Old West Book Review: Health of the Seventh Cavalry; A Medical History

Health of the Seventh CavalryHealth of the Seventh Cavalry; A Medical History, Edited by P. Willey and Douglas D. Scott, University of Oklahoma Press, (405) 325-3200, $3295, Cloth. 480 Pages, Illustrations, Maps, Graphics, Charts, Bibliography, Index.

Persons interested in the life and times of members of Custer’s Seventh Cavalry will find this book a treasure trove of information pertaining to the health of these soldiers.

The time period covered is 1866 through the early 1880s.  The first chapter talks about the Regimental history of the Seventh, beginning at the end of the Civil War.  At this time the Seventh began moving westward to deal with hostile Indians of the Plains.  Of course anything to do with the Seventh Cavalry must include information about General George Armstrong Custer, eventually leading to the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

But long before the Little Big Horn, in July 1866, Seventh Cavalry troops were assembling at Fort Riley, Kansas.  From here they were dispersed toward the western Plains from Ft. Riley and beyond.  One table in the book shows the Seventh Cavalry company assignments by year all the way to 1882.

The authors give detailed descriptions of the various living quarters, expeditions, care of horses, weather conditions and the like.  There is one particularly sobering photograph of the arrow-riddled Sergeant Frederick Wyllyams of Company G where he was murdered and mutilated by hostile Indians in 1867.

Always the book’s focus is on the health of the soldiers from information gleaned from, medical records as well as personal accounts written by those who lived and traveled with the troops.  Occasionally we hear from Elizabeth Custer and a few other wives as they described weather conditions, injuries, epidemics, living quarters and social events within the forts.

The men of the Seventh were attended by military physicians who had been doctors during the Civil War.  A list of their names and dates they served is included here.  They treated insect and snake bites, gunshot wounds, venereal disease, horse- related injuries, results of bar brawls, frostbite and contagious diseases such as cholera.  The lists include everything from lacerations to mumps. These doctors were also expected to treat civilians who worked at the forts that included officers’ wives and children, and laundresses.

Military doctors were not always looked upon with respect, behind their backs some were referred to as “Pills” and other uncomplimentary nicknames.  However, some surgeons such as Assistant Surgeon Leonard Wood earned the Medal of Honor for carrying dispatches through hostile Indian Territory during the 1886 campaign against Apaches in Arizona.  Wood was later credited with discovering the cause and treatment of yellow fever.

Eventually the reader arrives at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and much information is gleaned through forensic examination of the remains of the men who died with Custer.  Extensive examination of bones and teeth reveal many physical ailments the men suffered throughout their lifetimes, and including whenever possible wounds received on the battlefield that led to their deaths.

At the end the authors declared the men of the Seventh were “neither the unsoiled, healthy heroes represented by Errol Flynn in They Died With their Boots on, nor the maniacal one-dimensional soldiers portrayed in Little Big Man”.  One observer in the old days described the Seventh Cavalry as “good fighters but mostly heavy drinkers.’

And so be it.  They rode with Custer. May they rest in peace.  This unique book has everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the health of those brave fighting men. The book belongs in your Old West library.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de Ia Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West, including the true crime Death For Dinner, The Benders of (Old) Kansas,, published by Silk Label Books, P. Box 700, Unionville, New York, 10988-0700 www.silklabelbooks.com

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

Thomas Bowe

Thomas BoweThomas Bowe was a slightly built man, who stood about 5 foot 6 inches. He had a hair trigger, both personally and gun-wise. With a mysterious background that supposedly included murder and stagecoach robbery, Thomas showed up in Silver City, New Mexico during the winter of 1874.
           
In Ward’s Dance Hall, Thomas Bowe entered into an argument with a Jack Clark. He evidently wasn’t getting the best of the situation, because he pulled his pistol and shot Jack on the spot. Although Thomas escaped to the hills, he later returned. Eventually all charges were dropped. 
               
Tom struck up a friendship with Dick Howlett, the owner of the Silver City Saloon. On the evening of October 5, 1877, the two friends, Tom and Dick, decided to play some poker. They were joined by two other men, one, Sheriff Richard Hudson.
 
As the evening progressed, Tom’s stack of chips got smaller. And Dick’s got larger. Dick started ribbing his buddy about his card playing ability. Sheriff Hudson, sensing Tom’s building anger, cautioned Dick to lighten up.
 
