The following is a series of letters written by Burt O. Mullin of
the 49th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, Company
C. Mr. Mullin, a native of Marion, Iowa, was 24 years old at the
he wrote these letters. Later in life, he moved to Whitefish, Montana.
The first letter is to William E. and Cora Winifred Mullin Carver of Marion, Iowa (Cora was Burt’s sister).
"Camp Cuba Libre
Dear Brother and Sister,
As I have nothing better to do I will try and write you a few lines.
I am well and hope you are the same. We are having fine weather here. It is quite hot in the forenoon and until about 4 in the afternoon and then it gets quite cool and the nights are nice and cool; and we can sleep forty knots an hour. We canąt get enough sleep.
I was on guard yesterday and last night I wanted to go down to St., Augustine on an excursion but I couldnąt, so I will have to wait until next Sunday, but I am going to go if it takes a hind leg. I am having a good time here.
The boys drilled this morning for the first time since we have been here. They went out at 6:45 and came at 9:00. We are camped in a pine grove about a mile and a half from town and we don't get to go to town unless we run the guard which is not so easy to do.
One night three of us wanted to go to town so we run the guards. We were late and thought we couldnąt get in without fooling the guard so I took some banana peeling and pinned it on my shoulders and we went up to where there was a young Dutchman on the post. He halted and says who is there? I says, Officers. He says, Advance one officer and be recognized. I went up to where he was and pointed to my shoulder straps (banana peels) and he saluted and says, Pass on and I turned and says to the boys, Come on. And we passed through all right
And the next morning the joke was so good that we hunted up the fellow and told him about it. It made him s mad that he went and reported us. We were called up before the Col. and he asked us what we meant by telling a sentinel we were officers.
We made a clean breast of it and he laughed until he cried when we told him that it was a banana peel o my shoulder. He thought we had stolen some officerąs clothes and gone to town with them on. It was great to see him roast the Dutchman for letting us impose on him. That way we were jacked up a little---given one hour of police work and the Dutchman got it for three days and the boys kangarooed him for reporting it, But while we came out ahead, we will not try it again for there was nine officers stopped and held for about an hour by the guards the next night on account of it.
Well there is not much more to write about except that I have been vaccinated, but I guess it will not take.
I have been fishing for sea crabs in the St. John River twice and I have also been in swimming in salt water for the first time.
Well, I can think of nothing more to write about so will close for this time with love to all. Write soon.
Co. C 49 IA Vol."
The second letter is also to Cora, Burt' sister:
"Military Station No. 10
Jan. 25, 1899
I received your ever welcome letter last night and although I wrote you a letter Sunday, I am so worried about father that I don't know what to do. And I want you to keep me posted as to how he gets along. I am going to try and come home but I don't know when I will be able to if I can come at all. I have put in an application for a discharge but I don't know whether it will go through all right or not and it will be some time before it gets here anyhow. But if Father gets very bad I will try and get a furlough to come home on. I will have to borrow money to come home on if I get a furlough and I don't want to get one unless it is necessary. But if he gets bad, I will come home at any cost.
Well I can't think of much more to write unless I get to cussing and that wouldn't sound good on paper.
I don't know what to send you, plants would not keep and would be too costly, and I can't get to the ocean only once in a while, and so I can't get any shells. But there is one thing I would like to send you and that is a parrot. We can get a lovely one for a dollar, but I don't know whether I could send one or not. If I can get to an express office, I will find out and if I can send one without it costing too much, I will send you one until I come home for it. I am not stuck on this country very much, although it is a fine country, but I don't care to live here and I don't believe you would either. Just think, it is as hot here in Jan. as it is up there in July, and when the rainy season comes they say it is almost unendurable. And the mud is so sticky that it is almost impossible to walk---and Cora, sickness and death walk hand in hand all over the island. I have seen way from sixteen to twenty year olds without a stitch of clothing on around in the streets begging. That is only a sample, I have seen worse things than that.
Tell Hubert I am very sorry he has been sick and I hope he is well by this time. I am on guard tomorrow and I must go and clean my gun.
With love to all I remain
ever your brother.
The third letter is also to his sister, Cora.
Military Station No. 10
Feb. 10, 1899
I received your ever welcome letter some time ago, but haven't had the time to answer it until tonight.
We are having fine weather at the present but night before last we had a terrific windstorm which lasted twenty-four hours. It turned over a few tents making the inmates think they were sent for. It must have been terrible on the ocean. We could see the breakers rolling and when the wind would lull we could hear the roar of the surf on the rocks.
I took a trip to Havana yesterday but didn't enjoy myself as well as I expected although I saw some strange sights.
I visited the wreck of the Maine but it was high tide and there wasn't much of it above water and the water was so muddy that nothing could be seen and the water was rough besides.
I also went out to the battleship Texas, the gunboat Nashville, and the auxillary cruiser Resolute. All of them being painted white, they didn't look as ugly as did in their war paint. The Texas sailed last night at six o'clock for Galveston, Texas, She was preparing to leave at the time I was out there and so I couldn't go aboard. The Nashville sailed for Washington with Gen. Gomez on board, He goes to complete the arrangements for disbanding the Cuban army.
The remains of Gen. Garcia arrived in the city yesterday. All the flags were at half mast and tied with crepe and the whole city was draped in mourning. I saw the hearse as it was driven through the street and it was the finest thing of that kind I ever saw. It seemed to be a mass of gold and silver on the inside and draped with the richest kind of material. It was drawn by four beautiful jet black horses with black nets with yellow trimmings and the harness was gold mounted. I tell you it was a very swell affair.
I was through the oldest church in the island but it was pretty well dilapadated and was not furnished very rich. It is said to be the first place where Columbus said mass in Cuba.
I was also through the finest club rooms in the city. They were grand affairs. The walls and ceiling of one of the room was copper beaten into all kind of designs and was burnished so bright that it looked like gold.
I was all over the city and one street looked just like the other except one that was the Prado or promenade which in the evening I suppose rivals Paris for all the people (that is the society people) go for a walk and jewels and pretty women abound. I saw more pretty girls yesterday than I ever saw in one day in life before. They would smile at me and say "how do-good bye" in the funniest way. I couldn't help laughing. They had learned that much English and wanted to show how much they knew.
I was admiring a statue in one of the parks and a couple of young ladies commenced to talk to me and I could understand just enough to make me feel foolish for I couldn't tell whether they were asking questions or not, and all I could do was to stand there and nod my head and say si, si. I guess they got afraid I would dislocate my neck and after inviting me to call on them they made the prettiest bow and said adios. I told them I would just break my neck in the effort to call on them for I knew they couldn't understand what I said. Cora, it is wicked but.... [note: I don't know if this is all he wrote or if what he wrote was removed before being shared. cwh]
How is father getting along? I want you to keep me well informed. There seems to be a rumor that all the volunteers will be out of Cuba by the first of April and the officers seem to believe it, but I don't put any faith in rumors. Must close now with love to all. I remain your loving brother.