Buffalo Soldier tragedy of 1877

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Buffalo Soldier Tragedy of 1877
Part of Buffalo Hunter's War
Caprock Escarpment Garza County Texas 2010.jpg
Caprock Escarpment north of Muchaque Peak
Date 1877
Location Llano Estacado of North America
Belligerents
 United States Comanche
Commanders and leaders
Nicolas Merritt Nolan
Units involved
10th Cavalry
Nolan Expedition vicinity is located in Texas
Nolan Expedition vicinity
Nolan Expedition vicinity
Location within Texas
A color shaded relief map of the Llano Estacado
Shaded relief image of the Llano Estacado; the escarpments marking the northern, eastern, and southern edges of the Llano are clearly visible

Buffalo Soldier tragedy of 1877 also known as the "Staked Plains Horror" occurred when a combined force of Buffalo Soldier troops of the 10th Cavalry and local buffalo hunters wandered for days in the dry Llano Estacado region of north-west Texas and eastern New Mexico during July of a drought year. The groups had united forces for a retaliatory attack on regional Native American groups who had been staging raids on white forces in the area, during what came to be called the Buffalo Hunters' War. Over the course of five days in the near-waterless Llano Estacado, four soldiers and one buffalo hunter died.

Due to the telegraph, news of the ongoing event and speculation reached Eastern newspapers where it was erroneously reported that the expedition had been massacred. Later, after the remainder of the group returned from the Llano, the same papers declared them "back from the dead."

Buffalo Hunters' War[edit]

Main article: Buffalo Hunters' War

A large band of Comanche warriors and their families, about 170, left their reservation in Indian Territory in December 1876, for the Llano Estacado of Texas. In February 1877 they attacked a group of buffalo hunters and stole their stock while wounding several hunters, one fatally. On March 18, the buffalo hunters struck back and then retreated while the Comanche did the same. The Comanche would continue sporadic raiding over the next several months. This basic event would be called the Buffalo Hunters' War or Staked Plains War and was the setting for the July 1877 "Staked Plains Horror". [1]

Background[edit]

In May 1877, a group of buffalo hunters led by James Harvey, a Civil War veteran and long-time bufallo hunter, was looking for a buffalo herd. Then after a series of Comanche raids led by Red Young Man, where much stock was taken and a few hunters killed, the game changed. The hunters started after a more deadly game on the Llano Estacado region of north-west Texas and eastern New Mexico looking for revenge against the Comanche. The men were a mix of former Union and Confederate soldiers, former trappers and mixed breeds and knew how to fight.[2]

Captain Nicolas Merritt Nolan, an Irish native with a quick wit was one of the 10th Cavalry's favorite officers. He was described as a "very fine and soldier-like" with a large black "overhanging moustache."[3] Nolan had joined the American Army in 1852 as a young 17 year old rising through the enlisted ranks when he found a niche riding horses. During the Civil War he fought well, received honors and became an officer. After the war he would volunteer for duty with "Buffalo Soldiers" of the 10th Cavalry and command "A" company (later Troop) for almost a decade and a half.[4]

Nolan had left Fort Concho on July 10, 1877 with a force of 63 officers and men for a scout on the Staked Plains. They were looking for Mescalero Apache and Comanche who were out raiding. Nolan's route took him past the Llano's eastern rugged cap rock northwest toward Bull Creek. Nolan was following a route he had followed northwest in 1875. During that scout he had followed an Indian trail into the Llano Estacado region until the trail grew cold and he turned back. He had been threatened with court-martial because he was not aggressive enough on that scout. Cooler heads prevailed, but Nolan had been deeply shamed but the event. His future patrolling was considered aggressive and the 1877 scout into the area was going to be no exception.[3]

Another event that may have been a factor in the upcoming events was the death of Nolan's first wife on February 13, 1877 on the eve of Saint Valentine's Day. This event staggered him and he was described as "bewildered and forlorn." His daughter Kate attended the Ursuline Academy in San Antonio (now in Dallas) and his seven year old son Ned was being cared for by a servant. Nolan "bore his cross ... awkwardly" and tried to cope under the loss.[3]

