I was lost.
Not lost in the sense I didn’t know where I was, but in the sense of being without any direction whatsoever. I had no idea what purpose my life might serve.
After my brother’s death in the Battle of Fredericksburg, I became the sole proprietor of the plot of West Virginia ground that was once the family farm. One morning in 1863, I rode away on the old mule and never looked back. I was sixteen years old when I joined up.
There were probably about a hundred thousand of us youngsters in the Union army during the war. I knew the same was true of the boys fighting for the Confederacy.
In the war torn south, little attention was paid to wayward children. Such children were often left to fend for themselves. If they weren’t too much of a nuisance they could be ignored. Because I looked younger than my years, I was an ideal candidate for clandestine scouting and courier duties.
During the last two years of the War Between the States, I was engaged in the business of espionage on behalf of the Union Army. From southern Virginia down into Georgia, I worked as a spy under the direction of a Scotsman named Allan Pinkerton. He and his brother had a detective agency based in Chicago.
Allan Pinkerton ran the Union espionage operations during the first two years of the war. After that he had some of us acting as private contractors in the remaining years. I counted myself fortunate to have met him.
Now, the war was over.
I had no idea what would become of me. I feared my youthful usefulness had died along with my naivety, innocence and the men I’d killed.
Fortunately, Mr. Pinkerton thought differently.
“Mr. Pinkerton will see you now, Mr. Logan.”
Phineas Johnston was Mr. Pinkerton’s right-hand man in Washington. He led the way into Mr. Pinkerton’s sparsely appointed office with a view of the Capitol buildings. Boxes were stacked against one wall. It appeared a move was commencing.
Mr. Pinkerton fixed his gaze on me as I walked in.
“Good day, Bobby. Tell me, lad, how far west have ya been?”
“West? I’m from West Virginia, Sir.”
He laughed at my answer.
“Aaach, you’ve never been west a’tall. Our offices in Chicago are at least a thousand miles farther west than where ya were born. The job I have for ya will take ya to the frontier country of the Great Plains. Kansas, to be exact. You’ll ride the rails to Kansas City, Missouri, the end of the line.”
“What would you have me do way out there?”
“I’ve just received a telegram from Fort Leavenworth. A dirty, blackguard army captain named Robert Ferguson, along with four other deserters, absconded with an army payroll shipment of thirty thousand dollars in gold.
Six of them were the official escorts.
They left one soldier dead. I believe he was na in cahoots with the scoundrels, so they murdered the poor fellow.
The army is investigating, but they’ve asked for our assistance in the matter. I expect it will take some time to track them down. What say ya, Laddie? Will ya have a go at it?”
“Yes, Sir. May I ask, why me?”
“You’re available, Bobby, and others are presently occupied on more pressing matters. This just came up. If ya feel it’s more than ya can handle…”
“No, Sir. You can count on me, I’ll do my best.”
“Aye, Lad, I know ya will. As it was in the war, on the frontier ya won’t be seen as a threat, or suspected of being a Pinkerton detective. You’ll pass for a young man out to make his fortune in the west. Have ya any other questions?”
“Yes, Sir. How am I to get out there”
“You’ll be properly outfitted and on a west bound Missouri Pacific train this very day. I’ll see to your needs along the way. I’ll have a detailed expense report from ya, with exact figures. Is there anything else?”
“Was the gold in the form of coins or bullion? How was it being transported? Do we have names and descriptions of all the men? Do we know where their families are? What direction were they likely to have fled? I have a lot of questions.”
“Aye, Laddie, ya do. Spoken like a true detective. When ya arrive in Fort Leavenworth it’s a Major Abercrombie who’ll be meetin’ ya. He’ll provide the answers to all those questions and more.
If there’s nothing else, Johnston here will get ya sorted out and on your way. Oh, by the by, the army is offering a ten percent reward for information leading to the capture of the thieves. The reward is yours, if ya find all five of them. Good luck, Bobby.”
In addition to a fine suit, an army uniform, and a set of rugged travel clothes, Phineas Johnston provided me with a new, six shot, .36 caliber Navy Colt pocket revolver. Because my needs in Kansas might require something more or different from what I carried with me, he also provided a money belt with sufficient cash to cover expenses on my arrival in the west.