Mr. Badasci, was a nice little old man who spoke very broken English. He and his wife were Swiss people, I think. They had a nice old house a little farther up the valley than our school house. They had a son, he was the only child I think, and he was a good rider and roper and fairly good with the bullwhip. He was a very good shot with a rifle and pistol and knew the country all around for miles. His name was Ben and he stuttered when he got a little excited. Ben did not make many friends and was a sort of lone wolf.

The wagon road ran up the Smith Creek and ended at the Badasci house, but it branched off down by our school and also ran up the little side valley past the school house, then doubled back around the big hill above the school and over the top and down to the Arroyo Seco. The road was seldom used and days, and sometimes weeks, would pass without a wagon going over it. If anybody did go along the road we always knew who they were. It was always some of the neighbor ranchers.

One day as we sat in the school we heard a wagon coming down the grade. We knew that it would be maybe a half hour or more before it would be in sight. But as we waited and listened we heard more clatter and noise than any one wagon had ever made before. The teacher tried to get us to keep our eyes on our books but the noise kept getting louder and louder. We could hear men shouting and the rattle-rattle of the wagons coming down the grade. It seemed like a long time that we listened. Even the teacher became interested and let us all go to the windows.

By now we could hear men’s voices and the crack of the whip as the wagons rattled along. We all wondered what could be going on. More rumbling and rattling than we had ever heard before. After a while we saw some men on horseback coming in sight, but they were not the kind of horses that we had seen around the school before. Nor were the men like the ones we had seen, nor the saddles. These were soldiers. Officers riding on nice high-stepping horses with little saddles and small stirrups. The men carried swords.

Behind these men on horseback there were men on foot. Hundreds of them. They were spread out all over the road and cutting across country wherever there was a bend in the road. Men in uniforms came down the hill from the road above, hundreds of them. Then came the wagons. They all had four horses or four mules, and the dust was flying until you could not see the driver. They came slowly down the road, wagon after wagon. The road was covered with wagons as far as we could see in both directions, and soldiers walking all over the place. Some waved their hands to us but most of them just walked on by.

Finally there came different looking wagons—we found out later they were kitchen equipment. Then men came limping, and some would walk a little and sit down. Some sat a long time. Some were young fellows, foot sore and worn out. Then officers came along and tried to get the tired men to move on. Some did, but others they put on the wagons to ride. Then came the ambulance and picked up those who were sick or could go no further.
Looking at the hillside below the road that wound around the mountain, we saw two mules with their harnesses on and traces dragging, come racing down the hill. We soon heard an officer say a wagon had gone off the road, rolled down the hill and the mules were loose. He sent fifty men to catch the mules and guard the wagon. They soon surrounded the two mules and caught them. They were not gentle mules, but wild and dangerous. They had a hard job to handle them and I doubt if they would if they had not gotten tangled in their harness and were still tied together by the heavy leather reins.

While the soldiers worked with the mules we noticed Ben B sitting on his horse watching. He said to the officer in charge, “Pretty tough animals them mules.” The officer said that they were all young and wild as a march hare. “Kick a chew of tobacco out of your mouth any minute, never had a rope on before this trip.” And the other two that were missing were worse than these.

“Where are the others?” Ben asked.

“Don’t know,” said the officer. “Have a lot of men looking for them now.”

“Need any help?” said Ben.

“Don’t think so, but if we do we will call on you.”

“Any reward?” asked Ben.

“No reward” said the officer.

Ben sat on his horse and watched the men as they went down the road.

Our teacher soon saw that there would be no more studying that day so she said that we could go. She lived with a family in the direction that the wagons and men had gone. So after they were most all past the school, we all started for home.

We followed the last of the men down the road and stayed far enough behind to keep out of the dust. The dust had settled on the plants and grass for a hundred feet on each side of the road and gave everything a gray appearance. The place where the soldiers camped was on a nearly level place near the Finch Creek, and our house was up on the hill above, maybe a mile away.

It was early in the afternoon when we left the school, and when we arrived at the camp the soldier’s tents were most of them already set up. Men were resting on their beds and sitting around reading and writing, some even playing ball. Some were lame and we saw two young fellows washing their feet in the creek above where the men were getting water for the cooks’ tents. The fellows who were carrying the water swore at them and threw rocks at them and chased them barefooted off up the creek.

We saw soldiers salute the flag as they passed under it by the officers’ quarters and also salute the officers. We kept away from both because we did not know if we were expected to do the same.
There were red ants’ nests and some yellow jackets’ nests in the ground and sleeping tents were pitched right over their nests. The tents were in straight rows and if your tent was to go over ants or yellow jackets that’s where it went. Of course they did not sleep in those tents but the tent stayed there until they moved on. We saw one fellow come out of his tent with his bayonet and swing at yellow jackets that were after him. He soon had to run for his life when a hundred or more came at him.

We stayed around until time that we should go home. As we circled around the flag and the officers’ tents we saw Ben B riding slowly toward us. We walked on and met him as he turned back toward the way he had come. We saw a sign, Reward $5 for Two Mules.