The last event that may have been a factor was that Nolan took command on July 6 of Fort Concho. Grierson had to go east to attend urgent family duties. Almost immediately came orders for the command to go after the Indian raiders. Nolan had already sent C Troop out, so he then went out with A Troop, leaving only one officer and sixteen men at Fort Concho. Now en route north-eastward along the cap rock, Nolan encountered a former scout who reported over 100 Comanche on the Llano Estacado near the head of the North Concho River with a large herd of horses and other stock. That was to be Nolan's goal.[3]

A color map of the Concho River and its tributaries in Texas.
Map of the Concho River and its tributaries.

About noon on July 17, Nolan met the buffalo hunters led by James Harvey. One of the key players was the main buffalo hunters guide Jose Piedad Tafoya, a half breed Comanchero. He knew the Llano like the back of his hand, but was weak in English. With other hunters helping, Tafoya talked to Nolan under the shade of a huge old pecan tree on Bull Creek which was seven miles (11 km) east of Muchaque Peak in Borden County, Texas. Nolan showed his orders to the hunters and despite an initial level of mistrust; they were willing to combine against a common enemy.[3]

The bison hunters had had an armed conflict with the Comanche earlier and were looking to recover stock and self-pride. The hunters would guide and supply heavy hitting power while Nolan's soldier would do the fighting and provide medicine and supplies. The hunters wanted their livestock and revenge. Nolan wanted to re-prove himself and prove worthy of command which would restore his good reputation. The goal was to find water every 24 hours.[2][3] Nolan set up a supply base at Bull Creek in compliance of his orders. It was across the creek from the buffalo hunter supply base.[3]

The events to follow over the next two weeks would result in a series of mistakes in command and control combined with civilian distrust. Combine this with new recruits, the sapping heat, wool uniforms and alcohol provided by the buffalo hunters to the soldiers, it would provide a deadly combination and a test of Nolan and his men. Not all would be seen as heroes. Nolan had prepared for a 20 day scout from his Bull Creek supply base. He would use the mules from the wagons as pack animals. He sent the empty wagons back to Fort Concho for more supplies to await his return at the supply base.[3]

On July 18, in the evening some of the buffalo hunter's supplies consisting of alcohol were shared with some of the soldiers for a small price. Some of the sergeants not staying in the supply camp apparently partook. Later next day 40 of the 60 men of A Company set out for Cedar Lake, the sergeants failed to check that every soldier had filled their canteens. In the heat of the day, those that had been drinking the evening before were terribly parched and did not ration their water. Their example led many recruits to drain their canteens. The buffalo hunters carried more water that the soldiers knowing that the heat and weather would impact finding water. They also were conditioned to the heat and maintained a high level of water discipline.[3]

Nolan and Harvey combined commands made a dry camp on the evening of July 19. This was where Nolan discovered the lack of water rationing of his men. The hunters were amused, maybe they thought it was a good lesson for the soldiers. The next day led them up Sulpher Draw (Tobacco Creek, Nolan called it) and made the difficult climb up the cap rock up onto the "Yarner" of the Llano Estacado. They headed for a large playa the hunters reported was nearby which they reached on July 21. A playa, or shallow depression is a basin that fills only when it rains. Cooper estimated this one at about 5 acres (20,000 m2) in size with a maximum depth of 33 inches (840 mm). There all relished in the water and played. Cooper described the rare event of men of different cultures and races, horses, mules, birds and other animals enjoying the water as one of the greatest "aggregations of the animal kingdom ever witnessed" "outside a circus tent" in one small place.[3]

Divergent goals or set up for betrayal[edit]

