Full Military Honors

Very few ceremonies are as poignant and gut wrenching as a military funeral, especially when the deceased is the recipient of full military honors. The solemnity of the occasion is underscored by the service men and women in their dress uniforms that comprise the escort platoon. Their bearing and actions bespeak deep respect and silent thanks for the selfless service and sacrifice rendered in times of war and peace in defense of our country. A horse-drawn caisson transports the remains to the grave site. An American flag is draped over the coffin with the blue field of stars at the head and the red and white stripes covering the length of the casket. All horses are saddled, but those on the right are riderless, harkening back to the days when horses were used to haul ammunition and provisions to the battlefield. A military band provides patriotic music. A rifle detail fires three volleys signifying duty, honor, country. Finally, the mournful notes of “Taps” are played by a lone bugler.


For anyone who isn’t aware, Taps was sounded for the first time in July 1862 during the Civil War. Subsequently words were put with the music. According to the official Arlington National Cemetery website the first were “Go to Sleep, Go to Sleep.” As the years went on many more versions were created, but there are no official words to the music.

This is one rendering – excerpt from Silver Taps:

Day is done, gone the sun,

From the hills, from the lake,

From the sky.

All is well, safely rest,

God is nigh.

Go to sleep, peaceful sleep,

May the soldier or sailor,

God keep.

On the land or the deep, 

Safe in sleep.

Love, good night, Must thou go,

When the day, And the night

Need thee so?

All is well. Speedeth all

To their rest.

Fades the light; And afar

Goeth day, And the stars 

Shineth bright,

Fare thee well; Day has gone,

Night is on.

Thanks and praise, For our days,

“Neath the sun, ‘Neath the stars,

‘Neath the sky,

As we go, This we know,

               God is nigh.             

This post is in loving memory of a very dear friend and brother-in-arms, Fred Roderick Wilson, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army,  laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, October 3, 2017.                                                                                                                                                                                         

A Twist of Fate

Doc Holiday

Doctor John Henry Holliday graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Dentistry in 1872 with every intention of settling in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, marrying his cousin, Martha Anne, and raising a family in his beloved South. A chronic cough, which would be diagnosed as tuberculosis, altered his plans. Several physicians counseled “Doc” – a nickname he acquired while at Pennsylvania College – to move to an arid climate to help prolong his life; none gave him much hope for longevity. Despondent, Doc abandoned his hopes for marriage and a career and headed west.

Fame and notoriety would accompany Doc Holliday. He would meet and befriend two people at Fort Griffin in 1877 that would henceforth forever be linked with his name, Wyatt Earp and Maria Katarina Harony, otherwise known as “Big Nose Kate.”

The bond forged with Wyatt Earp would result in a lifelong friendship that allowed both men to look past each other’s failings and be there for one another in all circumstances. It would embroil Doc Holliday in Earp’s dispute with the Clantons and the McLaurys that culminated on October 26, 1881 in the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.”

His association with Katarina Harony would also be a tumultuous one. Kate was a dance hall girl and sometimes prostitute. Like Doc and Wyatt, the two initially looked past each others shortcomings and became inseparable. Doc forgave her previous indiscretions and Kate overlooked his two vices; gambling and whiskey. However, Kate would soon tire of their relationship and return to saloons and whoring.

Doc died of consumption November 8, 1887 at the Glenwood Springs Hotel, Colorado, at age 36. By then Martha Anne had entered a convent, and neither his friend Wyatt Earp nor his consort Katarina Harony would be by his side. Doc Holliday was buried in the Pioneer Cemetery in Linwood, Colorado. – excerpt from Palo Duro.


Messianic War



In 1874 the Comanche performed the Sun Dance for the first time. This spiritual practice consisted of various elements; specific dance movements, songs, drum beats, smoking a sacred pipe, meditation, prayer, fasting, even piercing the flesh to bring about the return of the buffalo and the reemergence of the various Plains Indian tribes as masters of their own territory and fate. The rites had previously been celebrated by other indigenous peoples, but never before adopted by the Comanche.

The Medicine Man responsible for this was White Eagle of the Quahadi Comanche. In a dream the Great Spirit had spoken to him and not only prophesied victory over the whites but total invincibility in battle.

White Eagle was now convinced that if all the autonomous bands came together and brought the other Southern Plains Indians along with them, they would be an unstoppable force. This would not just be a continuation of previous sporadic raids against the whites, but a Messianic war wherein White Eagle’s powers would cause bullets to fall to the ground and none of the Indians could be hurt or killed. – excerpt from Palo Duro.

