Monday, March 10, 2008
Captain Henry A Smith Indian Fighter
Captain Henry A Smith National Indian War Veteran.
This is Henry A. Smith as a Private in the 1st U.S. Artillery. He is in his full dress uniform and helmet.
ORWIGSBURG INDIAN FIGHTER
CAPTAIN HENRY A. SMITH
This story is about Henry A. Smith, known for many years as Captain Smith the Indian fighter. Although the title Captain had nothing to due with his rank in the military, it was a name he acquired because he always wore a cap, and some how Cap got changed to Captain over the years. This little tid bit was told to me by long time Orwigsburg resident Mrs. Laura Kauffman who knew Cap Smith as a child. She also told me all the children in the town were afraid of him, because he had this real big mustache and looked scary.
At any rate Cap or Captain Smith was a veteran of the Indian Wars from 1888-1895. He was a proud member of the National Indian War Veterans organization.
In 1944 Cap gave an interview to Herrwood E. Hobbs, well know historian and writer from Pottsville. Following is Herrwood's interview.
Rocket, guns, robot planes and radar are all right for the battles of World War II but there’s nothing like a good old Gatling gun, some carbines and six shooters for fancy fighting.
That’s the way Captain Henry A. Smith, Orwigsburg, a veteran of the last great Indian War battle in the United States feels about it.
Captain Smith-nobody calls him anything else-is one of the last of a little known veteran’s organization, the National Indian War Veterans, and every inch of him lives up to any conception of a real live Indian fighter.
Dressed up in his blue coat and hat of the N.I. W.V., Captain Smith somewhat resembles the fast thinning Civil War veterans. The brass buttons on the coat flank two tiny insignias bearing the motto,” Primus Aut Nullus,” ( First or Nothing).
“And that’s just what our outfit was-first or nothing, “ recalls the Captain twirling a moustache that might have been a first cousin of the one owned by General George Custer whose defeat at the hands of sitting Bull at the Little Big Horn wasn’t the last of the major Indian battles.
The Captain also wears a round service medal awarded veterans of the Indian Wars and the official badge of the N.I. W.V Association, red with blue stripes. All add significance and color to the genial fighter of the red skin who was not such a bad fellow after all in the Captain’s opinion.
“The United States Indian was not used right by the government, “indignantly declares Captain Smith. “They put the Indians on barren land on which even grass hoppers couldn’t be raised.”
“The Indian was a good fellow and one could become chums with some of them. If an Indian had to take sides against an old friend he’d always find a way to give you a warning before he went out after you, “he recalls.
The Captain doesn’t overlook some of the fancy tortures inflicted by the Indians on their hapless soldier captives, though. Some of the tortures and atrocities described by the veteran are obviously unprintable.
Captain Smith served two three year enlistments from 188 to 1895, with the U.S. Army. During that period he, he found much time to make observations of the vanishing American-that is between marching through knee deep snow, lying on cold ground in sub zero weather at night during campaigns and existing on coffee, hard tack and sow belly, “plus anything you could pick up off the land.”
He relates that he saw Chief Sitting Bull at least a dozen times and William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) as often.
“Sitting Bull was shot and killed in 1890-ironically by the Indian equivalent of military policemen, in a melee after the white man’s government had ordered him seized. The slaying occurred a short time before the battle of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on December 29 of that year. Captain Smith was in that battle.
“There had been some trouble with the Ghost Dances-a sort of Indian religious ceremonial and the Indians had been committing depredations after some fanatics stirred them up, “ The captain called on his remarkable memory.
“One third of the U.S. regular Army was in the field that winter. We marched some 200 miles with our mule trains and the snow was up to our knees. “The Indians were pretty well set for us. In some respects they were better armed than we were. There were five hardware stores in Rushkill, Nebraska, right across the South Dakota border, selling Marlin and Winchester rifles to the Indians.”
We had a regiment of infantry, four regiments of cavalry and our light battery of ten pieces, four guns, three and two tenths inches, and six mounted guns. I was one of the gunners on the heavy guns.”
“The battle lasted from sunrise to sunset and when it was finished we had practically wiped out the entire tribe. Even after the cease firing order came, some of our fellows kept firing on Indians trapped in the ravine. They got a medal of honor for it-So I’m told!”
“ Even at that, the day would have been lost if it hadn’t been for the colored cavalry-yes we had quite a few colored outfits and the Indians hated them like sin. When our Indian scouts signaled for reinforcements, the colored riders jumped on their horses, some without boots, saddles and bridles and galloped into battle.” They saved the day.
Wounded Knee was the last of the great Indian battles. Trouble after that time was sporadic and not to serious. But some Indian sympathizers insist that Wounded Knee was not a battle but a massacre, setting the number of red skins killed at 200 women and children and only 90 men.
Outstanding in Captain Smiths’s recollections of the Indians was the Sioux squaw. “They didn’t fight but they were assigned to guard the prisoners. Nobody ever escaped on them. They also practiced some torture on the captives and when the battle came painted themselves as hideously as their braves did,” he recollects.
Soldiering in the uncertain South Dakota weather was a rigors trial. “We once marched four days while it snowed constantly-as fine as Epsom salt-and never saw the sun. 12 miles away it hadn’t snowed at all, “He recalls.
The captain will discreetly admit taking a swig or two of Indian “Firewater” while he was in the Badlands. His appraisal of the liquor was “pretty good”.
Captain Smith was born on Independence St, Orwigsburg. After a short lived education, he went to work in J.T. Shoener Shoe Factory at the age of 13, earning a dollar a week. When he wound up his army career, he came back to Orwigsburg in 1895, organized a cadet Corps and went to work as a stationary engineer. He had a stroke in 1930, but shows no sign of debility.
He lives at 300 Independence St. with a half brother, William Alfred Dietrich. Another half brother, Charles F. Dietrich, live in Middletown. His wife, the former Ida M. Seifert, is dead. The couple had no children.
Captain Smith is addicted to the pipe smoking, “the stronger the better, “but also enjoys a cigar. Gifted with a rare sense of humor and geniality, he is beloved by all of Orwigsburg.
Though obviously prouds of his Indian War record, Captain Smith lays no claims to being the only county veteran of this trouble. At his instance, a check up reveled that Joseph Staudenmeir, Spruce St. Ashland, father of Atty. C.W. Staudenmeir, also fought the Indians in the late years of the last century. Mr. Staudenmeir is in his nineties.
Captain Smith was a member of the 1st. U.S. Artillery.
The battle or massacre depending upon how you view history that Captain Smith participated in at Wounded Knee on December 29 is so controversial I will let the reader decide for themselves what they think was right and what was wrong. I always take an open eye to history and place no judgment on either side primarily because I was not part of the event. I have inserted a few web sites that I found on Wounded Knee for the reader to look at.