FORT UNION
Historic Resource Study
NPS Logo

CHAPTER TEN:
FITNESS AND DISCIPLINE: HEALTH CARE AND MILITARY JUSTICE (continued)

     Soldiers could be effective in combat and other missions only if they were well disciplined, followed prescribed patterns of action, and obeyed their commanding officers. It was traditional in the army, especially among some officers, that harsh discipline made good soldiers. It also, unfortunately, made many unhappy soldiers. Military historian Jack D. Foner concluded: "For many years, American military penal philosophy was dominated by the concept that severe punishment alone could preserve order and deter potential offenders. Therefore, the sentences imposed by the military tribunals reflected an emphasis on harsh and cruel treatment." [123] Soldiers were punished for breaches of military regulations (of which there were many), including absence without leave, sleeping while on duty, drunkenness, theft, desertion, and conduct prejudicial to good order which covered a multitude of sins from insubordination to swearing. Guilt and punishment were determined by courts-martial. [124]

     Military regulations authorized any officer to charge any enlisted man with a breach of conduct and to order the soldier to be confined pending disposition of the alleged violation of rules. If the post commander or commander of the regiment considered the soldier's behavior should be tried by court-martial, formal charges were filed and the case was heard when the court was convened. The accusations comprised a charge or charges against the defendant, which identified the offense with which he was charged (for example, desertion), and a specification (which summarized the details of when, where, and what was alleged to have occurred). Foner found that "since even the slightest breach of discipline could become the basis for court-martial action, the number of army trials reached staggering proportions." During fiscal 1888 there were 13,542 trials conducted, when the size of the army was 24,110, giving the appearance that more than half the entire number of enlisted men were brought up on charges in one year. This was somewhat misleading, however, because there were a number of repeat offenders. [125] Many officers may have been assigned to serve on a court about as often as enlisted men were detailed for guard duty. Reform of the system of military justice did not occur until after Fort Union was abandoned.

     There were three types of courts-martial. A garrison court-martial, ordered by the post commander and tried by a panel of officers from the post (who served as both judge and jury), determined guilt or innocence and set the penalties for most offenses by enlisted men. Garrison courts-martial were held as often as once a month or as needed. A regimental court-martial was similar in organization and jurisdiction (but rarely used), except that it was ordered by the commander of the regiment. Major offenses of enlisted men and charges against officers were tried by a general court-martial, which was ordered by the department or district commander or higher officer and included officers from other posts. After hearing the charges and specifications against the accused, the court listened to testimony, questioned witnesses, and provided the alleged offender an opportunity to respond. If the defendant were found guilty as charged, the court established the penalties. [126]

     Punishments included confinement in the guardhouse or prison for a specified period, forfeiture of pay for a given time, reduction in rank, hard labor, walking a prescribed pattern while carrying a heavy weight for several hours each day, a sentence in a penitentiary (such as Fort Leavenworth), dishonorable discharge, disfigurement (branding, for example), and occasionally execution. A few soldiers were executed at Fort Union during the Civil War. A garrison or regimental court was limited in the cases it could try, for example it could not hear a capital case, and was restricted in the penalty it could assess. They could not "inflict a fine exceeding one month's pay, nor imprison, nor put to hard labor, any non-commissioned officer or soldier for a longer time than one month." [127]

     Punishment often varied for the same crime, and was frequently severe. In February 1851 a general court-martial in Santa Fe tried the cases of several Second Dragoons charged with forming a secret society in New Mexico known as the "Dark Riders," which included among its objectives "robbing and desertion." Of those found guilty, one was sentenced "to forfeit twelve dollars of his Pay, to work under charge of the Guard for one month & then be returned to duty." Two others received a much stronger sentence, "to forfeit twenty five dollars of his pay, to walk a ring daily six hours for one month twelve feet in diameter, then to labor two months with Ball & Chain attached to his Leg under charge of the Guard & be returned to duty." Each of four others faced the much more severe sentence "to forfeit all pay and allowances that are now or may become due him, to have his Head shaved, to have his face blackened daily and placed standing on a Barrel from 9 to 12 O'clock A.M., and from 2 to 5 O'clock P.M. daily for twenty days, then placed under charge of the Guard at hard Labor, with Ball & Chain attached to his Leg until an opportunity affords to be marched on foot carrying his Ball & Chain to Fort Leavenworth and there be drummed out of the Service." [128]

     Sometimes, after reviewing a case, superior officers objected to the severity of punishment or reduced the sentence. Private John Donavan was found guilty of desertion by a garrison court-martial at Fort Union in April 1852. Donavan had been sentenced to forfeit part of his salary for one month and to "walk in a ring for 15 days from reveille to retreat, with 15 minutes interval for each meal." General in Chief Winfield Scott later reprimanded Post Commander Carleton, declaring the punishment "was excessive and unreasonably severe, and ought not to have been approved and executed by you." [129] By the time that communication reached Fort Union, Donavan had already served the sentence. General Scott's protest presumably was considered in other similar cases.