The prophecy would prove false and precipitate the eventual defeat, surrender, and subjugation of all the Southern Plains Indians.

Though White Eagle was exposed as a fraud, disgraced, and publicly discredited, traditional healers and spiritual leaders within the American Indian culture were respected and venerated for their ability to communicate and interact with the spirit world of their ancestors. They were keepers of the secrets of how the people came to be, and their practices were sacred and jealously safeguarded. As wardens of centuries of tradition they influenced practically every aspect of Indian life.

To the white man, however, their practices were savage and barbarous. Like White Eagle’s vision, they were intended to stir up resentment and resistance to all attempts at assimilation into white culture. So, though every act had religious significance to American Indians, they were viewed by white society solely in the context of keeping the tribes on a war footing and as such had to be eradicated.

Towards this end the U.S. Government enacted the Indian Religious Crime Code of 1883 which denied Native Americans the first amendment right to “freedom of religion.” Traditional ceremonies such as the Sun Dance were outlawed, and those worshipers who held onto the old ways were arrested, indicted, tried, and imprisoned.

It would be 1978 before these restrictive policies were overturned by the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.


Shanty Towns

The Army abandoned Fort Griffin in 1881. Initially established in 1867 to protect settlers from Comanche and Kiowa raids, the fort was garrisoned by four companies of the Sixth Cavalry and was situated on the high ground between the West Fork of the Trinity River and the Clear Fork of the Brazos in Shackelford County, Texas.

The state acquired the land in 1935, partially restored the frontier fort through the efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and under the oversight of the Texas Historical Association opened the ruins and grounds to the public in 1938 as a State Park.


In addition to the military garrison, a shanty town soon developed in what became known as “the Flat.” Primitive facilities were erected catering to the male dominated population and included saloons, gambling halls, and brothels. The site soon became synonymous with vice and lawlessness.

Of course, military stockade construction was invariably followed by civilian construction of shanty towns to accommodate all  the hunters, cowboys, gamblers, prostitutes, outlaws, merchants and gunslingers that populated these settlements.Not all such towns were “seedy;” some would flourish into cities with law and order, schools and churches. However, Griffin (so named after the fort) was considered one of the wildest places on the Southern Plains.

Most folk didn’t refer to the town as Griffin. It was at various times called “Camp Wilson, the Bottom, or Hidetown,” but the name most commonly associated with the town was “the Flat.” Regardless of what it was called, its reputation for crime became so bad that the military had to place it under martial law to reduce the  number of shootouts and murders, and to suppress the thriving but immoral trade in human flesh. Killings, vice and sin flourished at the “Babylon on the Brazos.” – excerpt from Palo Duro.

Griffin State Park is located just north of Albany, Texas at the juncture of Highway 283 and Park Road 58. It is open everyday except on major holidays (Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day) from 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM.

The Promise of Non-Retribution

Geronimo and the Apache’s surrender to General Nelson A. Miles at Skeleton Canyon in Arizona in 1886 brought an end to organized armed resistance by Native American Indians. Though never a chief, Geronimo’s legendary exploits had led the U.S. Army to deploy over five thousand troops in pursuit of the Chiricahua band that numbered no more than thirty-six when the end finally came.

After his capture Geronimo made only one request:

Today we are few. All but the warriors in my band have either been killed in battle, brought down by the white man’s diseases, or grown to old to fight. The women and children are tired. There is neither time nor place to bear more children or raise the few that survive. The women wail and shed tears. The children also cry. They have neither food to eat nor time to play. No child should grow up constantly in fear and with no permanent place to call their home. So we have come to Skeleton Canyon; not with heads bowed; not to plead or beg for life itself; but, in the realization that you represent our future. It is not the future envisioned by my ancestors, nor is it the future I want for my people. It is however, the only future left to the Apache. I ask only that you keep your promise and allow us to live out our days in the land of our ancestors. Just as the bones of our forefathers are buried in this canyon and in the land surrounding it, let my bones and those of my people join them at a location of your choosing, but within what has always been our homeland. – excerpt from Palo Duro.

The other Southern Plains tribes had already been forced into submission. Each had received assurances that there would be no retribution for past actions. Like so many of the promises made to the Indians, the promise of non-retribution proved false. In all, the U.S. Army imprisoned seventy-two Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapahoe, and Caddo Indians at Fort Marion, Florida. They were imprisoned without the benefit of a trial.

Geronimo’s fate was no different. Over the next twenty-two years the Apache were incarcerated at various locations in Florida, Alabama, and Oklahoma. Geronimo would never set foot in Arizona again. He died of pneumonia at Fort Sill, Oklahoma at age 80. In his autobiography he wrote, “I should never have surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man alive.”

