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Published: March 15th 2020
THE MUSIC MAN
Benjamin Henry Grierson entered the cosmos on July 8, 1826 in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. He was the youngest of five children. The family did not stay around the Pittsburgh area very long before moving westward to Jacksonville, Illinois. At eight years of age he was scampering around behind a recalcitrant horse who thought he was a cougar and kicked him in the face. The kick damn near ended his days among us and as he recovered he came to hate and fear all horses. What he liked was music. He became an accomplished musician and by 1851 he was a music teacher and band leader in Jacksonville. By 1854 he married a girl named Alice Kirk from Youngstown, Ohio and together they had 7 children, four of the lot survived to adulthood. Ben’s income as a music man would not support his growing family so he had to move back in with his folks. It was an uncomfortable situation for them all.
When the Civil War fetched loose Ben seized an opportunity to volunteer as an aide de camp to the staff of Major General Benjamin M. Prentiss. The problem was that as a volunteer his service
Kicking Bird was the Kiowa peace chief. He is best remembered for his portrayal by Graham Greene in the Kevin Costner movie Dances with Wolves.
did not come with pay. His family continued to be even worse off than it already was. Prentiss liked him though, and when Alice threatened divorce, Prentiss appointed him as a major in the 6th
Illinois Cavalry. It was a helluva job for a guy who hated and feared horses, but it turned out that he was good at it. On April 13th
1862, just after the Battle of Shiloh, he was promoted to Colonel and given command of the regiment. Prentiss was captured by the rebs at Shiloh after a heroic defense at the Hornets Nest. As a cavalry commander Ben made his bones during the campaign against Corinth and when the army was reorganized in November he was given command of a cavalry brigade in the Army of West Tennessee. By then both General Grant and General Sherman had come to like him too. In April of 1863 Ben had been put in command of a raid deep into Mississippi to attack railroads and disrupt the supply line to the Confederate defense of Vicksburg. The raid was a smashing success, and General Sherman regarded it as the most daring feat of the war. Hollywood eventually made a movie
SATANK FOUGHT A YANK
Satank went down fighting rather than face white justice.
about Grierson’s Raid that starred John Wayne. It was called The Horse Soldiers. Ben served with distinction throughout the war and ended up as brevet Major General in command of the cavalry division in the Western Theater. Throughout the war Ben chewed the same dirt on many battlefields that Uncle Charley did in Company I of the 21st
After the war Ben decided to remain in the regular army, but the army was much smaller and he was reduced in rank to Colonel and given command of the 10th
Cavalry Regiment. Under his command those Buffalo Soldiers served with distinction too although they were heavily discriminated against on racial grounds and given every dirty job, and shitty outpost. The racial discrimination extended to their commanding officer. Ben was also denigrated for having the effrontery to be an efficient commander, under difficult circumstances, and worse, he had never attended West Point. Ring Knockers throughout the frontier army resented his success, and his ability to get things done in spite of having broken down horses and worn out equipment.
Cavalry was mustered in at Fort Leavenworth in 1867 and then posted to Fort Riley to protect
Satanta led the attack on the Warren Train that turned out to be the beginning of the end for the Quaker Peace Policy.
the Kansas and Pacific Railroad and the flood of settlers it drew. Plains tribes like the Cheyenne and Arapaho were still sore over the Sand Creek Massacre back in 1864, and the Comanche and Kiowa, were sore over General Hancock’s War in 1867. Company F, Captain Armes, was first to get bloodied in a sharp engagement with some Cheyenne on the Saline River north of Fort Hays. Sergeant William Christy was the first Buffalo Soldier killed, and Captain Armes suffered a hip wound. Through the rest of the summer there were several more lively engagements and the Cheyenne began calling those fierce black adversaries “Buffalo Soldiers”. It was an appellation they took to heart, and wore proudly.
Hancock’s War fizzled out when Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer went AWOL. Charges were brought against him in the fall of 1867 and Ben Grierson was ordered to drop everything in the midst of trying to organize, equip, and train his command, and report back to Fort Leavenworth to sit in judgement of Custer during the court-martial. Custer was suspended from duty without pay for a year. Things would have worked out better all-around had he been removed permanently, but he wasn’t.
