Chapter 4 © 2018 Steven D. Shepard
The Short Goodbye
Captain Ivey was burning daylight. He went by the Officer of the Day's shed and asked where he could find Sergeant Buck Hartley. The OD informed him Hartley had leave. “Leave? Who the hell gets leave in the middle of a war?” Ivey asked the rhetorical question. But he knew even battle units occasionally got leave to go home. If they lived long enough. The OD responded saying, “He started today. I expect you can find home in Keachi by tomorrow. But if I was a betting man, I'd bet you could find him Bossier City tonight.”
Bossier City, Louisiana is just across the Red River from Shreveport. One would think they were sister cities, but for most of history Shreveport would deny it. Bossier was a wet village. Shreveport was in a dry parish. For decades prior and after military rule, the religious Protestants had maintained strict control of Shreveport. In fact, you could find more churches in Shreveport than just about anything else. Back in the day, when the Protestants got on their high horse, they made up their minds they were going to run the gamblers, liquor, brothels and all the folks they deemed less than desirable out of town. Bossier City is where they expelled them. Even so, Bossier was barely a town to speak of. Mostly it was a village collection of run down dirty shops, gambling halls, saloons, whore houses and shacks where folks engaged in the world's oldest professions tried to make a living. Quite unlike New Orleans, where these notable trades stood close and proud alongside the status quo in the quaint French Quarter neighborhoods, Bossier was a spread out collection of log and plank shanties that required a long walk or a horse ride through scrubby housing tenements and the woods to get from one to the other. If it wasn't raining. Some of these fine establishments deliberately located themselves away from each other and along the Red River at 1st Street and the Monroe Road. They did this so at night their lights and their noise shined directly across the water at Shreveport. They were an public objection and a private temptation to some of Shreveport's finest. It was not uncommon to find the politically and social elite of Shreveport in Bossier City on any given night spending their money and their time. After all, you can only take so much church and religion. Sunday morning would find them sitting in a pew again. Usually with a hangover or a case of the clap.
Bossier City also had a darker side. Another thing Shreveport didn't care to host or tolerate much was foreigners, strangers and slaves. As a habit, anyone passing through that talked funny with an accent received poor welcome in Shreveport, Louisiana. Unless they had money, these folks were soon snubbed and invited to go reside the other side of the Red or the Sabine River. Mexicans that passed through the region or came in from Texas didn't even receive that invite. They got run off. Blacks were usually run out of town, killed or worse. On occasion, free black men, women and their families tried to pass through town. On their way to Texas where there was land available for a hard working man. These black folks had already been through a lot of expense and hell to obtain their freedom which was a rare thing in the South. If they wanted to stay free or alive, it was in their best interest to keep moving. Bossier was a place they could go and camp, or obtain supplies. But there was a real and present danger that armed whites might take them in the night and force them into slavery once again.
The last remaining slave auction in the region still operated in Bossier City. Not as active as it had been in years past. But it was still common for a small population of black slaves to be housed at the old auction house cells awaiting sale. In 1864 most of these slaves were captured runaways. The Yankees, the war and the general chaos inspired many to run and try to get free. Most got caught. By law it was required that their capture and availability had to be published in the Shreveport News. But if nobody claimed the runaway, they were auctioned off to the highest bidder. The only thing that slowed this evil trade these days was the wreck and the ruin the general economy was suffering right along with captured slaves. Slave prices were ridiculous. The day had long past when the common southern farmer, rancher or worker could buy a slave and increase his income, leisure and status. These days, the only people who shopped the slave auction were affluent businessmen, government workers, rich plantation owners or the Army itself. Many of the blacks were forced or lured into military service. It was not like they had a lot of choice.
Another public service Bossier City provided the region was it was a destination for deserters, Jayhawkers and outlaws to meet up and plan their dirty deeds. Bossier was an island of civilization and vice for men who spent most of their time alone, on the run and out of sight in the woods. Because even a scoundrel needs a place to get a drink, a hot meal and a warm body for the night. The smart ones resupplied, took care of their business and moved on. The stupid ones usually ended up in jail or hung over in Shreveport. Even though Shreveport liked to think they had run the bad news out of town, public hangings were still enjoyed by the masses. Shreveport had a Sheriff who was nearly as crooked as the criminals he chased. He didn't hesitate to dish out his definition of justice on a regular basis. Especially when it lined his pocket.
