BY CAROLYN THOMAS FOREMAN
When Gen. Daniel Henry Rucker died in 1910 he was the oldest man in the military service of the United States; before he was stricken he had never been on sick list.
Rucker was born in Belleville, New Jersey, April 28, 1812; while still a child he was taken to Grosse Isle, Michigan by his parents and entered in school. On October 13, 1837, he received an appointment as second lieutenant in the First Dragoons of which Col. S. W. Kearney was the commander, Richard Barnes Mason the lieutenant colonel and Phil Kearney a second lieutenant. Rucker served in Michigan a part of the time until ordered to the southwest frontier.1
While stationed with his regiment at Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, Rucker met and fell in love with beautiful Flora McDonald Coodey, the young daughter of Joseph Coodey, a half blood Cherokee Indian; her mother was Jane Ross, a sister of the celebrated Chief John Ross. Joseph Coodey was a well to do citizen who owned and operated a grist mill on Bayou Menard near the crossing of the old stage coach road between Fort Gibson and Tahlequah. Flora Coodey was the sister of William Shorey Coodey who wrote the Act of Union between Cherokee factions and who sleeps in the Congressional Cemetery at Washington. His burial service was conducted by the Masonic Lodge of Washington and his funeral cortege was led by the United States Marine Band.2 The wedding took place at Clark's Springs, the plantation home of the bride's parents, east of Fort Gibson, on February 20, 1839.3
As a subaltern Rucker served almost ten years on the frontier in the Indian Territory and the great plains north of there "which were more unknown to civilization than Alaska now is, and far more difficult of access."4
By his marriage to Miss Coodey, Rucker had two sons who died at an early age, a son named Ross survived and a daughter called Louise who made her home in Washington for many years and outlived her father.5
In 1845, Lieutenant Rucker, after being absent from Fort Gibson for several months on official duty on the plains, returned to find his wife in a dying condition. After a short illness she passed away June 27, 1845, at the age of twenty-one years and five months. Mrs.
1Appletons' Cyclopaedia of American Biography, New York, 1888, vol. 5, p. 341; The Evening Star (Washington, D. C.), Thursday, January 6, 1910, p. 7, col. 7.
Rucker was buried in Fort Gibson where her tomb may be seen in the officers' circle in the National Cemetery.6
Rucker became a first lieutenant October 8, 1844; his regiment, the First Dragoons, participated in the Mexican War which was proclaimed by President Polk May 13, 1846. Rucker was ordered from Fort Gibson to Fort Smith, thence via Fort Towson and Robbin's Ferry on Trinity River, to San Antonio de Bexar to become a part of Gen. John Ellis Wool's invasion of Mexico.7
Troops A and E of the First Dragoons took part in the Battle of Buena Vista, Mexico on February 23, 1847; Captain Rucker commanded a squadron. The battlefield of Buena Vista was a hacienda of the same name about five miles south of the city of Saltillo. Captain Enoch Steen of the Dragoons was wounded when the left flank was turned and Rucker was ordered to move up a ravine and charge the enemy; before this order could be carried out it was countermanded and Rucker was directed to join Lieutenant Colonel Charles Augustus May, who was advancing with his squadrons of the Second Dragoons, a squadron of Arkansas cavalry under Capt. Albert Pike and other troops.8
The wagon train of the United States troops was menaced by Mexican lancers who were driven back in great disorder by the Dragoons under Captain Rucker.9
For his gallant and meritorious services in this battle Rucker was brevetted a major.10
On Saturday, July 17, 1847, Susan Shelby Magoffin noted in her diary at Saltillo: "There is some talk of another stampede; report says that Capt. Rucker's company of Dragoon scouts has been cut off by 3000 Mex., and a picket guard comes in in haste to the General saying they have seen 3000 Mexicanos, but all except a few were without arms.11
On August 23, 1849, Rucker was transferred to the Quartermaster's Department in which branch of the service he continued until he was retired.
One of the most exciting and useful periods in the life of Major Rucker was his duty in California during the gold rush of
6Cherokee Advocate (Tahlequah, Indian Territory), July 3, 1845, p. 3; col. 1; Grant Foreman, Advancing the Frontier, Norman, 1933, p. 63.
8John S. Jenkins, History of the War Between the United States and Mexico, Philadelphia, 1890, pp. 217, 231.
9Fayette Robinson, An Account of the Organization of the Army of the United States, Philadelphia, 1848, vol. 2, p. 85.
10Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, Washington, 1903, vol. 1, p. 849; The Evening Star, (Washington, D. C.), January 6, 1910, p. 7, col. 7; Albert G. Brackett, History of the United States Cavalry, New York, 1865, p. 83.
11Stella M. Drumm (ed.), Down the Santa Fe Trail, Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin, New Haven, 1926, p. 240.
