On the evening of that following day in May, the sun hung red and round over a distant unknown land along the Rio Grande. In that country, no iron trails as yet had come. The magic of the wire, so recently applied to the service of man, was as yet there unknown. Word traveled slowly by horses and mules and carts. There came small news from that far-off country, half tropic, covered with palms and crooked dwarfed growth of mesquite and chaparral. The long-horned cattle lived in these dense thickets, the spotted jaguar, the wolf, the ocelot, the javelina, many smaller creatures not known in our northern lands. In the loam along the stream the deer left their tracks, mingled with those of the wild turkeys and of countless water fowl. It was a far-off, unknown, unvalued land. Our flag, long past the Sabine, had halted at the Nueces. Now it was to advance across this wild region to the Rio Grande. Thus did smug James Polk keep his promises!
Among these tangled mesquite thickets ran sometimes long bayous, made from the overflow of the greater rivers—resacas, as the natives call them. Tall palms sometimes grew along the bayous, for the country is half tropic. Again, on the drier ridges, there might be taller detached trees, heavier forests—palo alto, the natives call them. In some such place as this, where the trees were tall, there was fired the first gun of our war in the Southwest. There were strange noises heard here in the wilderness, followed by lesser noises, and by human groans. Some faces that night were upturned to the moon—the same moon which swam so gloriously over Washington. Taylor camped closer to the Rio Grande. The fight was next to begin by the lagoon called the Resaca de la Palma. But that night at the capital that same moon told us nothing of all this. We did not hear the guns. It was far from Palo Alto to our ports of Galveston or New Orleans. Our cockaded army made its own history in its own unreported way.
We at the White House ball that night also made history in our own unrecorded way. As our army was adding to our confines on the Southwest, so there were other, though secret, forces which added to our territory in the far Northwest. As to this and as to the means by which it came about, I have already been somewhat plain.
It was a goodly company that assembled for the grand ball, the first one in the second season of Mr. Polk’s somewhat confused and discordant administration. Social matters had started off dour enough. Mrs. Polk was herself of strict religious practice, and I imagine it had taken somewhat of finesse to get her consent to these festivities. It was called sometimes the diplomats’ ball. At least there was diplomacy back of it. It was mere accident which set this celebration upon the very evening of the battle of Palo Alto, May eighth, 1846.