July 18, at about 4 o'clock in the afternoon in the 100 plus degree heat, Quanah Parker, a Kwahada leader, rode into camp from the north with two older Comanche couples. They were equipped with Army horses, rifles, supplies and a large official envelope that contained a pass to leave the Reservation for 40 days. It was dated July 12 and signed by the Indian Agent J. M. Haworth at Fort Sill and more importantly by Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie of the 4th Cavalry. This pass authorized them to seek out, find and bring back the large band of Comanche under Red Young Man. The pass also warned anyone against molesting them on their mission.[3][4]

Nolan accepted the pass as real but his writings show his frustration that Parker was competing for his own mission. Cooper wrote that Nolan swore and let loose a long series of invective frustration at everyone who seemed to be against 'his' mission. It took him a while to calm down. He then asked Parker questions where the Comanche raiders were and where they were headed. Parker glanced toward one direction and pointed off in a different direction while Tafoya translated. Parker never used English with Nolan even though he spoke it well.[3]

In a three-way conversation, Tafoya talked and translated between Parker and Nolan. The goals of all parties were different. Tafoya's and Parker's goal were the most important to them. And despite a history of hostility between them, Tafoya apparently agreed to mislead the soldiers for the return of his stock plus interest. He deliberately translated parts of the conversation wrong to Nolan. Somehow through the three-way conversation and translations, Nolan quickly realized that some type of deal was made between Parker and the half-breed Tafoya. At that point Nolan began to lose critical trust in his primary trail guide. And later his trust in the hunters faltered. And maybe, the men who witnessed Nolan's tirade faltered in their own trust of their commander.[3]

After Parker left southward, he was true to his mission and got the Comanche raiders to return to the reservation. Tafoya was true to his word and would take the soldiers off the main trail following a false one placed by the Comanche raiders. Tafoya would eventually recover his lost stock and many others. Tafoya would later be called "the honest, loyal and gallant company guide" until the truth came out.[3]

After a night march, Nolan, his troopers and the buffalo hunters reached Cedar Lake about 8:00 AM on July 22. The large four-mile (6.4 km) by six-mile (9.7 km) long lake in 1875 was now a dry lake. The men dug with cups and slowly obtained water in deep holes dug during the day. The next day Tafoya, Harvey and Johnny Cook set out on a scout south and west of Cedar Lake. While they were gone, Parker arrived to visit and stayed about six hours. When Tafoya, Harvey and Cook returned they reported fresh signs of Indians heading toward Double Lakes. About noon on July 25, they arrived at Double Lake and found it was dry. They dug for water.[3]

Nolan was becoming frustrated because he realized that something was wrong. Many of the buffalo hunters were getting impatient because they believed the Comanche raiders were in the sand hills. They sent out a scout in that direction without the soldiers. Several other hunters called it quits. They were concerned about the "droughty" conditions and perceived that was what was wrong. They pointed out to the soldiers that most of the bison and pronghorn had left the area. This was a sign of a serious drought and "if the rest had good sense they wouldn't (go further) either."[3]

First Sergeant William L. Umbles was demoted on that day. The exact reasons are uncertain. Some said Nolan was displeased with him. It might have been that Umbles tried to convince Nolan to turn back. It may have been the last straw in Nolan's trust in the First Sergeant after the alcohol incident. The two men would be silent on the exact reason later. But many agreed Umbles was angry and his behavior would show during "The Thirsting Time" to come. The buffalo hunters came back to camp excited at finding a large trail of sign and Tafoya estimated 40 Comanche in the band near Rich Lake. Boots and saddles were called and the men made haste to get under way. Nolan had not immediately appointed another acting First Sergeant and in his excitement to be underway failed to make sure that all canteens were full. Normally, this is the First Sergeants duty, but it always is the responsibility of the commander to make sure things like this get done. "The Thirsting Time" had begun.[3]

A black and white picture of the barren and level plain of the Llano Estacado in 1900 with sparse natural grass.
The level surface of the Llano Estacado with natural grass cover as seen in 1900.

