Man, was he fast! Cletus Tucker could out draw and out shoot any man he ever saw. He could get off 5 aimed shots with his Schofield revolver, be reloaded, and ready to fire again before most men could just get off the 5 aimed shots.
He preferred the Smith and Wesson Schofield .45 caliber revolver because it could be shot and reloaded with only one hand. The Colt was much slower to reload and required both hands. So what if the .45 Colt was more powerful; nobody could tell the difference at 25 yards. Cletus never expected to shoot at anything beyond that range with his pistol. If he was being shot at beyond that range and he only had a pistol, he planned to run and dodge like Hell! Only a fool expected to hit his target with a pistol beyond that range.
Cletus had gotten his start with guns during the war. Though he had managed to escape slavery at an early age by swimming the Ohio River, he never cared much one way or the other about the subject. A young Negro in southern Ohio had more on his mind than whether other Negroes were slaves or free.
For one thing, he had to eat. Work was not easy to find and it never paid enough to put anything aside, so he was always on the edge of starvation. But, then, he had always been on the edge of starvation as a slave, so he didn't see much difference, there. Always, his main concern was getting enough to eat!
Then the war broke out and he heard that he could join the US Army. They were forming special Negro units, and, in Cletus' opinion, the major good point was that a soldier ate regularly. Also, a soldier was given a gun and taught to use it. With a gun, he could get back at some of those people who were always pushing him around.
Cletus was very proud of the fact that he could write his name, so he went to the recruiting office and signed up, writing his own name and not just using a big X. The sergeant Cletus talked to told him where and when to meet the train that would take him to the training camp. Cletus showed up at the right place and the right time. The corporal who booted his ass as he was climbing into the boxcar with 29 other Negroes was not even insulting about it; he was just doing his job. That was the extent of the politeness Cletus encountered the whole time he was in the army.
Cletus spent a very boring, but testing, time in training camp. He learned to salute, to march, to salute, to clean his equipment, to salute, to load and fire a musket, and to salute. It seemed like every White man he met he had to salute and about half the Negroes. He was told that he would not have to salute so much once he got out of training camp; it was just practice.
There were only two parts of training camp that Cletus took to: eating and shooting. The food was all right, not much taste, but plenty of it. Cletus couldn't complain about the food, it was better than he had as a civilian. The shooting was really educational. He found out that the musket he was issued wasn't worth shit when it came to accuracy. The idea was for everybody to shoot at the same time and hope that some of the balls went where the officer or sergeant wanted them to go. Once, Cletus saw some White troops shooting Spencer rifles; Cletus decided he wanted one of those rifles, but he knew that he would never get one. Cletus' anger was mollified when he heard a rumor that they would be issued a Minie rifle when they graduated from basic training.
At last! Basic training was over! The last day, all they did was march around in the driving rain on parade. The troops were miserable, but the officers didn't care—they were all under a shelter, so the rain didn't get to them. After the parade, the troops talked about where they would be assigned. Cletus really didn't care where he went, as long as he was fed regularly.
He wound up in Company F, 8th U.S. Colored Troops, and, yes, he was issued a Minie rifle. Cletus tried not to get noticed, but it was bound to happen. He learned to be a crack shot with the Minie rifle. He was so good with it, he was noticed by the company CO. Cletus was ordered to be one of the CO's regular guards. Next thing he knew, Cletus wound up a sergeant and had to wear a special uniform, since the CO wanted his guard to stand out and look very military. Part of this special uniform was a pistol.
The problem was, about all Cletus knew about a pistol was which end the ball came out. That was fine with the army; he didn't have to unlearn anything before he learned the army way. He was issued an M1860 "Army Brass" cap and ball pistol and taught how to maintain it and how to shoot it. This pistol was a monster: it weighed 21⁄2 lbs. and was 131⁄2 inches long. The standard army shooting technique taught at the time was the dueller's stance where you held the gun out to the side at arm's length and aimed down the barrel.
Cletus got to be very good with this stance and scored very high during training, but he really preferred to hold the pistol in front of himself and point it like he was pointing his finger. In this "natural" stance, Cletus rarely missed. He liked the army's cross draw holster location pretty well, but he really preferred to have it carried more near his belly button. He liked to fold the holster flap back out of the way and see how fast he could draw and fire. He got great pleasure from this practice and used to do it whenever he could get free from regular duty. He even got so good at it that he used to make money for his CO by winning "quick draw" bets. All in all, this was Cletus' happiest time in the army.
After what Cletus thought was a ridiculous length of time, they were finally sent into "combat." This "combat" consisted of guarding the logistics depot. Cletus saw no particular reason for guarding an office containing half a dozen file clerks with a whole platoon of combat-ready troops. The rebels were across the river and that was where the fighting was taking place. He later found out that all of the "colored" troops were stuck in jobs like this because the White generals didn't think that Negroes could or would fight.
