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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 13, No. 2
June, 1935
A YOUNG ARMY OFFICER'S EXPERIENCES IN INDIAN TERRITORY

By Caroline B. Sherman

Page 146

Following the close of the Civil War, when the United States Army turned its attention toward the West, a young captain from Massachusetts, Henry E. Alvord,1 who had served as a volunteer throughout the entire war and had then married a southern girl, Martha Swink, whom he had met during the campaigns in Virginia, was sent to Indian Territory to serve chiefly on staff duty with Generals Hancock and Sheridan. He was even then only 24 years old. His principal duty was the collection of facts about the territory and the Indians there, and for this duty, according to Major-General W. B. Hazen, he "evinced peculiar fitness" and his collection of facts "was always found to be accurate."

As it happened, just 24 years later, after two decades spent in the east, Henry E. Alvord was again in Oklahoma, this time in charge of the Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College and Experiment Station. He turned from the science of war to the science of the land at an early age, through the medium of his detail as military instructor in 1869 at the Massachusetts Agricultural College. He was the first army officer detailed to an agricultural college for this service. He became professor of agriculture there and later was elected director of the newly established agricultural experiment station at Cornell University, but he declined this position to accept the presidency of the Maryland Agricultural College. He organized that college and established the experiment station. Later, he served other states in similar capacities and was active in securing federal legislation that endowed the agricultural colleges and experiment stations, and in the formation and leadership of national agricul-



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tural associations. He devoted his last ten years to the United States Department of Agriculture. He was acquainted with rural Europe, held honors in several foreign agricultural societies, and aided in organizing the International Institute of Agriculture.

But it is with his early impressions of Indian Territory that we are chiefly interested. During his army service there, Alvord's expeditions took him over much of the area and he was usually busy at night when at Forts Gibson, Riley, Arbuckle, and Cobb, preparing reports, descriptive journals, and maps of the country he covered.

His letters written at this time are enthusiastic over much of the terrain; over the interest he felt in the Indians, from the "savage, treacherous, ever troublesome Comanche to the educated, cultivated, gentlemanly Cherokee"; over the splendid animals among the wild horses often chased in the vain hope of capture;—and over newly-married life as lived in the tents and cabins of a frontier army.

Writing in July, 1868, from Fort Gibson to his aunt in the East who had taken care of him during his motherless childhood, he says:

"During the six weeks I was absent I rode my white horse, Hancock, about eight hundred miles and he came back very little the worse for it. I saw all kinds of country—mountainous like the Wichitas region, with high rocky peaks towering 1500 ft.2 above the surrounding plain, extensive oaklands and endless prairie. Of the latter we had most of the rolling kind tho' a touch of 'the plains' proper when near the North Fork of Red River. We crossed every description of streams too: the wide brackish, red, swift running Washita on its rocky bed, the North Red River well named for color and salt as brine, the bitter Gypsom Creek, and many a beautiful pure rivulet rushing from crystal springs over the massive rocks of mountain sides, coursing thro' deep, rocky, and deathlike canons, rippling over pretty pebbly bottoms, or gliding along in silvery sandy beds. We found springs innumerable—boiling up in the midst of a bound-



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less prairie of hot parched earth—and running off in a cool, strong stream, marked for many a mile by its verdant bank, or gushing from crevices in rocks shaded by bushes, vines, and moss, or slowly but steadily flowing in a cold clear stream from an opening formed in the roots of a gigantic elm. And as great as was the variety in the forms and surroundings of the springs so greatly did the water of them differ in taste—some warm, some cold, many pure and sweet, but many also from iron and coal and salt."

The buffalo of Indian Territory had a never-ending fascination for this eastern boy, whether singly and as victims as at Fort Cobb where the buffalo ran through the camp within 300 yards of the young couple's tent and where "the soldiers drove the huge creatures into camp to the place best suited for dressing them and there shot them" or more especially when wild and free—". . . from the top of a hill on the North Red River I saw at one time upon the surrounding plains within the circle of the horizon at least one hundred thousand buffalo."