"The Thirsting Time" Day One[edit]

July 26, between 2:00 & 3:00 PM, Captain Nolan led his Buffalo soldiers with Jim Harvey's bison hunters westward away from Double Lakes. The goal was the trail of 40 Comanche Indians near Rich Lake seventeen hot dry miles away. When Nolan's command reached Rich Lake there was no water. The Indian sign reported by Tafoya was not confirmed by the other scouts. At best the trail was made by eight horses. Tafoya's goal had started well. Most of the soldiers were out of water and despite digging in the dry soil, nothing was found. The hunters shared their water sparingly. Tafoya declared that water was available fifteen or twenty miles (32 km) to the northwest in the direction the Indian trail went. Nolan stated they would follow the trail in the morning.[3]

"The Thirsting Time" Day Two[edit]

July 27, just after sunrise the men continued to follow the trail with Sulphur draw to the left and dry short grass stubs here and there. As the miles went on, the reddish soil became "more sandy" and much more effort was needed to move forward. By 9:00 AM the Indians they were following started west, deeper into the void and away from any source of water. Between 2:00 and 3:00 PM after some twenty-five miles of hard travel, the Indians scattered in eight directions with criss-crossing trails. The bison hunters' horses were exhausted and the older army horses were worse off. Men were becoming stuporous in the heat. One of the hunters, Johnny Cook wrote, that the Indians "were giving us a dry trail; they would finish us off with thirst." Nolan, aware of the need for water, had scouts checking for possible sources of water for his animals and men. Tafoya and some other scouts found where the Indian trails merged once again. Nolan set off after them. The men suffered in the unrelenting heat. A soldier fainted off his horse from sun-stroke and had to be dealt with. Nolan sent a Trooper forward to have the scouts wait for them.[3]

Tafoya stated that the Comanche they were following were headed for Lost Lake (now near Dora, New Mexico) to the north-west. And he loudly declared that the hunters and soldiers would catch them there and have the water too. The hunters were game as was Nolan but a curious change in description of the events were later declared. Johnny Cook's version stated that Nolan was crying and dramatic with the hunters. And the hunters felt sympathy for him and agreed to press on. Nolan's version was different and he wrote that he believed water was to be had some six or seven miles (11 km) ahead as reported by Tafoya. And Nolan gave Tafoya the best horse to seek out the water. Nolan's claimed crying and weeping does not match his character. He had a goal to follow the Indians and to seek water and that is what he did. Nolan watched as Tafoya left north-westward then turn suddenly to the west for several miles then toward the north-east. Nolan followed at the pace of the slowest in his command.[3]

Lt. Charles Cooper wrote that he thought the expedition was now lost. He believed that Tafoya was lost not knowing Tafoya's mission. So under the "broiling sun" and through the "barren sandy plain" the men marched, suffered and some fell. Nolan then would assign the strongest man to help the weakest. The plan while noble, was not practical and the 64 men were soon stretched over two miles (3 km) of the trail. Near dark and some nine miles (14 km) of hell, Nolan stopped the march.[3]

Nolan now decided on plan B, one that was made earlier by Jim Harvey. Eight men soldiers were to move forward following Tafoya's trail to Silver Lake and return with water. Unknown to Nolan he would not see these men until August 9 and he would never see Tafoya or his horse again. After dark Nolan pressed the men another nine miles (14 km) before stopping for the night near a mound unfortunately called "Nigger Hill." Today it is located in Roosevelt County, New Mexico about a mile west of the Texas border. Nolan could hear men down the trail and thinking they were lost fired shots into the air for them to find camp. Some straggled into camp. Sergeant Umbles, the former First Sergeant, was still out in the dark with two sick men. Captain Nolan then had the bugler, also named Nolan to take a horse and to find and return the men to camp. Those four men never returned. Nolan would charge them with desertion upon his return.[3]

