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We now return to Chapter 1 of The Rough Riders, which is already in progress. Don't panic, we still haven't made it to Cuba yet.

“The only organized bodies” (that is, regular army) they were allowed to accept were from the Four Territories, “that is, from the lands that have been most recently won over to white civilization, and in which the conditions of life are nearest those that obtained on the frontier when there still was a frontier.” (I'm still really shaky on my history here, but since the mustering-places were New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Indian Territory (which had by this time been whittled down to what's now eastern Oklahoma), those are the four he means.) However, their original allotment of 780 men was raised to 1,000, which allowed for recruitment of volunteers outside the Southwest, and since you must love them to love their war, their colorful stories make up the next part of the chapter.

First up: the college boys, social clubs, “and from among the men who belonged neither to club nor to college, but in whose veins the blood stirred with the same impulse which once sent the Vikings over sea.” Were there a lot of Viking raiders in the social set? Is that why T.R. the Prez was a trust buster, fearing the rise of overmonied raiders sailing down the Hudson in massive boats rowed by child labor? “The Morgan mansion is mine this day!” one would shout, holding his battle axe high over his head, ragged bands of accountants kneeling at his feet checking the latest stock tickers. Yes, we have done the Devil's work this day, but look at the spoils, my friends! Now make poses with me, my doughy plutocratic bretheren!

Pardon me, I went on a little trip there. Anyway, the college guys...

Harvard being my own college, I had such a swarm of applications from it that I could not take one in ten. What particularly pleased me, not only in the Harvard but the Yale and Princeton men, and, indeed, in these recruits from the older States generally, was that they did not ask for commissions. With hardly an exception they entered upon their duties as troopers in the spirit which they held to the end, merely endeavoring to show that no work could be too hard, too disagreeable, or too dangerous for them to perform, and neither asking nor receiving any reward in the way of promotion or consideration.

And what did you do with your summer break, punk? Backpacked around Europe? Bah. I snark in your general direction. And no, I never served, so you know what kind of jackass that makes me. Moving on...

The Harvard contingent was practically raised by Guy Murchie, of Maine. He saw all the fighting and did his duty with the utmost gallantry, and then left the service as he had entered it, a trooper, entirely satisfied to have done his duty—and no man did it better. So it was with Dudley Dean, perhaps the best quarterback who ever played on a Harvard Eleven; and so with Bob Wrenn, a quarterback whose feats rivalled those of Dean's, and who, in addition, was the champion tennis player of America, and had, on two different years, saved this championship from going to an Englishman. So it was with Yale men like Waller, the high jumper, and Garrison and Girard; and with Princeton men like Devereux and Channing, the foot-ball players; with Larned, the tennis player; with Craig Wadsworth, the steeple-chase rider; with Joe Stevens, the crack polo player; with Hamilton Fish, the ex-captain of the Columbia crew, and with scores of others whose names are quite as worthy of mention as any of those I have given. Indeed, they all sought entry into the ranks of the Rough Riders as eagerly as if it meant something widely different from hard work, rough fare, and the possibility of death; and the reason why they turned out to be such good soldiers lay largely in the fact that they were men who had thoroughly counted the cost before entering, and who went into the regiment because they believed that this offered their best chance for seeing hard and dangerous service. Mason Mitchell, of New York, who had been a chief of scouts in the Riel Rebellion, travelled all the way to San Antonio to enlist; and others came there from distances as great. (pp. 10-12)

Seriously, I know we're talking 110 years' distance, but this is almost like a university from another dimension. I know a few college guys who don't even “thoroughly count the cost” of choosing a cellphone carrier or posting their contact information on an Internet forum. Who knows from life or death?

The Colonel also made room for his own friends, including Harvard classmate Woodbury Kane (“All he desired was the chance to do whatever work he was put to do well, and to get to the front; and he enlisted as a trooper.”) and “ranch partner” Robert Munro Ferguson. Some of the recruits from Virginia, Maryland and the Northeastern states got a “facts of life” talk before they were sworn in that yes, there was danger and blood and bullets ahead, but there was also exhausting work ahead too, sometimes tedious but always necessary, and you were expected to face them equally. “I warned them that work that was merely irksome and disagreeable must be faced as readily as work that was dangerous, and that no complaint of any kind must be made; and I told them that they were entirely at liberty not to go, but that after they had once signed there could then be no backing out. Not a man of them backed out; not one of them failed to do his whole duty.”

