Joseph B. Thoburn
Briefly stated, "The Dragoon Campaigns to the Rocky Mountains" was a small volume which was published in New York City in 1836. Its subject matter related entirely to the organization and earlier activities of the 1st Regiment of United States Dragoons, including particularly an account of the participation of that regiment in the Leavenworth-Dodge Expedition of 1834. The book was published anonymously so far as its authorship was concerned. The writer first read this volume in 1907. He found it to be very interesting.
The authorship of this book, as well as that of the other volume which is mentioned in this article, is commonly credited to James Hildreth. Investigation reveals the fact that Hildreth enlisted for service in the Dragoons, at Seneca, New York, August 6, 1833, being then twenty years old, and that he was discharged by reason of a physical disability not contracted in the line of duty, June 1, 1834. As this was before the Dragoon Regiment participated in the expedition to the mouth of the Washita and thence to the Wichita Mountains and the Indian village on the North Fork of Red River, hence the folly of seeking to impute to him the authorship of a book with its eye witness description of a campaign which took place after he had left the service and, in all probability, after he had left the frontier.
The putative author of "The Dragoon Campaigns to the Rocky Mountains" claimed to have been born and reared on a Western New York farm; also that, while on a visit in Buffalo, he had been persuaded to enlist for service in the 1st Regiment of United States Dragoons, for which recruits were then being sought, preparatory to organization. From Buffalo he was sent with a small squad of other recruits by boat to Erie, Pennsylvania, where they landed and took an overland conveyance to Pittsburgh. There, they met a much larger company of recruits who had been recruited in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore. All of the recruits thus as-
sembled at Pittsburgh were then marched aboard a river steamboat by which they were transported, down the Ohio and up the Mississippi, to Jefferson Barracks, a few miles below St. Louis, where the new regiment was to have its rendezvous and where it was to be organized, mobilized, and sent forth on its first expedition. It was from Jefferson Barracks that it marched to Fort Gibson, where it was to form a part of the expeditionary force which was to be placed under the command of General Leavenworth.
The author of "The Dragoons Campaigns" was possessed of a sprightly, vivacious literary style. He also wrote with a degree of frankness that was unusual in military circles. It so happened that this regiment had been organized during Andrew Jackson's second term as president. While many of the commissioned officers of this regiment were selected from other regiments already long in the service, it was openly charged at the time that, in some instances at least, the President had used military commissions in paying off some of his political debts. The author of this volume was remarkably free in criticizing the military shortcomings of such politically appointed officers. Parenthetically, the fact should also be mentioned that he claimed to have had a comrade who had seen military service in the British army. This British comrade is mentioned a number of times, finally receiving the nick-name of "Long Ned." As indicated in his criticisms of inexperienced or untrained officers, the writer of this volume was possessed of such a thorough knowledge of military matters, discipline, etc., as could scarcely have been expected of a young soldier who but recently emerged from a Western New York farm. Furthermore, the author was seemingly well posted as to the world and its ways and as to life and its philosophy as would have been practically impossible for a young man, fresh from the farm, to be. Considering all of this, the writer hereof was forced to the independent conclusion that, so far as the Western New York farm boy was concerned, the authorship of "The Dragoon Campaigns" was a myth, and that the real author of the book must have been the alleged British comrade; also that, if the latter had been
in the British Army, it had not been as an enlisted man but rather as a commissioned officer. The further inference was that he had probably gotten into trouble which had forced him to throw up his commission and flee to America as a self-exiled refugee.
Five or six years after reading this volume, the writer had occasion to visit Vinita. While there, he spent an evening with the noted Cherokee leader, Colonel "Hooly" Bell. In the course of conversation, the writer happened to mention Dr. William L. G. Miller, an inter-married white man who came into prominence in the Cherokee Nation during the Civil War, when Colonel Bell exclaimed "Pardon the interruption, but Dr. William L. G. Miller was one of the most remarkable men whom I ever knew." (This was a strong statement when the fact was borne in mind that Colonel Bell had represented the Cherokee Nation as an accredited delegate in Washington nearly every congressional session for ten or a dozen years) and personally knew everyone, in or out of Congress, who was worth knowing. Colonel Bell then proceeded to tell what he knew and thought of Doctor Miller, as follows:
"William L. G. Miller first came to the Cherokee Nation, in 1834, as an enlisted man in the Dragoon Regiment. His stay was not a lengthy one, as the troops of that regiment were frequently shifted up and down the Western Frontier. He served three or four terms of enlistment—which were five years each at that time—so he saw service with the regiment at least until 1848, if not until 1853, including participation in the war with Mexico.
"When he was finally discharged he returned to the Cherokee Nation where he married a young woman of unmixed Cherokee blood and settled down in a log cabin near the Grand River, where he made his home during the rest of his life. In this log cabin he gradually accumulated the finest private library in the Cherokee Nation, barring none. He also took up the study of medicine, without a preceptor or instructor. After several years of diligent study, there being no law to the contrary, he began the active practice of medicine, in which he achieved an enviable degree of success. He also kept a small stock of drugs for the convenience and necessities
of people of that sparsely settled community. He gradually gained and always held the confidence, respect and friendship of the people who came to know him.
