Saturday, December 22, 2007

A True Story

I want to do something unexpected.

In the light of our new presidential race, (this will be a stretch, so bear with me), I thought of this old article. This story is also a tribute to our soldiers. For many years, our Army faced a daunting enemy in a war that seemed impossible to win. Here is the story of one soldier who paid the ulitimate price so that others might life free. It's a true story.

I wrote this article many years ago for the Texas Highways magazine, but it was never published. I now offer it to you.

An American Hero

On April 5, 1849, Captain Randolph Marcy left Fort Smith, Arkansas with 4 officers, 76 enlisted men, a doctor, a guide from the Delaware Nation, and around 2,000 emigrants bound for Santa Fe and ultimately the gold fields of California. They arrived 85 days latter and Captain Marcy prepared for his return trip. While in Santa Fe, Marcy learned of a trail that ran from El Paso to California that would be more direct than his previous northerly route. He enlisted a Comanche guide named Manuel who knew the country from Dona Ana, New Mexico to what is now Big Spring, Texas. They made camp on October 3 at the immense reservoir where the water came from the rocks. On October 5, Manuel left Marcy to return along the trail to New Mexico. They set up camp on October 6 approximately 8 miles south of present day Snyder in Scurry County. Marcy was ill and decided to maintain their camp for one more day, a decision that would forever haunt him.

After lunch, on October 6th, Lt. Harrison went to scout Deep Creek only two miles from their camp site. Night came but Harrison failed to return. Thinking that he might be lost, they fired a cannon hoping that he would hear it and return to camp. At dawn, they fired the cannon again but Harrison was still missing. Marcy sent scouts in all directions. Lt. Updegraff and a scout named Black Beaver followed Harrison’s tracks for a mile and a half past Deep Creek. The tracks left behind told the story.

Harrison was met by a party of Indians and joined them riding south. Marcy then sent Lt. Sackett and the dragoons to follow and retrieve Lt. Harrison. They found his naked and scalped body two miles later, just a mile north of present day Dunn in Scurry County in a ravine among some rocks. Marcy moved his camp three miles to the East. By this time, it was too dark to see the trail so they put off pursuit until morning.

A wagon was sent for the body. They dismantled a wagon bed and fashion a coffin for Harrison. His body was smeared with coal tar and packed in charcoal. The box was sealed with coal tar to be hauled to Fort Smith.

Lt. Sackett and the dragoons followed the trail 15 miles. Along the way, they found a saddle and a pair of moccasins that Black Beaver identified as Kiowa. Their horses were too exhausted to continue, so they stopped for the night. Sackett’s party returned to camp on October 9 without engaging the enemy.

Lieutenant Montgomery Pike Harrison was buried with full military honors at Fort Smith upon their return. Harrison was a brother to Benjamin Harrison, who would later become president of the United States in 1889, and grandson to President William Henry Harrison, who died in office eight years earlier. He was also the grandson of the famous explorer Zebulon Montgomery Pike, after whom Pike’s Peak in Colorado was named.

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