Umbles and the others would later declare that Captain Nolan had men looking for water and that they were what they were doing. They claimed they found a mule with mud on its legs. Later they joined with a bison hunter who had chased his runaway horses. They headed for Silver Lake and water. The main body of men after some fifty five miles of tortured trail could not eat because of the dryness of their mouths. The bison hunters settled separate from the soldiers. In the dark they bemoaned their fate with the soldiers. The night without clouds allowed the heat to dissipate and a breeze helped cool the men. Some of the mules smelling the breeze took off. The hunters shouted at the soldiers to get their mules, but no one stirred in their exhaustion and the hunters settled down.[3]

"The Thirsting Time" Day Three[edit]

Just after midnight on July 28, shots being fired woke the men. They did a head count and found one of the hunters missing. Unknown to them he had joined the four soldiers headed for water. After the alert the men had a hard time settling down. At daybreak, Nolan came to the conclusion that Tafoya was lost as was the bison hunters. He may have discussed this with Cooper, but that is not documented. Because of the exhausted men, Nolan himself repacked the remaining mules, deciding what was needed and what could be left. They made some fifteen miles (24 km) before Nolan called a halt.[3]

Nolan figured they had missed Silver Lake and they had no choice but the set a compass course back to Double Lakes. There was no sign of the men sent out for water. Nolan figured his position some 55 miles (89 km) north-west of Double Lakes. He knew for a fact that water was there. Now the Comanche were forgotten and the primary struggle was for survival. The hunters disagreed and the expedition began to break up. Nolan argued the best course was to stay together. The hunters strode off then went their different ways focusing on their own goals for survival. Amazingly the hunters still had two quart bottles of "high-proof brandy." They divided it and went their ways. The smartest ones dipped a cloth to moisten the lips and to inhale its vapors and so refreshed they moved onward into the wilderness.[3]

Not all the soldiers were agreed to stay together. They began grumbling and thinking that it was going to be every man for himself as the bison hunters described it. Two men fell behind and were lost to Nolan. Through the pounding heat and endless march, men began to fall. Nolan continued to assign the strongest with the weakest. The desire for water stood above all else as Nolan headed south-east toward where he knew water was.[3]

Troopers now collected their own urine and that of their horses to drink. Nolan issued sugar for the combination. The men drank or tried to drink the vile fluid and remaining horses and mules partook also. While urine is generally sterile, it has a high content of salt and other electrolytes. Thus drinking it over time causes increased dehydration and thirst. Just before sunset Nolan called a halt. He wrote that his men were "completely exhausted." Cooper later wrote that "their tongues and throats were swollen, and they were unable to even swallow their saliva -- in fact they had no saliva to swallow." Even sugar poured into the mouth failed to dissolve.[3]

Unknown to Nolan the men he sent off to find water, found some. Several of the soldiers filled the canteens and searched for the command. They found the bison hunters first and gave them water. Then without finding Nolan they returned to the water hole. Unknown to them, Nolan was heading back to Double Lakes. That night clouds covered the sky and many looked for sign of rain. Some found it, but most did not. Umbles left a note at Silver Lake instructing any soldiers to head east. And those soldiers (sent out for water) returning from the search for the command later did so. Sergeant Umbles was with Jim Harvey at Casas Amarillas that evening. Harvey asked Umbles to let the hunters use the horses and Umbles refused. The hunters and interpreted that decision as a refusal "to go back to the relief of his officers and comrades." Eventually, twelve soldiers would gather there and head for safety with two more being found on the way.[3]

"The Thirsting Time" Day Four[edit]

At 2:00 AM on July 29 to take advantage of the cool of night, Nolan resumed his heartless track south-east by compass. Nolan had wanted to start earlier but a horse went down and unable to move. The men cut its throat and drank its blood. Nolan again repacked what he thought was most important and abandoned the rest. The rode then walked the horses and repeated the process over and over. As the day progressed, the walks got longer because of the condition of the animals. The clouds helped, but no rain fell on Nolan's command on the "Staked Plains." They lost another horse and watched rain appear to fall from whence they had come. After some 25 miles (40 km) they rested from their back-breaking labor through the heat. In their dehydrated exhaustion, when several animals walked away and no one noticed. They men were becoming a bit crazed due to the lack of water and the heat. The men were thirsty but could not drink, they were starving but could not eat what they had and now vertigo with dimness of vision began to set in. The men appeared deaf and stuporous as their bodies began to shut down. Men began to fight over the thick blood cut from the remaining horses. Nolan and Cooper struggled to keep their remaining men alive and were as harsh as they needed to be. Another soldier walked away from the command and he would finally find water about 3:00PM the next day or some ninety-six hours without water.[3]