In any case, Shreveport didn't welcome bad business offending the tender sensibilities of their gentle citizens. The women, children, pastors and deacons of the community had to be properly protected and shielded from any unpleasantness. So all of that mess was banished to Bossier. It made Bossier City a tough place to be. Especially at night. When gunfire popped in the night east of the River it was no place for a preacher's son. No smart man bothered to go see what was going on. Locals knew to stay the hell away and mind their own damned business. Even the law only went across the River if they had too. Cause you could sure get lost in Bossier City.
Ivey's day was now moving fast, but it was too early in the evening to go to Bossier and actually find anyone. In truth, he didn't really want to go. He never had been much of a drinker or a hell raiser and he really didn't enjoy the company of people prone to that behavior. He wasn't particularly religious either, but he never did see the sense of pickling your head so bad that it hurt. And Bossier was a good place to get into trouble. So he made the decision to head west instead and stop by the house to see what kind of reception he could get from his wife. A man should be welcome in own castle, but that wasn't always the case with Betty Ivey. Doug's afternoon ride back into town wasn't nearly as eventful as his morning ride. Refugees still lined the road, but they were not choking passage. As he cantered into town he noticed shops on Texas Avenue had discovered their courage, opened back up and it appeared brisk business activity was going on all sides with with locals and newcomers alike. But the streets were a bloody mess. The worse Ivey had ever seen them. If city maintenance was working at all it wasn't doing much good. His horse plodded through the waste in the street like it was stomping through mud and smelly sand. The waste clung to the horse's hooves and his animal stepped and stomped hard to try and shake it out of its horseshoes. The smell was bad. Each step made it worse.
As Ivey left the river valley, he got to the top end of Texas Avenue and turned left west on the way to Greenwood, towards his house. It was a source of amusement to Ivey that Texas Avenue was located in Louisiana. But he knew as well as anyone that they named it Texas Avenue because it was the road that led west to the Sabine River and Texas. He and Betty owned a home not far outside of town on the other side of the Oakland Cemetery. Most of his fellow officers had moved south over to the new Highlands area where they were still trying to build opulent houses. The land prices over there were already getting high. Property west of town was flat, more open and could still be obtained at a reasonable price. Reasonable because most of the original 1836 settlers who came here when Captain Henry Miller Shreve founded the town of Shreveport had moved on or passed away. Shreve never really meant to stop here and build a town anyways. He was working on clearing a giant log jam that at that time choked the Red River for hundreds of miles up and down stream. This jam had frustrated and kept river transportation and trade out of North Louisiana and East Texas for decades. Shreve got a contract with the U.S. Corp of Engineers to clear this jam and he worked the river for four years clearing it. Shreve ended his mission and founded Shreveport because the river pretty much pissed out on him in that area.
But Shreve's mission was not totally unsuccessful. After the log jam was cleared, there were some years the Red would flood, straighten out and allow generous riverboat and barge traffic further up and down stream. But this was not an event anyone could rely upon. The River and the weather did what they wanted and pretty much ignored the designs of humans who tried to use it for freight and profit. Fact is, many of the so called pioneers and settlers who followed Shreve into the region were for the most part trying to get to Texas. The promise of free land and few laws in Texas was a very tempting call to people who had little or nothing but trouble and want back east. But most them got stalled or stuck in west Louisiana or east Texas. That's why they called them settlers. They got stalled because Texas was still a damned dangerous wilderness and most of it was not safe for women and children. If the Mexicans didn't rob you, or outlaws didn't shoot you, the Indians would scalp you.
Most of the Louisiana Indians were gone or extinct by the time whites arrived in the northwest region. The survivors of that prehistoric era died off of Small Pox or been run off to Oklahoma and out of the area. But the first Shreveport settlers still had to deal with renegades and stragglers who tried to remain. With them, there were fights and deaths on both sides. Andrew Wilson, the man who built the farm Ivey bought, succeeded because he traded with the Indian stragglers and gave them food and work on his farm. The Indians returned the favor by showing Wilson how this land had to be farmed. The Indians and half-breeds actually knew more about growing this land than anyone. For Wilson, the results were good. The soil that was so fertile and virgin, you could throw a seed into it and something would grow. It produced big time if you could keep the deer and rabbits from destroying your work. A long near tropical growing season with heavy rains allowed multiple harvests per year. Any man who knew what the hell he was doing on a farm could make a good living selling local and shipping his excess down river. And Wilson did. So while brave men were dying at the Alamo and trying to take Texas away from Mexico, American people too frightened or tired to move into Texas to join in the Mexican rebellion settled in north Louisiana. By 1860, Shreveport had over 2000 white folks and 1300 slaves living and working there. Like St. Louis to the north, both cities had become the western edge of American civilization. But while St. Louis prospered, Shreveport struggled along in the heat, humidity, muck and the mire. The unpredictable behavior of the Red River dictating the good years and the bad. In good years, serious loads of cotton, produce and cattle products floated out of north Louisiana on hundreds of barges down the muddy river to Alexandria and New Orleans. From the production of those good years the state government in Baton Rouge was forced to admit Shreveport was the second largest city in the state. And Baton Rouge wanted a share.