     The military court had considerable control over punishment, regardless of what superior officers thought. The rules of military discipline and punishment were found in the "Articles of War," published in the Revised Army Regulations. The salient articles specified the behavior that subjected the offender to the judgment of a court-martial. These included any enlisted man or officer who displayed "contempt or disrespect toward his commanding officer" (Article 6); any enlisted man or officer who offered "any violence" against or disobeyed "any lawful command of his superior officer" (Article 9); desertion, for which the penalty could be death in time of war (Article 20); being absent without leave (Articles 21 and 41); selling or wasting ammunition (Article 37); selling, losing, or damaging "his horse, arms, clothes, or accoutrements" (Article 38); being found drunk while on duty (Article 45); and being found asleep while serving on guard duty or abandoning his post while on guard duty (Article 46). Article 99, under which numerous soldiers were charged and tried, provided that "all crimes not capital, and all disorders and neglects which officers and soldiers may be guilty of, to the prejudice of good order and military discipline, though not mentioned in the foregoing articles of war, are to be taken cognizance of by a general or regimental court-martial, according to the nature and degree of the offense, and be punished at their discretion." Virtually any minor offense could be construed to include "the prejudice of good order and military discipline." [130]

     The articles of war provided that enlisted men who were charged with any crime were to "be confined until tried by a court-martial, or released by proper authority." Frequently, if they were confined for some time before their case was heard, that period of confinement was considered part of their punishment. Thus, for example, if a soldier charged with an offense was held in the guardhouse for thirty days before his trial, and the court found him guilty and sentenced him to confinement for thirty days, his sentence was considered served by the time of his pre-trial confinement. Soldiers who committed a crime against a civilian were not tried by court-martial. They were turned over to civil authorities for judicial purposes. [131]

     Because desertion was a constant problem in the nineteenth-century army, additional regulations applied to that crime. A reward was authorized for "apprehension and delivery of a deserter to an officer of the army at the most convenient post or recruiting station." The rewards and other expenditures which resulted from the apprehension of deserters were, at the discretion of the court, deducted from the guilty soldiers' pay. An apprehended deserter received no pay for the time he was absent nor for the time he was awaiting trial in confinement. Deserters who were apprehended were required to serve the length of time they were absent in addition to the term of their enlistment, and deserters were not to be returned to duty "without trial." [132] Some deserters, usually repeat offenders, were dishonorably discharged. When Private Eddie Matthews, Eighth Cavalry, arrived at Fort Union in 1870, he found there were 29 prisoners in the guardhouse, "most all for desertion." [133]

     The amount of the reward paid to those who captured deserters varied over time. A minimum of $5.00 was authorized but rewards as high as $50.00 were given. In 1857 the reward was $30.00 at Fort Union. In that year Private Michael J. Frayne, a deserter from Company B, Third Infantry, was caught at Las Vegas and taken to Fort Union. While in confinement at the Fort Union guardhouse, awaiting trial, Frayne escaped but was captured the next day. A reward of $30 was paid for his apprehension. [134] A few weeks later Private John M. Forrest, Company A, Regiment of Mounted Riflemen, deserted from Fort Union. He was caught and brought back the following day, and $30 was paid to his captors. [135]

     Desertion was considered a serious crime because almost always the departing soldier took government property and, sometimes, the property of other soldiers with him. For example, in 1867, Private Eugene Smithline, Company I, Fifth Infantry, deserted from the post hospital at Fort Union, "carrying with him three blankets, two bottles of Brandy, one bottle of Whiskey and one bottle of Sherry Wine." He also stole "a number of watches, chains, and rings belonging to parties unknown." Post Surgeon DuBois notified the post commander and requested that "a party of men be detailed and ordered to search for the said Smithline with as little delay as possible." [136] Smithline apparently made good his escape, for no record of his capture was found. Had he been caught, he would most like have been tried by a general court-martial and kept at the Fort Union guardhouse.

