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Billy Mitchell In Alaska
Early in his military career, the apostle of air power blazed a trail through the wilderness, forging the last link in a telegraph line to the edge of the Bering Sea
February 1961 | Volume 12, Issue 2
“I went back to my room and thought it over. I thought I had better consult a doctor. I went to one, and he gave me some medicine to take, but it made my brain so inactive that I stopped it.”
Here the Major paused a moment, and I asked him how he knew it made his brain inactive.
“Because I took a simple problem in integral calculus, and it was perfectly impossible for me to work it out. I was sure then that the stuff was affecting my brain. Again I heard the men talking in the next room during the night. The door of the room was open, and I rushed in, but again they avoided me. There was no one there. So I determined to come up here to you. I kept my departure a secret. Just before the steamer was to leave Juneau for Skagway, I ran down and jumped on board. As the steamer pulled out, I could see people running down to the wharf with the evident intention of getting me.
“When I arrived at Skagway, I went to the cable office and looked over the messages received that day, to see if anyone had wired ahead that I was coming and to look out for me. I found only one suspicious message which was in code. It was addressed to the Canadian Bank of Commerce. I went to the bank and asked them to let me see their cipher, so I could decode the message, which they did. It said that a shipment was being made to the bank and to look out for it. It did not say what the shipment was or anything else about it, and I drew from that, that it might mean me. I seemed to be followed everywhere, through the streets, mostly by the rougher element, who always kept their eyes on me.
“I went to White Horse on the White Pass Railway, and at that place I asked the Canadian Mounted Police authorities for an escort. Two men were detailed to accompany me, in plain-clothes, and they took the river steamer with me. A few cows were being shipped down the river, and as I looked in at them through a window, I heard the two men who were taking care of them say, ‘We’ll get him before long; he is going down the river now.’
“When I arrived at Dawson, the commander of the Mounted Police met me at the wharf, and as there was another boat ready to leave, I did not go into the town but came to you right away. I saw how everybody looked at me when I got off the boat. I am sure that I am being watched and followed, and that the first opportunity will be taken to make away with me.”
He stopped speaking, and I could see that my old friend was in a terribly excited state of mind. He had always been one of the bravest of men, and to see him in abject fear was a strange thing to me.
Unquestionably Major F. had lost his mind. If we confined him or restrained him physically, he would certainly go all to pieces. But if I got him out in the wilderness where he would get plenty of fresh air and “exercise, I thought I might cure him. So I suggested that we start on the trip for the Tanana River the next morning.
He wanted to know if there were many Indians and if I thought they knew about the plot. I replied that there were a few, but I knew them all. They were my friends and would do more for me than for any other white man. He then asked what kind of an outfit I was going to take, and I told him one packer, four pack mules, and our saddle horses. He asked to see the packer, and I had the man, Hall by name, come in. He was a great big fellow, about six feet three in height, with blue eyes and a blond beard, as fine and straightforward in appearance as any man I have ever seen. Major F. was satisfied with him.
Next morning we got away. Major F. would look behind every tree, thinking he might find an Indian waiting to shoot him. At our first camp that night, the mosquitoes were terrible. I built smudges, around which the horses and mules stood, and put up our silk tent, which had a floor to it and a hole with a puckering string to close it up. In the middle of the night a bear or wolf came near the camp, and the horses made a lot of noise. Major F. thought the camp was attacked and made a bolt for the hole in the tent, knocking the whole thing down on top of us. Once disentangled, Major F. took a pistol in each hand and began running all around. I thought he would certainly shoot Hall and myself before I could persuade him there was nothing to be feared.
The next day we ran into a small herd of caribou. We made a careful roundabout stalk and I brought Major F. within range of a nice bull, which he killed. This pleased him greatly, not only because he was glad to make the kill, but also because he was satisfied he could hit whatever he aimed at.
For several days we journeyed on and saw nobody, but one afternoon, just as we were making camp, an Indian from the Middlefork Tribe came up. Indianlike, he approached me, gave one grunt and then sat down on his haunches to watch what was going on. After having made our camp and started the fire, I gave him a little tobacco and papers for cigarettes, and poured him a cup of tea with some sugar.
“Long time me no see you, Klutina,” he said. “What for you bring stranger here?”
“He is very big soldier chief,” I replied, “much bigger than me. He is chief of all the soldier chiefs in the North. All the Indians who see him must remember he is a very big soldier chief and do everything for him they can, as he likes all Indians.”