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|Posted: Wed May 2nd, 2007 07:00 am||
| General Albert Sidney Johnston holds a prominent place in Texas history, as well as U.S. history.
He was a native of Kentucky, and an 1826 graduate of West Point, where he was a friend of Jefferson Davis. In 1834, he resigned from the Army to care for his wife who was ill, but she soon died. The following year, he travelled to Texas, where he became a soldier in the Texas Army. By 1837, he was a brigadier general and soon the senior officer in the Texas Army. He was later the Secretary of War of the Texas Republic.
Soon after Texas became a state in 1845, Johnston served in the Mexican War. He commanded the First Texas Rifles, and some sources maintain that he saved Jefferson's Davis' life.
In 1849, Johnston rejoined the US Army as a major and paymaster. The following story is known by few and might be of interest to some. It was published in the FRONTIER TIMES in Bandera Texas by J. Marvin Hunter in September, 1927. (Vol. 4, Number 12, pp. 38-39.)
TRUSTED NEGRO ROBS HIS MASTER
It is not generally known that general Albert Sidney Johnston often visited Ft. McKavett in the 50s, but it is a fact nevertheless. In October, 1849, Johnston was appointed paymaster in the Army with the rank of major and assigned to the Frontier department of Texas. He entered upon his duties the following year with headquarters at Austin, his itinerary at that time embracing Ft. Crogam Ft. Gates, Ft. Gresham, and Ft. Belknap. A year later, Ft. Mason was established, then followed the building of Ft. McKavett in 1852, and these were added to the circuit of Paymaster Johnston. Under legal requirement, the troops at these posts were to be paid every four months and in order to meet this demand, General Johnston had to travel a distance of nearly a thousand miles on each round, or about three thousand miles a year. The region through which he travelled was without settlements save around the army posts and was infested with marauding bands of Indians who constantly menaced travellers and small bodies of troops and immigrants who chanced to venture into those remote regions. The general was accompanied by his clerk, his negro driver, John, and negro cook, Randolph, all of whom rode in a governement ambulance drawn by four mules, and in this conveyance was carried a small iron box, or safe, which contained the money from which to pay the troops. He was also accompanied by a forage wagon and a cavalry escort of from four to fifteen men in charge of an officer.
Early in 1853, General Johnston discovered a shortage in his accounts. He found on a careful account of the government funds placed in his care a deficit of several hundred dollars. He continued his round, however, until he reached Ft. McKavett, where he found another shortage of seven hundred dollars, making a total of seventeen hundred dollars that he was unable to account for; these losses covering a period of about two years. Strictly methodical and honest in all his transactions, the general could arrive at but one conclusion- robbery. But how could a thief extract coin from his strongbox where it was rarely out of his sight or that of his trusted clerk, who showed as much solicitude for the apprehension of the thief as the general could have shown. The money had been counted at Ft. Chadbourne, the last pay station before reaching McKavett, and at which place, owing to illness, his clerk had been left. This clerk had been succeeded by the general's fifteen year old son, whose honesty and watchfulness was beyond all question. When the general discovered the shortage at McKavett and his seeming inability to locate the thief, he was in great distress. He had been making good the losses from his private purse, and this continual drain threatened to ruin not only his reputation, but his financial standing as well. He had refrained from saying anything about his losses, knowing that any complaint he might make to the governement authorities would only serve to undermine the confidence of his superiors and excite grave suspicion against himself.
With the troops stationed at McKavett at that time was an old sergeant by the name of Bramlett, who had served under Johnston in the Texas army while Texas was yet a republic, and had been a lieutenant under Johnston in the Mexican war. Bramlett was a locksmith by trade before going into the army, and in the war with Mexico had gained considerable notoriety as a scout. He had contracted a strong friendship for General Johnston, and the third day after the general's arrival at Ft. McKavett, he called to pay his respects to his old commander. The general received him most cordially, and after a brief conversation, took him into his confidence and told him of his mysterious losses and asked his assistance in ferreting out the mystery. It seems that Bramlett had established the reputation of being a shrewd detective while in the Texas army, all of which Johnston had full knowledge, and for this reason, he was taken into the general's confidence, and his aid solicited. Bramlett promised all the assistance that he was capable of rendering and the first thing in order was to examine the little iron safe. "Since counting the money at Ft. Chadbourne", explained General Johnston, "this strongbox has not been out of out sight, except for a few hours here yesterday when it was under guard. The money, as you see, is kept in different bags; ten dollar pieces in these, five dollar pieces in those, and some time since, I took the precaution to mark a number of pieces of each denomination."
After a close examination of the strongbox, the sergeant said: "False key, General, false key. It is well you marked some of those coins, that is the only clue you have, and its a good one." Bramlett's next enquiry was about the general's servants, his driver, and his cook. Join, the driver, was a coal black negro; he had been born and raised a slave in the Johnston family, and for years had been the general's waiting boy, and had been greatly favored by his humane master. But John was above suspicion, argued the general, John was strictly honest and reliable, he had raised him and had more than a thought and proofs of his honesty.
"Well, General, " said Bramlett, "I think I can unravel this mystery. I first want to talk to your cook, Randolph; make an excuse to send him down to my quarters on some errand tonight."
The negro came, and after having a few drinks that Bramlett had on hand for the occasion, Ran became very communicative. "By the way, said the sergeant, "has John a wife?" "Yas suh, done been married two yeahs , and hes got da hansomest culled woman in Austin. Yas he is, shes nearly white, she is, and sah, she sho cuts a swell 'mong all dem city niggahs." "Does John dress her well?" "Hoo, man, you ort to see de finery dat niggah piles on dat woman." "He gets no wages, so where does he get the money to pay for that finery?" "Why,man, dat niggah's alus got money; gambles wid de soldiers." "Win anything from the boys at Chadbourne?" "Dunno, sah, I didn't see him gamble none over dar." "Do you play cards?" "Yas , sah, sometimes I plays sebenup jes fo fun, but I nevah gambles, cause I nevah has any money."
Early the next morning, the sergeant called at the general's quarters, and taking him into a private room said: "General, your driver, John, is the scoundrel that has been robbing you. Evidently, he has a false key, and the money he has been stealing has been spent on his mulatto wife in Austin. Search him and you will find that key and your money."
The general could not believe that his trusted waiting boy could be guilty of such a grievous offense, but reluctantly consented to have him searched. He was called in, and when accused by Sergeant Bramlett, he stoutly proclaimed his innocence. The sergeant caused him to disrobe. Beneath his clothing, about the waist, was a belt, and in this belt was found the seven hundred dollars. The negro confessed to having a false key, given him by a gambler in Austin.
The officers at McKavett insisted on having the negro whipped severely, declaring that he had accomplices and that he should be forced to reveal their identity, but the general would not allow his servant punished, contending that whipping would not atone for the lost money and would only serve to brutalize the culprit, and furthermore, it would be a mere act of revenge.
On his return to Austin, General Johnston took the negro to Galveston and sold him for one thousand dollars which went in part to make up what he had stolen from the government.
The last time the general came to Ft. McKavett in the capacity of paymaster was in April, 1855. He had just finished paying off the soldiers and while in his quarters, posting up his books, and otherwise preparing for an early start the next morning, a courier rode up and handed him a package. It contained his commission as Colonel of the Second United States cavalry, a position he had long coveted.