JEFF THE INQUISITIVE

By General Rush C. Hawkins

Among the gunboats doing duty on the inland waters of North Carolina in the early spring of 1862, which composed what Commodore Goldsborough designated his "Pasteboard Fleet," was the Louisiana, commanded by Commander Alexander Murray, who was noted for his efficiency and good nature.

His treatment of his crew made him one of the most popular officers in the whole fleet. He entered into all of their sports and sympathized with the discomforts of forecastle life. He was fond of animal pets, and always welcomed the arrival of a new one. At the time of which I am writing, his ship carried quite a collection of tame birds and four-footed favorites. Among them was a singular little character, known as "Jeff." He was a perfectly black pig of the "Racer Razor Back" order, which, at that time, were plentiful in the coast sections of the more southern of the slave-holding States. They were called "racers" because of their long legs, slender bodies, and great capacity for running; and "Razor Backs" on account of the prominence of the spinal column. The origin of this particular species of the porcine tribe is unknown, but there is a tradition to the effect that their progenitors were a part of the drove that came to the coast of Florida with De Soto when he started on the march which ended with the discovery of the Mississippi River. History records the fact that a large number of animals were brought from Spain for food, and that a considerable number of them succeeded in getting away from the expedition soon after the landing was effected.

Our particular specimen of this wandering tribe of natural marauders was captured by a boat's crew of the Louisiana in one of the swamps adjacent to Currituck Sound when he was a wee bit of an orphaned waif, not much larger than an ostrich egg.

He was an ill-conditioned little mite that had probably been abandoned by a heartless mother, possibly while escaping from the prospective mess-kettle of a Confederate picket.

In those days Confederate pickets were not very particular as to the quality or kind of food, and I have a suspicion that even a "Razor Back" would have been a welcome addition to their meal.

When "Jeff" was brought on board, his pitiful condition excited the active sympathy of all, from the commander down to the smallest powder monkey, and numerous were the suggestions made as to the course of treatment for the new patient. The doctor was consulted, and after a careful diagnosis, decided there was no organic disease: want of parental care, want of nourishment and exposure, were held responsible for "Jeff's" unfavorable condition. It was decided to put him on a light diet of milk, which proved an immediate success, for, within forty-eight hours after his first meal, the patient became as lively as possible. As days and weeks went on, there appeared an improvement of appetite that was quite phenomenal, but no accumulation of flesh. His legs and body grew longer; and, with this lengthening of parts, there came a development of intellectual acuteness that was particularly surprising. He attached himself to each individual of the ship. He had no favorites, but was hail-fellow-well-met with all. He developed all the playful qualities of a puppy and reasoned out a number of problems in his own way. His particular admirers declared that he learned the meaning of the different whistles of the boatswain: that he knew when the meal pennant was hoisted to the peak; could tell when the crew was beat to quarters for drill, and often proved the correctness of this knowledge by scampering off to take his place by one particular gun division, which seemed to have taken his fancy.

I can testify personally to only one item in the schedule of his intellectual achievements. It is a custom in the navy for the commander of a ship to receive any officer of rank of either branch of the service at the gangway of the ship. In this act of courtesy he is always accompanied by the officer of the deck, and often by others that may happen to be at hand. After the advent of "Jeff," whenever I went on board the Louisiana, he was always at the gangway, and seemingly was deeply interested in the event. It may be said of him, generally, that he was overflowing with spirits, and took an active interest in all the daily routine work of his ship.

He had a most pertinacious way of poking his nose into all sorts of affairs, not at all after the manner of the usual pig, but more like a village gossip who wants to know about everything that is going on in the neighborhood.

In the gradual development of "Jeff's" character, it was discovered that he had none of the usual well-known traits of the pig. He was more like a petted and pampered dog, was playful, good-natured, and expressed pleasure, pain, anger, and desire, with various squeals and grunts, delivered with a variety of intonations that were very easily interpreted. He was never so happy as when in the lap of one of the sailors, having his back stroked. His pleasure upon those occasions was evinced by the emission of frequent good-natured grunts and looking up into the face of the friendly stroker.

When on shore he followed his favorites like a dog and was never known to root. Except in speech and appearance he was the counterpart of a happy, good-natured, and well-cared-for household dog—possibly, however, rather more intelligent than the average canine pet.

The Fourth of July, 1862, was a gala day at Roanoke Island. The camps of the island and the vessels in the harbor were in holiday attire. Colors were flying, bands playing, drums beating, patriotic steam was up to high pressure. The good old day, so dear to the hearts of Americans, was made more glorious by the exchange of camp hospitalities and an indulgence in such simple hilarity as the occasion seemed to require; but "Jeff" was not forgotten. Early in the morning he was bathed and scrubbed, more than to his heart's content, and then patriotically decorated. In his right ear was a red ribbon, in his left a white one; around his neck another of blue.

Thus adorned he was brought on shore to pay me a visit, and as he came through my door he appeared to be filled with the pride of patriotism and a realization of the greatness of the occasion. His reward for this unusual demonstration was instantaneous, and consisted of some apples and a toothsome dessert of sugar. Afterward he made the round of the camps with a special escort of warrant officers and devoted Jack Tars.

During this triumphant march over the island an incident occurred which developed the slumbering instinct of the swamp "racer." In a second, as it were, and seemingly without cause, "Jeff" was seen to move off at a tremendous pace at right angles with the line of march. He was seen after he had run a few yards to make a great jump, and then remain in his tracks. The pursuing party found him actively engaged in demolishing a moccasin, which he had crushed by jumping and landing with his feet upon its head and back. Hogs of this particular kind are famous snake-killers—a big rattler or a garter snake is all the same to them. They advance to the attack with the greatest impetuosity, and a feast upon snake is the usual reward of exceptional bravery.

"Jeff" was a confirmed lover of good eating, and in time paid the usual penalty for over-indulgence of his very piggish appetite. While the meal pennant was up, it was his habit to go from one fore-castle mess to another, and to insist upon having rather more than his share of the choice morsels from each. In a short time he came to the repair shop very much the worse for wear, with an impaired digestion and a cuticle that showed unmistakable evidence of scurvy. For the first he was put upon short rations; for the second, sand baths on shore were prescribed. Under this treatment poor "Jeff" lost all his buoyancy of spirits and his habitual friskiness, and became sad and dejected, but bore his troubles with patience. He took to the sand baths at once, and gave forth many disgruntled grunts when lifted out of them.

The last time I saw "Jeff," in 1862, he was buried up to his ears in the cool sands of the Roanoke Island shore, with eyes upturned and looking like a very sad pig, but I fear none the wiser for his offenses against the rights of a well-regulated digestion.