Before the days of the New Deal and the Great Society, the American social safety net was minimal. "Family values" was pretty much all there was back then.
Today's starting point is a man called Paul Beck, an only child born in 1897. In the 1900 Census, he and his parents were living with his maternal grandparents, New England natives Benaiah and Elise Everett, who'd settled near Lyons, Nebraska, likely in the 1850s. Benaiah's a farmer, as is his son John, 21. Paul's father, also Paul Beck, is a soldier. Unremarkably for a Census form, no occupation is listed for Ruth Everett Beck, Paul's mother.
I have yet to find any of the Beck family in the 1910 or 1920 Census. In 1930, Paul Jr. is living in 1930 with his uncle's family. No longer a Nebraska farm laborer, John has become an attorney in Sturgis, SD. Quite the story unfolded as I investigated those missing years. The first hints at something unusual were that Paul Jr. was born in Georgia, Paul Sr. in Texas, and Ruth & Paul Sr. married in Colorado. Much of that is explained by Paul Sr.'s occupation: soldier. Paul's father was a career Army man, too.
I thought the story of Col. Paul Beck's career as a pioneer military aviator was pretty interesting. And his 1922 murder at the hands of a State Supreme Court Judge, in the judge's home in Oklahoma City, is a doozie of a tale. But that will have to wait, until after what I've come upon the last few days about the military career of his father, William H. Beck.
Like many young men of his age throughout the United States, William Beck joined the Army in 1861 and went to war. He was discharged due to injury in February 1863, but signed back up in 1867 and had an army career for the next 40 years. For much of that time, he was a white officer serving in command of the Tenth Cavalry, one of the Army's segregated units for Colored soldiers.
The all-black regiments were established by Congress in 1866, and Beck was assigned as a Lieutenant in 1867, aide-de-camp to Col. Benjamin Grierson, the Tenth Cavalry's commander.
Black regulars after the Civil War served in segregated regiments. Two regiments of cavalry and four regiments of infantry were open only to “colored men.” About 20 percent of cavalry troopers in the Army were black. Overall, African-American soldiers made up 10 percent of the U.S. Army - serving in the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry. For 30 years - from 1869 until 1898 at the start of the Spanish-American War - up to 20,000 blacks joined the Army. They became known as Buffalo Soldiers.Their duties included protecting settlers and stagecoaches, including this one in 1869:
FORT DAVIS, TEXAS
October 28-December, 1877: Lieutenant Bullis with his Seminole-Negro Indian Scouts crossed the Rio Grande into the Santa Rosa Mountains. They ran across a band of warriors. After a skrimish, Bullis had to retreat. Two weeks later, Bullis, with Captain Young and Lieutenant Beck, took marched off to look for the hostiles. The terrain they went through was so rough that they lost eleven of their mules and all of their medical supplies. The cold froze the water in their canteens. Eventually, they over-took the Indians and fought until the warriors broke and ran. A large quantity of robes, dried meat, hides, ropes and saddles were destroyed with the capture of twenty-three horses. They were half frozen and half dead when they entered Fort Clark on December 3rd of the following month.
crossing the Gila River in Arizona (1878)
William H. Beck, First Lieutenant, got himself into a spot of trouble in the fall of 1878, serious enough that he was court martialed. There were 3 charges, containing 13 specifications. Five of them involved drunkenness, including this one:
Specification 6: “In this: That he, First Lieut. W.H. Beck, Tenth Cavalry, having left his command at Peña Blanca, Tex., being dressed in the uniform of a United States officer, or partly therein, and being in a state of intoxication, did ride his horse into the store of Mr. M. F. Corbett, a citizen and merchant of the town adjoining Fort Stockton, Tex. This in the presence of citizens and United States soldiers, thereby bringing disgrace and scandal upon himself as an officer of the United States Army. This at or near Fort Stockton, Tex., on or about October 25, 1878.”He was found guilty on all alcohol related counts.
Several particulars involved his treatment of the common troops, on a difficult forced march.
Specification 1: In this: That he, First Lieut. William H. Beck, Tenth Cavalry, while on detached service, in command of a scouting party of United States troops, did march the enlisted men of his command on foot, he himself being mounted, over a rough and mountainous country, the ground being covered, more or less, with stones, large and small, cactus, mesquite, and lechuguino, and the day being excessively hot, without sufficient halts or rests, thereby causing the enlisted men of his command to fall out of the ranks, and to lie down exhausted, and rendering it necessary for the medical officer on duty with the command, Acting Asst. Surg. M. F. Price, United States Army, to interpose as medical officer for their protection, there being no necessity for the aforesaid severity. This on the line of march near the Rio Grande River while approaching San Carlos (Ford’s) crossing, on the Rio Grand River, Tex., on or about the 25th day of September, 1878.
