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.

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.

Old West Book Review: Valley of the Guns

Valley of the GunsValley Of The Guns, Eduarado Obregôn Pagan, University of Oklahoma Press, $29.95, Cloth. Maps, Illustrations, Photos, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

“Pleasant Valley” conjures up images of warm summer evenings, horses quietly munching hay in the corral, Mom and Dad laughing quietly on the porch while kids play with a favorite pet lamb.  But don’t be fooled. Pleasant Valley was only a name.

The location is northern Arizona below the Mogollon Rim, made up of rough, mountainous country near Indian reservations and a long way to town. Men of derring-do pioneering spirit, determined to find success in a world of sprawling cattle and mining opportunities settled here.  Some brought wives with them, while most came alone.  They built sturdy one-room cabins compete with gun ports in the log walls.  Roving Apaches, sometimes fleeing the nearby reservation skulked amid the tall trees while coveting white man’s supplies and horses.

The late 1880s saw these settlers always on the lookout for trouble, while determined to make a good life.  Folks settling in the area soon made friendships and alliances with neighbors.  A long way from law enforcement, they learned to band together to protect one another.

However, a series of misunderstandings, revenge and stubborn pride led to the violent deaths of eighteen men, four seriously wounded, and one man missing.  The leading families involved were the Grahams and the Tewksburys.  The Tewksburys were Arizona natives with an Indian mother and white father.  The Grahams, originally from Iowa, like many young men of that era, decided to head “west” eventually meeting the Tewksburys in Pleasant Valley, Arizona.

The author of this book does a careful background search into the lives and origins of both these families and their friends. He delves into their history, what made them act and react to situations resulting in the Pleasant Valley War.  Over the years many historians have suggested the conflict was between sheep men and cattlemen, but this is not exactly true.  While the Grahams specialized in raising horses, the Tewksburys had both cattle and sheep, and at times shared grazing land with not only the Grahams, but others in the valley that had both cattle and sheep.  Many families helped one another in their quest to protect themselves from both rustlers and Apaches, thus the exact cause of the feud is hard to pin down.

What is known is that a lot of men died.  There was great fear in the community as even vigilantes and night riders took to the trails.  One by one, men died violently, while friends and relatives got revenge.  There was even the ghastly lynching of three young ranchers whose bodies were left dangling from a tree for many days as a warning to others who might consider stealing cows.

This book is easy to read, written in a style designed to inform as well as keep the reader turning pages.  The author digs into the underlying causes of fear, revenge, guilt, anger and hatred.  Blood feuds always result in senseless tragedy, and when they end, nobody seems able to remember what really started it all.  The author explains how humans react naturally during moments of grave danger.  We either fight, flee, or freeze.  We don’t know what we will really do until actually confronted with the emergency that requires instant decision.

Fear, murder and revenge rode those mountain trails.  The author of this book has done a creditable job of bringing the story of the Pleasant Valley War to life.  He has weeded through all the controversy, explains what happened to all of the participants of the conflict, and leaves the reader with much to ponder after turning the last page. This is a good addition to your Old West library.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West including Nine Days at Dragoon Springs, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 399, Unionville, New York ,10988. www.silklabelbooks.com

 You Are Respectfully Invited to Attend My ExecutionYou Are Respectfully Invited to Attend My Execution, Larry K. Brown, High Plains Press, (1-800-552-7819), $11.95, Paperback.

Between 1871 and 1890, seven murderers were hanged in Wyoming Territory. Some others died (including one woman) in Wyoming at the hands of angry mobs, known as vigilantes.  However, this book concentrates on the seven legal executions.

Author Larry K. Brown has sifted through court documents, family histories, newspaper articles, and historic journals.  An astute observer of human nature, Brown’s research is aimed at presenting a chilling picture of each crime, both victim as well as perpetrator, the arrest, trial, incarceration and finally the last steps of the condemned as they mounted the scaffold.

There are no happy endings here for the victims or the killers.  Murder is murder.  The victim’s life ends suddenly and brutally, while the killer’s own days are then numbered whether they want to believe it or not.  We, students of Old West history, are left trying to understand what leads a person to carry out such evil deeds while thinking they will escape the consequences.

Wyoming Territory from 1871 to 1890 was filled with adventurers, trappers, hunters, homesteaders, ex-military men packing iron, and sometimes shady individuals who experienced hard times and long waits between meals.  While some looked for work, others looked for trouble and a fast dollar.  The author explains in his introduction the purpose of the book, giving a brief history of capital punishment, its purpose and methods.  Whether the reader agrees or disagrees with capital punishment, this fascinating little book gives insight into the Old Western laws and how people dealt with this problem in the building of the new nation.