Most of the Wilson family was dead and gone now. Disease and hard work killed them. Ivey was lucky enough to buy the two story Victorian from the widow Wilson before she passed away. Doug and Betty moved in the house before the widow died and they all lived together for a while. That was before the war. He was lucky again that the house came already outfitted with most of the comforts of home a man could ever want or need to raise a family. Behind the white picket fence there was a good well. The front porch wrapped around the front and two sides of the house and invited cool breezes in the summer. The first floor windows were full size and nearly as tall as the high ceilings. Two fireplaces struggled to keep the place warm during the short Winters. The footprint of the house was a bit small like New England homes. So the kitchen wasn't large. The kitchen had a fine Thompson wood burning stove. It worked so well, it was a blessing or a curse as a third source of heat when someone was cooking. Old man Wilson was an ace builder and carpenter and had done a better job on the house than Doug could have ever done himself. Wilson had wisely planted pecan trees for shade around the perimeter of the house and they nearly surrounded the entire structure. These trees were mature now and their cool shade made the house livable in Summer. In fact the shade was worth gold in the heat and humidity that could become overbearing during the damp dog days. In the Fall, the trees produced so many pecans they had to give them away to thankful friends and neighbors as gift baskets. When Ivey got too busy with the Army, he left standing orders that the neighbors were to just come over and harvest pecans in the Fall when they wanted. Don't even ask. In Winter, the trees gracefully shed their leaves and let the sun through to help thaw the house out on freezing mornings. The property came with the original acreage and before he got drafted Ivey had also tried farming and ranching. But since the war, the land sat ignored and was going fallow. Ivey had to sell what little stock he had, because he didn't have time to tend it. His military salary and his commissary work kept him and Betty in the house. If the war had destroyed him like it had so many others already, the greedy bankers in Shreveport would have taken his home a long time ago.
As he approached the house he could see Betty was in the garden noodling about. Her white bonnet rocked up and down as she toiled with the soil getting it ready for Spring planting. When she heard him riding up she pulled her bonnet off in a sweeping motion that let her straw blond, straight hair cascade down on her shoulders. She looked up and the afternoon sunshine danced on her Victorian hair line almost giving her a halo. To Doug she looked like an angel flying too close to the ground. She actually smiled at him and made him feel better about coming home. The sight reminded him how much he loved the gal but, she was too damned smart and too damned stubborn.
She was raised in Ruston. The youngest of four. Her family was fairly well off back in the day and her parents saw to it that Betty and her siblings were all well educated. She got a degree and it was said that she was brilliant in her own way. But something about her made her keep to herself and away from people as much as possible. In fact, she had no female friends at all and seemed to like it that way. Set in her ways, Betty Ivey loved her husband. She was always disappointed that they never had children, but she knew he was a good man who would do the best he could for them. As he dismounted, she came out to greet him with a hug and hooked his arm into hers to escort him into their house. Supper was cooking and the house smelled like a tired man's dream. Doug was glad to be home.
Once they were inside the foyer and out of sight, she gave him a more passionate hug and kiss, then a shove and a slap on the butt that sent Doug reluctantly back outside to stable his mount. He made sure to give the horse a good feed. After he washed up, he sat at the dinner table so Betty could serve him his meal. As was her habit. She had done that for so long for her mother's family that serving her husband came natural to her. It was a service she was glad to provide as long as they were getting along. But when they were at odds, she didn't bother to feed him at all. They didn't fight a lot or that often, but when they did it was a knock down, drag out emotional and mental war that left them both bruised and hurting inside. Bad things were said and sometimes bad things were done. Coming back together was difficult and she had learned over the years that if she didn't initiate the peace treaty between the two of them there wasn't going to be one for many days. And many nights. Doug wasn't bad about bearing a grudge, but when he got his feeling hurt he was slow to recover. Tonight they shared her good home cooked country meal and exchanged pleasantries. Of course they talked about the news of the day concerning the refugees and how awful it was for them. Betty mentioned that a pack of them had come to the house begging for food and water. She gave them some cornbread and let them at the well but when they were done she run them off. A woman alone had to be careful with strangers. Betty knew how to shoot, but she found her sharp tongue often avoided the need for a gun. Doug couldn't help but enjoy the meal and her company. It was a relief that she was ready to make nice and it pained him that he was not going to be able to stay home and enjoy the rest of her company. When she was sweet like this, their make up sex tended to be their best and most satisfying. When she wanted it, Betty was not shy in bed. He loved that about her.
