Old West History Archives

Doniphan’s Thousand

Doniphan's ThousandAs a young man Colonel Alexander W. Doniphan had no plans on being a military man. Born in Kentucky, Alexander went to college to be a lawyer, later practicing in Missouri. A far cry from what would become Doniphan’s Thousand.
           
But, the courtroom wasn’t enough excitement for Alexander. When the war with Mexico broke out in 1846 the 1st Missouri Mounted Volunteers were formed, and Alexander was voted their colonel. Now, the Missouri Mounted didn’t comprise of professional military men. They were a rag-tag group of men who looked more like tramps than spit and polish soldiers of the regular military. And Alexander wasn’t a strict disciplinarian as an officer. But “Doniphan’s Thousand” as they were known were impressive in battle.
               
In December of 1846 Alexander and 500 of his men assisted General Wool in his invasion of the Mexican state of Chihuahua. On their way to Chihuahua, Alexander and his men ran into a force of 1,200 Mexican soldiers just outside of El Paso, Texas. Although outnumbered more than 2 to 1, they took on the Mexican forces, and on December 27 occupied El Paso.
 
Continuing on to Chihuahua, Alexander discovered that General Wool had retreated back. Rather than turning back also, Alexander summoned the other half of his “Thousand” and proceeded to attack Chihuahua unassisted. This time he was completely outnumbered 4 to 1. But, once again they quickly overcame their opponent. Within six months Alexander and his men reached the Gulf Coast. At the coast they were picked up by boat, and transported to New Orleans, where they returned to Missouri and their normal occupations.
 
Within a few months U. S. troops occupied Mexico City, and the war was over. Although the professional military got the credit for the victory, were it not for rag-tag volunteers like Doniphan’s Thousand, it surely wouldn’t have happened when it did.

Crazy Horse’s Final Battle

Crazy Horse's Final BattleIt was the end of June of 1876. Crazy Horse, along with Sitting Bull, had just completed the greatest victory of the Indians over the U. S. military with the defeat of George Custer at Little Big Horn. The American people demanded revenge. These were the events that lead to Crazy Horse’s Final Battle.
           
So, General Nelson Miles mounted a winter campaign. It was thought that by keeping the Indians on the run throughout the winter would be devastating to them. General Miles convinced a number of Indians to return to their reservations. Meanwhile, Sitting Bull took his people into Canada.
               
Crazy Horse along with his over 1,000 Sioux and Cheyenne also refused to surrender. But he stayed in Montana. Being constantly pushed, Crazy Horse and his people were suffering from starvation and sickness.
 
Then on January 8, 1877, in the last battle Crazy Horse was ever to be engaged, General Miles came across his camp on the Tongue River. Miles opened up with howitzers, forcing the Indians to retreat to the hills in a snowstorm. With ammunition gone for their rifles, they were using only bows and arrows to defend themselves.
 
Using the blinding snowstorm as shelter, Crazy Horse’s people were able to escape. With their shelters, food and winter clothes left behind, they spent a miserable winter.
 
Although Crazy Horse wasn’t ever defeated in battle, he realized that General Miles would eventually hunt his people down and destroy them. So, in May of 1877, less than a year from his great victory at Little Big Horn, Crazy Horse along with his rag-tag group of 217 men and 672 women surrendered to the military.
In September 1877, four months after surrendering to U.S. troops under General George Crook, Crazy Horse was fatally wounded by a bayonet-wielding military guard while allegedly resisting imprisonment at Camp Robinson in present-day Nebraska.

Nathan Meeker of Horace Greeley’s New York Herald

Nathan Meeker of Horace Greeley’s New York HeraldNathan E. Meeker started out as an agricultural writer for Horace Greeley’s New York Herald. He had a particular interest in cooperative farming and living. So Horace Greeley sent him to study what the Mormons were doing in this area. On January 6, 1870 Nathan headed west. But, when he got to Colorado, Meeker decided Colorado was a good place to start his own communal colony. So he started the temperance colony of Greeley, Colorado.
           
Things didn’t progress well, and in a few years Nathan was penniless. To generate income, and pay off debts, he became the Indian agent for the White River Ute Reservation.
               