     Soldiers convicted of serious crimes in New Mexico Territory were often incarcerated, at least temporarily, at Fort Union. In the fall of 1855 Captain Richard S. Ewell, First Dragoons, headed an escort of twelve soldiers to accompany Governor David Meriwether across the plains via the Santa Fe Trail. Ewell was also charged with the transport by wagon of four prisoners, who had been convicted of mutiny, were incarcerated in the Fort Union guardhouse, and were ordered "sent out of New Mexico in irons" and to "be put to labor with ball and chain at Fort Leavenworth." [137]

     Another example of this procedure, selected from a later era, occurred in late 1877. Then Sergeant John N. Davies, with two corporals and seven privates, Company H, Nineteenth Infantry, served as the guard to conduct eight convicts (six from Ninth Cavalry and two from Fifteenth Infantry) from the prison at Fort Union to Fort Leavenworth Military Prison. They were transported by wagon to the railroad in Colorado and traveled by rail the rest of the way. [138] Information about the crimes for which the convicts had been found guilty and the terms of their punishment were not located.

     It was common practice during most of the history of Fort Union to gather the most callous prisoners from throughout the department or district at that post, pending their delivery to the military prison at Fort Leavenworth or, occasionally, other places. If the soldiers were discharged from the service as part of their punishment, they were usually sent to a state prison. In 1868 thirteen prisoners were sent to the Missouri State Penitentiary. This practice explains why the third Fort Union had a guardhouse, to detain members of the garrison who committed minor violations of army regulations, and a prison with stone cells and iron bars, to secure those convicted of major crimes. Indian prisoners were occasionally held at Fort Union. The Fort Union guardhouse was also used, on request of civil authorities, to house civilian criminals temporarily. [139]

     There were times when the prison population exceeded the capacity. In 1871 Post Commander Gregg complained that there were forty-nine prisoners assigned to Fort Union. The prison, with ten cells, had been designed for ten prisoners. It was possible to place two prisoners in each cell, but there was no way they could accommodate four or five each. Some of those prisoners were kept at the post guardhouse and, apparently, others were kept in other buildings under constant guard. Many of the prisoners were bound by shackles and chains. [140] Some of the prisoners were serving terms assigned by a court-martial and others were awaiting trial. [141]

     There were hundreds of enlisted men and several officers at Fort Union who were tried by courts-martial during the forty-year history of the post. A perusal of the records could lead to the conclusion that virtually every soldier, at some time or other (in some cases many times), appeared before a panel of judges to face charges for some offense. There were, of course, officers and enlisted men who were never tried, but a majority of them were participants in military justice. Something so pervasive deserves further consideration. A few of the cases tried at Fort Union illustrate the operation and importance of military discipline and justice. [142] Some of those examples, especially the testimony presented during the trials, also reveal other aspects of army life and provide insights into the way the military organization was structured and functioned. In addition, disciplinary problems, the importance of rules and regulations, and the significance of the guardhouse and prison, as well as the trials, may be better understood by examining the records (the numerous cases of absence without leave and drunkenness have not been included unless other circumstances were involved). [143]

     One of the first cases at Fort Union involved drunkenness, disobedience of orders, and death. Captain Carleton led his company of dragoons from Fort Union in February 1852 to investigate and report on conditions along the Pecos River and at Bosque Redondo, as detailed in chapter three. The last night of the expedition was spent at the town of Las Vegas, where some of the soldiers attended a fandango and became intoxicated. On the final day of that reconnaissance mission, February 24, one of those soldiers, Private Patrick O'Brien, died on the way from Las Vegas to Fort Union. A court of inquiry at Fort Union was appointed to examine the circumstances. [144]

     Carleton explained that on the morning of February 24, at reveille, several of the men from his command were absent. They eventually showed up while the other dragoons were tending their horses and, according to Carleton, "appeared to be generally sober, yet looked as if they had been drinking freely." After breakfast several of the men, including the quartermaster sergeant (who had disappeared) and a teamster, were found to be drinking again and intoxicated. Two of the intoxicated soldiers, Privates McCleave and Feely, refused to obey orders and were taken in hand by the guard. McCleave then said he was ashamed of his behavior, but the obstinate Feely was tied to a wagon. Carleton concluded that "there was a determination on the part of many of the men of my company to throw every obstacle possible in the way of my leaving Las Vegas that morning." [145]

