Deadlands: Riders on the Storm

Briefing Notes: Lt. Col. Reginald Todd

July 16, 1876

DEPARTMENT OF WAR

 17th KANSAS VOLUNTEER CAVALRY REGIMENT

LIEUTENANT COLONEL REGINALD J. TODD, COMMANDER

 

Briefing Notes: July 16, 1876

Fort Clark, Nevada

Colonel James McNerlin of Fort Clark at a fair amount to report concerning the events leading up to our reinforcing his command of the fort on night of July 14, 1876. Many strange and troubling events lead up to the impending fall of the fort to outside forces.

Preliminaries

According to Colonel McNerlin, on July 8th, one of his junior officers, a Lieutenant Ward, took a patrol out in search of raiders operating in the area. The patrol never returned. To this day there has been seen no trace of that party.

On July 10th, the fort's telegraph lines were severed. Shortly thereafter, an armored vehicle appeared on the ridge above the fort. It was armed with a cannon a fired a number of shells into the courtyard. The fort attempted to return fire with its own artillery only to find that both cannons experience malfunctions and explode, killing or wounding the crewmen at those stations.

That day he dispatched two messengers. As they rode off, they were attacked by wolves and ripped to shreds in full sight of the guards on the ramparts.

That night, two more messengers attempted to get past the enemy. Their severed heads were dropped in the middle of the parade ground by a "large bat creature" a few hours later.

On the morning of July 11th, the armored vehicle returned with a load of logs strapped to its rear deck. It drove right up beneath the wall san dumped them across the tracks leading into the fort. As the fort was without adequate artillery, there was nothing that it could do about the action.

Then, around 11:00 am on July 12th, the supply train from Salt Lake City crashed through the barricade and into the fort. Its torpedo arm exploded the barricade the emergency braking system was deployed, killing and maiming several men before the train came to a stop on the parade grounds and derailed. The new artillery that was being delivered was damaged in the crash and there were several causalities from the soldiery on board the train. The engineer and fireman on board were both killed.

The remaining passengers were treated as best as they could by the fort's personnel, as there is currently no doctor posted at the fort. Then they were gathered at the CO's office. Colonel McNerlin briefed the assembled passengers on the situation at the fort and then announced that he was drafting them into the militia as an emergency action—fully his right under the Emergency Militia Act of 1871.

He placed the females on domestic duties, with the exception of a Miss Geraldine Keeler who expressed a mechanical aptitude, whom he placed on duty with Dr. Thaddeus Roberts to repair the locomotive. The men he placed on daytime guard duty to supplement the limit number of troops he had available.

One note: Miss Geraldine Keeler also indicated that she had urgent intelligence that needed to be imparted to Captain Lucius Dalworthington at Fort 51. As Colonel McNerlin also wanted to contact Fort 51 for reinforcements and was stymied, Miss Keeler found her message stalled as well.

Roster

According to Colonel McNerlin, he now had the following roster at the Fort:

  1. Colonel James McNerlin, CO
  2. Lt. Lester Goree, Junior Officer
  3. Sgt. Ryan McElroy
  4. Corporal Willilam Hicks
  5. Corporal Joe Whitetail
  6. Pvt. David Bates
  7. Pvt. Eric Cook
  8. Pvt. Harris Denison
  9. Pvt. Simon Lane
  10. Pvt. Daniel Leitch
  11. Pvt. Thomas Mansfield
  12. Pvt. Elbert Steen
  13. Pvt. Michael Thomas
  14. Pvt. Frederick Voigt

Militia

  • Mr. Roland Dupre
  • Miss Virginia Hickson
  • Miss Geraldine Keeler

Also on the Fort were the following civilians who occupied the Trading Post:

  • Mandy Graves, Proprietor
  • Bud Robbins, Scout
  • "Rancid" Rob Ivery

Justification

Colonel McNerlin essentially set about on this course of action because he felt that the fort was under siege and the fort was under-defended. He was unable to send word to Fort 51, the nearest Union garrison, for reinforcements. He could only rely on the fact that the telegraph line had been severed as an alert that something was amiss.

He set the militia members to work and set the troops on vigilant guard.

Internal Strife

On the night of July 11th, Miss Keeler reported to Colonel McNerlin that she believed that she and Dr. Roberts could have the locomotive going in eleven days. She also stated that she believed the cannons were the victims of sabotage, having spotted evidence of "acid scoring" on the inside of the artillery pieces.

On the morning of July 12th, Miss Geraldine Keeler happened upon the gruesome body of Private Elbert Steen near one of the boxcars of the overturned train. Nearby is a Bowie knife identified by locals as belonging to Bud Robbins, the local civilian scout. It was well-known throughout the camp that Robbins had it in for Steen ever since the young private got the scout shot on an expedition due to his incessant chatter. The CO ordered Robbins remanded to the stockade.

Later that night, according to a report that Colonel McNerlin later received, Miss Keeler and Mr. Dupre crept into the office and living quarters of Dr. Thaddeus Roberts, the fort's scientist. They apparently suspected the scientist of some sort of foul play. It turns out they were right. Inside the office they found a set of plans for a digging machine designed by the Wasatch railroad. Attached to the plans was a note saying "Steam too noisy—consider alternative" and a set of plans for a spring-powered alternative. They also found half a jar of hydrochloric acid. The two would-be spies also apparently witnessed Dr. Roberts in the Engine room with an illicit tunnel and digging machine, tunneling quietly away from the fort.

Unfortunately, the two were confronted by an angry Dr. Roberts who met them with a Gatling pistol in his office. He shot young Mr. Dupre in the gut while Miss Keeler managed to fight him off with Dupre's gun. Due to a malfunction of the Gatling piece, Miss Keeler gained the upper hand and apprehended the traitorous scientist.