"Unlike practically all of the other intermarried citizens of the Cherokee Nation, he remained loyal to the Union at the outbreak of the Civil War, though I am not certain that he took an active part in that struggle. When John Ross left the Cherokee Nation, after the first Federal invasion, in 1862, Doctor Miller went with him. Later he went to the White House and arranged for an interview between Ross and President Lincoln, then accompanying Ross to the White House, introducing him to the President and remaining as a personal witness to the interview. After the death of Ross, Doctor Miller became executive secretary to Principal Chief Lewis Downing and, after the death of the latter, he served in a similar capacity with the succeeding full-blood chiefs, writing their messages and state papers and otherwise making himself an able counsellor and helper.
"When I was with Doctor Miller I could never shake off the feeling that he was a scion of British nobility. He showed all the earmarks of such a probable origin. In spirit he was a true democrat, using the word in its unrestricted sense, and as whole-heartedly American as any native-born citizen of this country could possibly be. Despite all this however, his well-bred culture betrayed the fact that he was not born and reared amid plebian surroundings. He always signed his name William L. G. Miller until late in life, when he occasionally wrote it William L. Gordon Miller. I have always suspected that Gordon was part of his real name—I never believed that Miller was a part of his true name.
"Doctor Miller claimed to have served for many years in the United States Army. He also admitted that, before coming to this country he had served for a time in the British Army. I have always surmised that, if he had seen service in the British Army, it had been as a commissioned officer and not as an enlisted man. I would like to see a register of the gazetted personnel of the crack Guard regiments of the British Army, for 1831-2-3, and
then, if we knew his real name, we would know something of the antecedents of this very remarkable man."
Needless to state, the writer hereof listened to Colonel Bell's recital with almost breathless interest and when the latter had concluded the writer exclaimed, "Now, Colonel, I want to tell you a story," following with a brief statement concerning the reading of the volume entitled, "The Dragoon Campaigns to the Rocky Mountains," and the inferences and conclusions to which it had led, and ending by asking, "Colonel, do you see how these two accounts dovetail together?"
"Certainly! Miller wrote that book! I never heard of it before, but I know he wrote it. I would like to see it."
The writer promised to see that Colonel Bell had a chance to read the book but the latter died a few months later and the writer never met him again. As the writer had frequently pondered concerning the identity of the author of "The Dragoon Campaigns to the Rocky Mountains" before having had this interview with Colonel Bell, so too, he subsequently began to wonder if it might not be that the author of that remarkable volume might not also have written a later volume in which there might be a clue to his antecedents and personal identity. Almost unconsciously, in scanning catalogues of second-hand books, the writer began to look for a book the title of which he knew not and the authorship of which was almost certain to be anonymous. Several years passed before his eye fell upon a catalogue item, entitled "Reminiscences of a British Soldier in the American Army." The book was ordered but had already been sold. A year and a half later another copy was located, ordered and secured. It was a great disappointment. It lacked the literary flavor which distinguished "The Dragoon Campaigns." It proved to be the rather tedious tale of a Briton who came from London to New York in 1845, just in time to enlist in a battery of artillery and go through the Mexican War in the armies of Generals Taylor and Scott. The disappointment soon gave way to reassurance, however, with the thought that "this book did not keep Miller from writing another book." Six months later the
writer was gladdened when his eye fell upon another item in a second-hand catalogue. This item was entitled "Recollections of Service in the United States Army [as a Dragoon]," the brackets indicating that the last three words were supplementary and not a part of the title. The authorship of this work was hidden in the words "By an American Soldier." This book was ordered and secured also.
"Recollections of Service in the United States Army" proved to be a volume of short stories of service on the western frontier. Scenes were likewise located at Fort ——— or some other fictitious post and regiments were designated as the "First Invincibles" or some other title never bestowed upon any organization known to exist in the United States Army. Its literary style comports closely with that of the Dragoon Campaigns. Moreover it makes mention of "Long Ned." In this book, in the third person, the author lifts the veil and tells us briefly of his forbears, of the high social station into which he had been born and of his life and of his career previous to his coming to America. He had been an officer in the British Army and he had been the heir to a British earldom, according to this tale.
Although the authorship of both of the above mentioned books has been frequently credited to one James Hildreth, it has always been with a measure of doubt on the part of bibliographers. It has been surmised that possibly Hildreth actually was the Western New York farm boy who might have been persuaded to smuggle the manuscript for "The Dragoon Campaigns" out of the West and find a publisher for it, after having been discharged from the military service for some good and sufficient reason. It is obvious that its publication under the name of the author would have led to serious disciplinary consequences to him had his responsibility for its authorship and publication been suspected and proven.
William L. G. Miller died about 1879. He left no children. The writer asked Colonel Bell what became of his library. The latter did not know but subsequent investigation elicted information to the effect that Doctor Miller's widow was said to have burned part of his library after
his death and that a kinsman of hers was alleged to have burned the rest of it after her death, more than twenty years later.
An effort was made to secure a transcript of Doctor Miller's service with the 1st. United States Dragoons. This effort failed for the reason that the name of William L. G. Miller does not occur on the rolls or records of that famous old regiment. Plainly, if he changed his name when he crossed the sea and enlisted for service in the United States Army, he must have changed it again when he quit the Army for civil life. He is reputed to have held a commission as a medical officer with one of the Regiments of the Indian Home Guard brigade, in the Federal military service during the Civil War. If so, this would lead to the inference he might have attended a medical college after having pursued the study of medicine privately.
If the publication of this account helps to enlighten the few surviving friends who pondered over his interesting personality and who were puzzled as to his antecedents, it must also quicken the curious interest of a host of Oklahoma people as to his real name, the identity of the family from which he came, his rank in the British regiment in which he served and the name under which he served and the rank which he held in the 1st United States Dragoons.
—JOSEPH B. THOBURN