John Gregory Bourke

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John Gregory Bourke
John Bourke.jpg
John Gregory Bourke
Born(1846-06-23)June 23, 1846
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US
DiedJune 8, 1896(1896-06-08) (aged 49)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US
Place of burial
AllegianceUnited States United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Union Army
Years of service1862–1896
RankUnion army cpt rank insignia.jpg Captain
UnitPennsylvania 15th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry
Third U.S. Cavalry
Commands heldChief of Scouts during the Apache Wars
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War

Great Sioux War of 1876

Apache Wars

Garza Revolution
Awards Medal of Honor
Other workwriter

John Gregory Bourke (/bɜːrk/; June 23, 1846 – June 8, 1896) was a captain in the United States Army and a prolific diarist and postbellum author; he wrote several books about the American Old West, including ethnologies of its indigenous peoples. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions while a cavalryman in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Based on his service during the war, his commander nominated him to West Point, where he graduated in 1869, leading to service as an Army officer until his death.


John G. Bourke was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Irish immigrant parents, Edward Joseph and Anna (Morton) Bourke. His early education was extensive and included Latin, Greek, and Gaelic. When the Civil War began, John Bourke was fourteen. At sixteen he ran away and lied about his age; claiming to be nineteen, he enlisted in the Fifteenth Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry, in which he served until July 1865. He received a Medal of Honor for "gallantry in action" at the Battle of Stones River, Tennessee, in December 1862.[1] He later saw action at the Battle of Chickamauga.

His commander, Major General George H. Thomas, nominated Bourke for West Point. He was appointed cadet in the United States Military Academy on October 17, 1865. He graduated on June 15, 1869, and was assigned as a second lieutenant in the Third U.S. Cavalry. He served with his regiment at Fort Craig, New Mexico Territory, from September 29, 1869 to February 19, 1870.

He served as an aide to General George Crook in the Apache Wars from 1872 to 1883. As Crook's aide, Bourke had the opportunity to witness every facet of life in the Old West—the battles, wildlife, the internal squabbling among the military, the Indian Agency, settlers, and Native Americans.



Bourke kept a diary in sequential journals throughout his adult life, documenting his observations in the West. He used these notes as the basis for his later monographs and writings.

During his time as aide to General Crook during the Apache Wars, Bourke kept journals of his observations that were later published as On the Border with Crook. This book is considered one of the best firsthand accounts of frontier army life, as Bourke gives equal time to both the soldier and the Native American. Within it, Bourke describes the landscape, Army life on long campaigns, and his observations of the Native Americans. His passages recounts General Crook's meetings with Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and Geronimo as the General attempted to sign peace treaties and relocate tribes to reservations. Bourke provides considerable detail of towns and their citizens in the Southwest, specifically the Arizona Territory.

In 1881 Bourke was a guest of the Zuni Indians, where he was allowed to attend the ceremony of a Newekwe priest. His report of this experience was published in 1888 as The use of human odure and human urine in rites of a religious or semi religious character among various nations.

While in Washington he was on the board of the Anthropological Society.

Scatalogic Rites of All Nations[edit]

Several subsequent studies led in 1891 to the completion of his major work Scatalogic Rites of All Nations: A Dissertation upon the Employment of Excrementicious Remedial Agents in Religion, Therapeutics, Divination, Witch-Craft, Love-Philters, etc. in all part of the Globe. This work was distributed only among selected specialists. A revised German translation by Friedrich S. Krauss was published posthumously in 1913,[2] with a preface by Viennese psychiatrist Sigmund Freud who wrote:

He was recognized in his own time for his ethnological writings on various indigenous peoples of the North American Southwest, particularly Apachean groups.

Marriage and family[edit]

Bourke married Mary F. Horbach of Omaha, Nebraska, on July 25, 1883. They had three daughters together.

Bourke died in the Polyclinic Hospital in Philadelphia on June 8, 1896, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.[3] His wife was buried with him after her death in 1927


See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Medal of Honor recipients, Civil War (A–L)". United States Army Center of Military History. Retrieved 2009-04-04.
  2. ^ Der Unrat in Sitte, Brauch, Glauben und Gewohnheitrecht der Völker, von John Gregory Bourke. Verdeutscht und neubearbeitet von Friedrich S. Krauss und H. Ihm. Mit einem Geleitwort von Prof. Dr. Sigmund Freud. Leipzig: Ethnologischer Verlag, 1913.
  3. ^ Burial Detail: Bourke, John G (Section 1, Grave 32-A) – ANC Explorer


Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bell, William G. (1978). John Gregory Bourke: A Soldier-scientist of the Frontier. Washington: Potomac Corral, The Westerners.
  • Bourke, John G; & Condie, Carol J. (1980). Vocabulary of the Apache or 'Indé language of Arizona & New Mexico. Greeley, CO: Museum of Anthropology, University of Northern Colorado.
  • Porter, Joseph C. (1980). John Gregory Bourke: Biographical notes. Greeley, CO: University of Northern Colorado, Museum of Anthropology.

External links[edit]