AUTHOR: Dean Rathbone
Note: This story is by no means filthy or obscene, but it is a boisterous story that was shared by soldiers around the campfire during the Civil War. Granny’s cousin, Jim Kirkpatrick, told me this story about my great great grandpa, Jasper Kirkpatrick, that supposedly happened during the Civil War. I combined my impression of the one photo that I saw of Jasper, Granny’s stories about his exploits, and Jim’s detailed story to try and paint a picture.
The first time that saw a photo of Jasper we shared a smile. Unlike the photos of that time period, Jasper’s big frame was leaning forward slightly, his big hands clasped his thighs, and grin brightened his face. His big blue eyes were dancing, just as if he was waiting for the punch line of a good joke. He had made no attempt to comb his curly blond hair. He looked like he was having such a good time, I had to smile along with him. Granny saw me and chuckled. She said, “Mam said he was quite a character, always laughing, and telling tales. He was strong as an ox too. When he wasn’t working on his own farm, he would help out in his Pappy’s blacksmith shop. I recollect Mam telling that Pa Jasper and Ma Mary had words over that blacksmith shop, when they first married. They would have an anvil throwing contest ever so often. Pa Jasper favored pulling his shirt off and throwing the anvil bare chested. Ma Mary accused him of going bare chested just to show off in front of the women.” Granny chuckled, lost in her thoughts, while I studied the old photo. I remembered another funny story about Jasper that Jim Kirkpatrick had shared with me.
The Civil War had been going on for a while. Life was getting difficult here in the South. Food and salt were scarce; the people were starving. As they were marching down a broad river valley somewhere in Virginia, or East Tennessee, a cocky young officer told Jasper and his comrades not to forage for food. “These women and children are starving, so leave them alone. Any man caught foraging will be severely punished,” he told them. They marched on a little further and all of a sudden the men started cheering and hollering. Jasper saw a little white house with a picket fence beside the road. A red lantern was hanging beside the doorway, and on the porch were 3 scantily clad women hollering and waving to the men. Just as Jasper was getting ready to give a loud wolf whistle, the young officer that nobody liked came galloping back along the column. “Eyes front and center,” he shouted. “These ladies are off limits. Any man caught visiting them will be severely punished,” he bellowed. But, Jasper was no longer looking at the women. Something else had caught his eye.
Standing at the corner of the porch, flapping his wings, hissing, and making a terrible racket, was a big gander. Jasper mumbled out of the side of his mouth to the man next to him, “Right there, my friend, is supper tonight.” Some of the men around Jasper heard him and they hissed, “Shet yer mouth, Jasper. Ye’ll git ever one of us in trouble. Leave that old gander alone!” But, Jasper had made up his mind. He marched along silently, forming a plan of action.
They camped just over the next hill, not far from the little white house. Jasper set about fashioning a fish hook out of a needle. He procured some string, attached the fish hook to it, and baited it with a few grains of corn. He put the fishing line in his pocket and announced that he was going to get their supper. The men begged him not to go, but Jasper just grinned and said, “You fellers just leave it to me. They ain’t a thang in this world to worry about.” So, Jasper set off to go get that old gander.
He kept to the tree line beside the river, which would bring him out behind the house. As he slipped along, Jasper’s conscience began to bother him a little. He thought, “Why, I just can’t steal that old gander. I’ll just knock on the door and offer to pay for it.” Jasper darted around to the front of the house and came to a sliding halt. There, tied to the hitching post, was the young officer’s horse. He could hear the sound of a piano tinkling inside and the shrill giggles and squeals of the women. Jasper did some quick thinking. He slipped up to the officer’s horse, opened his saddle bag, and stuffed the money that he was going to pay for the gander, into it. Then, he darted over to the smoke house. He stuck his head around the corner looking for the gander.
There the big gander was, preening himself in a dry mudhole. Jasper called to him and flung the baited fishing line towards him. The old gander saw the corn and made a dive for it. Just as soon as the gander swallowed the bait, Jasper took off running as fast as his strong legs would take him. The old gander half run, half flew along behind him making a terrible racket. One of the “ladies” heard the racket and stepped out onto the porch. “Honey, you come on back here. Why, that ole gander ain’t gonna hurt you,” she hollered.From her perspective it looked like the old gander was chasing Jasper. Jasper sent her a backward wave and sailed out of sight into the trees by the river.