Wyoming Territory had to find ways to enforce law and order to encourage new settlement. Highwaymen, cattle rustlers and horse thieves were unwelcome.  Drifters were not encouraged to stay long.  Seven men committed atrocities that led them to the gallows, and they paid with their own lives.

John Boyer shot and killed two men for raping his mother and sister.  William “Tousant” Kensler shot a man while the two argued over a prostitute.  John Leroy Donovan beat a barber to death while the man slept, then stole his life savings.  George Cooke shot and killed his brother-in-law during a drunken argument.  John Owens killed a man with an axe for the purpose of stealing his money.  Benjamin Carter was a bully who beat up, then shot a young cowboy during a cattle drive.  George Black shot an old hermit inside his cabin over a land dispute.

Once caught, some of these men admitted their deed, others denied it; all hoped for last-minute reprieves.  Asking forgiveness, too late they craved comforting words from loved ones they had not considered when they turned to murder.  Punishment in the Wyoming Territory was swift, the executions were carried out within a short time after sentencing.  The author follows each man’s thoughts and actions all the way to their last meal and beyond.

This is not a book you should read before going to bed at night!  It is less than 200 pages, but will cause readers to reflect upon choices we make, and the responsibility people must take for their own actions.  The reader is left to ponder what really lurked inside the hearts and minds of these killers as they acted upon their baser instincts.  For us, these stories should be lessons learned. 

Editor’s Note: The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West including the non-fiction book about the Arizona outlaw titled The Apache Kid, published by Westemlore Press, P.O. Box 35305, Tucson, Arizona 85740.

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

Old West Book Review: They Called Him Buckskin Frank

Buckskin FrankThey Called Him Buckskin Frank, Jack Demattos an Chuck Parsons, University of North Texas Press, $29.95, Cloth, Photos, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

The name Buckskin Frank Leslie seems always to appear in the old Tombstone stories.  Doc Holliday the Earps, Johnny Ringo and some others had some association with him, but he was always on the “fringe.”  (No pun intended.) He was tagged with the name “Buckskin Frank” probably because he nearly always wore a buckskin jacket.

The reality was that he handled guns, sometimes rode with the sheriff, scouted for the Army during the Geronimo campaign, and owned saloons in Tombstone.  He was notorious for having shot and killed his girlfriend but never really became a major figure in the Tombstone story we have seen in countless movies and television shows.

The authors of this book have sorted through the wild tales and incomplete history of Buckskin Frank, but information such as exactly where he was born, and parental history remain vague.  He claimed to be college educated, and this may very well be true.  A long letter he wrote for a San Francisco newspaper in 1900 detailing his participation in trailing Apaches is extremely well-written.  This alone shows he was probably educated beyond the usual Tombstone cowboys of that time.

Buckskin Frank was short in statue, but handsome nonetheless, able to attract the ladies in droves.  He had a long list of girlfriends, lovers and wives. He shot and killed the husband of one of his future wives, he left others in divorce court or simply vanished when convenient.  One lady scheduled to be his wife was left quite dead as a result of the business end of his shootin’ iron after a drunken brawl at his ranch near Tombstone.  Her grave marker in the Arizona desert says “Mollie Williams”, but her real name was Mollie Edwards.  The result of her death sent Buckskin Frank to Yuma Territorial prison for eight years.

He was a model prisoner, put in charge of the prison pharmacy, and was released early due to his good behavior on November 17, 1896.  He was met at the prison gates by a love-sick widow whom he married fifteen days later.  After promising her a honeymoon trip to China, he dumped her in April.  Apparently China was the farthest thing from his mind.

He spun some good yarns about himself, which got mixed up with reality thus making it difficult for biographers to sift through the information, real and otherwise.

 For instance he claimed to have been a scout for General George Armstrong Custer, but no military records can be found giving proof of this.  He did scout during the Geronimo Campaign in Arizona, having gone deep into Mexico hunting for runaway Apaches. He did kill several men in gunfights, and he was involved in the Spanish American War in Cuba.

The authors have trailed Buckskin Frank to San Francisco where he continued to move from one house to another, frequented billiard parlors and saloons, had mining interests South of the Border, and eventually in his old age disappeared all together.  It is suggested he was the victim of foul play, complete with skeletal remains, outside Oakland, California.

This book is enchanting, putting some old fictionalized tales regarding Buckskin Frank to rest, but also pointing to some new and tantalizing information about the man. Buckskin Frank’s life was certainly filled with unusual adventures. Gambler,

Who really was Buckskin Frank Leslie?  This book is a fascinating read.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West including Death For Dinner, The Benders of (Old) Kansas, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 399, Unionville, New York 10988 www.siIklabelbooks.com

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

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