‘It is too common for historians of the westward movement to overlook the Antebellum era (1848–1860) and, in doing so, overlook a host of talented officers who served in the West’
While one can hardly disagree with Charles M. Robinson III, in his article “Best of the Indian Fighters” [October 2008], placing George Crook as the top officer stationed in the West, the article has its flaws. Seemingly dismissive of the role of infantry, the article mistakenly mentions that Colonel William Harney (photo above) led 600 dragoons in an attack on the Lakota village at Blue Water. Although Harney was colonel of the 2nd Dragoons, there were but two troops of 2nd Dragoons at the battle. The bulk of Harney’s forces were infantry. I find it somewhat odd to see John W. Davidson is included among the best officers despite his disobedience of orders and tactical ineptness at Cieneguilla in 1854, resulting in disaster [see Wild West, February 2008].
Aside from scholars such as Robert Utley and Durwood Ball, it is too common for historians of the westward movement to overlook the Antebellum era (1848–1860) and, in doing so, overlook a host of talented officers who served in the West. Certainly, any list of “best” frontier officers would be incomplete without giving credit to the accomplishments of Colonel Philip St. George Cooke, who not only successfully fought in several engagements on the Plains, but essentially invented cavalry tactics. Nor is mention made of Colonel Edwin Sumner, who not only created a line of defenses to protect New Mexico Territory from raids, but organized the newly formed 1st Cavalry and led it on the only successful cavalry charge on the plains at Solomon Forks in 1857. Nor was there any mention in the article of Colonel George Wright of the 9th Infantry and his successful 1858 campaign on the Spokane Plains. Also overlooked are unheralded officers such as Captain Earl Van Dorn, 2nd Cavalry, and his campaigns against the Comanches in Texas; and Captain Dick Ewell and Major Enoch Steen, both of the 1st Dragoons, and their battles with the Apaches in southern New Mexico Territory. In the final analysis, the best officers were men such as General Stephen Kearny, General John Wool, General Ethan Hitchcock, Lt. Col. Nathan Boone and Colonel Ben Beall, who learned the best tactic out West was to keep the peace by treating Native Americans with compassion and fairness.
Charles M. Robinson III responds: Gorenfeld is correct about Harney’s troops at Blue Water. In addition to 2nd Dragoons, they were also composed of units of the 6th and 10th Infantry and 4th Artillery. I think Gorenfeld misread the comment on Davidson. He is simply one of several who would have adherents, and so I mentioned him once in passing. My final list is the 10 given on P. 47, and Davidson is not among them. As for the other comments on location and period, there is no question my list was narrow. My area of expertise is the Great Plains from about 1860 to 1890, so I stayed more or less within that.
A Bank Robbery Available
In the October 2008 issue of Wild West, reader L.H. Amman asked writer Allan Radbourne if copies of the 1908 film A Bank Robbery were available, and Radbourne said he wasn’t sure. Well, the Southwestern Oklahoma Historical Society [www.swokhistory.org] has recently made a DVD available. They’ve inserted a cheesy narration track (easily cured by the mute button), but the DVD is otherwise pretty nice. As films go, it’s not great; the story is all but incomprehensible. Bill Tilghman was no John Ford (nor even Alan Smithee), but his film is still worth watching, if only for its historical value.
I thought your October “Indian Wars” issue of Wild West was the best you’ve ever published. To bring together such noted historians of the West as Robert M. Utley, Gregory Michno and Charles M. Robinson III in one issue is a worthy feat in itself. But you had other fine writers pursuing additional aspects of the frontier West, too, which made this edition of Wild West one which will have a permanent home in my Western history library.
I was especially impressed with the Joan Pennington maps [P. 38 and 39] at the end of Utley’s article “Peace on Paper, War on the Plains.” To incorporate the location of the major tribes west of the Mississippi, along with the major Indian battles fought in this region, plus the location of Indian agencies in the trans-Mississippi West and the religious denominations that governed them, makes these two maps especially valuable. The chronological listing of the relevant treaties and the wars and battles of the late 19th century both above and below the maps only added to their usefulness. Also, the editorial on P. 4, comparing Indian relations in the United States, Canada and Mexico, strengthened the major theme in this issue.
Robert W. Larson
Top Ten Tops
I read with interest the letters in the December issue objecting to Roger Jay’s “anti-gun” Top Ten list. I have one comment to those objectors—give me a break. I thought this one was nothing more than 10 examples (out of many, I am sure) of poor judgment in the use of guns in the Old West. I am a recent subscriber and love the magazine, especially the Top Ten list in each issue. It has rekindled my interest in Old West history.
Atop P. 35 of the December 2008 issue, we show a Smith & Wesson No. 3 “American” revolver, though the caption refers to a Colt Navy. Our apologies.
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