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Camp on the Clear Fork of the Brazos

Indian Territory, 24 May 1856

     It has been more than a year My dear Mrs. Stiles, Since I have heard from you.  It has been longer I fear Since I have written to you.  Your last letter was dated 21 March ’55.  I have carried it with me in all my wanderings. Have read & reread it, & each perusal has brought me fresh & pleasant thoughts. Had I transferred to paper all the contemplated replies that occurred on these occasions you would have been overwhelmed, & you are fortunate if none have reached you. I must now tell you however I am encamped on a branch of the Brazos.  Many degrees west of you, though but a little South.  I wish it was the Etowah,[1] & that we were tributaries to the Alabama. I might then hope to see you.  Here I have none.  You are So well informed on the subject of Indians & the pleasures of their Society, that I shall not speak of them.  We are on the best of terms with our nieghbours the Camanches, & I am happy to believe that there is no love lost between us.  I See more of them than I desire, & when I Can be of no service take little interest in them. I was called upon the other day to visit Ha-tem-a-se,[2] the head chief of the Southern Camanches, who was reported quite sick & wanted a big medicine man.  His lodges are only 2 miles below us, & when I presented myself before them on my big horse Bald Eagle, attended by an orderly dragoon, the explosion among the curs, children & women, was tremendous. The medicine men rushed at me, made significant signs that I must disrobe before presenting myself before the August patient.  I patiently sat on my horse till I ascertained what garment they considered most inimical to the practice of the healing art, which I learned to be the cravat.  Then alighting, unbuttoning my Coat & shipping off the noxious article, I displayed to their admiring eyes a blue check shirt, & was quited by a general approving humph.  The charm was fully developed, & I walked boldly in.  The lodge was carpeted with Buffaloe robes.  The sick man was stretched on his couch with his wives & suitors around him.  His shield, bow & quiver were suspended on the outside, near which stood his favourite horse ready to be slain, to bear the spirit of his master to the far hunting ground.  I thought him labouring under an attack of pleurisy – administered a loaf of bread & some sugar, of which I knew him to be very fond & which I had Carried with me, & told him, I would send a man to complete his cure.  So in the ws the Dr rode down with his Steward & drugs & cupped him pretty freely, which I hope will restore him.  Perhaps the lancet it has only reserved to the bullet the task of dispatching him.

     You may probably have learned though Custis, that I was detained in Kansas, & did not accompany the Regt into Texas, but followed it in the winter.  On arriving at the Hd Qtrs: at Fort Mason,[3] it had been determined that I should be advanced into the Comanche Country, & in three days afterwards, I turned my horses head due north, & crossing the Concho & Colorado, before their junction, halted on the head waters of the Brazos.  I have four Companies of the 2 Cavy with me, & hope to get to the Canadian during the Summer.  The Country is fertile & rolling, lightly timbered, & the deer & antelope luxuriate in the abundant grass.  We are far beyond Civilization.  San Antonio, 400 miles to the South is our nearest depot, men & horses have therefore mainly to rely upon the products of the field.  You are ignorant of the luxurious salad, made of lambs quarter & young poki.[4] But I shall speak no more of this wild Country.  I wish to talk of you, your mother, sisters, & all from Broughton St.  I suppose this will find you at Etowah.  Enjoying your own home & the Society of Mr. S., the boys, & dear Mary Stiles.  I fear the latter though Cares as little for you as she does for her old Uncle.  It is Singular young women will do so, is it not?  Tell Robert I Cannot advise him to enter the Army; It is a hard life & he can never rise to any military eminence by serving in the Army.  He must use out of it, & then Come in as Major Genl.  That is worth having, for a man may hope to accomplish something. I think he had better become a good farmer, & get a Sweet wife. I am glad to hear that Custis makes himself agreable to your good Mother.  I hope She finds an improvement in the rising generation, & is thus cheered by the prospect of the advancement of mankind, for whose benefit she has done so much.  I confess when I was with her, I was so taken up with her daughters, that I could make myself agreable to no one.  They were blessed creatures!  Where are they all now & how are they?  Present my kindest regards & affectionate remembrances to all of them.  I hope Custis if he is not able to visit his mother this Summer, may be able to get up to see you.  When I last heard from my good dame, they were all well.  Mary was in Baltimore where she had been some weeks, with her Aunt Marshall & Some of her young friends.  The former poor lady, was about the same.  Mary’s foot I hope is entirely restored.  Fitzhugh is at Cambridge, waiting he says till he is 21, to get married.  Are all those pretty Elliotts married yet?  You are right Mrs. Stiles there ought to be several editions of Mary Cowper, & I ought to have the first with me now.  How different this camp would appear.  But I suppose I am sent here for my sins.  It is all right. 

I like the wilderness, and the vicissitudes of camp life, are no hardship to me. I grieve over my separation from my wife & children & the supervision of their interests. Tell Mr S. when he becomes Secry of War, he must bring me in. I saw Mrs Glenn & Miss Mary as I passed through B[altimore]. Miss Etta was out, flirting with some navy officer. I hope you will all be together in Cass this summer & I could be with you. Remember me to all & believe me always yours R E Lee






Source: The Archives of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, Papers of the Lee Family, Box 3, M2009.230, Jessie Ball duPont Library, Stratford Hall


Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2016 April 16



[1] Etowah River in Georgia. The Stiles family had a plantation along the banks of the Etowah in Cass (now Bartow) County.

[2] Catumseh.

[3] Located in central Texas. It was built in 1851 and was abandoned in the 1870s. It was restored in the 1970s.

[4] Poke sprouts. It would not be the last time Lee wrote about them. In March 1863, Lee wrote James Seddon about the lack of food in the army. “Symptoms of scurvy are appearing among them [the troops], and to supply the place of vegetables each regiment is directed to send a daily detail to gather sassafras buds, wild onions, garlic, lamb’s quarter, and poke sprouts, but for so large an army the supply obtained is very small,” in War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume 25, Part 2, p. 687.