FORT CONCHO BARRACKS
Barracks built by the Buffalo Soldiers at Fort Concho.
Custer’s misdeeds in the frontier army were just beginning.
In the spring of 1868 Congress took a notion to revise its Indian Policy. Instead of trying to exterminate the plains tribes they sought to confine them and support them in grand socialist style on reservations in the Indian Territory. The tribes were called together at Medicine Lodge, Kansas and persuaded that confinement was better than starvation and death. Reluctantly they agreed to a treaty that none of them liked. They moved onto their new reservation lands but found no agents there to support the promises made. In typical fashion Congress did not ratify the Medicine Lodge Treaty for nine months during which time no funds were appropriated to it. By the time the treaty went into effect the tribes had returned to the warpath. Some of whom were Cheyenne. They wanted to live in peace, but they were starving. In the meantime the Tenth Cavalry was ordered from Fort Riley to Fort Gibson to better monitor and police those new tribal holdings. Fort Gibson was the post built at the end of Trail of Tears. The problem was that it was a bit too far east to be of
FORT CONCHO OFFICERS ROW
Grierson's home is at the far right of officers row at Fort Concho. I may have missed it in this photo.
much effective use to the new reservations. The solution was to build a new post to be called Camp Wichita. It would eventually grow to be Fort Sill. Grierson located the site for it, and the Buffalo Soldiers were to build it.
Before that could happen though, the military response to the renewed outbreaks of violence in Texas by the Comanche and Kiowa, and in Kansas by the Cheyenne was to increase their presence among the Comanche and Kiowa to keep them from making further raids, and to launch a winter campaign against the Cheyenne. Custer had returned to duty and was given command of the attacking force. His Osage scouts had led him to attack the camp of Black Kettle on the Washita River. Custer’s massacre was complete, but it was a huge blunder. Black Kettle was at peace on his reservation just as he was supposed to be. It was the second time his camp had been massacred. The first time was at the hands of John Chivington on Sand Creek in Colorado. Custer had captured Black Kettle’s horse herd and killed every one of them. It left him low on ammo and he skulked off back
RUINS IN THE MIDDLE ARE WHAT'S LEFT OF THE JAIL
Satanta and Big Tree were held in the guardhouse at Fort Richardson. They were the first Indians ever tried for murder in a civilian court. The Jack County Courthose is long gone.
to Camp Supply before he could be slaughtered in turn. There was a nearby camp of Pawnee that heard the attack and came to investigate. They were Major North’s scouts that had a couple of years previously been protecting the Union Pacific Railroad construction as it crossed Nebraska. They were living at peace also, but Major Elliott had observed them approach and attacked them too. Elliott’s men were wiped out to a man, and Custer abandoned them to the buzzards and coyotes in his haste to get away. A few days later, General Sheridan happened to find the missing men and give them as decent a burial as he could. Some of Custer’s senior officers never forgave him for abandoning Elliott. Bad as the massacre was, Custer was not quite done screwing up yet. One of the Indian women taken captive at the Washita became his mistress and bore him a child.
Ulysses Grant was elected to the presidency in 1868. One of the first things he did was a further attempt to revise the Indian Policy. The reservation program was a mess of corruption. The Indian Bureau was in charge of the reservations as part of the Department
Grierson ordered the Tenth to occupy water sources in the 1880 campaign against the Apache. Victorio was turned back here and retreated back into Mexico where he was soon surrounded by Mexican soldiers and killed.
of Interior. Far too many of the agents in charge of the reservations were crooks. By the time they got done lining their own pockets there were not funds enough left over to feed the Indians. Part of Grant’s approach was to appeal to the churches to replace the crooks. Christianize the reservations, provide education to the children, and teach the elders farming. What emerged became known as the Quaker Peace Plan. The army, of course, was opposed it because it put them in a secondary role as keepers of the peace. Ben Grierson embraced it, which further alienated him from the Ring Knockers. The tribes preferred to retain their freedom from white dominance, and remained reluctant to buy into it. Who could blame them? They had no voice in their own governance. It was the very reason why the American colonists sought independence from English rule.
