duty that night and found himself looking back down the trail they just traveled. He didn’t know why but he kept looking back, all he saw was an empty trail. Washington liked guard duty, it gave him time alone and time to think. What he didn’t realize until about an hour later was that he was still looking back at where they had just come from, instead of ahead for trouble.
Washington’s mind started to wander to when he was a young boy. He thought about his mother and father and the hard life they had. He hadn’t been back home to Georgia for many years and figured he would never go home. He looked back down the trail and saw nothing. That trail was like his past; looking back at his life he saw nothing. It wasn’t his nature to look back and feel sorry for himself, and he was wondering why he felt that way now. He did remember his mother telling he wouldn’t be a slave his whole life and she was right. He was sorry she didn’t live to see it. He remembered his father had always wanted a little cabin with a front porch on it. Suddenly, he was homesick. Howling in the distance brought him back to reality. It was probably just a coyote, but maybe an Indian. He walked off refusing to let himself look back down the trail.
The soldiers woke up to the smell of fresh coffee. Jonesy went to the waterhole and washed up. Trooper Washington called Jonesy over; when he got there Washington pointed to the side and said, “Your dawg came in about three hours ago.” Jonesy walked over saying, “Well, I’m be dammed, you made it. I guess I’m a pretty good doctor after all.” The dog just looked up. “I sure would like to know what happened to you and where you came from” Jonesy said to nobody inparticular. When they broke camp and headed out they found fresh tracks and knew they were getting close to Victorio. The dog followed but way back and slowly. As the day went on, the sun got higher and the air got hotter. The soldiers dismounted and walked more often. During these walks, the dog would get close. Jonesy would look back to make sure the dog was still following. The tracks were getting fresher and the men more alert.
Sgt. Parker decided to make camp early and be well rested for the next day. He felt they were in for a fight soon. The next day, they pulled out and the dog kept up with them. Sometimes, he would even go ahead. Jonesy noticed the dog was acting a little funny. He was about to mention it to Sgt. Parker when they came upon the grizzly site. There was a burnt out wagon, three dead bodies and about three dozen dead sheep. Jonesy noticed the dog lying by the smallest of the three bodies. When they tried to approach, the dog stood and growled. Jonesy could not get close and neither could any of the men. They knew they had to bury these poor souls but couldn’t get near them. Jonesy looked around and noticed the arrows in the sheep were the same that was in the dog. He knew Victorio and his band did this and they also shot the dog.
It explained some of the mystery. The men were standing around wondering how they could get near the bodies to bury them. The dog was very protective. Jonesy tried talking to the dog in low soft voice, but it didn’t work. The men discussed chasing the dog off but decided against it. They thought about throwing a blanket over him and tying him up, but no one wanted to get that close. The big gray dog could sure look nasty when he wanted to. Sgt. Parker being a Christian knew the bodies had to be put to rest and decided to shoot the dog.
Just as Sgt. Parker took aim Trooper Washington stepped in front of him. “Don’t you get it Sarge, these are that dog’s people”. Then it hit Jonesy, the dog was protecting his family. The dog got up and stood by Washington as if knowing what was being said. Washington reached down and petted the dog. The men sensed something and knew they could approach the bodies. After the bodies were buried, the dog just laid next to the smallest grave. This was his boy; he remembered playing with him when he was a pup. The he saw some of the men butchering some of the sheep. He remembered his mother, who taught him how to herd. She was a black dog with a kind face. She is buried many miles back on the trail. She was just worn out from the long trail and herding her whole life. She would herd those sheep effortlessly, she had the most beautiful stride when she ran, almost like a flying trot. Her long black fur was flying in the breeze. After she died, the young gray shepherd took charge of the sheep; his mother had taught him well. On the trail, he would not let the sheep wonder far from the wagon or his family.
Then came that day, men on horses were yelling, screaming, and throwing sticks at his family. He tried to keep the sheep together but couldn’t. He saw his family fall down one by one and ran to them. Just as he was about to reach his boy he fell, a pain in his shoulder. He bit and scratched at the stick that was in his shoulder but could not get it out. He could not get up and get to his boy. He woke the next day and crawled to his family. They would not move. Hours later, he remembered his mother and started back down the trail to where she was. He could not move fast and was tired and thirsty. He thought if he could find his mother everything would be okay. After two days, he could go no further and laid down. This is when Jonesy found him. When the soldiers pulled out, the dog was still lying by the small grave. The soldiers could not wait, they had to capture Victorio and stop him from hurting or killing anyone else. Jonesy looked back and understood why the dog would not leave. Washington looked back and thought, “stupid dang dawg is just gonna stay there and die”.
The soldiers rode all day and knew they were very close. They had no campfires that night. Just as the sun was coming up, the men woke to screaming Indians attacking them. They grabbed their rifles and ran for their horses, shooting and fighting every step. Several men went down including Washington. He had an arrow in his leg. The short muscular Indian jumped on him and raised a knife. Washington struggled. Just as the knife was coming down, the gray sable dog jumped and caught Victorio’s arm in his mouth. The knife fell and the dog attacked. Washington didn’t remember pulling the dog off, but here he was holding the dog while his fellow soldiers were tying Victorio up. The fight was over and Victorio and his band were captured. Washington looked down at the dog and said, “I guess you really are a “Trooper”. The name stuck. After Jonesy patched up the wounded, the Indians were herded up and the march back to San Carlos began. It was a long trip and the soldiers were amazed at the way “Trooper” would run around the Indians and keep them together. Trooper had a terrific gait and looked as if he was flying.
During the trip, Washington’s leg got infected and Jonesy was worried about it. After Victorio and his band were dropped off at San Carlos, the Buffalo soldiers returned to Fort Concho. Washington was taken to the post surgeon but it was too late. His leg was amputated below the knee. While at the fort, Trooper would visit Washington everyday in the barracks. Washington would just lay there and not say anything. Everyone wondered what was going through Washington’s mind. They all had their own hardships in life but sympathized with Washington during this terrible time. The other soldiers would go out on patrols and Trooper would go with them. Trooper was an honorary member of the Buffalo soldiers and they welcomed him on the patrols. All the men made sure Trooper was well fed and had plenty of water. Trooper in return would never stray far from the men when on patrol. When they returned from these patrols, Trooper would go and see Washington right away.
Four months later, Sgt. Parker received a letter from the President of the United States. Inside the letter was the Medal of Honor for 9th Calvary trooper, ‘“Trooper” for his bravery in action and helping to capture Chief Victorio the Apache Wolf’. The men took the medal to the stables and fastened it to a piece of bridle leather. They then placed it around Trooper’s neck. Trooper knew it was something special because he ran around the whole fort showing everyone, but first he went to the barracks to show Washington.
Sgt. Parker also received some sad news in the mail that day. Due to Trooper Washington’s wound, he was being discharged from the Calvary. When told about the discharge, Washington began plans to return home to Georgia as soon as he could travel. During this time, Trooper visited him everyday. The day came for Washington to leave. He said goodbye to all the men and with some help he mounted his horse and rode out of the fort. At his side, trotting along was Trooper.
Five years later, Sgt. Jones, know to his friends as Jonesy retired
from the Calvary. On his way home to Virginia, he stopped off in
a small town in Georgia. He asked an old timer if an old Buffalo
soldier with one leg by the name of Washington lived nearby. The
old timer told him Washington lived about five miles outside of town.
Jonesy asked if Washington was alright and if he had a family. The
old timer told him that there was no family. He said, “All
that ole boy do all day is sit on the front porch of his cabin in
a rockin chair with that big gray sable dog laying next to him”.
Stories by Frank Rescigno. All
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