Nathan Meeker not only believed that work was fun; he was passionate in spreading his message. He decided that the Ute Indians should be farmers.
 
This didn’t sit well with the free-spirited Ute who traditionally were nomadic teepee-dwellers following the buffalo herds. In addition, what Nathan didn’t know about Indian culture, was more than exceeded by his lack of tact. One of his policies was that any Indian who didn’t work the fields wouldn’t eat.
 
Within a year things were so out of hand that Meeker called for troops to quiet the Ute Indians. Knowing the military was on its way, the Ute struck first. They went after the symbol of their hatred, the Indian Agency.
 
All of the agency male staff was killed with Nathan Meeker, impaled to the ground in his own back yard.
 
This wasn’t the first, or the last attempt to make hunter tribes into agricultural Indians. But, it sure was the biggest failure.
Nathan Meeker of Horace Greeley’s New York Herald

John Heath – Old West Lynching

John Heath old west lynchingOn December 16, 1883, five masked men attempted to rob a store in Bisbee, Arizona. The robbery went bad, and the masked men started shooting at bystanders. They killed two men instantly. A third man died later. Tragically, a pregnant woman with her child, watching from a window in a nearby building, was also killed. This led to an old west lynching.
           
In response to these brutal murders, a posse was assembled. John Heath, a local businessman, volunteered to lead it. When the posse returned empty handed, there was quite a discussion as to which way the killers had gone. Most of the posse members felt John Heath had done a poor job of tracking the robbers.
               
Although the robbers wore masks, several residents recognized them as men who had been hanging around Bisbee, and over the next couple of weeks townspeople started remarking about seeing John Heath and the killers together prior to the robbery.
 
It was later discovered that John Heath was actually the leader of the gang. The plan from the beginning was for John not to participate in the robbery. And, when the posse was formed, he volunteer to lead it not toward the fleeing murderers, but away from them.
 
John Heath was tried, and convicted of second-degree murder. Not satisfied, Heath’s lawyer asked for a new trial. There was universal dissatisfaction in Bisbee with the second-degree murder conviction. In addition, they didn’t like the possibility that John Heath might be set free in a new trial. And in the Old West when there was dissatisfaction with a verdict the people took action.
 
A group of almost 500 people got John Heath out of jail, and strung him up to a telegraph pole. The citizens of Bisbee would not be trifled with.     

Benjamin Rush Milam – Texas, Mexico and the Anglos

Benjamin Rush Milam Texas, Mexico and the AnglosBenjamin Rush Milam was born in 1788 in Frankfort, Kentucky. He served in the War of 1812, and in 1818, along with other Anglos, he went to Texas, and as was necessary for land ownership there, became a Mexican citizen. During this time, Texas, Mexico and the Anglos had a difficult relationship. Mexico both welcomed and feared the Anglos coming to Texas. Eventually, Mexico started imposing unfair regulations on the Anglos. And, in 1835, when Santa Ana established himself as dictator, Milam renounced his Mexican citizenship and joined the rag-tag army of Anglos fighting for the independence of Texas.
Following the Texas army’s capture of Goliad in which he participated, Milam was sent on a scouting trip to the southwest. When he returned, the Texas army was on the outskirts of San Antonio. But, to Milam’s disappointment, the Texas generals had decided to postpone the attack on San Antonio until spring. Milam was aware that Santa Ana’s forces were heading toward Texas with enough troops to suppress the rebellion, and he worried that to hesitate meant defeat. So, he went before the troops and made an impassioned plea asking: “Who will go with old Ben Milam into San Antonio?”
Three hundred men volunteered. And on December 5, they started their attack on San Antonio. The fighting took place house-to-house and hand-to-hand. Four days later, on December 9, with 200 Mexican soldiers dead and as many injured, the commanding general surrendered the city to the Texans.
Unfortunately, Benjamin Milam wasn’t there to celebrate. He had been shot by a sniper two days into the battle. Incidentally, had he survived, he would have probably been one of the Texans defending the Alamo from Santa Ana the following March.
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