The Buffalo Soldier Tragedy of 1877 (Canseco-Keck History Series)

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Although the failed expedition was widely reported at the time, the sparse treatments since then have relied exclusively on the white officers' accounts. Paul H. Carlson has mined the court-martial records for testimony of the enlisted men, memories of a white boy who rode with the Indians, and other sources to provide a nuanced view of the interaction of soldiers, hunters, settlers, and Indians on the Staked Plains before the final settling of the Comanches on their reservation in Indian Territory. Dunes Draws and Lakes.

Mooar brothers with hide from rare white buffalo. It is a mile west of the Texas state line.

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The troopers made a dry camp. No one could eat anyway, for their mouths and throats were too dry. Some must have thought of Spotted Jack, who had refused to join them on the high Yarner in a drought year such as this one, and wished they had listened to him.


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Others sought sleep, and in fact some were snoring. The late evening was starlit and clear with no wind. Voices traveled easily through the crisp night air. The moon rose very late, and after midnight, breezes picked up. As they usually do on the Llano Estacado after the sun sets, temperatures dropped sharply, and the cooler nighttime weather served to revive both men and animals.

Some troopers also abandoned the command. The testimony of Lieutenant Robert G. Captain Nolan and a few of the troopers could hear the sick men talking and shouted for them to come in. But four of the men, including the bugler, did not return. The three others—Umbles, Thompson, and Floyd—went in another direction.

Upon inquiry from Sergeant Umbles, Nolan described his view of the situation in camp, which was about two hundred yards away. He indicated that no water was available there but that some of the pack mules had been down in a draw and had returned with mud on their legs. He convinced or ordered the others—Thompson, Floyd, and Nolan—to go with him.

The hunter was on foot chasing his horse and some of his pack mules. In the dark, they traveled about six miles before stopping. At the main camp everyone awoke from the sounds. Some men thought the Comanches had attacked. Although somewhat better after a night of rest in the cool air of the Llano Estacado, the hunters and soldiers were still without water and they still could not eat. Because his chief packers, John A.

Gaddie who was ill and in the rear and Isaac Thompson who was with Umbles, were not available, Captain Nolan packed the mules himself. The combined command started eastward once more for Silver Lake. Although a foolhardy decision, he seemed to have no other choice. If it were within my authority I would prevent your going, only with me. Silver Lake located to the east-northeast was less than twenty miles away. The hunters continued east-northeast for Silver Lake, but they did not stay together.

Three of them—Jim Harvey, Frank Perry, and George Williams, on foot because their horses had wandered away—fell far behind. Exhausted and terribly weak, Frank Perry and George Williams were on the verge of giving up.

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They could barely walk. The two men spurred their mounts and moved out but never separated themselves by more than two miles from Rees and the others. They were in Cochran County, closing in on Silver Lake. As most of the men had preferred to go with the bison hunters toward Silver Lake or Casas Amarillas, grumbling among the troops—some of it loud—occurred.

A few men, including Corporal Charles H.


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About noon, Private Johnson Graves seemed ready to give up. His horse was dead and he was lying down a short distance away from the animal. Graves displayed no sign of life. In the afternoon conditions worsened. Additional soldiers fainted in the burning heat and fell from their horses, and Nolan, as he had the day before, detailed stronger men to stay with the stricken ones, ordering the men to bring the sick troopers up as soon as they seemed able to travel. Soldiers, like the hunters heading for Silver Lake, straggled and fell behind the main party.

Most likely they were near the northern edge of modern Cochran County west of the far upper end of Yellow House Draw.

Here they separated. Private Nolan and Wilkinson rode east-northeast toward Casas Amarillas. A couple of hours later, however, Floyd, now apparently planning to rejoin the military force, turned back west. Apparently having ridden too far north, the hidemen were in line to miss Silver Lake but strike the upper end of Casas Amarillas.

Umbles and Thompson continued toward Silver Lake. As expected, the water detail had found Silver Lake although many hours later than planned and was returning with water to the command. The troopers with the water explained that four other men from the detail were waiting at Silver Lake but that one of their party, Private John Peterson, was missing.

The two thirsty soldiers each got a canteen and proceeded to the lake, where they found Privates Smith Johnson and Pierce Kuston, the Boston boy, and one other member of the water detail. Tafoya and his group headed for the command.

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There they met Private Peterson, who in the darkness of the previous night had become separated from others in the water detail. His horse had brought him to the Casas Amarillas breaks, where he arrived about noon, not long before Nolan and Wilkinson showed up. The afternoon turned hot. They could not swallow; indeed, according to the surgeon Joseph H. Freeman, and another trooper of the water detail were southwest of Silver Lake, trying to locate the command. The troopers survived the repulsive drink, however, and it probably brought some slight immediate relief.

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But in the longer term it did them little good, for urine, which is sterile unless bladder infection is present, contains a high concentration of salt and other electrolytes. As noted, Wilkinson was at Casas Amarillas. Bill Benson was still with the soldiers. They had missed Silver Lake, apparently passing the lake on its north side. Then, the two men separated. Waite turned left, or north, and struck the upper water hole Yellow Lake. As Cook bathed, rested, and refreshed himself, the horse left the water on his own account and turned to grazing on the short grass nearby.

Courtesy David J. Both men were pleased. Then Cook started back. Now they were coming back. The hunters also hurried him on to the three prostrate men.


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Their lower jaws had dropped. As he talked loudly to them, he administered a few drops of water and then in turn got each man revived, giving each a good drink from the canteens. Just as the men regained their consciousness, Sol Rees came up. Kress reported the experiences.

9781585442539 - The Buffalo Soldier Tragedy of 1877 (Canseco-Keck History Series) by Paul H Carlson

He told John R.