As Camp Wichita continued to grow the Buffalo Soldiers became adept stone masons. Timber resources in the area were limited so the permanent structures were built from limestone quarried nearby. One hundred and fifty years later those stone buildings, built by the Buffalo Soldiers, are still in use at Fort Sill. Life
PART OF TOWN THAT THE BUFFALO SOLDIERS ATTACKED.
Grierson always had a top notch band in the Tenth Cavalry. One of the band members was invited to sit in and play for festivities in a San Angelo saloon. When his session ended he was not allowed to leave and severely beaten. Friends came to look for him and returned shortly with the entire company of soldiers. They rescued him and shot up that whole part of town. An old lady armed with a pistol finally made them back down. Grierson smoothed things over with the irate townsmen, but had to give up command of the regiment.
rolled merrily along there. In the summer the Comanche and Kiowa continued to raid into Texas, and then return to the cozy reservation during the winter for sustenance. To discourage that practice, the military encouraged civilian buffalo hunters to decimate the southern herd. As it turned out buffalo hunting worked better than the Quaker Peace Plan to subdue the tribes.
The Texas cattle trade had begun to flourish. In order for the cattle drives to reach the railroad in Kansas from their beginnings near San Antonio they had to pass across tribal lands. To do so they were expected to pay tribute of a few head of their cattle for the free grazing they consumed. Most drives grudgingly paid it. Some did not. When that happened the tribes saw it that it was within their rights to confiscate the entire herd, all of the supplies, the wagons, and the horses and leave the drovers destitute and barefoot on the prairie. That very thing happened on the afternoon January 11, 1870 about 40 miles south Camp Supply at the Canadian River trail crossing. That fierce old devil, Satanta, was about to kill every white man in sight and would have, had not the peace chief, Kicking Bird interceded. The drovers escaped with their lives and most of their belongings but lost the entire herd of cattle. Bootleggers and white horse thieves also plagued the peace and tranquility on the reservations. Buffalo Soldiers chased most of them down and when a federal marshal could not be found the miscreants were escorted to Fort Smith, Arkansas to stand trial. Judge Parker hung some of them no doubt.
The Quaker Peace Plan was faltering because bloody raids into Texas continued. The military response to the raiding was pretty much to ignore it. Under provisions of the peace plan the army had no authority on the reservations. Citizens of Texas were outraged by the policy and raised all manner of pluperfect hell with Congress, and Congress passed the buck to General Sherman, the Commanding General of the Army. Sherman decided to make an inspection tour through his posts in Texas and try to learn for himself what was really going on. He and his Inspector General, Randolph Marcy, started the fact finding tour in San Antonio on April 28, 1871. With a small escort of Buffalo Soldiers they started up a few days later through the outer line of Texas posts. They stopped at Fort McKavett, Fort Concho, and Fort Griffin and heard rumors of atrocities, but saw no Indian activity to support the rumors. On May 17 they spent the night on the grounds at the abandoned Fort Belknap. The next morning they started up the Old Butterfield Trail towards their final stop at Fort Richardson in Jacks County. Along the way they happened to pass a freight outfit owned by a fellow named Warren that was carrying a load of corn from Fort Richardson to Fort Griffin. On the morning of May 19 Sherman’s inspection was disrupted by a teamster from the Warren Train that limped in with a report that the entire train and been massacred by Kiowa near Cox Mountain. The Kiowa had watched Sherman and his small escort pass without much notice because they were waiting for the wagon train, the mules that tugged it along, and the supplies it carried. The Commanding General of the Army was small potatoes to them. Sherman was suitably alarmed by his narrow escape and ordered an immediate pursuit led by Colonel Ranald Mackenzie and the Fourth Cavalry, and he requested an investigation of the incident to be made by Lawrie Tatum, the Quaker agent at the Kiowa Reservation near Fort Sill. By the time, a few days later, that Sherman arrived at Fort Sill to take Tatum’s report, Tatum had learned that the fierce old devil, Satanta, had led the attack on the Warren Train, killed the seven teamsters, and stole 47 mules. Satanta further implicated his pals, Satank and Big Tree as participants in the raid. Tatum requested that those three war chiefs be arrested immediately. A council was called at Grierson’s house and when Satanta learned he was under arrest he went for a hideout gun but the Buffalo Soldiers were all over him before he could use it. Satanta and Satank were both arrested