Fiddler’s Green

Just noted one of the links I’ve been using is gone. Here’s a new link to the “Cavalrymen’s Poem,” better known as “Fiddler’s Green.” Originally an Irish fisherman’s shanty, the verses were adapted by some anonymous barracks poet sometime before the turn of the (19th-20th) Century. Published in the U.S. Army’s Cavalry Journal in 1923, the rhymes became associated with the 1st Cavalry Division.

Farewell to Marse Robert

This week the State of Virginia took down the statue of a man who sacrificed his career, his family fortune and his health in its defense. The photos remind me of Gulliver in Lilliput, a giant in a diminished world ensnared by little men. Today’s culture warriors are so convinced of the absolute rightness of their convictions that they will not trouble themselves to learn more about a man who opposed both slavery and secession and yet fought a war in support of both.

They might at least pause to hear the testimony of the Rev. Wm. Mack Lee, a Baptist minister who began life as Lee’s slave, was freed by him ten years before Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and yet continued to serve him through the Civil War and until the general’s death. “I was raised by one of the greatest men in the world,” the Reverend Lee later wrote. “There was never one born of a woman greater than Gen. Robert E. Lee, according to my judgment.”

Even if they knew more of the man behind the statue it’s unlikely the iconoclasts would change their minds about him, since the principles that guided his life — duty, personal responsibility, self discipline, courage in adversity and faith in God — are denigrated in today’s world. Certainly the bemedalled careerists at the top of our current military bureaucracy would benefit from studying Lee’s life and career. At least he knew how to lose a war with dignity.

‘For want of a horse…’

This piece at Today in History on the warhorse Sgt. Reckless reminded me of the important role horses played in warfare up until little more than a century past. Certainly horses — or the lack thereof — played a key role in Nana’s Raid. For Nana and his men horses were both loot and getaway vehicles. They rounded up horses and mules from every ranch they passed, replacing jaded mounts with freshly rustled stock. This instant remount system allowed them to cover astonishing distances at a rapid pace, leaving pursuit far behind.

“Horses move long distances at a fast walk or a slow trot, not at a gallop,” Kaywaykla later told Eve Ball (In the Days of Victorio, p. 73). “They can maintain a pace of five or six miles an hour half the night. When ours became exhausted we changed mounts, preferably to ranch horses roped out as we went. Our tired ones were loose-herded with us, or if we had them long, they followed.”

While the raiders generally had as many fresh horses as they could handle, the poor 9th Cavalry was still recovering from the previous year’s campaign against Victorio and was critically short of serviceable mounts in the summer of 1881. The rocky and arid high country desert used up horses at a fearful rate. As early as 1868, the Quartermaster General was suggesting that horses bred in Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia and states still further north be “acclimated” with a year’s residence in Texas before entering field service. Unfortunately, the demand for horses by not just the 9th but by all the cavalry regiments in the West was so urgent that the Army continued to send untrained and all but unbroken horses straight from the farm to the mountains of the Southwest.

The Apaches recognized this vulnerability and preyed on it, deliberately targeting their opponents’ horses in engagements and stealing them whenever possible. In 1879, Victorio opened his war with a raid on Company E’s herd at Ojo Caliente, killing eight men and running off 68 horses and mules. Nana took three dozen horses away from the civilian posse in Red Canyon and another 30 from the mixed cavalry and civilian force in the Gavilan Canyon ambush.

“For want of nail, the shoe was lost” runs the old proverb . “For want of a horse, the rider was lost. For want of a rider, the battle was lost.”


The Last Man

50 years ago John Kerry launched his political career by asking: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?’ I don’t believe we ever got that man’s name after Vietnam, but we know the names and faces of (hopefully) the last U.S. casualties in our latest lost war. The list of deceased US servicemen, their ages and hometowns.

Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosariopichardo, 25, Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, Sacramento, California.

Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, Indio, California.

Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, Omaha, Nebraska.

Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, Logansport, Indiana

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, St. Charles, Missouri.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, Jackson, Wyoming.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, Rancho Cucamonga, California.

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, Norco, California.

Navy Hospitalman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, Berlin Heights, Ohio.

Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, Corryton, Tennessee.

Kipling wrote a fitting epitaph, not for these courageous young people but for the fools that sent them to Kabul and then turned their backs and walked away:

A DEAD STATESMAN

    I could not dig: I dared not rob:
    Therefore I lied to please the mob.
    Now all my lies are proved untrue
    And I must face the men I slew.
    What tale shall serve me here among
    Mine angry and defrauded young?

