Old West Book Review: The Gray Fox

519RXxx2b+L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_The Gray Fox; George Crook and the Indian Wars, Paul Magid, University of Oklahoma Press, (800 627-7377), $29.95, Cloth, 480 pages, Photographs, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

This book is the second of a trilogy written about the life and military career of General George Crook.  The author concentrates here on the years 1866-1877.  (The first book is titled From the Redwoods to Appomattox, telling about Crook’s early life and including his involvement in the Civil War, check it out HERE).

Born in Ohio in 1829, raised on the family farm, Crook was admitted to West Point when he was eighteen years old.  He graduated near the bottom of his class in 1852.  The Indians nicknamed him “The Gray Fox,” which was not exactly a compliment.  Crook stood close to six feet tall, with blue eyes a little too close together, a sharply pointed nose, graying close-clipped hair, thin lips and humorless personality.  He served for eight years on the Pacific Coast where he campaigned against Indians in both the Rogue River War and the Yakima War.  When necessary, he could live off the land.  His hunting expeditions while in the field became one of his peculiarities.  Crook rarely dressed in military garb while campaigning.  He was usually found wearing canvas clothing, high work boots and a straw hat.  In Arizona he rode a mule named Apache.  Crook relied heavily on mule packing opposed to hauling supplies and equipment in slow-moving wagon trains.

Author Magid follows the tortured and twisting trails of General Crook throughout the early Apache campaign in Arizona, and then Crook is transferred to the Northwest where he is embroiled in battles against Sioux and Cheyenne warriors.  Readers follow him through long, grueling marches, freezing winter snows, forage shortages, sick and starving horses, loss of life and always the political harangues he faced with his superiors in Washington, D.C.

Crook was notorious for keeping battle plans to himself, much to the annoyance of some officers in his command.  He was known to go off by himself to hunt game, returning to camp with fish and fowl, and occasionally deer or buffalo meat for the troops.  He eventually learned the art of taxidermy to preserve some of. his best trophies.  He was eccentric, somewhat mysterious, tough on himself as well as the men around him, but the Indians considered him a worthy and dangerous foe.  They knew he was a man of his word.

This book is hardly a long, dry history lesson.  The talented author keeps the story rolling forward with easy-to-read prose.  Crook’s personality is fairly dealt with, even though the man was difficult to understand.  Crook had a myriad of complicated issues to deal with, but kept his stoic silence most of the time.  The author obviously is a Crook fan, and is to be commended for writing about the murder of Crazy Horse as honestly as possible, telling all sides of the story.  Most likely Crook was aware of the skullduggery afoot.  When, at the end of the Sioux War, Crazy Horse was lured to Camp Robinson on the pretext of talks about a reservation for his people, the war chief was captured instead, and brutally murdered inside the fort.

When we turn the last page, we have mixed emotions about General Crook.  He left no personal diaries or notes about himself, so history must rely on the observations of those who worked and lived with him, as well as his military successes and failures.  Criticized by some, praised by others, General Crook is a fascinating personality.

We look forward to the third book in Magid’s trilogy focusing on Crook’s involvement ending the Apache Wars in Arizona. You can get this book HERE.

Editor’s Note:  Reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West, including the novel Hell Horse Winter of the Apache Kid, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988-0700, www.silklabelbooks.corn.

Bat Masterson and the County Seat War

Bat Masterson and the County Seat War: In October of 1887 a vote was held in Gray County, Kansas to determine the county seat. The winner was Cimarron. But some of the key citizens of Ingalls weren’t happy with the outcome. And they took their case to the courts. For over a year the courts did nothing.  
Finally Asa Soule, from Ingalls, decided to take the situation into his own hands. He figured that as the crown or miter was the authority of a king, the records of a county were the authority of a county seat. So, on January 11, 1889 he deputized a group of men with the objective of stealing the county records. These lawmen weren’t novices. They included Bill Tilghman, Neal Brown and two of the Bat Masterson brothers, Jim and Tom.  
Early Sunday morning the group rode quietly into Cimarron. Neal Brown and the two Mastersons started carrying out the records as the others stood guard. Unfortunately for them, an alarm was sounded, and guns started firing. The three record carriers were caught inside the courthouse. The rest got away with the records. More than two hundred armed men started shooting at the courthouse. In the process, one citizen was killed.
For more than 24 hours the men were trapped inside. Then mysteriously a truce was called and the three men were allowed to leave town unscathed. What happened? Well, Bat Masterson heard about his brothers’ plight, and he telegraphed Cimarron stating, that if either of his brothers were hurt he would “hire a train and come in with enough men to blow Cimarron off the face of Kansas.”
Oh yes, four years later another election was held and Cimarron again won.  
Bat Masterson & James Masterson

Chuckwagon: Cowboy Corn Muffins For Breakfast

Farmer’s Almanac 1885

    Cowboy Corn MuffinsFor Cowboy Corn Muffins, pour one quart of boiling milk over one pint of fine cornmeal.  While the mixture is still hot, add one tablespoonful of butter and a little salt, stirring the batter thoroughly.  Let is stand until cool, then add a small cup of wheat flour and two well-beaten eggs.  When mixed sufficiently, put the batter into well-greased shallow tins (or, better yet, into gem pans) and bake in a brisk over for one-half hour, or until richly browned.  Serve hot.

*Courtesy of Chronicle of the Old West newspaper, for more click HERE.

Cheyenne Chief Dull Knife

During the 1860’s and 70’s Dull Knife was one of the leading chiefs of the Northern Cheyenne. Early on, he realized the need to be at peace with the United States. But, what he saw happening worried him. For instance, in 1864, a group of Colorado militiamen attacked and killed a peaceful Cheyenne village at Sand Creek.
Although Dull Knife didn’t personally participate in the Little Big Horn, some of his warriors did. This resulted in their village being attacked the following winter while camping along the Powder River in Wyoming. Because of the loss of lives and supplies, he surrendered in the spring. 
In 1877, Dull Knife and his people were relocated from their homeland in Wyoming to the area that is now Kansas and Oklahoma. Not able to hunt on their traditional lands, and unable to live on government rations, a year later Dull Knife and his tribe started on a march back to Wyoming. Although Dull Knife had told everyone that his return was a peaceful one, the army looked upon them as renegades, and attacked them at every opportunity.
Again, they were captured and held at Fort Robinson in Nebraska. But, Dull Knife was determined, and he and about a hundred of his village escaped from Fort Robinson, and headed to Wyoming.
On January 22, 1879, Dull Knife had his last confrontation with the army. Although Dull Knife escaped, his remaining followers accepted their fate and returned to Fort Robinson. Dull Knife found refuge at the Sioux reservation with Red Cloud.
Four years later the government allowed the Northern Cheyenne to return to their traditional homeland.  But Dull Knife was not with them. He had died a few months earlier.

California Gold Rush - James MarshallDakota Livesay gives us a history lesson about the California Gold Rush and James Marshall, an American carpenter and sawmill operator, who reported the finding of gold at Coloma on the American River in California on January 24, 1848, the impetus for the California Gold Rush.

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