book has a long subtitle, but it may as well be “What We Rangers
Ate.” Much of the time, which probably explains Sowell’s preoccupation
with food, it was not so much what
he and his fellow rangers ate but whether they had anything at all
“This morning,” he wrote in a typical passage, “we had nothing to
eat, as our supply of meat had given out, and we had sighted no
game since that we could get a shot at; and it always seems the
Indeed. Read Sowell and you will suddenly start craving a quarter-pound
hamburger, fries, and a chocolate shake to wash it down.
One of many instances of lean rations that Sowell recalled came
after he and his comrades got thoroughly soaked in a night thunderstorm
in Northwest Texas that left them unable to proceed because of high
water in a nearby creek and the river that it flowed into.
“The rain was over,” he wrote. “The next thing now was something
to eat. We had a little bread; not more than enough for one man,
and no meat at all.”
The rangers grabbed their rifles and moved up their side of the
creek, expecting to find some game. The company sergeant produced
a hook and some line and declared that he would try his luck at
“We had no doubt but what we could get plenty to eat,” Sowell wrote,
“but our amazement was great as, one by one, the hunters returned
empty-handed, not even finding a quail or rabbit. Well, here we
were: no breakfast, no dinner (as early Texans referred to the noon
meal), the sun sinking in the west with but little prospect for
supper (as early Texans referred to what modern Texans call dinner.)”
The boys must have been in quite a funk until their sergeant walked
back into camp toting a catfish they guessed weighed about a pound
and a half. Good as that blue-backed fish looked, it was still a
little lean for seven hungry young men.
Even so, the rangers were not about to look a gift catfish in the
mouth. The fish soon was roasting over the coals and tasted pretty
good, even divided by seven.
In the morning, with nothing for breakfast and still trapped by
the flooding, the rangers headed out for another day of hunting.
Once again, the sergeant went to the creek with his fishing line.
“But,” Sowell continued, “as the day before, one at a time they
came in with no better fortune, and in vain the sergeant whipped
the stream with his line, until he gave it up with disgust.”
As the rangers looked around camp, they realized one of their number
was still out. Surely bugler John Fitzgerald, the best hunter in
their scout, had meat. But as the shadows began to get longer, he
still was not back.
Concerned, the sergeant ordered that two shots be fired in case
he was lost.
The shooting quickly was answered with a single round, and soon
Fitzgerald, hungry and tired, trudged into view. And he had something
in his hand – a turkey hen.
Fitzgerald stretched out for some rest while the other boys got
a fire ready and cooked the bird.
“It was soon ready and the boys gathered around,” Sowell concluded.
In a short time, “There was nothing left of that turkey but the
slick bones and feathers.”
Sowell’s story did not have a happy ending. As he put it, “Next
morning we were all hungry again.”
© Mike Cox
June 25, 2003 column
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