In desperation, Tom tried a bluff for a big pot, hoping for a huge payoff. But, Dick had a good hand, and he called Tom. This was just too much for Thomas Bowe. He stood up, pulled his gun and shot and killed his friend Dick Howlett.
 
Thomas Bowe again fled to the hills. He went down to Mexico and finally to New York City. Not able to take the city life, Tom eventually went back out west to Montana where extradition papers caught up with him, and he was returned to New Mexico for trial. Seven years after the shooting, Tom faced justice, and his case was dismissed. It seems that in Silver City, New Mexico making fun of one’s poker playing ability is justification for murder.

Chief Geronimo and His Braves

Chief GeronimoSeptember 2, 1894, Daily Star, Tucson, Arizona – A dispatch sent out from Chicago is that old Geronimo and his band of Apache savages, who have been prisoners at Mount Vernon barracks, Alabama for a long time, are to be removed to Fort Sill, O. T.  Secretary Fairmont has ordered their return to the west, and Captain Marion T. Maus, one of the officers on duty at General Miles’ headquarters in Chicago, has gone, it is said, to Alabama to personally direct the transfer.  The Indians, to the number of nearly 300, will be taken to Fort Sill, and after a period of surveillance there, will be returned to their old reservation in the mountains of eastern Arizona.

The Indians, after their capture in March, 1886, by regular troops under General George Crook, escaped and were subsequently retaken by General miles, who had relieved Crook.  The cut throats, after their capture, were taken as prisoners of war to Florida.

They were confined there for sometime, but owing to the injurious effects of the climate upon the Indians they were removed to Mount Vernon barracks, about twenty-five miles from Mobile.  Here the climate was no better, and many of the Indians died from consumption and other pulmonary diseases.  They had been used to the dry air of the plains and the humidity and warmth brought on illness.  From 500 or 690 the band has been reduced to less than 300, and their removal is now made in the interests of humanity.

General Crook before his death made strenuous efforts to bring about the removal of these Indians to their new home, and he argues that long imprisonment and suffering had broken them in spirit and taken out of them all desire to renew their former savagery Four years ago a movement looking to their transfer was inaugurated, but the moment it became known the people of Arizona and New Mexico sent a delegation of citizens here to protest.  The attempt was then abandoned, and it was not renewed until lately.

The matter was called up in congress a few months ago and a provision was inserted in the Indian appropriation bill setting apart a sufficient sum for removal of these Indians to “one of the territories.”  No place was specified and the provision was passed, in spit of Delegates Smith of Arizona, Joseph of New Mexico and Flynn of Oklahoma.

It is in accordance with the provision of the recently approved Indian appropriation bill that Captain Maus, order direction of the war department, will now conduct the Indians from the scene of their long imprisonment.  They will be taken to Fort Sill, which is near the center of the Kiowa, Comanche and Apache reservation in the southern part of Oklahoma Territory.  It is probable that the citizens of Oklahoma will protest, but as Fort Sill is pretty well garrisoned their need be no fear of an Indian outbreak, even with Geronimo’s band quartered there.  Some time this fall it is expected that the band will be returned to Arizona.

So far no action whatever has been taken by the people of Arizona with reference to the removal of Geronimo and his band to Fort Sill.  It is not likely that any protest will be made, that being the opinion of the oldest citizens interviewed on the subject that little is to be feared from the return of the band after so long an absence in the south.  None of theses oldtimers hesitated in saying that they do not apprehend that these Indians would make any attempt to reach their old haunts from Fort Sill.  Geronimo is an old man now and the time is not far distant when he will go to join on the happy hunting grounds the braves gone before him.  His hair is turning gray, his shoulders are stooped and his step far from being as firm as in the days he and his followers roamed over Arizona striking terror to the hearts of the settlers.  Then, again, it is said he has undergone a change of heart, the old renegade of late years having acted as superintendent of a Sunday school at the old historical Alabama fort.  But an Apache is an Apache; he’s not a good Indian till he’s dead.

The Springfield Rifle

“I would rather be shot by a Krag-Jorgensen or Mauser bullet than a Springfield rifle projectile,” said Captain Robert R. Stevens, quartermaster for Fort Sam Houston, to a Light reporter who questioned him yesterday as to the effectiveness of the various bullets.

