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The Last of the California Rangers (1928) by Jill L. Cossley-Batt

The Last of the
California Rangers


One hundred years ago, in Caroline County, Virginia, not very far from Richmond, could be seen a stately white mansion, standing some distance back from the road, and approached by a long drive bordered with poplars and box. It had a large portico and a beautiful “jut,” while on either side of it was a well-laid-out garden, gay with multi-colored flowers and ornamental shrubs. In various corners of these extensive grounds were rose-embowered summer-houses and grape-arbors, places to dream in and about.

Through a mass of green foliage, the white house seemed, with its many windows, to peep and glisten, making a romantic picture in the soft sunshine. Even at night the windows retained their welcoming gleam, as seen through the trees, for an abundance of candle-light always proclaimed to the outside world, after darkness had set in, a message of hospitality. The wood-paneled interior consisted of a large hall, spacious dining-room, with detached kitchen, ball-room, study, and smoking-room. A beautifully carved staircase led up to four ladies’ chambers and two guest chambers, furnished throughout for comfort and convenience.

A hundred yards from each corner of this Virginian mansion stood a dormer-window building. These four buildings were used respectively as school-house, laundry, coach-house, and stable. Quite near the stable was the bowling green, while some distance from these structures were the negroes’ special quarters.

This mansion, known as “Taliafcrro Court,” and erected by Lawrence Taliaferro in 1776, was the home of Major Taliaferro Howard and his girl-wife, whose maiden name was Elizabeth Garnett Tinsley; also, in 1826, it became the birthplace of William James Howard, the subject of this book.

Major Howard and his wife were Baptists, consequently the home atmosphere was rather strict and puritanical. It was the old Virginian home-life, which moulded men, noble, gentle and brave, and women, tender, pure and true. An abundance of spiritual life filled the home with purity and peace, and gradually instilled in young William a tender reverence for his parents. The Howards led extremely active lives, a fact which contradicts the general assumption that the ante-bellum Virginians lived a life of ease and pleasure. It is true, the manual work was accomplished by colored boys; nevertheless, careful supervision, thinking, and planning were necessary on the part of the Virginian planter to insure financial success.

He was not alone in this work, for his young wife was ever near him to share his burdens and his pleasures. She was a sweet little mother, dainty and tender, a God-fearing, inexplicable Southern girl, possessing a force of grit and courage characteristic of her warrior ancestors. Her time was fully occupied superintending her house, servants, garden and dairy; sewing for herself and her children, in addition to taking care of her husband’s important documents. Her hair, it is true, was brushed by one maid and her shoes laced by another, while a third fanned her when she read and sewed; nevertheless, her position was one of importance and responsibility. Because it was the prevailing custom to extend to all corners the fullest hospitality, much entertaining had to be done; musical evenings, country dances, and many games were indulged in. Mrs. Taliaferro Howard, therefore, was always busy making arrangements for guests and planning meals, clothes or sleeping accommodations.

There were no hardships and calamities in the Howard home, and the devoted mother regarded the training of her children as something really sacred. She inspired and governed them, but her sympathy and tenderness were theirs always, so they grew to love her with a reverence akin to awe.

Under this care and supervision William’s early life was very happy. With extensive grounds to ramble over, and with numerous darky servants, whose idol he became, to tease and order about, he grew to be a strong and stalwart little lad. His greatest joy was to ride on the back of Edmund, the willing family coachman, whom he called his “Black Gee-Gee,” his arms clutched around the old fellow’s neck. Daily he spent the time either riding, walking, or climbing trees, and at the age of six he could ride well, handle a gun, and even play the banjo a little. He also became familiar with all the negro songs, and many of the funny negro ways he could imitate very divertingly.

A born leader, fearless, ready to risk any kind of danger, he soon acquired a reputation for daring. The negroes never hesitated to fulfil his commands, and this precocious exercise of authority served to instil in him, at a very early stage, the habit of leadership and the desire to organize and command.

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management