A Man With Two Lives
Scary Books: Present At A Hanging
Here is the queer story of David William Duck, related by himself.
Duck is an old man living in Aurora, Illinois, where he is
universally respected. He is commonly known, however, as "Dead
"In the autumn of 1866 I was a private soldier of the Eighteenth
Infantry. My company was one of those stationed at Fort Phil
Kearney, commanded by Colonel Carrington. The country is more or
amiliar with the history of that garrison, particularly with
the slaughter by the Sioux of a detachment of eighty-one men and
officers--not one escaping--through disobedience of orders by its
commander, the brave but reckless Captain Fetterman. When that
occurred, I was trying to make my way with important dispatches to
Fort C. F. Smith, on the Big Horn. As the country swarmed with
hostile Indians, I traveled by night and concealed myself as best I
could before daybreak. The better to do so, I went afoot, armed
with a Henry rifle and carrying three days' rations in my haversack.
"For my second place of concealment I chose what seemed in the
darkness a narrow canon leading through a range of rocky hills. It
contained many large bowlders, detached from the slopes of the
hills. Behind one of these, in a clump of sage-brush, I made my bed
for the day, and soon fell asleep. It seemed as if I had hardly
closed my eyes, though in fact it was near midday, when I was
awakened by the report of a rifle, the bullet striking the bowlder
just above my body. A band of Indians had trailed me and had me
nearly surrounded; the shot had been fired with an execrable aim by
a fellow who had caught sight of me from the hillside above. The
smoke of his rifle betrayed him, and I was no sooner on my feet than
he was off his and rolling down the declivity. Then I ran in a
stooping posture, dodging among the clumps of sage-brush in a storm
of bullets from invisible enemies. The rascals did not rise and
pursue, which I thought rather queer, for they must have known by my
trail that they had to deal with only one man. The reason for their
inaction was soon made clear. I had not gone a hundred yards before
I reached the limit of my run--the head of the gulch which I had
mistaken for a canon. It terminated in a concave breast of rock,
nearly vertical and destitute of vegetation. In that cul-de-sac I
was caught like a bear in a pen. Pursuit was needless; they had
only to wait.
"They waited. For two days and nights, crouching behind a rock
topped with a growth of mesquite, and with the cliff at my back,
suffering agonies of thirst and absolutely hopeless of deliverance,
I fought the fellows at long range, firing occasionally at the smoke
of their rifles, as they did at that of mine. Of course, I did not
dare to close my eyes at night, and lack of sleep was a keen
"I remember the morning of the third day, which I knew was to be my
last. I remember, rather indistinctly, that in my desperation and
delirium I sprang out into the open and began firing my repeating
rifle without seeing anybody to fire at. And I remember no more of
"The next thing that I recollect was my pulling myself out of a
river just at nightfall. I had not a rag of clothing and knew
nothing of my whereabouts, but all that night I traveled, cold and
footsore, toward the north. At daybreak I found myself at Fort C.
F. Smith, my destination, but without my dispatches. The first man
that I met was a sergeant named William Briscoe, whom I knew very
well. You can fancy his astonishment at seeing me in that
condition, and my own at his asking who the devil I was.
"'Dave Duck,' I answered; 'who should I be?'
"He stared like an owl.
"'You do look it,' he said, and I observed that he drew a little
away from me. 'What's up?' he added.
"I told him what had happened to me the day before. He heard me
through, still staring; then he said:
"'My dear fellow, if you are Dave Duck I ought to inform you that I
buried you two months ago. I was out with a small scouting party
and found your body, full of bullet-holes and newly scalped--
somewhat mutilated otherwise, too, I am sorry to say--right where
you say you made your fight. Come to my tent and I'll show you your
clothing and some letters that I took from your person; the
commandant has your dispatches.'
"He performed that promise. He showed me the clothing, which I
resolutely put on; the letters, which I put into my pocket. He made
no objection, then took me to the commandant, who heard my story and
coldly ordered Briscoe to take me to the guardhouse. On the way I
"'Bill Briscoe, did you really and truly bury the dead body that you
found in these togs?'
"'Sure,' he answered--'just as I told you. It was Dave Duck, all
right; most of us knew him. And now, you damned impostor, you'd
better tell me who you are.'
"'I'd give something to know,' I said.
"A week later, I escaped from the guardhouse and got out of the
country as fast as I could. Twice I have been back, seeking for
that fateful spot in the hills, but unable to find it."