     It was a windy, dusty day, and Carleton thought some of the men were feigning drunkenness so they could ride on the supply wagons back to Fort Union. As the company mounted and rode into the plaza and the two wagons were brought to that place, another soldier, Private Patrick O'Brien, fell or tried to make Carleton "believe that he fell off" his horse. Carleton ordered that O'Brien be tied to the back of the wagon with Feely, and McCleave was tied to the back of the other wagon. These men had to walk or be dragged along behind the wagons. Feely reportedly cursed Carleton and threatened to shoot him, and Carleton had the man gagged. Feely managed to get the gag out of his mouth within a couple of minutes, and it was not replaced. The prisoners were, according to Carleton, "all tied by putting the rope around under their arms: so that they could rest their hands upon the feed-box, but so that they could not lay down again in the road, or lag behind." [146]

     When all was ready, Carleton recalled, "the wagons preceded the column, the prisoners walking behind them." Carleton watched them leave the plaza on the way to Fort Union. Carleton remained behind to visit briefly with his friend, Judge Herman Grolman, in whose home Carleton had spent the previous night and to ask Grolman to attempt to get the missing quartermaster sergeant and drunken teamster to return to Fort Union when they were sober. Approximately ten minutes after the column left the plaza, Carleton rode out to join his company. He reached the wagons after they had crossed the Gallinas River, and recalled that the prisoners appeared to be too drunk to walk and had been dragging behind the wagons. They had been dragged though the small stream. Carleton thought they were "feigning drunkenness," kept them tied to the wagons, and insisted that they walk. [147]

     McCleave and O'Brien continued to drag on the ropes. After passing the cemetery outside Las Vegas, estimated to be from one-half to one mile from the plaza, Carleton had these two prisoners placed in the feed boxes at the back of the wagons. Later, after traveling perhaps seven or eight miles, Carleton "came to the conclusion that they were really very drunk, and ordered them to be put up on the loads." Feely continued to walk behind, sometimes dragging in his rope. Another private, Mahoney, fell from his horse and declared he could not ride. Carleton had him tied behind the wagon on which McCleave rode. In this way they continued until within sight of and approximately four miles from the Sapello River, when Feely and Mahoney were placed on the loads to ride the rest of the way to Fort Union. Carleton explained what followed:

     "After proceding some two (2) or three (3) miles further, I being ahead near the column, and the wagons some half (1/2) mile behind - Sergeant Wells rode up to me and reported that O'Brien was dead. . . . I went to the wagon felt the man's pulse . . . and found that he was dead. . . ."

     "I came on to the post and reported the fact to the Commanding Officer, and requested the Assistant-Surgeon of the post, that evening to make a "post mortem" examination of O'Brien's remains." [148]

     In another statement to the court, Carleton declared, "I had no intention of injuring the man. I had no motive for doing so. I was trying my best to fulfill my orders and to keep the service respectable and efficient so far as my individual company was concerned." A variety of testimony supported the general facts of the case, with each of the witnesses declaring that Private O'Brien had been extremely intoxicated, and the court of inquiry concluded, as had the surgeon, that "the death of the late Patrick O'Brien of Company 'K' 1st Dragoons, was caused alone by the poisonous effects of the alcohol he had taken during the night of the twenty third (23d), and on the morning of the twenty-fourth (24th) of February 1852." Colonel Sumner approved the decision of the court, and the case was closed. [149] There was no trial, no one was charged with misconduct, and no one was punished.

     Later in 1852, when Captain Carleton commanded Fort Union, Private Robert T. Baines, Company G, Third Infantry, was charged with desertion, tried by a general court-martial, and found guilty. He, along with five of his fellow soldiers found guilty of the same offense, was sentenced to forfeit pay and to be whipped. Private Baines was sick at the post hospital when the other five were whipped. Carleton requested direction from Colonel Sumner when Private Baines was released from the hospital, inquiring if the whipping should be administered. Carleton stated that, since the whipping of the five others had undoubtedly made the desired impression upon the rest of the troops, there was little to be gained by whipping Baines, Carleton requested that the whipping portion of Baines's sentence be remitted. [150] Sumner directed that "no part of the sentence of Private Baines will be remitted." [151]