1849. Countless emigrants, possessed with the hope of finding gold, rushed across the plains without proper provisions to meet the emergencies they were forced to encounter. In order to relieve parties that were about to perish in September, 1849, in snow storms, Gen. Persifor F. Smith ordered Major Rucker to take charge of $100,000 and a large amount of government stores. He was directed to establish depots of provisions, horses, and men, at intervals of about three days' distant from the Sacramento Valley, eastward to the desert beyond Salmon Trout River.12
Major Rucker immediately purchased stores, wagons, cattle and other provisions to relieve the emigrants; his report to General Smith described the conditions in a graphic way: "a more pitiable sight than those wearied, diseased and starving emigrants, I had never beheld. There were cripples from scurvey and other diseases, women prostrated by weakness, and children who could not move a limb. In advance of the wagons were men, mounted on mules, who had to be lifted on and off their animals, so entirely disabled had they become from the effects of scurvey. No one could view this scene of helplessness without commending the foresight that dictated the relief, without which some of the recipients would have inevitably perished in the snows. It would have been difficult for the most healthy to have worked their way in through the storm without assistance, much less those who had been deprived of the use of their limbs."13
A company of gold seekers that was saved by Rucker had been organized in Washington, D. C. Under J. Goldsborough Bruff, in fine gray uniforms, these men had paraded in front of the White House before starting west. Caught in the snow storm in the California mountains they would have perished if they had not met Major Rucker on Feather River and received food from him. Rucker had become acquainted with many Cherokees while stationed in Indian Territory and he was ably assisted by a man of that tribe named Senora Hicks who carried instructions to relief parties and advice to emigrants.
Rucker's men covered the Lassen route, also called the Cherokee Cutoff, the Truckee route and the Carson River route. After a deep snow followed by heavy rains the roads were impassable and an aide of Rucker reported that for twenty miles on one trail wagons were buried to the beds in mud; oxen belonging to the emigrants
12Missouri Statesman (Columbia), Friday, October 5, 1849, p. 3, col. 1, from The Pacific Weekly News, September 5, 1849.
13Message of the President [Millard Fillmore] of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress, at the Commencement of the Second Session of the Thirty-first Congress. December 2, 1850. Senate Ex. Doc. No. 1. Report of D. H. Vinton, Major and Quartermaster to General T. S. Jesup, Quartermaster General U. S. A., Washington, D. C. March 29, 1850, pp. 257-8.
were dead all around the stranded party which soon would have perished had relief not reached them.
Major Rucker, though ill with mountain fever much of the time, saw his mission finally carried to a finish on November 26, 1849 when a party headed by a man named Peoples was brought into Lassen's Ranch.14
In 1850, at the age of thirty-eight, Major Rucker married Irene, a daughter of Capt. Daniel Curtis; his daughter by this second wife was married to Gen. Philip H. Sheridan in 1879.15
At the beginning of the Civil War Rucker was offered a post as major of the Sixth Cavalry but declined it; he became a major in the Quartermaster Department August 3, 1861; colonel and aide de camp September 28, 1861. He was appointed brigadier general of volunteers May 23, 1863 and on July 5, the next year he was brevetted lieutenant colonel, colonel and brigadier general in the United States Army for diligent and faithful service during the war. The brevets of major general of the U. S. Army, and major general of U. S. volunteers were awarded Rucker on March 13, 1865, for faithful and meritorious service during the war.
"If I remember correctly, Colonel Daniel H. Rucker was the principal quartermaster at the capital during a considerable part of the war; and I distinctly recollect hearing him often spoken of by public men and others as an energetic officer and courteous gentleman . . ."16
The magnitude of operations in the Quartermaster's Department necessary to carry on the Civil War required a man of unusual ability which Rucker appears to have shown himself.
On July 28, 1866, Rucker received an appointment as colonel and assistant quartermaster general; he was mustered out of the volunteer service September 1 of the same year; after that date he served as quartermaster general at various points until February 13, 1882 when he was appointed quartermaster general of the Army with the rank of brigadier general; he succeeded Brigadier General M. C. Meigs and held the position until February 23 when he was retired after forty-five years service.17
From Chicago, December 5, 1872, General Rucker wrote the War Department requesting copies of all of his commissions in the Army as his originals had been destroyed in the great Chicago fire in the autumn of that year.18 Lieutenant General Sheridan, son-in-law of General Rucker, telegraphed General Sherman from New
16L. D. Ingersoll, A History of the War Department of the United States, Washington, D. C., 1880, p. 192.
York, June 18, 1880, to request him to ask President Hayes to appoint Rucker Quartermaster General in case General Meigs was retired.19
After his retirement General Rucker continued to reside in Washington; he had a controversy with an insurance company after he reached the age of ninety-seven when he refused to accept a settlement offered in 1909, on the theory that he was statistically dead.
General Rucker was taken dangerously ill the last week in December, 1909, and died of uraemic poisoning at his residence, 1824 Jefferson Place, January 6, 1910. At his burial in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, January 10, there were eight body bearers, a trumpeter and firing squad.
At the time of his death it was stated that Kit Carson had once been with Rucker on an expedition against the Indians when they shared the same tent. The General engaged in several fights against the Utes in his early service. He lived in every presidential administration except those of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. During his lifetime changes came about never dreamed of in his boyhood; railroads were built, steamboats were invented and plowed the rivers, the electric telegraph, telephones, sewing machines, submarines as well as flying machines were all invented and in common use before taps were sounded over his grave.20