Amanda Shepherd Tilghman:
Billy's father, William, Sr., ran away from home when he was nineteen years old, joining the Army serving in the Florida Indian War, where he helped "pacify" the Seminoles. William used the name "Charles Clawson" when he enlisted, hoping to keep the famous Tilghman name from getting him special treatment--or sent back home where his father wasn't happy with him.
William returned home to where his family was originally from--the eastern shore of Maryland. His kin had descended from Richard Tilghman, who came from England with Lord Baltimore, the founder of the Maryland Colony.
William stayed in Chestertown only briefly, as he grew restless, having tasted frontier life down in Florida. All kinds of folk, men mostly, were heading west in search of something--most were avoiding their women folk, if you ask me. William ended in St. Louis, where he was a recruiting officer for the Army.
When the Army sent him to Iowa on business it was there that my family and I met William once again. My family and his had been neighbors in Maryland for a spell. William had always shown some affection towards me though nothin' ever came of it until when we met again in Iowa. It wasn't long after meeting with him that we married and were living back in St. Louis. His duties soon increased and I saw little of him thanks to the Mexican War. Somehow we managed to find time to have two children in St. Louis--Richard and Mary. The Mexican War came and went, and his recruiting duties dropped off. William then won the contract to become a sutler at Fort Dodge, Iowa.
William, Jr., or Billy as we would call him, was born on the Fourth of July, the same as his father. Later we'd add our third son Frank and two more girls--Josephine, and Harriett or "Hattie" as we called her.
It wasn't more than a month after young Billy's birth that his father and I both learned, as everyone did, that they were closing the fort. I remember asking my husband, "You mean the Army's leaving? Why?"
Before William could answer me, I threw him another question. "There's no more danger from Indians around here, then?" William answered me the best way any one at the fort could, I recall:
"That's the way the Army sees it."
I let him know I thought it best that we settle down and that he became a farmer, as I believed this to be the best for the family.
William laughed and replied, "You mean become a farmer?" It was clear the thought of him being a farmer had never entered his mind.
"Why not? This is good land," I shot back. My disbelief at my husband's casual denial of what I thought was best for the family cut me to the quick. William wasn't a hot-tempered man, and with his casual manner he answered me, saying, "Amanda, dear, you should know as much as I do that I'm not for that. I just couldn't stand all year in one place, looking at the ground for a seed to grow, could I?"
"No, I reckon not. The land calls to some people, William, but not to you." I sighed. "What will we do now?"
"I've not told you the good news, Amanda--I just had a talk with the colonel and he says he'll see my sutler contract is renewed if we go with him to the new base."
"Where would that be?"
"Fort Ridgley in Minnesota territory."
I was shocked. "Sioux country?" I said, still trying to put all of this in some rational thought.
"Sure, there'll be Sioux around, but we've dealt with Indians and the frontier for years now, nothing changed," William reasoned.
"More fighting, more killing? Is that what you're saying William?" I needed to hear it from his lips.
"Amanda, I haven't told you the best part of it. We're goin' by steamboat. Just like you've always wanted to--up the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers--on one of those elegant big boats with velvet curtains and crystal chandeliers. Can't you see it--the big paddle wheel making a waterfall behind us? Won't that be grand?"
I have to admit I'd always dreamed of riding on a steamboat. Looking so rich and fancy, it would be just as I'd imagined.
I was wrong.
It was anything but grand. The elegant riverboat--complete with gaudy pictures on the paddle box, and card rooms and crystal chandeliers, writing rooms paneled with mahogany, with porcelain knobs on the doors and Wilton carpets in the staterooms only plied between St. Louis and New Orleans. The boats going north and west--like the one we traveled on--were small and graceless with only a cargo deck and a passenger deck--and were free of decoration.
We were on the upper deck, aft on the starboard side--and the only civilians aboard. The other passengers were soldiers on their way to Fort Ridgley. William tried to reassure me, Richard, and Mary by pointing out the decks were full of guns, ammunition, and blue-clad soldiers. He said, "Nobody could be safer than us. One look at us is enough to scare off those redskins. I bet we don't see an Indian the whole trip."
He was partly correct in his prediction. We never saw one Indian--but they saw us. A thousand eyes lined the banks of the upper Mississippi, and at night runners and drums flashed the news ahead that palefaces were coming into redskin territory.
We'd left the Mississippi and headed west on the Minnesota when the first arrow struck the boat. It was mid-morning of a peaceful, sun-drenched day, and the rhythmic splash of the paddle wheel covered the slight hissing sound of feathers in flight.
Then I heard a sergeant holler, "Indians, Indians! On the starboard!"
There was suddenly mass confusion among the soldiers. I grabbed Richard and Mary with my free arm, the other wrapped tightly around the infant Billy, as the men began to run around. The soldiers started to fire toward the enemy, which not a one could see. A call to cease-fire was bellowed and once the firing stopped. The boat continued up the Minnesota. The redskins had only fired one arrow. It had passed through the sleeve of my dress and grazed Billy's head.
William, Sr. came running to my side. "You all right?"
I nodded that I was.
"Richard and Mary are fine, Amanda, how's the baby?"
I looked down at Billy; the arrow had grazed his head leaving a small amount of blood. "It's an omen," I said, my voice trembling. "Billy's been born to a life of danger."