Reviewed by Chrys Ankeny
By Forrestine C. Hooker, Edited by Steve Wilson
Oxford University Press, New York, 2003
Charles Lawrence Cooper was a white lieutenant with the black 10th Cavalry, and his daughter Forrestine ("Birdie") grew up in the frontier army, observing and generally admiring the officers and the black troops. Born in 1867, the youngster witnessed life at Fort Sill, Indian Territory, and other cavalry posts in Kansas, Texas and Arizona. Much later, she had a writing career. The first of her nine novels for young adults was published when she was 52. When Forrestine Hooker died at age 65 in 1932, she was still working on her memoir, which remained in her family for many years. And now, this "hidden gem of frontier adventures," as editor Steve Wilson calls it, is being published for the first time. Wilson has added some first names and dates and occasionally rearranged portions into chronological order. "Hooker recalled much of her story from memory, without the use of records," Wilson adds. "She may have occasionally erred, or forgotten, but after all, it is her story, based on the knowledge she had at hand."
The result is a 272-page book that offers an often warm and compelling look at the frontier world — from the perspective of someone who had once been a piano-playing officer’s daughter rather than a carbine-toting horse soldier. "All the enlisted men of the Tenth Cavalry were colored soldiers of the best type," Hooker wrote. "Their wives became cooks, laundresses, and nursemaids for the officers." Quanah Parker was a frequent guest at her family home at Fort Sill: "Once in 1880 my mother invited him to bring his little girl with him to lunch. We called her `Little Quanah’ as we did not know her Indian name. She was dressed in the same kind of clothes that I wore, for Quanah always asked the advice of the officers’ wives on such matters…. She, my brother, and I were able to play nicely together companionably."
The 10th Cavalry, Hooker said, had no fewer than 42 Indian fights in Kansas, Texas and Indian Territory from August 1867 through 1876. "During these years of frontier isolation," Forrestine wrote, "the army families in a regiment formed a bond that never was broken in afterlife. Children who played and rode their Indian ponies together became like the children of one large family."