Things went on this boring way for weeks. Cletus decided to break the boredom by learning to read and write. He found a teacher among the troops and for a few cents a lesson, was taught all that his remarkably able teacher could pass on. The lessons, all together, cost Cletus nearly $40, but he had nothing else to do, so Cletus thought it was worth the money. He didn't know what he would do with all this education, but it did eliminate the boredom.
Then, one fateful day, it happened! His unit was guarding the file clerks while the big battle was going on a few miles away. Suddenly there was a burst of rifle fire to the south. Cletus ordered his squad to stand ready to fight. Out of the bushes to the east poured a swarm of rebels. What they were doing there and how they got there were questions to be resolved later. Right now it was a case of fight or die.
The Negro troops had been told that they could expect no mercy from the rebels. The rebels took no Negro prisoners. Cletus quickly got his men into line and ordered volley fire. The first row fired and stepped behind the second row to reload. The second row fired and the first row returned to the front. The first row fired and retired to reload. This kept on for eight volleys.
By then the remnant of the rebel troops were fleeing as fast as they could run. Cletus ordered his men to stand fast and not chase the rebels; there was no telling what they might run into. Cletus' tactic of having his men stand and fight had been brilliant. The rebels could not run and reload their muzzle loaders at the same time. By being able to reload quickly, Cletus' squad was able to stand off many times their number.
Cletus detailed four men to check on the downed rebels. A few still lived and these were helped into the shade until medical help could come. None of Cletus' men had more than superficial scratches; the rebels had been able to get off only one shot and that at extreme range. All of the rebels' weapons were gathered and stacked safely out of the way and Cletus' troops relaxed. Cletus had sent a man to get medical aid for the wounded rebels, but it seemed forever before help arrived.
A few hours later, nearly supper time, the CO of Cletus' company arrived He congratulated everybody on their performance and praised their bravery. He said that he hoped that this action would make the higher-ups see how effective Negro troops could be with proper leadership (meaning himself, not Cletus). Not long after, Cletus' men were allowed to eat supper.
Cletus thought that one attack could be a fluke, but he didn't want to take a chance. He asked permission to erect breastworks and was told to go ahead. By being next to the logistics headquarters, he was able to finagle all the tools he needed to cut down some trees and arrange them so that his men would have some protection in case of another attack. The next three days were spent in building the breastworks and, no sooner had they finished, but they were ordered to a new location. Well, that's the Army. What can you do? Cletus took this philosophically, but he kept the tools.
Their next location was pretty much like the first, just a little further south. This time, Cletus had breastworks construction started on the first day. No combat action happened the eight days they were at this location, and they were ordered to move, again. This sort of thing went on for the next three weeks and Cletus thought that they had seen all the combat they were likely to see.
Every time they relocated, Cletus had his breastworks built, even though his troops were getting sick of the work. Cletus didn't let this complaining bother him; he figured it was just the usual army-style talk. This time it was a good thing they had the breastworks. The were subjected to a cavalry attack which caught them completely off guard. Suddenly, the horses were charging at them and the rebels were firing their pistols and waving their sabers. It was chaos, personified.
Cletus' troops jumped behind their breastworks and hunkered down. Cletus ordered them to fix bayonets. There was no way they could load and fire their rifles amid all the confusion, but the bayonet would help to keep the cavalry out of saber range. Meanwhile, Cletus calmly drew his pistol and began to shoot--officers first, then NCOs. He ducked behind the breastworks to reload and then popped up to shoot again. No telling how many men he shot that day, but only three fell from their horses. The rest rode off, licking their wounds.
Cletus did notice one thing: horses may be too stupid to come out of shower of shit, but the shied away from pointy things. Cletus pointed out to his men how effective their bayonets had been in keeping the horses, therefore, the sabers, out of reach. He instructed them to always fix bayonets whenever they had to face cavalry.
The rest of the war was pretty much like this for Cletus and his men. They had long hours of boredom interspersed with a few minutes of sheer terror. Cletus managed to keep all his men alive and essentially unhurt for the remainder of the war, so he thought that he had done a good job.
All this was neither here nor there as far as the US Army was concerned. Cletus was mustered out of the Army on June 14, 1866, in Cincinnati, Ohio. He left the Army with the clothes on his back, $12 in his pocket, and his pistol secreted on his person. Cletus had sense enough to keep the stolen pistol hidden, since a Negro with a gun was sure to be lynched on sight in southern Ohio.
Cletus had no immediate prospects: he had nothing before the war, so he had nothing to come back to after the war. He tried finding work, but all of the discharged White veterans had taken all of the jobs, so Cletus was reduced to petty thievery to get enough to eat. It was obvious to Cletus that, if he wanted to survive, he was going to have to go west. The question was where?