     There were occasions when all or a portion of a sentence was remitted. Territorial Governor William Carr Lane appealed successfully to General of the Army Scott to change the punishment of some military convicts in New Mexico. Lane objected to the practice of shaving the heads of deserters and other criminals "before they are drummed out of the service." This marked them so they were unable to find work in the territory and, "being destitute of means to get through the Desert back to the States," forced them "to steal, or rob" to survive. Lane requested that "criminals of this kind . . . be kept in custody, until they reach the States." General Scott, unwilling to transport the discharged criminals to the States, directed Colonel Sumner to "please remit such portions of their sentences as directs their heads to be shaved, or places upon them any other distinctive marks that would render them objects of suspicion or distrust to the inhabitants of that territory." [152]

     Some of the inhabitants of the territory were engaged in criminal activities at or near Fort Union, providing whiskey and prostitutes for the soldiers. [153] When Lieutenant George Sykes, Third Infantry, ordered two of those citizens (both women) to be punished, Sykes was charged with conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. His trial by general court-martial, convened at Albuquerque in April 1853, provided information about illegal activities at the post. As with many courts-martial, the information about social life at the post was more revealing and significant than the actual charges against the accused and the decision of the court.

     Sykes was prosecuted for ordering two "Mexican women" (Maria Alvina Chaires, commonly known as Jesusitta or Black Sus, and Maria Dolores Trujique y Rivale, commonly known as Dolores), who had been arrested for prostitution, selling whiskey, and receiving stolen military property at their place of residence in the caves in the bluffs overlooking the post, to be shorn of their hair, publicly whipped, and drummed off the reservation by the guard detail. This allegedly occurred on January 17, 1853, when Sykes was officer of the day. The two women, both of whom were reported to have helped spread venereal diseases among the garrison, had been arrested the day before and placed in the post guardhouse overnight. All testimony confirmed that the women were shorn, whipped, and driven from the post, but Sykes denied that their punishment was inappropriate and pleaded not guilty to conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. [154]

     Testimony also confirmed that the two women had been engaged in the activities ascribed to them. Corporal James Cowan, Company D, Second Artillery, stated: "I have known the woman Jesusitta for upwards of three years, in Santa Fe she was a common prostitute about the streets, acting badly there but much worse at Fort Union." When asked if the two women lived in the caves near the post and if soldiers from the garrison visited them there, Cowan replied, "Yes Sir they did, the men did visit them day and night." Private Alexander Lavery, Company D, Third Infantry, was a member of the guard that punished the two women, and he testified that he had briefly whipped them by order of Lieutenant Sykes and that "the hair was also cut off their heads with scissors." Lavery also testified, under cross examination, that one of the women had given him venereal disease, that the women sold whiskey to soldiers, and that they received army property in payment for their services. [155]

     Other members of the guard detail who had witnessed the events on January 17, including Private Robert Collum, Company D, Third Infantry, and Private George Mapon, Company D, Second Artillery, confirmed the details of how the women were treated. Attempts to locate the two women and have them testify were not successful. In his defense, Lieutenant Sykes called Post Surgeon John Byrne, who entered into the record a list of items stolen from the medical department. Sykes also submitted a list of items lost by the commissary department, a sworn affidavit by Captain Bowen. [156] His argument was that the activities of the two women were criminal and in violation of military orders. The question to be decided, implied by Sykes, was whether the punishment of the women was appropriate or not. [157]

     Surgeon Byrne testified that the "Mexican prostitutes" and whiskey peddlers around the post were "a source of annoyance to the garrison." He stated that sixty cases of venereal diseases had been treated among the soldiers during the first year after Fort Union was established, and he attributed the sources of most of those cases to the "Mexican women living in the rocks." Byrne summarized earlier efforts to remove the "nuisances" by civil authorities, without success, and explained that the theft of government property at Fort Union was so excessive that "honest merchants said that they had to shut up their grocery stores, because dishonest ones who bought stolen commissary provisions from Fort Union, under sold them." [158]

     The surgeon also explained that Lieutenant Sykes had come to him for advice regarding the "Mexican women confined in the guard house," noting that they had been arrested a number of times before and then released to continue their illegal operations. Byrne told the court that he had recommended to Sykes "that if he would give them a few light blows before discharging them they would be frightened and not return." He reported that Sykes "replied that he did not like to whip women, to which I answered certainly not so as to hurt them, but only to frighten them." Byrne further testified that, to his knowledge, from the time the two women were whipped and sent from the post until after Lieutenant Sykes was arrested, "there were no women about the rocks" near the post plying their trade. [159]