The sign had been nailed to a post by the officers’ tent. We went on home and Ben rode a little way with us. We knew that he had seen the sign. That was on a Friday evening and we had heard that the soldiers were going to rest over the weekend there. As we climbed the hill to our house we met quite a few soldiers out hunting. They were not the very young men and all were friendly.

The next morning early we heard the bugle call loud and clear at our house and had heard music the evening before. It was stranger to us for we were used to the quiet of the country. After the chores were done, us three boys were away and down to the soldier camp again.

We watched the cooks and their helpers prepare the meals and the mule skinners take care of the mules. There were several men making shoes for the mules and putting the shoes on. Some of the mules were young and wild as a coyote. The men had a hard time to shoe them.

We saw a young boy who was not a soldier, around one of the cook tents. Then he would be at another. Sometimes he was given something to eat at a tent, sometimes not. We asked the soldiers who he was. They said that nobody knew his name. “He is just ‘the kid’. Said he had no mother or father or anybody. Never went to school, not very healthy. Poor kid half starved.” The cooks fed him and fixed him with a place to sleep but he kept out of sight of the officers. Or maybe the officers looked the other way. We tried to get near him and talk to him but he kept moving away from us. We wanted to take him home and give him a good supper but he never let us come near him. We could have given him some clothes, too.

That afternoon as we circled around the officers’ tent, we noticed a saddle horse standing tied to the hitch rope in front of the tent and the sign that said “$5 for the return of two mules” was changed to $10 now. We saw also Ben B standing talking to one of the officers. Just before we started to climb the hill to our house Ben came riding up to us. He was in a friendly mood and talked as he rode along. He said that maybe if they paid enough they would get their mules back. Nobody would spend a lot of time hunting those wild mules for $10.
We went on home and had a lot of things to talk about that night. There was a lot of soldiers out looking for mules but nobody had seen them.

The next morning dad took some eggs down and sold them to the officer in charge of the cook tents and other people came with fruit and vegetables. They had arranged ahead for steers and hogs to kill each day. They had no way to keep things cold and all meat had to be used up each day or it would spoil. They made stew in big kettles of 20 gallons or more and for bread they used what they called hardtack. They were round white things that looked like crackers but were about 1/2 inch thick and so hard that you could hardly break them with your hands.

One of the officers had some soldiers show us how a machine gun worked. They shot it into a colony of squirrels on the hillside. A lot of the men from the ranches around were there this day and we saw Ben there again.
The day was hot, and now and then one of the older soldiers came into camp with a deer over his shoulder. They took them to the cook tent where the cooks went to work skinning the deer and cutting up the meat. We talked to men who had been in the Army for 20 years and would rather be there than anywhere else. One old soldier said that he would not work for any man, that was why he was in the Army.

We saw the boy again and saw that he had quite long hair. His face was thin and his clothes were worn out. We tried again to talk to him but he kept moving away from us as we came toward him. We felt sorry for him with no mother or father, and no home or anything.

After noon the soldiers played music. There was a lot of them maybe 20 who had drums and some big horns and little horns, and they played nice music. It sounded strange in the quiet hills and echoed back and forth in the canyon. Then they had a drill where a big bunch of soldiers marched with their guns and did all kinds of figures and turns and marching back again. We enjoyed this a lot.

One of the ranchers—a neighbor—was there and he was talking to an officer and the officer’s name was Potts. Our neighbor said that he had gone to school in a town in the East with a boy by the name of Potts. As they talked on, the officer said that he had gone to school with the boy by the name of Cahoon and it turned out that they had gone to the same school and had been friends and schoolmates in a school in Ohio, I think it was. They talked of old times in Ohio.

Then the officer told a soldier to go and change the amount on the reward sign to read $20 instead of $10. Ben B was there at the time, listening to the conversation and soon said that he had to go home now and might be back. We listened for a long time to the two men talking of their boyhood in Ohio, and we wondered if we would ever drift that far from our home.

One of the cooks offered us some stew and hardtack but we were too bashful to even admit that we were hungry. Then he said that he was going to throw it away if we did not want it, so we took a plate of stew, and then another, and it was good. The hardtack finally melted in the juice and was good too.

As we were getting ready to go home that evening and was going around the officers’ tent we saw all the men looking up the trail towards our house. And looking we saw Ben riding into camp leading the mules. The mules that had been wild two days ago were being led like old work animals.

He led them right up to the officer and said “I finally found your mules.”

The officer said, “Good where did you find them?”

“Oh” Ben said,”In a little hidden valley off yonder.”

The officer reached up and picked a head of barley out of the mule’s mane and looked at it, then he walked around and found some more barley and the other mule’s mane.

The officer said to a soldier that was in the tent, “Give this man the $20 reward. He earned it.”

Then he said that he had been all over the United States and had heard of wild oats that grows here in California, but this is the first time that he had heard of a valley where wild barley was growing. He looked at Mr. Cahoon and said to Ben, “If we make this trip through the mountains again next year, I am going to ask you to take me to the hidden valley where the mules were and barley grows. Too late to do it this trip. We pull up stakes tomorrow morning at six.”