Later that day Nolan and Cooper came to the conclusion that their only hope was to send the strongest men with the remaining horses ahead to Double Lakes. They would remain with the men for better or worse. Nolan ordered now First Sergeant Jim Thompson to ride ahead with six men and obtain water. Thompson would do this and in the process five of the seven horses would die when he got lost. In the evening the remaining supplies were abandoned and Cooper gave the men a pep talk. Whether understood him or not, they had to find water or die.[3]

"The Thirsting Time" Day Five[edit]

July 30, just after 3:00 AM the men stumbled over an old wagon trail. After stumbling a way along the easier trail, Cooper stopped. Cooper then turned to Nolan and declared that this was the William R. Shater's 1875 wagon trail. It was a route that was between Double Lakes and Puna del Agua. The men rejoiced with harsh shouts and they fired their weapons like it was the Fourth of July. Between 5:00 and 6:00 AM the half dead soldiers staggered into Double Lakes to the water holes they had dug a week before. The men sent out for water came in last, they had gone over the trail without notice, and turned around when they heard the firing of the other men on the trail. The "Thirsting Time" was over for them. These fourteen men had gone for over eighty-six hours without any water in the desert heat. It was amazing they had survived. Nolan was not finished. He was missing men. After a rest, he sent out men with water to look for stragglers. They found some wandering horses that had been with the bison hunters. They made a diligent hunt for survivors and recovered what supplies they could. Nolan was still missing men and he feared many were dead. The men began to recover from their ordeal.[3]

On July 31 at about 11:00AM Captain Phillip Lee, from Fort Griffen, with Troop G arrived at Double Lakes. He had heard on the 29th that Nolan had been at Double Lakes and he proceeded there. For many of the men it was a reunion and Nolan's men told of their ordeal. With Lee's assistance patrols were sent out looking for the missing men. Other than recovering one man and several horses nothing else was found.[3]

Most of the buffalo hunters would proceed to the site of present day Lubbock, Texas. This is where they found much of their stolen stock. They learned that the Comanche Indians were returning to the reservation with Parker. Tafayo had already claimed his stock and a few others. The hunters later declared this was the last Comanche raid in Texas. The first of them would send out word about Nolan's lost command with the speculation that the Comanche had wiped out Nolan's command. The story was sent east by telegraph where it made headline news.[2][3]

Quanah Parker had been true to his word and had convinced the tired Comanche to go back to the reservation. In the early part of August they returned to Fort Sill after dropping off their stolen stock. Later news would come out that Parker and Tafayo had misled the Buffalo soldiers and bison hunters away from the Comanche raiders. Nolan would later be shocked to learn that Parker spoke English fairly well.[2][3]

Sergeant William L. Umbles first headed toward Double Lakes but changed his course and reached the supply camp at Bull Creek on August 1 with fourteen men. Many of the men with him wanted to go to Double Lakes and search for their officers and companions. Umbles ordered them not to. Despite strong objections, the men followed his commands reluctantly. The Bull Creek supply camp was headed by First Sergeant Thomas H. Allsup. Umbles argued that he was now in command, despite knowing he had been demoted by Nolan. He suggested that Nolan and the other men were dead. Allsup refused to believe it and wanted to head to Double Lakes with supplies. The men argued and the two sergeants went their separate ways.[3]

