A SOLDIER'S PLEA FOR JUSTICE
An Indian War Veteran's Experience in Kansas and New Mexico During the Indian Wars of 1867-1868
by WILLIAM THORNTON PARKER, M. D. A.
United States Army; Companion 1st Class, Order of Indian Wars, U.S.A.
The valuable services, privations, sufferings, dangers and heroism of the United States Army during the sixties on the great Frontier have not been surpassed by any troops on duty in the Indian Warfare before or since. The Indian War in New Mexico in 1867 was practically the beginning of the so-called "Twenty-five Year Indian War." Tribes which up to this time had never been whipped and who met their first severe defeat many years later, were carrying on war in full blast. The Indian tribes of the Great Plains were united in a determined effort to exterminate the white people, citizens, and soldiers. The Indians firmly believed that by concerted action they could expel the pale faces and drive them east of the Mississippi river. In accomplishing this effort the white people would never be able to return to the Indian Hunting Grounds.
In 1867 there was one vast campaign of Indian War against the pale faces, citizens, and soldiers. This great undertaking was certainly as much or even more than any Indian campaign which followed. But we must, in this connection, acknowledge the tremendous services General Miles rendered in averting a general Indian War two decades later. These Indian War Veterans endured and suffered more in 1867 than those who came upon the scene later on. To deprive them of their rights for pension in their feeble, old age is indeed a cruel wrong and i feel certain that our National Congress never intended to inflict such a wrong, for in calendar number 264 Senate, each Congress, report number 286 on page 4, we find this reference to the "Twenty-five Year Indian War."
'For a quarter of a century after the close of the Civil War the Trans-Missouri country was the scene of almost innumberable conflicts between the Caucasians and Indians. The latter stubbornly contested invasion of their hunting grounds by settlers. It is impossible to over-estimate the importance of the services rendered by these Indian fighters. They opened the West to civilization and settlement. They battled with a brave, merciless and cunning foe. They usually faced fearful odds." This is just as much a state of war as existed before or after and there was nothing in any Indian campaign which exceeded their endurance and valor. It is absurd to speak of any special activities against the U.S. soldiers by the Indians as in formally declared wars as we see them among the civilized nations. But speaking of the war of 1867, it was just as much an Indian War as it could be. War was always or continually existing among all tribes west of the Mississippi river. It was in this way that the tribes united in war, and we must acknowledge that war with the Indians existed.
Among the expeditions crossing the Plains, there was one commanded by Major Whiting of the 3rd U.S. Cavalry from Fort Riley, Kansas. It started from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas early in May and was disbanded at Fort Union, New Mexico, the last of July, 1867, and great soldierly skill was exhibited in bringing this command safely into Fort Union, New Mexico. At the Cimmarron Crossing in Kansas west of Fort Dodge, the command was in great peril, being surrounded by hostile Indian tribes, principally of Sioux, Cheyennes, Comanches, Black Feet, Apaches of the Plains, Arapahos etc. At this time the Indians were particularly active and threatening. It is proper to state in this connection that our expedition numbered less than 400 fighting men of the 3rd U.S. Cavalry. Major Whiting showed great soldierly ability while in command of this expedition. On making camp every night the wagons were formed in a square. Far out on the right of the command and the center and the left were stationed pickets, three or four men with a non-commissioned officer. The entire command, excepting of course the exposed pickets, slept on their arms that night.
During our great peril at the Cimmarron Crossing, on the night of July 3rd, 1867, the Indians were particularly violent in their maneuvers. The experiences of the command for several days had been of such an anxious character owing to the overwhelming numbers of the enemy, that there was considerable anxiety among the soldiers and on this occasion many of the men who expected to be detailed for guard duty reported at sick call in order to a[void duty]. The writer was [ ] noyed by this conduct that he personally called on the commanding officer, and asked for the privilege of being allowed to serve on picket duty for that night. Major Whiting not only gave his consent, but insisted upon placing on the belt of the volunteer one of his own army pistols as an additional weapon for the occasion.
This incident is mentioned to illustrate that actual war existed on the plains in Kansas in 1867 in which the writer served. The command was continually followed by powerful bands of the hostile Indians on the war path. Later on in 1867 when the writer was stationed at Fort Cummings, New Mexico; he was detailed with an escort of three troopers of the United States Cavalry to carry dispatches from Fort Cummings to Fort Bayard in New Mexico, through hostile Apache Indians 44 miles away. Of course we had no telegraph system, and only at irregular intervals, the pony express.
From Fort Craig, north of the Jo[ ]danda Del Muerto, one hundred miles without wood, water, or grass, down to Fort Selden, New Mexico, 65 miles to Fort Cummings, 44 to Fort Bayard and further along Fort Bowie, Arizona to the Apache Pass, all were in the midst of an Indian War and were having a hard time of it from lack of ammunition and supplies. Fort Cummings, where we were stationed, was so surrounded by the hostile Apache Indians that only by special permission could anyone leave the garrison beyond rifle shot. In other words, the state of Indian War existed. Every soldier who faced the dangers and hardships of Indian Wars should be considered as an Indian Veteran, and entitled to every consideration the government bestows on any other War Veterans. These men, Indian War Veterans of New Mexico and Kansas "Never showed the white feather." "They defended the Frontier," "ten to one."
It would be impossible to make clear to the general reader our continual sufferings, our scanty supply of water obtained at more less hazard, owing to the alertness of our Indian foes! Our miserable rations of pork and hard tack, often containing green worms. The writer spent all of his pay and his meager income to obtain the common necessaries of life! The inadequate supply of ammunition, and there was no wood available to make coffins for our dead! Owing to these conditions there was a great deal of [sickness] in the garrison, much of [it] resembling the so-called Mountain Fever, and homesickness. Often the Indian snipers would fire at anyone looking over the post wall. Everyone realized our helplessness in case of a combined attack by our vastly out-numbering enemies, and the impossibility of obtaining sufficient reinforcements.
Those of our law makers who think that American soldiers should serve without pay would hardly be willing to give a miserable pay and private income, if they had any, to serve Uncle Sam without even thanks. To say nothing of the absence of a suitable pension when sick and feeble after they have passed seventy years of age.
The majority of the old Indian War Veterans are at best in very moderate circumstances. Is it true that even professional politicians, pitiless and selfish as a "class," can afford to go on record as cruel to the poor and needy Indian War Veterans of the United States Army?
Comrades! we have often endured insults and faced death from cruel Indians
in our country's service. Now let us show the same patience, courage and
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