The bulk of the regiment was strictly Four Territories, and you can tell Roosevelt really loved those guys. And since, as I mentioned, you must love them too, here comes the romance of the barely tamed Southwest.

They were a splendid set of men, these Southwesterners—tall and sinewy, with resolute, weather-beaten faces, and eyes that looked a man straight in the face without flinching. They included in their ranks men of every occupation; but the three types were those of the cow-boy, the hunter, and the mining prospector—the man who wandered hither and thither, killing game for a living, and spending his life in the quest for metal wealth.

In all the world there could be no better material for soldiers than that afforded by these grim hunters of the mountains, these wild rough riders of the plains. They were accustomed to handling wild and savage horses; they were accustomed to following the chase with the rifle, both for sport and as a means of livelihood. Varied though their occupations had been, almost all had, at one time or another, herded cattle and hunted big game. They were hardened to life in the open, and to shifting for themselves under adverse circumstances. They were used, for all their lawless freedom, to the rough discipline of the round-up and the mining company. Some of them came from the small frontier towns; but most were from the wilderness, having left their lonely hunters' cabins and shifting cow-camps to seek new and more stirring adventures beyond the sea. (pp. 15-16)

From here, T.R. makes the case for the officers and works his way backwards to the enlisted men.

The Captains and Lieutenants were sometimes men who had campaigned in the regular army against Apache, Ute, and Cheyenne, and who, on completing their term of service, had shown their energy by settling in the new communities and growing up to be men of mark. In other cases they were sheriffs, marshals, deputy-sheriffs, and deputy-marshals—men who had fought Indians, and still more often had waged relentless war upon the bands of white desperadoes. There was Bucky O'Neill, of Arizona, Captain of Troop A, the Mayor of Prescott, a famous sheriff throughout the West for his feats of victorious warfare against the Apache, no less than against the white road-agents and man-killers. His father had fought in Meagher's Brigade in the Civil War; and he was himself a born soldier, a born leader of men. He was a wild, reckless fellow, soft spoken, and of dauntless courage and boundless ambition; he was stanchly loyal to his friends, and cared for his men in every way. There was Captain Llewellen, of New Mexico, a good citizen, a political leader, and one of the most noted peace-officers of the country; he had been shot four times in pitched fights with red marauders and white outlaws. There was Lieutenant Ballard, who had broken up the Black Jack gang of ill-omened notoriety, and his Captain, Curry, another New Mexican sheriff of fame. The officers from the Indian Territory had almost all served as marshals and deputy-marshals; and in the Indian Territory, service as a deputy-marshal meant capacity to fight stand-up battles with the gangs of outlaws. (pp. 16-17)

The ranks were mostly made up of young men, “yet some were past their first youth,” some of whom didn't have a last name, just a first preceded by a colorful adjective suitable for a Time-Life book (Cherokee Bill, Happy Jack, Smoky Moore). There were also Indians (or Native Americans, if you'd prefer), who we're assured were treated as equals, although only a very few were actually pure-blooded. “The others shaded off until they were absolutely indistinguishable from their white comrades,” and the majority of them were schooled “at one of those admirable Indian schools which have added so much to the total of the small credit account with which the White race balances the very unpleasant debit account of its dealings with the Red.” One of the best of the lot was Pollock, a full-blooded Pawnee.

Pollock was a silent, solitary fellow—an excellent penman, much given to drawing pictures. When we got down to Santiago he developed into the regimental clerk. I never suspected him of having a sense of humor until one day, at the end of our stay in Cuba, as he was sitting in the Adjutant's tent working over the returns, there turned up a trooper of the First who had been acting as barber. Eying him with immovable face Pollock asked, in a guttural voice: "Do you cut hair?" The man answered "Yes"; and Pollock continued, “Then you'd better cut mine," muttering, in an explanatory soliloquy: "Don't want to wear my hair long like a wild Indian when I'm in civilized warfare.” (p. 21)

We're running a little long again, so let's pick one more to represent the whole.