They had slept together before they got married. The first time Betty was demure about it, kind of like Doug expected. However, later she shocked him with how aggressive she could be and what she wanted. He had been with other women before her. But none of them were like Betty. When she was like that, it drove him crazy mad in love with her. He wanted her so bad he couldn't stand it. Just like he did now. Their mating never did produce children. Neither one really knew why. Betty offered to see a doctor and did. The doctor examined her. Said he couldn't find or see anything wrong. But he told her most of what goes on inside a woman is a mystery to medicine. Eventually both of them came to accept they weren't going to have children and it wasn't that bad. They carried on with their married life and being childless became a natural thing they enjoyed most of the time. But it was time for war to interrupt.
Doug put off telling her as long as he could. But the sun was going down and in the east the oil lights of Shreveport and Bossier City were coming on. As the evening rolled in, he thought to himself that he had a pretty good idea where he could find Buck Hartley. He had his orders. When he finally told Betty that he had been assigned a mission that he couldn't talk about, but had to be about immediately she sat back in her chair like he had just slapped her. She didn't mistake the gravity and sadness in his voice, but she still didn't like it and didn't want to believe it. She even thought she saw his eyes tear up as the words were leaving his mouth, but he sucked that up before she could be certain. Of course she protested insisting he wait until morning. That mission would be there. Doug told her, “Honey I can't. General Taylor said it had to be done now and he means it. I got to find Buck Hartley and we got to get a detachment together.” His explanation didn't help much. She couldn't fathom what could be so important that it would take a man out his wife's bed. With doubt in her voice she asked him where Hartley was. “He got leave. I expect I'll find him somewhere over in Bossier City tonight. He's got a whore over there that he likes. Buck still likes to tip a drink when he can get one.” Betty looked back at him cross and mad. Doug saw the look on her face and he knew what it meant. The argument was back on. She slammed her hand on the table and got up grabbing dishes on the fly.
Not much more was said between the two of them that night. Doug got up from the table and went upstairs to get his gear together. He had to pack light. Not much would fit in a saddle bag. The uniform he had on wasn't soiled yet, but it would get that way quick. He grabbed an extra shirt, underwear, socks and packed them. He rarely carried his sword. It was a troublesome thing for regular duty in town. But he figured better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. So he strapped it on. He could hear Betty slamming dishes around downstairs in the kitchen. He hated to leave her at all much less like this. There was a good chance he could get killed and he didn't want to part with her being mad at him. He tried to think what he should do or say to her. The words just wouldn't seem to come. He wanted to carry her upstairs to bed and make love to her one more time. Maybe the last time. But he knew if he did that, he wouldn't be able to leave. They would be entwined in each other's arms all night long and his ass would be in big trouble come morning. If Taylor didn't execute him, he would sure court martial him. That would cost him what little salary he made. It would cost Betty too. Then she wouldn't have his income to keep her in his absence. So Doug kept packing. Taking things out he thought he could carry, then realizing he could not. Putting them back.
Once he got ready and got his horse saddled again, he walked the packed animal to the front gate. He stood there at the gate looking at the house for a minute, passing the reins from one hand to the other. He was hoping, wishing she would come out and at least say goodbye. When it appeared no goodbye was coming, he stepped up into the stirrup and swung his leg over the dun. As he pulled the reins to turn the horse away, Betty came running out of the house with her hair flying around her shoulders, her dress flowing around her legs. She ran through the gate slamming it, up to the gray and grabbed Doug's left leg, pressing her lips to his high black boot. She said, “Goddamn you Douglas Ivey, you know I love you. I can't stand you leaving me like this. Something is going to happen isn't it?” Doug looked down at the top of her head. Pulling his glove off, he placed his bare hand on her head in a pet and said, “I don't know Hon. I hope not. Maybe if I do my job right this time, I'll live through this damned war. I'll ask Russell if he'll check on you. I think you'll be OK.” Betty patted his thigh goodbye and turned her face to walk back in the house with tears in her eyes. She was not going to let him see her cry. Ivey spurred the dun and trotted off into the dusk.
After Doug was long out of sight, Betty Ivey went to the kitchen and got tallow candles and a candle holder. She lit a long white candle and set in on the window sill in the living room. She told herself if she could, she was going to keep a candle burning in the window for her soldier boy until he came back home. It was not the best of decisions.