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A Man With Two Lives

Categories: SOLDIER-FOLK
Scary Books: Present At A Hanging

Here is the queer story of David William Duck, related by himself.

Duck is an old man living in Aurora, Illinois, where he is

universally respected. He is commonly known, however, as "Dead


"In the autumn of 1866 I was a private soldier of the Eighteenth

Infantry. My company was one of those stationed at Fort Phil

Kearney, commanded by Colonel Carrington. The country is more or

amiliar with the history of that garrison, particularly with

the slaughter by the Sioux of a detachment of eighty-one men and

officers--not one escaping--through disobedience of orders by its

commander, the brave but reckless Captain Fetterman. When that

occurred, I was trying to make my way with important dispatches to

Fort C. F. Smith, on the Big Horn. As the country swarmed with

hostile Indians, I traveled by night and concealed myself as best I

could before daybreak. The better to do so, I went afoot, armed

with a Henry rifle and carrying three days' rations in my haversack.

"For my second place of concealment I chose what seemed in the

darkness a narrow canon leading through a range of rocky hills. It

contained many large bowlders, detached from the slopes of the

hills. Behind one of these, in a clump of sage-brush, I made my bed

for the day, and soon fell asleep. It seemed as if I had hardly

closed my eyes, though in fact it was near midday, when I was

awakened by the report of a rifle, the bullet striking the bowlder

just above my body. A band of Indians had trailed me and had me

nearly surrounded; the shot had been fired with an execrable aim by

a fellow who had caught sight of me from the hillside above. The

smoke of his rifle betrayed him, and I was no sooner on my feet than

he was off his and rolling down the declivity. Then I ran in a

stooping posture, dodging among the clumps of sage-brush in a storm

of bullets from invisible enemies. The rascals did not rise and

pursue, which I thought rather queer, for they must have known by my

trail that they had to deal with only one man. The reason for their

inaction was soon made clear. I had not gone a hundred yards before

I reached the limit of my run--the head of the gulch which I had

mistaken for a canon. It terminated in a concave breast of rock,

nearly vertical and destitute of vegetation. In that cul-de-sac I

was caught like a bear in a pen. Pursuit was needless; they had

only to wait.

"They waited. For two days and nights, crouching behind a rock

topped with a growth of mesquite, and with the cliff at my back,

suffering agonies of thirst and absolutely hopeless of deliverance,

I fought the fellows at long range, firing occasionally at the smoke

of their rifles, as they did at that of mine. Of course, I did not

dare to close my eyes at night, and lack of sleep was a keen


"I remember the morning of the third day, which I knew was to be my

last. I remember, rather indistinctly, that in my desperation and

delirium I sprang out into the open and began firing my repeating

rifle without seeing anybody to fire at. And I remember no more of

that fight.

"The next thing that I recollect was my pulling myself out of a

river just at nightfall. I had not a rag of clothing and knew

nothing of my whereabouts, but all that night I traveled, cold and

footsore, toward the north. At daybreak I found myself at Fort C.

F. Smith, my destination, but without my dispatches. The first man

that I met was a sergeant named William Briscoe, whom I knew very

well. You can fancy his astonishment at seeing me in that

condition, and my own at his asking who the devil I was.

"'Dave Duck,' I answered; 'who should I be?'

"He stared like an owl.

"'You do look it,' he said, and I observed that he drew a little

away from me. 'What's up?' he added.

"I told him what had happened to me the day before. He heard me

through, still staring; then he said:

"'My dear fellow, if you are Dave Duck I ought to inform you that I

buried you two months ago. I was out with a small scouting party

and found your body, full of bullet-holes and newly scalped--

somewhat mutilated otherwise, too, I am sorry to say--right where

you say you made your fight. Come to my tent and I'll show you your

clothing and some letters that I took from your person; the

commandant has your dispatches.'

"He performed that promise. He showed me the clothing, which I

resolutely put on; the letters, which I put into my pocket. He made

no objection, then took me to the commandant, who heard my story and

coldly ordered Briscoe to take me to the guardhouse. On the way I


"'Bill Briscoe, did you really and truly bury the dead body that you

found in these togs?'

"'Sure,' he answered--'just as I told you. It was Dave Duck, all

right; most of us knew him. And now, you damned impostor, you'd

better tell me who you are.'

"'I'd give something to know,' I said.

"A week later, I escaped from the guardhouse and got out of the

country as fast as I could. Twice I have been back, seeking for

that fateful spot in the hills, but unable to find it."