Another Indian came from Texas. He was a brakeman on the Southern Pacific, and wrote telling me he was an American Indian, and that he wanted to enlist. His name was Colbert, which at once attracted my attention; for I was familiar with the history of the Cherokees and Chickasaws during the eighteenth century, when they lived east of the Mississippi. Early in that century various traders, chiefly Scotchmen, settled among them, and the half-breed descendants of one named Colbert became the most noted chiefs of the Chickasaws. I summoned the applicant before me, and found that he was an excellent man, and, as I had supposed, a descendant of the old Chickasaw chiefs. (pp. 21-2)

Well heck, not a lot you can do with that, maybe an inappropriate reference to that Cher song or...wait, did he say Colbert?


Is this part of our continuing series “Better Know a Regiment!”? This week: The 1st Volunteer Cavalry. THE FIGHTIN' FIRST!

No no, it was probably this guy from Troop F, the only Colbert on the muster-out roll. I doubt there's a real connection, unless the Choctaw Nation was infiltrated by Irish Catholics at some point (not entirely impossible, y'know). There's just something in the eyes that makes me want to know how he pronounced his last name. As to why Roosevelt calls him a Chickasaw and his picture is in a modern book about the Choctaws...well, most of the letters are the same. Cut a legend-in-the-making some slack, Jack.

We're also assured that while there were some “wild Indians,” it was a wildness like the cowboys with which they hung out, and a bit of “rough discipline” brought the hardest of them around. A taste of the lash? A big stick, maybe? Wouldn't that be cheaply ironic...

From Texas, they tapped the ranks of the famous Texas Rangers, which gave them Nolan Ryan, Gaylord Perry, and...oh wait. Chuck Norris? No? Aw hell, let me start again.

From Texas, they tapped the ranks of the famous Texas Rangers, which gave them disciplined frontier fighters who didn't need much to get up to speed. “They were accustomed to living in the open, to enduring great fatigue and hardship, and to encountering all kinds of danger.” Many of the recruits from Arizona and New Mexico were fresh (if that's the word for it) from Apache fighting, but they weren't exactly the standard from those territories.

As a rule, the men were more apt, however, to have had experience in warring against white desperadoes and law-breakers than against Indians. Some of our best recruits came from Colorado. One, a very large, hawk-eyed man, Benjamin Franklin Daniels, had been Marshal of Dodge City when that pleasing town was probably the toughest abode of civilized man to be found anywhere on the continent. In the course of the exercise of his rather lurid functions as peace-officer he had lost half of one ear—"bitten off," it was explained to me. Naturally, he viewed the dangers of battle with philosophic calm. Such a man was, in reality, a veteran even in his first fight, and was a tower of strength to the recruits in his part of the line. With him there came into the regiment a deputy marshal from Cripple Creek named Sherman Bell. Bell had a hernia, but he was so excellent a man that we decided to take him. I do not think I ever saw greater resolution than Bell displayed throughout the campaign. In Cuba the great exertions which he was forced to make, again and again opened the hernia, and the surgeons insisted that he must return to the United States; but he simply would not go. (pp. 25-6)

All terribly exciting, and the part of Daniels' personal legend which T.R. didn't cover is red-blooded enough to make even John McCain look like he's wearing a dress, yet I'm sad to say that my first question was if he came before or after Marshall Dillon. And if that's where Chester Goode went after season eight.

“The temptation is great,” the Colonel tells us, “to go on enumerating man after man who stood pre-eminent, whether as a killer of game, a tamer of horses, or a queller of disorder among his people, or who, mayhap, stood out with a more evil prominence as himself a dangerous man—one given to the taking of life on small provocation, or one who was ready to earn his living outside the law if the occasion demanded it.” Yeah, tell me about it. So that we won't be here all day, let's concede this point that yes, they were awesome men (and did I mention you must love them? Our whole foreign policy depends on it!), but the trick was to make them into a unified fighting force. We'll have to deal with in the next post.

Next: Basic training, which might actually be a shorter post for a change. Dammit, we still haven't made it out of Chapter 1! Why must your yarn intrigue me so, o great and powerful T.R.?


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