After he had run, what he thought was a safe distance, he looked for a place to roast the old gander. Jasper found a rock overhang beside the river with a hidden sandbar beneath it. He didn’t take time to clean the gander; he skinned it instead. After a few attempts he had a fire going that was hot enough to roast that old gander. Jasper hung the carcass over the fire and waited. It smelled so good his mouth started watering. His buddies smelled it too, and they followed their noses to Jasper.
When the gander was cooked, Jasper tore off a big leg and handed the rest to his buddies. “Now Git. We can’t all be clustered up here eating this old gander,” he told them. The men scattered, and Jasper moved on downriver until he found a big pine tree to lean back against. He savored the taste of that old gander. It had been months since he had tasted anything so good. He had just stuffed both cheeks with the last bits of meat off the leg bone, when he heard a twig snap behind him. He just had time to stuff the big leg bone down the front of his pants when the pesky young officer stepped around the tree. The officer pointed to Jasper and shouted, “Ah Hah, I’ve caught you red handed. You’re coming with me.” Jasper’s mouth was still full so all he could do was nod. He awkwardly got to his feet and walked stiff legged behind the officer. The big leg bone was painful!
The officer led Jasper through the camp, and the men gathered around pointing and laughing at Jasper walking stiff legged behind the officer. Jasper just grinned and waved to the men as he was led along. Pretty soon they arrived in an area where the officers had congregated. The officer led Jasper to where several officers, including the Captain, were sitting on a log. When they saw Jasper shuffling stiff legged towards them, they all coughed nervously and averted their eyes. Jasper, the quick thinker, hollered, “Why, hello there Cap’n. I just had my mind on ye. You told me to come and see you privately this evening, and I was just a gettin’ ready to do that.” The Captain was obviously taken aback. He had wanted to speak to Jasper about becoming a sergeant. All eyes turned to the Captain. He gave a nervous little laugh and said, ” Oh yes, I’d completely forgotten about that. I mean………” Desperately needing to change the subject, the Captain looked at the young officer and asked a little to loudly, “Officer, just why have you brought this man before us?” The officer drew himself up, full of importance, and said, “Sir, this man disobeyed a direct order. He went back to the little white house over the hill and stole a gander from the ladies that live there.” The Captain looked at Jasper and waited.
“Well, what do you have to say for yourself, soldier?” The Captain finally asked. Jasper looked at the ground and studied a minute. He told the Captain, ” Well Sir, you see, it was like this. I had a mind to go back to that little white house just to buy that gander for the men to eat. Its been so long since we had a good meal. When I got over there, there was an officer’s horse tied to the hitchin’ post. He must have been conducting army business because I could hear em squealin’ and fighting. So, I just left the money with him, in his saddle bag. I was gonna hunt him up so that he could pay her, upon my honor. If you’ll just let me check your horses I can prove it.” The young officer’s face turned beet red. He interrupted Jasper with a flourish of his hand. He addressed the Captain, “Sir, I’m afraid that I have made a terrible mistake. This fine soldier here is an honorable man. I didn’t know that he was going to pay for the gander. Please accept my apologies.” He practically hissed to Jasper, “You are dismissed, soldier.” Jasper did an about face as gracefully as he could with that big leg bone shoved down the front of his pants. As he walked stiff legged away, he heard the officers seated on the log mumbling, ” fine young man….. example to the others…………. gentleman………..”
As soon as he was out of sight, Jasper jerked that big leg bone out of his pants, flung it into the bushes, and breathed a sigh of relief. He found it odd that the other officers had let him off so easily, so he doubled back and found a hidden spot where he could observe them. One by one, he watched 3 of the officers saunter over to their horse and check their saddlebags! Jasper grinned and thought, ” Well, I’ll be doggone. Who would have though?” He chuckled all the way back to camp. The men were all gathered around him, shouting with laughter, as he told them what happened. Then, the thunder of a horse, being rode hard, made them turn around. The pesky young officer sailed past, eyes averted, headed toward the little white house, with the red lantern…….. just over the hill.