Meanwhile, the rest of the camp was roused by the death-scream of Corporal Joe Whitetail as he was bodily hauled up and pinned to the wall of fort by the bayonet of his watch partner, who was felled by his tomahawk. Whispers immediately went up around camp about Sergeant McElroy, whose large size and well-known animosity toward Whitetail made him a suspect. Colonel McNerlin ordered Bud Robbins to be released.

Miss Keeler approached the Colonel and gave report concerning Dr. Roberts. He was also placed in the stockade.

Mr. Dupre was taken to the infirmary.

On the evening of July 13th, a report of food poisoning went about the camp. The officers were having a planning meeting at the time, and thus avoided the outbreak while the civilians took their meal at that Trading Post.

However, Miss Keeler apparently suspected some sort of tampering as she took a sample of the stew for scientific analysis. She came to the conclusion that the stew had been poisoned.

Around this time, a scream and a gunshot rang out from the Trading Post. As people came to look, Bud Robbins was found dead, torn to shreds, in his room. He had managed to get a shot off but no one knew at whom.

According to Colonel McNerlin, Miss Keeler had found a piece of ghost rock at the scene and had taken it back to the laboratory to be examined. She discovered that the ghost rock had had a piece of lead—bullet lead—grazed over it. She went to examine the ghost rock bin, which had been a source of her previous investigations because it was frequently messily overturned. As she looked around, she was surprised to see—according to her report—a large, "rock creature" emerge from the bin.

The creature attacked her with sharp claws backed by solid strength. Behind her, she saw Ginny Hickson with a pepperbox gun aimed at her. Keeler concentrated on Hickson. She finally overwhelmed Hickson and the creature fell. Troops had come running at the sound of gun shots and Hickson was apprehended and placed in the stockade.  She has so far withstood intense questioning from our forces.

On July 14th, Miss Keeler modified a device she already had on her person (a SPIDR pod) for rail use and sent it on its way south toward Fort 51 with a message from Colonel McNerlin asking for reinforcements for its impending invasion.

That night, the invasion began.

A steam tank, probably of Confederate design, began shelling the fort with impunity from a nearby ridge. In three shots it had destroyed the front gate. Suddenly, out of the engine house came a band of female troopers—they had apparently emerged from the other side of the now-completed tunnel.

Melee fighting began in earnest on the parade ground. It is apparent now that the interlopers were the famed "Wichita Witches," a gang frequently employed by the Black River rail line. They apparently were colluding with the Confederates for equipment and inside information.

As the Witches were beginning to fall, the "rock creature" made an appearance. It was taken out by Miss Keeler, who reasoned that, as it was made of ghost rock, it would be flammable. It was taken out by fire.

Then the steam tank started trundling into the fort to wreck havoc. This was when the Denver-Pacific train bearing the 17th Regiment arrived and routed the raiders.

Casualties

The Witches lost twelve of their number with three wounded left behind. These three will be taken to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas for incarceration, along with Dr. Thaddeus Roberts and Miss Virginia Hickson.

The Fort Clark contingent lost the following in the battle:

  1. Lt. Lester Goree
  2. Corporal William Hicks
  3. Pvt. Harris Dennison
  4. Pvt. Frederick Voigt

All but Colonel McNerlin sustained injuries.

Aftermath

Dr. Malcolm Chesney has taken over the hospital at the fort on a temporary basis to care for the wounded. Mr. William Fortnight of the Denver-Pacific and myself are in consultation with Colonel McNerlin on the revivification of Fort Clark and reconstitution of the rail line. The two remaining "militia" members, Miss Keeler and Mr. Dupre have been "decommissioned" and will be taken to Fort 51 by train once the tracks are cleared.

ADDENDUM: An armored car from Fort 51 has arrived on July 16th to take Miss Keeler and Mr. Dupre to that facility. Apparently, the SPIDR made it to the fort unscathed.

At sundown, services were held for the fallen, led by Colonel McNerlin.

Conclusions

It is apparent that the Black River rail line is in collusion with the CSA for a purpose—what that purpose is, it is hard to say. For the CSA's part, my speculation would be to cause a distraction—possibly to draw Lt. Col. Kyle's "Flying Buffalos" away from the "Ghost Trail" and move them toward the north to defend Fort Clark, making them more vulnerable for ambush and taking away from Kyle's forward momentum on that front.

What is Black River's gain in this? Obviously trouble and tribulation for Denver-Pacific, but this is but a spur of that railroad. Why go to this much trouble? The promise of CSA assets (such as a steam digger and a steam tank)? Possibly. Technology could turn the tide in their war with the other rail companies.

Regardless, it was requested of my superiors to make an assessment of Colonel McNerlin's performance in this conflict. His performance: technically astute, though emphatically lacking. McNerlin is a textbook soldier and leader—he leads by the book. But this was a situation decidedly outside of his experience and it got the better of him and his men and they suffered for it. However, I'm not sure what else he could have done in the situation. I cannot recommend reprimand at this time, though I certainly do not recommend commendation for valor.

It is clear, however, that a leave of absence is in order. These reports of a "rock creature," though corroborated by multiple witnesses, are clearly the work of high stress and extreme exposure to the pressures of command. It is also possible that a chemical agent was released into the air by the nefarious Dr. Roberts that caused the hallucination. Regardless, a time of rest—followed by a return to command—may be in order.

It should be noted that much of the needed inspiration and improvisation in this matter came from Miss Geraldine Keeler. Her conduct during the entire affair was heroic and inspiring.

Regardless, it is clear that Fort Clark will need to be re-garrisoned and rebuilt to withstand further assault. Colonel McNerlin will need to gain the trust of a troop of new men. And vigilance will need to be the watch-word of this garrison.

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