Indian War Veterans: Memories of Army Life and Campaigns in the West, 1864–1898, by Jerome A. Greene, Savas Beatie, El Dorado Hills, Calif., 2012, $24.95
“I was standing alongside of Colonel [Henry] Carrington on that fatal day of December 21, 1866, when he told Colonel [sic—Captain William] Fetterman to take the men that were not on duty and go and relieve the wood train but not to proceed or pursue the Indians over Lodge Trail Ridge. He disobeyed orders, and consequently he and his command were wiped out. The following day we brought in the bodies, and they were horribly mutilated. This is a true version of that terrible and tragic Fetterman disaster.”
This excerpt from a statement by Alexander Brown, a former sergeant in Troop D, 2nd U.S. Cavalry, exemplifies the firsthand accounts and interviews compiled by the National Indian War Veterans Association, many of which it published in its own periodical tabloid, Winners of the West. Jerome A. Greene, a retired National Park Service historian, has collected and organized these memories into Indian War Veterans, presenting a comprehensive first-person look at the major battles and campaigns on the frontier, from the trans-Mississippi border states of the Civil War to the grueling pursuits through the Southwest after Geronimo and the Apache Kid.
Valuable though the insights on the famous events are, equally interesting are those into what passed for everyday life for the troops—and in some cases, their families, such as Dominick J. O’Malley, the son of a 2nd Cavalry trooper, whose entry speaks for his generation: “To the children the camp was a scene of never-ending interest.”
Former Private Archibald Dickson of Company C, 3rd U.S. Infantry, stationed at Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory, shared an example of what might liven up routine duty. He was grazing the fort’s cattle on July 4, 1884, when forced to run them into nearby woods as “a band of about 50 Sioux, crazy with whiskey, which they must have got in some way in Bismarck, came riding by shooting and yelling like the wild men they were.” After they rode past, Dickson rounded up the cattle but found one missing. “I reported to Captain James A. Rockwell, then in charge of the Ordnance Department,” Dickson continued, “and he complimented me on saving all of the cattle but one and said it was better to lose one cow than my scalp.” The local Indian agency later discovered that a band of Indians camped near those same woods had found the stray cow and swiftly made jerky out of it. “I have always been glad that band of drunken Sioux did not see me that day,” Dickson concluded, “or I would not be here now to tell this story.”
Wild West readers with an interest in the Indian wars will be equally grateful that so many of the soldiers lived to tell their stories and did so. They will also be grateful to Greene for gathering their stories, many never published before, into this convenient volume.