He heard of Negroes setting up whole towns of their own out west, but he had no idea of how to find them. But, he figured that anywhere west was better for him than anywhere in Ohio. Since he had no real choice, he just started walking toward the setting sun. No provisions and no shelter to take with him made him realize how much better off he had been in the Army, but he just had to bear this tribulation, too.
He spent that night under some pine boughs and ate some stolen potatoes, raw, for breakfast. Of necessity, he got an early start on his way and was walking with his back to the sun. He came around a bend in the road and spied a lone man on horseback headed toward him about a hundred yards away.
The man saw him and stared hard in his direction. Suddenly, the man raised a cavalry saber and charged at Cletus, shouting, "Kill the damned niggers! They caused all the trouble."
For a moment, Cletus didn't know what to do. Then the training in quick thinking the Army didn't know they had provided took over and he pulled his gun. He shot the charging man when he got close enough so that Cletus knew that he wouldn't miss. The horse stopped running when the man fell off. Cletus went to the dead man to see what he had shot. That the man was White was obvious, but what else was there?
Cletus was lucky! He found that the man carried a significant quantity of food, so Cletus' hunger could be satisfied for a few days. Cletus also found a change of clothes, a blanket, and a small tent. The man also had one of those prized Henry rifles, the saber, and a pistol just like the one Cletus carried.
This haul was like the magic pot at the end of the rainbow! Cletus pulled the man into the nearby bushes and stripped him. He threw away the rags that he was wearing and donned the clothes the dead man had been using. He then armed himself with his old and new pistols, mounted the horse, and rode away west in style.
Cletus continued on his way west like this for three more days. He had avoided towns and stuck to back roads, so he never encountered anybody. However, he now had to replenish his supplies. At he next town he came to, he removed this obvious weapons, hid his horse, and walked into town. He bought supplies at a general store and let the clerk cheat him with his change. On the way out, he palmed some cigars worth more than the clerk had stolen.
He repeated this tactic whenever he needed supplies until he reached Missouri. The man who had attacked him back in Ohio had a money belt holding nearly $300, so Cletus was set for money for a while. Once in Missouri, Cletus was doubly cautious. He knew the state was full of Confederate sympathizers who would shoot him on sight, just because he was a Negro.
Cletus decided to head toward Kansas City. He thought he might have better luck in Nebraska than in Kansas. He planned to cross into Kansas long enough to get across the river and then swing north to Nebraska. He didn't have any specific plans beyond that, but he considered going as far as Colorado and seeing what happened then.
He had some rough country to cross to get to Kansas City, both in geography and in society. The route he had to take wound through some big hills with thick woods, hiding places for several bands of armed bandits eager to kill for the joy of it, much less the loot they could get. From the stories he had heard when he was in Ohio, Missouri was a very dangerous place for a Negro.
Cletus figured that if all the stories were true, and he better assume that they were, he had better allow 20 to 25 days to get to Kansas City. It would be great if he could make it in less time, but he was traveling in totally unfamiliar, hostile territory, so he would have to be especially careful.
He crossed the Mississippi river on a ferry with seven other people, all White and all suspicious of a lone Negro. Cletus was used to that attitude, so he ignored it. Once he got across the river, he decided that he had enough of being timid around Whites. He would just be himself and let the Devil take the hindmost! However, he did keep his guns handy.
He bought enough supplies to last four weeks and tied them to a pack horse. Cletus had paid extra for a pack horse trained to follow without being tied. This was just extra insurance in case trouble caused him to cut and run on very short notice. Cletus had now spent over $100 on his trip west, and he was looking for a little income just to be on the safe side.
He happened to bump into a wagon train of Mormons who wanted to hire extra guards. They would pay him $10 and found (food and a place to sleep) to guard them to Nebraska. There, they were to meet up with a larger train headed for Deseret. This looked like a good deal: he would get paid for traveling through Missouri, he would have the protection of a large group, and he would not dig into his own provisions until he reached Nebraska.
They started out with a prayer. Cletus didn't mind as long as they paid and fed him, but he thought they better get their praying done before trouble showed up. At the rate they were going, Cletus figured that these Mormons had better find a place to spend the winter, because they would never make it to Deseret before the snow fell.
The first camp was like the proverbial blind men's fire drill. The train was made up of several different groups who had just met and they still hadn't ironed out just who was in charge. The was a lot of arguing and shouting and praying and who-knows-what before things settled down. Meanwhile, the women, being more sensible about the important things, had started cooking supper. Cletus managed to get his and sat down to a good meal before the arguing, etc. had reached its climax. After he ate, he joined the guard captain and the group of guards and they worked out their own watch schedule.
The camp finally settled down and got to sleep. Nothing untoward happened that night, and they all got a good rest. The wagon train ate breakfast before daylight and were on their way as soon as they could see.