Springfield Rifle

The query was made by the reporter in view of the many criticisms published regarding the arming of Uncle Sam’s volunteers with Springfield rifles Captain Stevens was selected to explain the difference from the fact that the reporter knew he has spent many years in the west in the army when the Springfield rifle was in use and has also had experience in the army with the new gun.  Captain Stevens has seen the old Springfield used on the Indians with deadly effect, and although he did not say so, it is a well known fact that the captain has used them on the red skins himself.  When speaking of the use to which he had put the guns the captain invariably spoke of shooting deer, or animals of some kind, but his acquaintances know that during his seventeen years of duty as a lieutenant of the Sixth infantry, which is known to have had some hot Indian engagements, that he did not put in all his time shooting deer and wild turkeys.

Springfield rifle

Nevertheless the captain modestly acknowledged that he knew something about the Springfield rifle and with his usual courtesy, proceeded to compare the guns.

“The Springfield hasn’t the range of the Manser or Krag-Jorgensen, that is true,” said he, “but when a regiment gets close enough to an enemy for the Springfield to reach them they will make it warm for somebody.

“When a Springfield bullet strikes an object it makes a hole and doctors are rarely over puzzled over the outcome.  They generally order funeral arrangements for the wounded man.”

“On the contrary the small steel bullet of the Krag-Jorgensen or Mauser rifle only pierces a very small hole and the result is not always fatel.  It goes with such force at close range that it goes through a man easily and does not spread out like the lead bullet of the Springfield and makes a hole like a dynamite cartridge.”

“Take for instance wounding of Cadet Howel, of the Rough Riders, as mentioned in your paper of Monday.  He was shot through and through with a Mauser bullet and is now able to be on the streets in Washington, scarcely three weeks after being wounded.  If it had been a Springfield bullet he would now have been occupying a space in Cuban soil with a pine board marking his resting place.  The surgeons would never have been puzzled as to the result of his wound when they examined him, as they were over the Mauser wound.”

“I have had experience with the Krag-Jorgensen and the Springfield rifles out west on hunting expeditions and it was there I noticed the difference.  When I hit a deer with a Springfield he dropped, but many a time have I seen a deer run off apparently unhurt when it had been shot through and through by a Krag-Jorgensen bullet.

“I have never had the opportunity to see the result of a man being shot by a Krag-Jorgensen in an engagement, but I have seen Indians who were shot with Springfields.  When they were hit once they did not trouble us any more.

“If I had to take my choice of weapons to be shot with I would never choose a Springfield.  A man shot with one of those old lead spitters had better prepare his will and give his funeral directions.

“I think also that in actual battle if the Krag-Jorgensen is used as rapidly as it will work that the weapon would soon become too hot to handle and the Springfield which is not operated with such rapidity has the advantage of keeping cool.  It is impossible for a man with a rapid firing gun to shoot slow in the excitement of battle and the only way to keep his gun so he can handle it is to give him one that does not shoot so fast.  This is a Springfield.

Tombstone, Arizona Territory

TOMBSTONE, ARIZONA TERRITORYTOMBSTONE, ARIZONA TERRITORY. As the story goes, Ed Schieffelin, while prospecting in southeast Arizona, was told that all he would be able to find would be his tombstone. What Schieffelin found was an area that ended up producing $30 million in silver. On September 3, 1877, he recorded his claim, jokingly naming it the Tombstone Mine.
           
Buildings started springing up overnight. But Tombstone was different. By the end of 1877, the heyday of the cattle towns was all but over. Texas Rangers were chasing all the bad guys out of Texas. And Pat Garrett was wrapping up things in New Mexico. So, Tombstone became the last hurrah for many a desperado. With a town of miners, claim jumpers, con artists, soiled doves, gunmen and gamblers, it wasn’t surprising that there seemed to be at least one killing a day. The Tombstone Epitaph reported these killings in a special column called “Death’s Doings”.
               
Wells Spicer in an early letter said that Tombstone had two dance halls, a dozen gambling places and more than 20 saloons. But, he wrote, “Still there is hope, for I know of two Bibles in town.”
 
Three years after Schieffelin filed his claim; Tombstone had about five hundred buildings, with more than a hundred selling hard liquor, and about half of those houses of ill repute.
TOMBSTONE, ARIZONA TERRITORY
 
Tombstone’s reputation even became a concern of President Chester Arthur. Tombstone survived disastrous fires in 1881 and 1882. But in 1886, when water flooded the mines, the population began to shrink. But, in the spirit of a town too tough to die, Tombstone, Arizona remains today the number one place that Old West enthusiasts want to go.
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