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Al Sieber: Chief of Scouts

by Dan L. Thrapp, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1995, $17.95 paperback.

Al Sieber took part in more Indian fights than Daniel Boone, Jim Bridger and Kit Carson together. He shot more Indians than all of them combined, yet he was as well-loved and respected by the Indians he fought as were any of the great scouts of American history.

During the course of slaying 50 or more hostiles, it was said and printed during his lifetime, Sieber was wounded 29 times by Indian arrows, knives or bullets. He never denied it, and Al Sieber was a blunt and honest man. Yet, his known record reveals only five wounds.

But the German-born fighter who started his career in the Civil War and ended it, crippled and discredited, in central Arizona 30 years later was one of the great warriors of the Wild West. His courage and tracking skills were highly valued by the generals he served. General George Crook, commander of the Department of Arizona in 1871­75 and again in the 1880s, planned and organized the principal campaign against formidable Apache foes in Arizona, while General Nelson A. Miles took credit for its successful conclusion in the 1880s. But the men who really won the campaign were rugged frontiersmen such as Al Sieber, the renowned chief of scouts.

When Sieber’s scouting career started, the odds were with the Indians, says author Dan Thrapp. When it ended, the tribes had ceased to exist as a force with which to be reckoned. By the time law and order was established in Arizona Territory and there was no more need for scouts, Sieber was suffering from arthritis and drinking a lot of whiskey. On February 19, 1907, while leading an Indian work gang on an Arizona highway, he was crushed to death by a boulder. Sieber was part of the American frontier saga. He helped to make a lot of history in the Southwest, says Thrapp, and deserves to be ranked alongside Kit Carson, Joe Walker and the other great scouts and guides.

The late Dan Thrapp’s account of the colorful life of Al Sieber unfolds graphically in this diligently researched and vigorously written biography by one of the leading authorities on the Apache wars. First published in 1964 and now reissued in paperback, it is another in the University of Oklahoma Press’ superb series of portraits of prominent figures in the Old West.

Michael D. Hull