Allsup loaded a wagon with supplies and barrels of water. With fifteen men he proceeded and climbed the cap rock and went straight to Doubles Lakes and on August 4 he had a happy reunion with Nolan and his men. Allsup reported that Umbles had arrived at Bull Creek, and related what he had said. Several other soldiers who had been with Umbles told what had happened over the last few days. Nolan and Cooper began to realize that their problems were not over. Men had deserted and would have to be dealt with. Nolan wrote a message and sent it toward Fort Concho with two riders. The message was a general condition of his command and a warning to distrust anything Umbles and the men with him had to say.[3]

Back from the dead[edit]

In the evening of August 3, Sergeant Umbles and a few others made it back to Fort Concho. They reported to the sole officer, Lieutenant Robert G. Smithers that Nolan's command was lost and dead or dying on the Staked Plains. Umbles implied they may have been wiped out. This report caused gloom and doom to spread around the camp. Some people thought the Fort would be attacked next. The Chaplain went to Mrs. Cooper to break the news that her husband was missing. Then he went to Nolan's children who were at Mrs. Constable's home and comforted them. Smithers then began to send telegrams up the chain of command other Forts. He requested assistance to guard Fort Concho while he sent a relief column out. Smithers gathered men from the band and hospital and with sixteen effectives and a wagon of supplies sent off for relief of the lost command. It was 140 miles (230 km) to Bull Creek and he made it in 41 hours. He would return on between 8:00 and 9:00 AM on August 14 with Nolan and his command.[3][5]

Nicholas Nolan, Captain, 10th US Cavalry

On August 7, couriers reached Fort Concho with the good news. The telegraph sent out word that Nolan was returning with his command. The word went east that Nolan and his lost command were "back from the dead." The officer in charge of the relief force now guarding the Fort had Umbles and his three companions placed under guard.[3]

For all the men involved it had been a test of character, which some failed. It was an adventure of endurance, determination, fortitude and sheer will. The cost was high with four soldiers and one civilian dead, About thirty horses and six mules had died during the expedition and the rest were rendered virtually useless. Nolan's fear of his lost men would eventually turn to anger when men would come slowly back to Fort Concho and the stories were told. Nolan as commander of the Fort became very busy ordering new horses, supplies and preparing for a court-martial for four deserters led by former First Sergeant Umbles. These men would later be found guilty and be dishonorably discharged and spend time at Fort Leavenworth Military Prison in Kansas.[3][4]

Nolan would write his formal report regarding the loss of military equipment, the death and suffering of his men. Many of the events described by Nolan would later be found in the letters written home by Lieutenant Cooper. However, the documentation left to historians by the buffalo hunters, the soldiers court-martialed, Nolan and Cooper's material would lead to divergence and more questions. While Nolan's mission was a failure, the press was positive and he was commended by his superiors in the press, but not officially for the record.[3]

Nolan remained in command of A Troop for another 5 years. Nolan and his second in command, Lieutenant Cooper lost their ability to work together over a long series of minor incidents. In late 1879, Nolan placed Cooper on report "for failure to forward personal reports." Cooper would go on serving in the military and retire just after the turn of century as a lieutenant colonel.[3]

On December 19, 1882 Nolan was promoted to a major in the Regular Army and transferred to the 3rd U.S. Cavalry Regiment. On October 24, 1883 he died unexpectedly in Holbrook, Navajo County, Arizona due to a stroke. His body was shipped to the San Antonio National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas where he lies at rest in section A site 53 near the flag pole that flies the flag of his adopted country.[6]

1978 reenactment[edit]

In 1978, eight African-Americans dressed in cavalry uniforms mounted a horse patrol to retrace the route of Nolan and the Buffalo Soldiers of A Troop. They were led by Eric Strong of the Lubbock-based Roots Historical Committee. They made every effort to camp where they soldiers had stopped 101 years prior. This was done to honor those soldiers who had sacrificed so much for their Country.[3]

Author Elmer Kelton traveled with this group for a short time. He was gathering material for a western fiction book he writing. This 1986 work would have a portion that represented what the Buffalo Soldiers face during their ordeal.[3]

Related fiction[edit]

The 426 page western fiction book The Wolf and the Buffalo by Elmer Kelton has two chapters that fairly accurately portrays the real life "Buffalo Tragedy of 1877."