Long Before They Were Legends

When anyone mentions the names Bat Masterson or Wyatt Earp, these icons of the Old West conjure images of law enforcement in places like Dodge City, Kansas and Tombstone, Arizona.

Bat Masterson became one of the most famous lawmen of the era even though he was seldom involved in shootouts of any kind. He did gun down one Jack Wagner for killing his brother, Ed Masterson, and had intended to use lethal force as a member of “The Dodge City Peace Commission” when the Dodge City Council closed the gambling halls, saloons and brothels in the interest of stopping vice and immorality. Not a single shot was fired, however, because the governor intervened  in the interest of “sound economics,” reversing the ordinances that threatened the financial livelihood of the city.

Bat Masterson wore a bowler hat and three-piece suit and carried a silver tipped cane; hardly the image of a lawman, but emblematic of high fashion at the time. It earned him the moniker “Dandy” in spite of his ability to hold his own in any encounter against outlaws or anyone looking to cause trouble.

His friend, Wyatt Earp, on the other hand would come to epitomize “the lawman” in the public’s imagination. The “Gunfight at the OK Corral” solidified his place in history and our perception of him as the stalwart Marshall of Dodge City and Tombstone who brought law and order to the frontier. In truth, after the famous confrontation with the McLaury brothers and Ike Clanton he carried out a personal vendetta against “The Cowboys” that killed his brother, Morgan, and seriously wounded his brother, James.

Although involved in numerous gun fights over his lifetime, Wyatt Earp was never once wounded which only added to his legend and mystique.

Of course, as young men, long before either achieved fame, they met and labored in the buffalo hide trade. Bat Masterson, at the age of twenty, had been at the 2nd Battle of Adobe Walls when a coalition of Comanche, Southern Cheyenne, Kiowa and Plains Apache led by the Comanche war chief, Quanah Parker, attacked the isolated outpost. He survived the battle and volunteered to lead the survivors to safety before returning to his previous occupation.

Though his presence at Adobe Walls amongst fellow buffalo hunters had placed Bat Masterson in danger, youth has a way of ignoring threats to life and limb, and Bat returned to the lucrative trade.

It was during this stage of his life that he met Wyatt Earp and struck up a friendship that would see both men go on to become legendary Kansas lawmen; but at the moment, the two sidekicks found themselves knee deep in blood and covered with flies as they worked from dawn to dusk skinning and scraping buffalo hides. The year was 1877 and both had had their fill of the stench and labor involved, and each sought a new beginning. – excerpt from Palo Duro.

Lords of the Plains

Horses changed the way of life for the Comanche forever. They altered the nature of their culture from that of hunter-gatherers to a warrior society, making them the dominant force on the Southern Plains. So skillful were they in horsemanship that they became the finest light cavalry in existence. They subjugated other Native American tribes including the Kiowa, Arapahoe, Southern Cheyenne, and Plains Apache and struck fear into white settlers throughout the frontier.

The horse allowed the Comanche to cover increasingly longer distances on raids against all their enemies, and at their height they ranged on horseback from their stronghold in Palo Duro Canyon in West Texas throughout what would become known as Comancheria which included most of Texas and New Mexico, and portions of Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and Mexico.  Wild HorsesThe horse was symbolic of Comanche wealth and prestige and it would take the loss of their pony herd to finally force them to surrender. Their horses were slaughtered on orders from Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie following a deciding engagement at Palo Duro Canyon, September 28, 1874. Though but one trooper and fourteen Indians were killed in the fighting, the most devastating blow to the Comanche was the capture and execution of over 1,400 horses.

Ranald Mackenzie surveyed the burned encampments. All his efforts seemed to point to another campaign where he’d been unable to keep the Indians from escaping; another failure. He then looked toward the captured horses. Past experience told him he would be unable to keep the pony herd intact all the way back to friendly lines. The Indians would once again mount raids to recapture their mounts and the cycle of resistance and the so called “Red River War” would continue. Mackenzie had long since hardened himself against any pity for the enemy and now knew what was required of him. He ordered his Adjutant to drive the pony herd to Tule Canyon, to select fresh mounts for the troop and his Tonkawa Scouts, and to shoot all the remaining horses. – excerpt from Palo Duro.

Most of the Comanche gave up by November 1874. Quanah Parker and his band tried to hold out, however, the loss of the horses finally forced their surrender. Unable to hunt for food or effectively avoid pursuit by the military, the once proud Lords of the Plains capitulated. Quanah Parker led the Quahadi (the People) onto the reservation at Fort Sill, Oklahoma June 2, 1875.