     Captain Carleton also appeared to testify in defense of Lieutenant Sykes. Carleton declared that, when he commanded Fort Union during much of 1852, "the command was exceeding intemperate," in fact, "more so than any command of the same size that I have ever seen in the service." Sykes asked Carleton, "Did not intoxication and crime exist to an alarming extent among the troops?" Carleton responded, "In my opinion it did." He declared that the quantity of military property stolen "was enormous" and attributed many of the desertions at Fort Union to the influences of alcohol obtained illegally. He noted that "numerous groggeries" had been established near the post and that he, Carleton, had assisted the territorial marshal in arresting some of the proprietors. He explained that, during the process of arresting those offenders, he had seen several women "which I supposed to be prostitutes. I soon afterwards heard that some caves in the bluffs which overhang Fort Union, were infested with these women, and I ordered the Sergeant of the guard to take them off the military reserve." [160]

     Carleton explained that prostitutes and whiskey peddlers had been removed from the reserve a number of times, but they had quickly returned. Carleton was officer of the day when the two women involved in the case were arrested, and he noted that three men were arrested at the same time. He had not witnessed the punishment of the two women and knew nothing about, except that it had apparently been effective. Carleton, like Dr. Byrne, confirmed that the garrison had not "been annoyed either by whiskey sellers or depraved women after the punishment said to have been inflicted on the latter" until after the arrest of Lieutenant Sykes. [161]

     Sheriff Richard M. Stevens of Santa Fe County and the deputy U.S. Marshal was called to testify by Lieutenant Sykes. The sheriff estimated that twenty prostitutes were routed out when the proprietors of the saloons were arrested in May 1852. He also testified that he had seen large quantities of government property in the possession of whiskey sellers and prostitutes, including saddles, bridles, guns, axes, and sugar candy. Corporal Cowan was recalled to testify about the severity of the punishment. He stated that the whipping "was trifling, slightly laid on." The two women had their clothes on and were whipped lightly over their shoulders. [162]

     Other soldiers were called by Lieutenant Sykes to establish the criminal activities of the two women. Corporal John Einseidel, Company D, Third Infantry, stated the "Mexican women" were "notorious as pimps and whores." In response to a question about how long he had known the women, Private Einseidel replied: "One of them I have known since I came into the territory nearly four years, and the other ever since Fort Union was established about a year and half ago." During that time they were "constantly selling whiskey to the troops and receiving their clothing rations &c. in exchange." He responded affirmatively to the question, "Do you not know that many of the troops were diseased by Mexican women at Fort Union and would not report themselves as such at the hospital?" He also stated that the women had not returned to the vicinity of the post until after the arrest of Sykes. [163]

     Lieutenant Sykes, as part of his defense, read into the record portions of the laws of the Territory of New Mexico relating to the punishment of pimps. Whether male or female, persons found guilty of procuring "women for the purpose of lascivious connection with men" were to "be publicly whipped, receiving thirty lashes." Women who were convicted could also be made to perform "three months service in a house to which they may be assigned with a shackle on their foot." Sykes then called Musician Michael Salmon, Company D, Third Infantry, who swore the two women, one of whom he had known nearly four years and the other since Fort Union was established, were "notorious as pimps and whores." He had received venereal infection from one of them. He confirmed the testimony of other soldiers regarding the payment of these women with stolen government property. He stated that the whipping was "very trifling" and "I think it would not have hurt a child." Likewise, he affirmed that the two women had not returned to the vicinity of the post until after Sykes was arrested. He stated that one of the women "returned about five days after Captain Sykes arrest." Salmon had "asked her if she was not afraid to come back, she said no because Captain Sykes was arrested, and that nothing more would be done to them." [164]

     In conclusion of his defense, Lieutenant Sykes presented a written statement, portions of which follow:

     "I had hoped that no occasion could arise in which my honor as a gentleman, or my conduct as a soldier could be impeached; least of all, that acts done for the welfare of the Service, & the dignity of the profession, could be construed into a departure from all that invests Military men with any claim to consideration or respect. The object of my defence has been to justify my conduct, and to show the necessity of the acts set forth in the specification against me. If discipline and the good of the Service rendered them necessary - they cannot be unbecoming an officer, if the preservation of good morals required them - they cannot be unbecoming a gentleman." [165]

