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Did this Walking Stick Belong to Gen. Joe Wheeler?

Originally published under Ask Mr. History. Published Online: May 27, 2014 
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Did this walking stick belong to Confederate general Joseph Wheeler?
Did this walking stick belong to Confederate general Joseph Wheeler?

I am interested in General Joe Wheeler and his Ft. Craig days. I know he saved a pregnant women from indians.  Is there an in depth newspaper article?  I think I have a swagger stick that once belonged to General Wheeler.  It has a gold tip with his name and Br. G. Palmers name on it. I have attached it. On the side is an engraving of sunflowers and wind, symbols for Kansas. 

Did he perhaps receive this as a memento from the people he saved?

Anything you have would be appreciated.

Regards, George Rothwell

? ? ?

Dear Mr. Rothwell,

Regrettably, there is no evidence on the stick to ascertain why it may have been presented to—or purchased by—Joe Wheeler, if he is indeed the "J. Wheeler" cited on the gold knob. The knob itself is rather curious, since it has sunflowers, but also bears the legend "Stolen by Br.G. Palmer St. Louis Mo. from J. Wheeler Sep 1 65." Assuming this is genuine (and if it's gold it can certainly endure the decades with its luster intact), it begs the question: "Stolen"? Where but in the Wild West would anyone brag about something like that? But was it really "stolen" in St. Louis on September 1, 1865, or was it engraved there on that date? And who was "Br. G. Palmer"?

Well, here's an intriguing  possibility. On May 9, 1865, Brevet Brig. Gen. William Jackson Palmer, commander of the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment holding overall command of the cavalry division to which it was attached, reported the capture of Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler, three of his staff and 11 privates at Conyers Station, west of the Yellow River. Wheeler was carrying a false parole naming him as "Lieutenant Sharp," but turned out to be screening the fleeing Confederate President Jefferson Davis. According to Palmer's report, Davis and his entourage were apprehended at Howell's Ford near Warsaw on the Chattahoochee River on May 12.

Wheeler was paroled—legitimately this time—from Fort Delaware on June 8, and subsequently took up a law career in Courtland, Alabama, making it unlikely that he would have gone to St. Louis in so near a future. But Palmer may have, to test the waters for his postwar career in the railroads, starting with a job as construction manager of the Kansas Pacific Railroad in 1867. Perhaps he had appropriated Wheeler's stick back in May 1865, and while in St. Louis decided to have the butt engraved while he was in St. Louis that September? We can only speculate.

If this is "Brig. Gen. Palmer" we're talking about, however, he has his own share of claims to fame. Born on Leipsic, Delaware, on September 17, 1836, he developed an early fascination with railroad trains. As a Quaker, he hated war but opposed slavery more and when war broke out he decided to enlist in what he regarded as a just cause, serving in the 11th New Jersey Infantry before leading the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry at Red Hill, Alabama, where on January 14, 1865, he was cited: "With less than 200 men attacked and defeated a superior force of the enemy and captured a field piece and about 100 prisoners without losing a man." For this feat he was awarded the Medal of Honor on February 24, 1894.

Among other postwar achievements, Palmer went on to found the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad and built up the city of Colorado Springs, where he settled in 1901 and died on March 13, 1909. An avid philanthropist, among other things he donated a million dollars to the railroad he'd founded, to be evenly distributed to every worker who had contributed to its success. His face is also immortalized on the cover of "William J. Palmer Cigars," which debuted in 1900.

Such is the possible provenance of your "swagger stick," if you can just confirm the authenticity and circumstances of the inscription on that golden knob.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
Weider History Group
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2 Responses to “Did this Walking Stick Belong to Gen. Joe Wheeler?”

  1. 1
    bender says:

    I just saw a similar stick with the identical inscription on Pawn Stars on November 13, 2014. I think someone must have made these sticks as some kind of souvenir for some occasion. Mark Hall-Patton the expert museum curator that appears on the show thought it was not real.

    • 1.1
      george rothwell says:

      Yes, the stick was on Pawn Stars and I was the one who presented it to the Beard of Knowledge.

      Here is the thing that brought it together for me. At the Yountville California Civil War Veterans Home in 1907 there were only 388 veterans residing at the home. One was a fellow named George Dallas Boutcher who served with Palmer in the 15th Penna. He also attended the 1907 reunion where 200 of the 15th were treat to a week of food and frolic at the expense of the then paralyzed Palmer. Palmer died in 1909. I believe gifts were exchanged and the swagger was given to Boutcher by Palmer.

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