on Grierson’s front porch and locked up in the guardhouse. Big Tree was arrested a short while later at the sutler’s store. A belligerent Lone Wolf, principal chief of the Kiowa, arrived late to conference on Grierson’s porch. When he learned of the arrests he too went for a gun, but this time there were no Buffalo Soldiers to protect Sherman. Grierson tackled him instead and wrenched the rifle away from Lone Wolf and sent him on his way. He is sometimes credited with saving Sherman’s life, and perhaps he did. Colonel Mackenzie showed up at Fort Sill a few days later all muddy and bedraggled from his fruitless search for the culprits he was after, only to learn that they were already in custody. He and his men rested up a few days and then were ready to escort Satanta, Satank, and Big Tree back to Fort Richardson to stand trial on charges of murder. Soon as he was loaded in the wagon Satank started in with his death song. When he finished it a mile or so down the road, he pulled a knife and stabbed one of the guards in the leg. Then he grabbed a rifle and jumped out of the wagon. As he was trying to jack a round into chamber he was shot down, and then shot again as he tried to open fire again. Satanta and Big Tree were, of course, convicted of murder in a civilian court and sentenced to death by hanging. It was the first time that an Indian was prosecuted in a civil court proceeding. Before the hangings could take place Governor Davis commuted the sentences to life imprisonment and in due course both were paroled and went straight. Big Tree became a Baptist preacher. The Warren Train Massacre was the beginning of the end for the Quaker Peace Plan.
Quanah Parker and the Kwahadi Band of Comanche never set foot on a reservation and continued to raid Texas from the Palo Duro Canyon. Ranald Mackenzie finally defeated them and destroyed their horse herd which brought to a close the Red River War in 1874. Quanah became principal chief on the Comanche reservation. He ran things from a fine two story home called ”The Star House” outside of Cache, Oklahoma. The house is still standing but has fallen into disrepair and is now closed to visitation. Quanah, his sister, Prairie Flower, and his mother, Cynthia Ann Parker are all buried in the Fort Sill Cemetery, along with Satank, Satanta, and the peace chief, Kicking Bird. In the Kevin Costner movie, Dances with Wolves, the fine actor Graham Greene portrayed Kicking Bird.
After things became peaceful at Fort Still Grierson was removed from command of the Buffalo Soldiers. He had been raising so much hell with the recruiters for sending him unqualified replacements that they finally invited him to try it himself, and he did. He became Superintendent of the Mounted Recruitment Center in Saint Louis until 1875, and then returned to command of the Tenth down at Fort Concho, Texas. The Buffalo Soldiers built some fine stone buildings that are still standing there too. They were denigrated and discriminated against there too; it was, after all, Texas. Grierson always made sure that his regiment had a first class band. One of his horn players was invited to stand in for musical festivities in a San Angelo saloon. When it came time for him to pack up and return to his barracks the drunken patrons would not allow him to leave. His pals came looking for him and saw that he had been abducted and had been beaten. They returned with the entire company and the enraged soldiers opened fire through that whole part of town. An old lady with a revolver finally stood up to them and made them return to the fort. Grierson succeeded in smoothing things over with the townsmen, but he had to leave command of the Tenth. He became commander of the District of the Pecos, and then Commander of the District of Texas. By 1886 he was in command of Whipple Barracks in Arizona, and Commander at Fort Grant. He then became Commander of the District of New Mexico, and then the District of Arizona. His wife, Alice went up the flume in 1888 and after that his robust health began to fail. On April 5, 1890 he was finally promoted to Brigadier General. He was probably the most senior colonel in the whole army for twenty years. He retired in poor health in July of 1890, but hearty enough to take on a new bride in 1897. Ten years later he had a stroke and finally went up the flume himself on August 31, 1911 and was laid to rest at the family plot in Jacksonville, Illinois. He was fine officer.
Many of those crooks from the Indian Bureau found their way into the military service as commissaries or sutlers, they continued to line their own pockets this time at the expense of the army. Custer filed charges against them in 1875 and found himself court-martialed again for insubordination. It turns out that the fellow he went after was Hiram Grant. He was President Grant’s brother. Custer was restored to duty just in time to get half his men killed at Little Bighorn. He was no great loss to humanity, but his brave men were.
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