Naturally the Indians occupied his attention chiefly. At Fort Cobb he aided in carrying out the provisions of the General Order calling for the two Indian Reservations, and in connection with moving the Indians from Kansas, and in separating the peaceful from the hostile tribes in 1868 he took an active part from that station. To determine which tribes could be really trusted, which were neutral, and which were hostile was no easy matter, even for much older men with wider experience.

"The war which broke out in Kansas in September was the chief reason for Gen'l Hazen's delay. The Cheyennes and Arapahoes all joined in the hostilities, and it was there unknown how many had done so. My duty was to first ascertain by sending to all the 'wild' Indians within reach of couriers from this point, and holding conferences with the chiefs, just whoever were really peaceable and friendly and who were hostile, reporting definitely; then to induce as many of the peaceable as possible to come to this vicinity and to take care of them here—feed them, etc. until the arrival of Gen'l Hazen. This was new work for me—a delicate and difficult matter.

Page 149

"I at once gave the subject my whole attention and have done nothing else since. During the remaining days of October I gathered around me here about fifty of the chiefs and head men of the Comanches, Caddos, Wichitaws, Wacos, and Keechies—representing three thousand Indians, and with them I had an official 'big talk', a council, on the 31st ult. in which I personated the 'big Captain', son of the 'Great Father at Washington.' It was a novel experience to me, and fortunately resulted quite satisfactorily. Every tribe and band represented agreed to come to some point near here and remain peaceable—and have done so. I have since been feeding the 3000—issuing to them flour, coffee, and sugar, some fresh beef and some salt. Every available means has been taxed to get the necessary supplies and I have been obliged to some extent to purchase in open market—at Sherman, Texas, thru an agent. Since the 1st inst. I have met the representatives of 2000 Kiowas and Apaches, who are now moving toward this place, and am daily expecting representative delegations from the two most distant and most powerful bands of Comanches—numbering 3000. There will probably be 8000 'wild' Indians in this vicinity before December . . .

"Martha is becoming quite an Indian trader, and if you could see her present stock on hand of buffalo robes, calf buffalo skins, buffalo tongues, etc you would be much amused. We are both making excellent progress in learning to speak Comanche—tho we give most attention to the pantomime language which is common to all western Indians. At first I do not think either of us relished having so many red skins in our immediate vicinity at night, while we were quite pleased to have numbers of them visit us during the day. Now we go quietly to sleep at least a quarter of a mile from the nearest sentry at the camp—undisturbed by the fact of there being two thousand wild Comanches close by."

But the more conventionally social side was not neglected in their life in the Territory. One of the first letters from this young couple after their arrival, dated at Fort Gibson in January, 1868, and written to the same elderly aunt, describes a military dinner given under those frontier conditions the day before they were able to find a woman servant.

Page 150

The dinner letter speaks for itself:3

"Wednesday morning we concluded that as Col. Floyd Jones, our commander, was to go on leave the 20th, we would have a supper for the officers on Friday evening and that has occupied all our time since. We had intended giving an entertainment of some sort as soon as our establishment was completed but the weather having postponed that event beyond our expectations and our desire to have the Colonel present, decided us to wait no longer. Our first proposition was to fix up our unfinished kitchen as well as we could and set our table in there, putting up a curtain between it and the cooking stove. To that end, while I was up at the garrison Wednesday morning on business, Martha had the kitchen chimney temporarily raised above the roof by a barrel with both heads out, the cooking stove moved from tent to kitchen and the walls of the building inside all covered with two thickness of canvas—tent flies. She then began cooking—making that day chicken salad and pies. The Paymaster came Wednesday evening and attending to the payment of my company and my scouts kept me busy all day Thursday. It was the first payment of my company and on returning from the pay table $6000 was brought into camp. Martha that day went up town alone and either bought or borrowed everything in the way of table furniture which we needed for the supper; in the evening apple toddy was made, a ham got nearly ready, our turkey cock sacrificed and other little things done.

