Private Roberts knew his duty and would not be deterred by obstacles. His company commander, Captain Robert Gray, had assured Fillmore Roberts that a delay of a day until the cold winter rain storm passed was acceptable.
The next morning was clear and colder than any so far in mid-December. Fillmore and his Indiana friends, Anderson Taylor and George
Smith, had joined the army in September, during the waning days of summer. Anderson and George helped Fillmore carry his weapons and mission cargo to the corral.
Anderson chided, “Man, the cap’n must have it in for you. What did you screw up to get this run?”
George held up a gloved hand in Anderson’s face. “Hey, can’t you see? The cap’n knows who he can ‘pend on. Dat’s why he ain’t sent the likes o’ you.”
Fillmore saddled his golden-mane sorrel, Trojan. He slipped his Spencer carbine into its saddle boot. Trojan’s breath was as white as the heavy frost on the crunchy ground. Fillmore adjusted his revolver under his overcoat, split front and aft to the waist, and mounted. He wished for a fall day as George stood on a rail of Trojan’s stall and helped him don his heavy cargo pouch on his back.
Grinning, Fillmore waved good-bye, “See you turkeys in three weeks.”
George and Anderson called, “Fare thee well.”
* * *
Fillmore and Trojan forded three streams with ease before reaching the rain-swollen Canadian River. Fillmore stopped and considered returning to Fort Arbuckle. He thought, no, the mission is to deliver this mail to headquarters and Fort Gibson. By God, I’m going to do it. Still, he paused longer, sitting his horse.
At length, he decided to continue his mission and deliver the mail. “Okay, Trojan. Let’s go.” Trojan would not budge.
For the first time since they had been together, Fillmore used his spurs. Trojan danced sideways, and then moved to the edge of the brown rushing torrent where he stopped again. “Com’on. Trojan, let’s go.”
Trojan stepped into the cold water and sighed. The shallow water, just over the bank, only covered Trojan’s hooves. At midstream, Fillmore felt the water would sweep him from his off his steed, so he held fast with one hand on the saddle horn. Trojan lost his footing and stumbled. The river swept both man and horse along its course. “Trojan! Help me!” Fillmore went under several times beneath the weight of the heavy mail pouch on his back. Finally, he could no longer see Trojan.
* * *
By February, Fillmore was labeled a deserter. On May 20, 1868, members of Company L found his remains caught in willows several miles downstream from the ford. The mail pouch was still strapped to his back. Trojan’s remains were nearby. His comrades gave him a hero’s burial.
This Veterans’ Day salute is for Private Fillmore Roberts, Company L, Tenth US Cavalry of Fort Arbuckle, Indian Territory.
By Bob Rogers, former US Army captain and Vietnam War veteran
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