Historical Marker[edit]

A computer generated reproduction of the insignia of the Union Army 10th Regiment cavalry branch. The insignia is displayed in gold and consists of two sheafed swords crossing over each other at a 45 degree angle pointing upwards with a Roman numeral 10
10th Regiment United States Cavalry insignia

Remembering the dead soldiers of Troop A, 10th U.S. Cavalry, Captain Nicholas M. Nolan commanding.

  • Trooper John H. Bonds, 24, A day laborer from Virginia who enlisted in the Army in Washington, D.C. in early 1877.
  • Trooper John T. Gordon, 28, Joined the Army in Baltimore, Maryland in December 1876.
  • Trooper John Isaacs, 25, A waiter from Baltimore who joined the Army in January 1877.
  • Trooper Isaac Derwin, 25, A laborer from South Carolina who joined the Army in Tennessee in November 1876.

The Nolan Expedition route received a historic marker in 1972.[7] 33°17′46.122″N 102°13′33.4158″W / 33.29614500°N 102.225948833°W / 33.29614500; -102.225948833 (Nolan Expedition route on Llano Estacado)

On July 1, 2008, Texas placed a new historical marker to honor the men of the "Buffalo Soldier tragedy of 1877." Markers were placed for the four fallen soldiers of Company A, 10th Cavalry next to their burial site at Morton Memorial Cemetery. The Cochran County Historical Commission had applied for the marker and headstones of the fallen and money was collected from the community. No mention was made of the death of the white bison hunter.[8]

See also[edit]

The “Army and Navy Journal” dated September 15, 1877 has an article called, “A Fearful march on the Staked Plains” taken from a report of Nicholas M. Nolan. This is cited in Peter Cozzens' volume 3 of his "Eyewitnesses to the Indian Wars, 1865-1890" series with another related report on the subject following. Both reports are stark and clear of the suffering endured.[9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Several references for the Buffalo Hunters War. See:
  2. ^ a b c d Nunn, W. C. (1940). "Eighty-Six Hours without Water on the Texas Plains". Southwestern Historical Quarterly (University of North Texas, Austin, Texas: Texas State Historical Association) 43. Retrieved 2009-09-02. The Handbook of Texas online 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq Carlson, Paul H. (2003). The Buffalo Soldier Tragedy of 1877. Texas A&M University Press. ISBN 1-58544-253-4. Retrieved September 5, 2009. 
  4. ^ a b c Bigelow, John Jr, Lieutenant, U.S.A., R.Q.M. Tenth Cavalry (no date given but about 1890). ""The Tenth Regiment of Cavalry" from "The Army of the United States Historical Sketches of Staff and Line with Portraits of Generals-in-Chief"". United States Army. Retrieved August 12, 2009.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. ^ Warfield, H. B., Colonel, USAF retired. (1965). 10th Cavalry & Border fights. El Cajon, CA. LCCN 65-25731. 
  6. ^ San Antonio National Cemetery (2006). "Nicholas M. Nolan, Major US Army". San Antonio National Cemetery. San Antonio National Cemetery web site. Retrieved September 1, 2009. 
  7. ^ "Route of Nolan Expedition - Marker Number: 4370". Texas Historic Sites Atlas. Texas Historical Commission. 1972. 
  8. ^ Henri Brickey (2009). "New state historical marker honors four Buffalo Soldiers who never made it home". AVALANCHE-JOURNAL. lubbockonline.com. Retrieved September 5, 2009. 
  9. ^ Cozzens, Peter (2001). Eyewitnesses to the Indian Wars, 1865-1890: Conquering the Southern Plains. Volume 3 of Eyewitnesses to the Indian Wars, 1865-1890. Stackpole Books. ISBN 978-0-8117-0019-1. Retrieved September 9, 2009. 

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