"Friday morning I gave the last of my invitations to ten officers (besides Lt. Harmon) to take supper with me at 8 P. M. and then returned to the cabin to help get it in shape. I found Martha had concluded the kitchen would be too cold to eat in and so had moved our bed, washstand, trunks, etc. in there and begun to arrange for the table in the south end of our main building—our living room.



table arrangement

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"I had on Wednesday engaged several professional hunters (citizens) to get all the game they could for me and report with it Friday morning—three prairie chickens, the commonest of all game here, was the result of their united efforts. I felt rather disgusted at so slim an allowance of game but gave my gun with ammunition to a Corporal of my company and started him out at nine o'clock to get what he could, and then myself set about decorating our room. A National Flag was festooned at the south end of the building covering the window and a plenty of small cedar boughs arranged with it; the whole inside of the roof was then prettily trimmed by being half covered with evergreen boughs stuck in between the shingles. Our pictures were hung up and made the wall look well. The table was then made ten feet long and four wide, and set across the south end of the room, filling it exactly, that is, leaving only room to pass around it, for seats etc. Both doors, to the room remained unobstructed and plenty of room was left around the fireplace at the North end of the room. A nice black walnut mantle which we had put up over our fireplace Wednesday much improved the looks of the premises. Over it was the mirror and upon it vases of grasses, mistletoe, Christmas berries, etc. with various other pretty things. A very handsome linen damask cloth—3 1/2 yds. long and 2 yards wide—purchased for the occasion covered the table and it was very nicely set at four o'clk P. M. Martha was all the while hard at work cooking, with but one assistant, a man. I was made more hopeful by my Corporal bringing it at noon four rabbits, some quail and meadow larks, and in the afternoon after a second short hunt, a pair of wild ducks and more small birds. Then during the afternoon, by great good luck, my horse man, Lewis, caught a 'possum—very fat.

"Finally therefore, I had everything on my table that I had wished for except a roast saddle of venison, which I could not find. At seven o'clock I dressed and at half past sent a man with a saddled horse to every invited guest. Three sent their regrets—Capt. and Brevet Major Bryant, 6th Infantry, who will be in command after Col. Floyd-Jones4 leaves, was



Page 152

sick—so was Dr. Hubbard the Post Surgeon—and one Lieutenant of the infantry had to remain at the garrison as Officer of the Day. My guests arrived about eight o'clock and I received them in Lt. Harmon's (tent) quarters, next door to us.

"They were seven in number:—Colonel De L. Floyd Jones, 6th U. S. Infantry, Comdg. this Post and the Territory; Capt. A. S. Kimball,5 Asst. Qt. Mr., U. S. A.—Post Quartermaster and Chief Q. M. of the Territory, Lieut. Baker,6 6th Infantry, Comissary of the Post; Lieut. Munson,7 Adjt., 6th Inftr. and Post Adjutants, Lieuts Cook and Wetherell8 of the 6th Inft. and Dr.









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Crary, brother-in-law of Qr. Mr. Kimball and Surgeon to the government employees at this post. Lt. Harmon made eight—giving four to each side of the table. (The guests were brought in and seated at half past eight.) I sat at the head and carved the principal dish—Roast turkey with gravy and preserved cherries—an excellent substitute, for cranberries. We had besides—all hot:—Green ham, stuffed and baked, apple sauce; 'Possum, roasted with herbs and onions; Prairie chickens, stuffed and baked, Wild Duck, roasted; Quail and larks, larded, Stewed Rabbit, cream gravy; then cold:—Spiced Ham, Chicken Salad. Tomatoes baked with crumbs, pickles, hot biscuit, and butter put up last June. Plenty of Apple Toddy with these. Then followed:—Mince pie and Jelly Pie or Pudding, Charlotte Russe, Wine Jelly, Apple Float and Coffee.

"Martha did all the cooking herself and I am still wondering how it was done on our little stove and have everything so hot. Each article was as nice as it could possibly be. She remained in the kitchen until we were fairly at supper, then dressed and came into the supper room just as we left the table—abbout ten o'clock; the officers left before twelve and I sent each on horseback with an orderly.

They were evidently really astonished at the variety to which they sat down—enjoyed the supper thoroughly and praised it and its preparess in the highest terms. It certainly was an elegant supper and a decided success in every way. It has been the topic of conversation at the garrison yesterday and today and the officers unite in pronouncing it the handsomest table they have ever seen west of the Mississippi."

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