Beck was guilty on most of these counts, too, though many of the adjectives and all of the quotes were excised from the verdict. Perhaps worse (to the Army) was that he also drove the mules too hard:
In this: That he, First Lieut. W.H. Beck, Tenth Cavalry, did, without any urgent necessity, drive, or cause to be driven, in a cruel manner, four United States mules attached to an ambulance, the property of the United States, furnished for the use of the military service thereof, a distance of 45 miles, more or less, in about eight hours’ time, thereby causing the United States to suffer the loss, by death, of one of said mules, valued at about one hundred dollars, more or less. This between Camp Peña Blanca, Tex., and Fort Stockton, Tex. on or about the 22nd day of October, 1878.The sentence: Beck was "dismissed from the service of the United States." Except that President Rutherford B. Hayes commuted his sentence to one year at one-half pay, and suspension of rank. In the fall of 1879, he was restored to full rank and pay before that year was up.
One of the last Indian campaigns in the southwest was against Victorio's band of Apaches. The Apaches, feeling inhospitable towards encroaching settlement, railroads, mines, &c, tried to drive the intruders out. The Buffalo Soldiers, including the Tenth Cavalry, played a central role in putting the Apaches down. Ironically, the iconic image of the Cavalry charging in to save the day often was, in fact, black soldiers from the Ninth and Ten Cavalries (Colored.)
Fort Davis is located at the Davis Mountains in West Texas, remote, stark and beautiful country. Important for the Chihuahuan desert region is relatively abundant water. As has long been said in the Southwest, Agua es Vida. Controlling the water was the key to controlling the Apaches. In order to do that, the Army needed to know where the water was, as well as the surrounding terrain. Lt. Beck was part of a scouting mission in 1880, from which he drew this map:
The year was 1880 and the Apache Chief Victorio, along with 125 to 150 of his followers, had been raiding back and forth across the Rio Grande pillaging settlements in Chihuahua, New Mexico, and West Texas. Apache raiding parties were among the most formidable foes the Army encountered on the Indian frontier. They were lightly equipped, highly mobile, courageous with great endurance and had complete mastery of guerrilla tactics. Their habit was to avoid direct engagement, and they eluded the U.S. and Mexican armies on the border easily. Victorio and his warriors would run from the U.S. Army into Mexico and, in turn, retreat back across the river when Mexican Federales took up the chase. Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson, commanding the District of the Pecos and the 10th U. S. Cavalry, decided to no longer pursue the wily Victorio who always managed to avoid capture on both sides of the international border. However, Grierson, aware that the Indians could not get through the Trans-Pecos region without water, decided to station troops at strategic waterholes and crossings in an attempt to cut off Victorio’s escape route.
On August 3, 1880, after a brief skirmish with the Indians near Alamo Springs by Company H of the 10th Cavalry, Grierson marched northeast with the remainder of his unit to intercept the Apaches near Van Horn’s well. Learning that Victorio had changed directions, Grierson and five companies of the regiment went in pursuit. Traveling on the west side of the mountains parallel to the Indians’ line of march, the men made sixty-five miles in less than twenty-one hours and out-marched their fast moving enemy.
July 1880 Eagle Springs, Texas:In the end, Victorio's band were mostly all killed by Mexican federales. The Buffalo Soldiers of the Tenth Cavalry and the Twenty Fourth Infantry pretty much drove them out of West Texas and southeast New Mexico by denying access to water and key bottleneck points along major trails. Just maybe Lt. Beck's harsh forced marches helped in making this happen.Lieutenant Henry Flipper was the first black officer in the U. S. military and the first to graduate from the West Point Military Academy. He was in charge of three troopers who rode 98 miles in twenty-one hours to inform Captain Gillmore that Victorio's advance guard had been spotted. This information was forwarded to Colonel Grierson who thought Victorio and his warriors would head for Eagle Springs. His men marched sixty-eight miles in twenty-four hours to arrive there ahead of Victorio's band. To their disappointment, Victorio had turned northwest, heading for Rattlesnake Springs. That same night, they marched sixty miles more to Rattlesnake Springs.