     In the same statement Sykes summarized the degradation that had befallen the new post that Sumner had removed from the vice and corruption at Santa Fe. At Fort Union, he continued,

     "Large quantities of provisions, clothing, medical supplies, material for building forts, for transportation &c were collected there. Soon after, numerous groggeries were erected by citizens for the sale of whiskey to the troops. To all of them swarmed in great numbers, probably the very refuse and dregs of the population of the Territory - thieves, gamblers, and villains of desperate character. Loathsome and abandoned prostitutes were added by the score - Desertions became frequent - the hospital was filled with diseased men - the guard house overflowed with the debauched - Intemperance, disease & crime went hand in hand until nearly the whole garrison by association with such vile and infamous persons became demoralised to an alarming extent - A regular system of stealing was carried on. The public stores which had been gathered there at so great an expense were the pay of a motley assemblage of scoundrels and strumpets. They hovered around the depot like vultures around a carcass. So low did the sense of duty of many of the troops descend by contact with this maelstrom of iniquity, that sentinels were seduced of their integrity, their fidelity, purchased or drowned in liquor, until Subsistence stores by the wagon load, clothing by the bale, medical supplies in large quantities and Quarter Masters Stores by the box were stolen and sold in open market in the towns and villages of New Mexico. Whole teams of mules six at a time were run off by deserters and their confederates outside the garrison and never again recovered. The accounts of the officers responsible for this property exhibit a loss amounting to from ten to fifteen thousand dollars." [166]

     All efforts to deal with the problem had been thwarted. Sykes summarized the arrests and destruction of property carried out by civil authorities and the attempts to prevent citizens from invading the reservation. "Every effort was made by the Military to avoid collision with the citizens." They were warned they would be driven from the reservation. In response, however, "they laughed such warnings to scorn and publicly boasted that they would pursue their traffic in defiance of every one." And they had. The loss of property was so great that "the soldiers at this moment are destitute of many necessary articles of clothing and that an officer was sent to Santa Fe to purchase at the high prices of that market subsistence stores for the positive wants of the troops." [167]

     In light of all that had happened, Sykes was distressed that his effort to deal with the problem had resulted in a "great outcry" against him. Despite the fact, according to Sykes, that his efforts had resulted in the fleeing of all whiskey traders and prostitutes from the military reservation, "that the hospital was empty; and sobriety common throughout the command," he was arrested and charged with misconduct. He noted that Post Commander Gouverneur Morris had refused to prefer charges against him and that Colonel Sumner, the department commander, had done so. Sykes swore that within a week after his arrest, "the same prostitutes and their gang were infesting the rocks near Fort Union, bringing back their old atmosphere of demoralization & disease, openly avowing that Col. Sumner's course to me had caused their return, and, for the future, would be a warrant to them against all molestation from the authorities at the Post." If what he had done constituted conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman, Sykes believed he was in the wrong profession. He requested that he be acquitted. He was found not guilty by the court. [168] Sykes went on to have a distinguished military career and, after the Civil War, commanded the District of New Mexico for a brief time in 1867. The testimony at his trial revealed much about the seamy side of life at Fort Union. As noted elsewhere, the problems of whiskey and prostitution plagued Fort Union until the post was abandoned. There were other problems, of course, which were related to discipline and justice.

     Sometimes, with the many changes in commanding officers at Fort Union and the shuffling of companies from one post to another, prisoners were overlooked. When Colonel Fauntleroy took command at Fort Union in September 1854 there were two privates (H. Donahue and R. Roache), Company K, First Dragoons, in the guardhouse, "confined for desertion." Fauntleroy could find no charges against the two soldiers and asked Brigadier General Garland for "instructions relative to them." [169] Within a few days Garland ordered a general court-martial to convene at Fort Union and enclosed charges against Donahue and Roache as well as five other soldiers. [170] The records of the trial were not located. Donahue and Roache had been held in the post guardhouse for more than six months before charges were filed against them. Justice was not always swift in the military.

Page Five




Santa Fe Trail Research Site

Santa Fe Trail Research Site
"E-Mail & Home Page"
Larry & Carolyn
St. John, Ks.
© "Forever"