Coming Soon!

I’ve been hard at work for months on a piece for Wild West magazine and it’s finally ready for publication. Should be in the December issue! If you’re not already a subscriber, you may still be able to get in on time if you act now. If not, check your local magazine-friendly retail outlet and snap up a copy before they’re all gone!

Where was Lozen?

July 25 marks the anniversary of Lt. Guilfoyle’s clash with Nana’s raiders in the San Andres Mountains. It’s a good moment to revisit one of the many intriguing puzzles surrounding the Raid: was Victorio’s sister Lozen with the raiding party, or did she stay behind to guard the women and children in the Sierra Madre?

I have never seen a complete roster of Nana’s original followers. There were said to be 13 when the war party crossed the Rio Grande below Fort Quitman, but Sweeney lists just five: Mangas, Bacutla, Jatu, Sάnchez and Suldeen. Kaytennae was certainly another, but it’s uncertain who the others were (and if there were only 13).

When the raiders departed their camp in the Sierra Madre Lozen was probably back from her heroic trip escorting a young woman and her newborn baby to the Mescalero Reservation. It’s hard to believe she would not have been remembered and noted if she were among the raiders, and equally hard to believe she would not have been in the forefront of a war party setting out to avenge her brother’s death.

But she had accepted the responsibility of guarding the women and children on earlier occasions, and Nana may well have believed she was indispensable in that role while he led most of the men off to the north. Her mysterious ability to “sense” the enemy threat at a distance would have greatly increased the security of the camp.

As far as I know there’s only one mention of a woman (other than captives) in contemporary accounts of the Raid. Reporting his attack on the hostiles’ camp in the San Andres on July 25, Lt. Guilfoyle claimed to have hit two hostiles and captured two horses and 12 mules as well as “cooking utensils” and other equipment. In the last line of his dispatch he mentions that the band included “eleven bucks, one squaw and one child.”

“Squaw,” like “buck” was not necessarily a derogatory term in those days, but simply a short-hand descriptive to distinguish native males and females. No one who saw her in action would describe Lozen as a “squaw,” however, and Guilfoyle strongly implies the woman he saw came from the Mescalero Agency. It was not unusual for Apache raiding parties to bring along one or two women to cook and keep the camp, chores that otherwise fell to any apprentice warriors in the group.

There’s no authenticated photo of Lozen that I know of, although she’s said to be one of the women pictured in the group behind Geronimo in the picture above.


‘Awake! Arouse, Sir Billy!’

“There’s forage in the plain. Ah, leave your little filly, And open the campaign!” runs a satiric couplet mocking British General William Howe’s delay in taking the field against the rebels in the Revolution. (Gossips in Boston attributed Sir William’s tardiness to his infatuation with a pretty American woman in that city.)

I mention that ditty only because it runs through my head every July 17, the date when Nana officially opened his campaign in New Mexico Territory by jumping a small Army supply column in Alamo Canyon. The two packers lost their mules but escaped with their lives. They carried the news of the ambush to Fort Stanton and to Lt. Guilfoyle, who was in the mountains with a company of Apache scouts hunting Mescalero renegades. “The game’s afoot!” as Shakespeare had Henry V say (and Conan Doyle’s Holmes later echoed more famously).

Although July 13 is generally cited as the date Nana’s raiding party crossed the Rio Grande into West Texas, at least some of his warriors may have been across the river as early as July 8, when two railroad employees were killed at a spring below Fort Quitman.

Fenn’s Fabulous Hoard

According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, a disgruntled treasure hunter is suing the estate of the late Santa Fe art dealer Forrest Fenn, alleging Fenn cheated him of the treasure Fenn claimed to have buried somewhere in the Rockies by moving the hoard after the hunter advised Fenn he had solved the clues Fenn included in his book The Thrill of the Chase. The alleged treasure was then allegedly discovered by another individual, who is also named in the lawsuit, together with Fenn’s grandson and a third man who has written a book about the decade-long search for the hidden hoard.

I keep inserting “alleged’s” in this story because as far as I know no independent, objective observer has ever actually seen the fabulous treasure. Fenn released photos of the chest and its contents, but I know of no expert who has ever examined or appraised the hoard. For all I know, the gems were cheap costume jewelry and the ‘gold’ coins chocolate.

I was surprised at the way not just feather-headed TV personalities but serious news outlets took Fenn’s story at face value, despite his dubious reputation in the Santa Fe art and antiquities community. What might have been considered a harmless and amusing hoax took on a darker aspect when people began dying in the search.