Second Lt. Henry O. Flipper of the Tenth U.S Cavalry
Beck pops up, Zelig-like, in a variety of situations. I can think of multiple backstories for these items:
The Indictment by the federal grand Jury of Sheriff John Mullin of Thurston County, Nebraska, is an act of peculiar significance to those who are familiar with the details of the war which has been carried on by the citizens of Pender and the Flournoy Land and Live Stock company on one side and Capta'n William H Beck, Tenth United States cavalry, acting Indian agent for the Omaha and Winnebago reservations, on the other.The federal court of appeals found in Beck's favor in this matter, and the leases were voided. I saw mention that it would be appealed to the Supreme Court, and do not know what became of that legal action. Maybe he was a visionary or a decent man who took the federal trust responsibility for tribes seriously. Or maybe he just wanted to make sure to get a piece of the action to line his own pockets. (There was definitely plenty of corruption amongst Indian agents in those days.)
In brief, the history of the case is this The Flournoy Company leased several thousand acres of land from the Winnebago Indians. These lands they subleased to white settlers on the reservation, taking notes in payment of rent and transferring the paper to supposedly innocent purchasers in order to realize money to enable the company to carry on its business.
Captain Beck, claiming to act under instructions from the commissioner of Indian affairs, held that these leases were invalid and that no man might hold land under lease on the reservation unless it was countenanced by him and approved try the Secretary of the Interior.
Some time around then, Capt. Beck's youngest son Paul, an Army man himself, met and wooed Ruth Everett, the daughter of a Nebraska farmer. The story of how they came to wed in Denver might be lost forever. But I'm putting off their story till the next post, seeing how long this one is already. And we haven't even gotten to the 10th Cavalry charging up San Juan Hill right along with Teddy Roosevelt in the Spanish-American War. Many of them, including Capt. Beck, were decorated for their performance in battle.
A whole generation had passed since the slaves were freed; Reconstruction was on the wane and Jim Crow very much the way of the country. In an article with the subhead Negro Soldiers Have an Abnormal Idea of Their Equality with the Whites, the Atlanta Constitution reported:
The average colored soldier increases a hundredfold in his personal estimation of himself as soon as he gets a uniform and a gun, and he immediately insists upon maintaining a social equality between himself and the whites that would not suggest itself to him under ordinary circumstances. The result is always conflict, and ever since the troops got here, there has been a constant friction between the negroes and the white men that has proven the most unpleasant feature of life in camp.From the perspective of the modern day, it's more than obvious that conflict observed should not be laid on the black soldiers alone. But all was not interracial conflict amongst the troops. One can read a glimmer of the Civil Rights movement to come in this incident, reported in the same article:
The black cavalry regiments are well-officered, and Capt. William H. Beck, an old Indian fighter, said to me today that they would give a good account of themselves in action. We all hope and believe they will. But as associates of the whites in camp, they are an element of discord and disorder too pronounced to be ignored.
The Rev. W.H. Steinmeyer, of the Methodist Church here, has been trying to pour oil on the troubled waters from the very beginning, but without much success. He said to me this afternoon:The 2010 blog post I found discussing this Atlanta Constitution article is well worth reading in full.
"A few days ago, a white private, accompanied by two negroes, walked into a fashionable soda water saloon, laid a revolver on the counter and ordered three drinks. He got them, but a short time thereafter the place was closed and the sign on the door read, ‘No soda water.’ Should any more colored troops be sent to Lakeland,” concluded Mr. Steinmeyer, “I shall use my best efforts to have the town placed under martial law.”
THE LEGACY OF THE TENTH CAVALRY
Over time, the Tenth Cavalry developed their own traditions and characteristics. For example, they became known as trick riders and performed at exhibitions.
Nowadays, there are still battle re-enactments, reunions and other remembrances of the Tenth Cavalry and the other Colored Regiments. They have been commemorated in movies and on postage stamps.
They were known in their early years in the Indian Wars, too. Frederic Remington's pictures for The Century in widely-read article A Scout With the Buffalo Soldiers, after considerable time in the field, did much to promote their reputation with the American public, while simultaneously promoting his own career.
After Cuba, Capt. William H. Beck was promoted to Major in 1901. After the Tenth Cavalry's mission in the Philippines, there was another promotion in 1903, to Colonel. Two years later, he was commissioned Brigadier General, his rank upon retirement.
The nickname Buffalo Soldiers, often reported as originating with the Plains Indians, perhaps because their curly black hair was reminiscent of the buffalo's mane, has stuck. It became part of their official identity, including this logo: