First Encounter

The first shots fired in battle by the 1st Dragoons took place on 12 November 1846 when a patrol from Company I. led by Captain William Grier, came into contact with Navajo tribesmen who had stolen some stock. Grier and Lt. Wilson were well-mounted and the enlisted men were riding mules. Consequently, they foolishly rode far in advance of their support–and into an ambush. The event is reported by Lt. J. W. Abert and found in Ex Doc. No. 41, (Washington 1848) pp. 497-498.

November 12 –
In the evening we saw, on the opposite side of the river, the
companies of Captains Burgwin and Grier, on their return to
Albuquerque. Lieutenant McIlvane came across the river, and from him
I learned that Captain Grier, with Lieutenant Wilson and two men, had
a fight with a party of Navajoe Indians. It appears that while the
companies were on their march down the river, some Mexicans rushed
hurriedly up to them, crying out that the Navajoes had just been into
the village, murdering the people and carrying off their flocks and
herds. Captain Grier immediately set off in pursuit, and soon came in
sight of the bold marauders. In a little while the Indians began to
abandon the cattle they were driving off, until at last 400 head had
been left along the route. So warm and exciting was the chase, that
the officers, who were well mounted, heeded not the want of their men
who were unable to keep pace with them, but they pressed on, anxious
to recover the immense “cavalgada” of sheep the Indians were yet driving. Suddenly they saw
they had rushed into an ambuscade, for the Indians rising up from
their concealment surrounded Captain Grier and his three brave
companions. With horrid cries and shouts of “Navajoe,” the Indians
sprang forward to the combat; they were dressed for war, being
ornamented with paints and plumes, and mounted on good horses, and
armed with bows and arrows, and lances; but, fortunately, they were so
crowded that they feared lest they shoot each other. At length, one
of the chiefs came alongside of Lieutenant Wilson; their horses were
on the gallop, each one waiting until the horses should jump together,
when, at the same moment, Lieutenant Wilson and the Indian fired; the officer’s pistol did not
go off, and the arrow of the chief only cut off a coat button, and
lodged in the saddle blanket of Captain Grier. As the Indian turned
his horse, a Mexican, who had started at full speed, came in contact
with him, and rolled horse and rider in the dust; the Indian was
immediately upon his feet, and rushed up to a dragoon soldier, who
had a patent carbine, such as loaded at the breach, and had, unseen by
the Indian, reloaded it, and the Indian coming up within two or three
feet, the soldier shot him dead. One other Indian was killed, when Captain
Grier ordered a retreat, and the four, drawing their sabres, cut their
way out and rejoined their company, while the Navajoes succeeded in
carrying off 3,000 head of sheep.”


Ft. Leavenworth December 24, 1846

Dear Love

I send you herewith a Regimental and General Orders, and an extract from the clothing receipt roll of Sergt. Muller and Corpl. Nickerson, clothing issued by Lieut. McLean. I also send you Duplicate Receipts for Ordnance and Horse Equipage which I have directed Sergt. Bishop to leave behind as I do not think you would want to be troubled with old equipage and ordnance at Jefferson Barracks, when you will probably get an entire New Equipment for your Company.
If you should want any horse equipage I have appective for a good deal of New Equipage that was sent on for the different Dragoon Companies, and which has never been used, and if you are not able to equip you Company entirely at St. Louis, I may be able to help you. Colonel Wharton has at last indirectly applied to join the Army in the field, he will probably get an answer before the middle of next month. We got a mail from Santa Fe a day or two ago. Grier had a fight with the Indians, it seems they have runned off some cattle, Grier followed them, but owing to the bad condition of the mules of his party, only himself, Lieut. Wilson and two men were able to come up with the Indians; they killed two of the Indians and Grier’s horse or mule whatever it was, shot under him. The Dragoons under Burgwin have been ordered to the Passo to protect the traders. He writes very despondently, says, if his men were only Dragoons he might do something. I hope that Colonel Wharton joins Scott or Taylor that he will [take] some more Companies of the 1st Dragoons down with him. If he could get four or five Companies it would be a very pretty command. How are you getting along at Dayton. Did the Girls give you a warm welcome? I was not able to send you a copy of your estimate for clothing because by some mistake it was sent off without a copy being attached. If there should by any possibility be any thing new here, I will let you know.
Yours Truly

Above a Common Soldier: Dragoon Life 1849-1854

Charles Frank Clarke sailed from England in 1847. He came from an upper middle class family in Suffolk County and had studied to be a member of the bar. Mr. Clarke had hoped to become a successful merchant in Wisconsin, but his dreams didn’t pan out and he joined the 1st Dragoons. Several of his letters appear in a book entitled “Above a Common Soldier”, published by the University of New Mexico Press in 1997. Here are some portions of letters that concern the Dragoons.


Jefferson Barracks, Mo. 25 December 1849 “Being very low spirited and not knowing what I could better turn to I enlisted in the 1st Dragoons to serve five years. My pay amounts to Eight dollars per month, which together with my rations and clothing is quite sufficient. I am now on duty as a Clerk in the Office of the Head Quarters of the Regiment at this place & am tolerably comfortable & hope soon to be promoted to something or other. My duty at present is very light.”


14 March 1850 Jefferson Bks, Mo. “In the beginning of January I was promoted Sergeant Major of the regiment, the former one having died after coming here. I am now at the head of the Enlisted Men in the best disciplined Regiment in the U.S. Service. My pay is 17 dollars per Month. My rations are commuted at 20 cts (10d. Engl. money) per diem & the clothing alled by Government is quite sufficient.

A discharge caanot be bought according to Regulations of the US Army it can only be obtained through the Adjutant General (Maj. Gen’l R. Jones) at Washington. except in cases of Disability or the party enlisted being a Minor &c.

Although I am well aware of the injurious effect resulting from a young man’s following the Army, from the bad company &c he is constantly thrown among, I do not wish to be discharged holding my present situation unless I could better myself. It would, however, be a great gratification to me if I could obtain a Commission in the U.S. Army or a Nomination to the Military Academy at West Point. I think this could be easily obtained for me with some interest employed at Washington or through the American Ambassador in London, my rank being now next to a commissioned officer.

We are at Present stationed at Jefferson Barracks & shall in all probability remain here sometime. The Field Staff & Band are the only parts of the Regiment here. The remainder are scattered over California, Oregon, New Mexico & the Western frontier. The Colonel (Gen;l Mason) & Adjutant of the Regiment will testify as to my Character & acquirements should they be called upon.


Jefferson Barracks, Mo. 11th April 1850 Since I last wrote to you I have thought seriously on my situationand have come to the conclusion that the Army is not a suitable place for me. As an Enlisted Man is exposed to so many temptations &c that it is almost impossible for him to escape being in some measure contaminated.

I am already disgusted at the wickedness & excesses I have witnessed during the short time I have been in he Army and am anxious to quit it.


Jefferson Barracks, Missouri 22 June 1850 All ten Companies of our Regiment (1st Dragoons) are separately enaged on the frontier in war with the Indians and not one within 500 miles of the other. Our means of communication with them is so uncertain that our Regimental Returns &c to the War Department are several Years in arrears & no chance of completion. Come of the Companies have not been in quarters since the commencement of the Mexican War in /46. This is rather different to soldiering in England. My only duty is attending at the office and making out papers &c. I never drill except when with the Regiment which will never happen with ours. I am only responsible to the Colonel & Adjutant of the Regiment from whom I alone receive an order.

I send you a special order altering our uniforms, it may be a curiosity to some as a sample to Brother Jonathans experiment. I may add that the change is very strongly disapproved by the Officers who undergo the real hardships of the American Service & those on the Northern & the Western Frontier. The officers of all the Mounted Corps are petitioning against it.


Jefferson Barracks, Mo. 18 July 1850 I have for some months been aquainted with a young lady named Mary McGowan & being frequently together we became attached to each other, but before we took final any steps in the matter we, both of us, thought it right to consult you & Mother on it & obtain your consents & indeed Mary refuses to have any more to do with me unless you give it.

Mary is an Irish girl, her father (a respectable farmer) resided in the North of Ireland, near Sligo I believe, & on his death she came out with a married sister to this country with whom she resides in St. Louis. She is a good religious honest girl. I do not say that she has the accomplishments of many ladies of England, but she has a good plain Education & is able & willing to work which is a great deal better out West here. My Board & washing costs me $10 per month & is of he very worst kind, having to beg it as a favor. If I were Married it would not cost me more han $3 or $4 in addition to the ration my wife is entitled to & my fuel & Quarters are furnished by the Government.

The Cholera has broke out among the Troops. 4 or 5 die daily but as yet only the new arrivals are attacked, the old hands never were in better health.


Jefferson Barracks, Mo. 21 August 1850; I am very sorry to say that General mason died of Cholera on the 25th of last month after but a few hours illness. Lieut Stanton (the Adjutant) is also absent on sick furlough, he will probably be away from 12 to 15 months. This is very unfortunate for me, as it will bring an entire new set of officers to Head Quarters, the new Colonel (Fauntleroy) is now Lieut. Col of the 2d Drags. & is in the Western part of Texas.


Jefferson Barracks, Mo February 14, 1851;The Colonel of my Regiment has arrived. I do not rememeber if I told you before he was promoted from another Regiment. In 1836 Col. Fauntleroy was appointed from civil life Major in a new Regiment of Dragoons then being raised and was in succession promoted Lieut. Col. in the same Regiment and afterwards Colonel in ours without ever having fired a shot or even been in an enemy’s country, much to the annyance of many older & I regret to say better qualified officers. On his arrival here the Adjutant being absent sick and himself wholly unacquanted with the Regimental affairs the whole burden of the business of the office fell upon me. I managed however to please the old fellow so that he gave me the appointment of Quarter Master’s Sergeant of the Regiment which, although a grade lower than my former situation, is a far more profitable one. It is my duty to purchase all forage, stationary, wagons, horses &c required by the Regiment, procure Quarters and on March to attend to the baggage train &c; its duties are not so confining and more agreeable.

A few days ago we received orders moving to Fort leavenworth, a post about 100 miles up the Missouri River, but as the Colonel is absent, that order was suspended until gis Return which will be in about 2 weeks.

I must now, however, direct your attention to matters which more closely concern my own personal happiness, on the 28th of December lasy I was married with the consent and approbation of the Colonel, and I have not from that time to the present had the least reason to regret my choice, my wife is a clever, affectionate, & I believe a truly pios Girl–possessed of every qualification to make an excellant wife & me extremely happy, her character & behaviour whilst single was above criticism & it is my whole study to make her comfortable, happy & contented with her new station in life.

Fort Massachusetts, New Mexico Seotember 29, 1852
I now avail myself of the first favorable opportunity that has presented it self since I received your letter of sending you a reply. We had then just received orders to go to New Mexico & in a few days (May 12th) started with a large train & 300 troops. Mary & Charley went with me travelling very confortably in a carriage with two mules of our own. We were so fortunate as to escape without sickness on our journey out, which I attribute in a great measure to our sleeping in the carriage. About 200 miles from Ft. Leavenworth we were with bison, antelope, elk &s., in large herds. At one place the bison were so plentiful that for miles around the ground was black with them; it was thought that in one herd there were 100,00. The country through which we travelled was in general rolling sandy plains with timber only on the creeks, although in some places the bottoms were very rich. On the 30th June we arrived at Fort Union, a Military Post 100 miles from Santa Fe & 750 from Fort Leavenworth, here we laid three weeks when a report arriving of an Indian outbreak on the Arkansas Rier we started back again a distance of 400 miles to a place called St Vrain’s Fort, but we had not the good fortune to meet with the Indians, on our Return to Fort Union Myself and 8 other men were order to this place; from Fort Union we went across the Taos Mountains to Taos. Our’s was the only carriage along & in several places the mountains were so rugged & steep that we had to take out the mules & let the carriage down with ropes. From Taos we came on this place which is at the foot of the Sang de Christo Mountains, 80 miles NW of Taos & about the same distance SW of Bent’s Fort on the Arkansas River. We have no settlements within 40 miles.

The Fort is built of Logs & is very prettily situated in a valley between two Mountains. Game is ery plentiful in the vicinity. Elk, Black tail dee, Mountain sheep, Bears, Black, Brown & Grisly, panther &c, the bears are so bold that a few days one attacked a man within a hundred miles of he Fort and severely wounded him. Gold is found in the Mountains around but not, as yet, in sufficient quantities to repay the trouble of working the mines.

The appearence of the inhabitants of New Mexico is not at all prepossessing to a stranger, they are a mixture between the Spaniards & Indians & possess all the vices & but few of the virtues of both races. The houses are built of sun dried brick & are anything but neat looking. Agriculture is at a very low ebb and he climate is so dry that in order to secure a certain crop the land has to be irrigated. The only thing in favor of the country is its remarkably healthy climate.

I have now but two years to serve & I hope to save up money sufficient to start me in some business in St. Louis, which I think is destined to be the largest city in the United States; it now numbers 100,000 inhabitants.

The greatest deprivation we have here is books & newspapers, in consequence of the long land carriage but few books are brought here & are printed in the Country. I have not seen a newspaper for over four months, pray send one now & then.

I think it is very uncertain whether we will stay here this winter on account of the scarcity of forage for our horses you had therefore better direct to me with Com.”F”, 1st Dragoons, Fort Union or elsewhere, New Mexico, in order that it may be forwarded to me wherever I may be.

The mails here are too very uncertain of her letters may have been lost; but two years ago the Mail was taken by the Indians & escort, 12 in number, all killed, not however before they killed 50 Indians.

The troops in this Territory are all well armed, we carry a rifle a heavy singlle barrelled dragoon Pistol, one of Colts Revolving Pistols (6 shooters), & a heavy Dragoon Sabre. The weight of a man & kit upon a horse will average 350 pounds. Our forage Ration is very small considering it being but 12 pounds of Hay & 8 pounds of Corn, or 12 pounds of Oats, per diem, barely sufficient to keep a horse alive much more in condition. On a Summer Scout the horses have nothing but Greass.

Fort Massachusetts New Mexico September 26, 1851

I have now as much business as I can attend to, having the whole management of the Company, being the 1st Non Commissioned officer in it. in case of a move, or any detachments being sent off, i should be certain to go. I have, however, from the last of the month, but one year to stay; but what I shall do with my ime is out is very uncertain as yet. I shall, however, most probably go to St Louis & get into some business on my own account. Out farming turned out to be a terrible failure at this Post. we shall not get the seed we planting owing chiefly to the long winter & dry summer. the garden did not even supply us with vegitables.


Taos, New Mexico
May 25, 1854

You will be glad to hear that I have obtained a furlough from this time until the expiration of my term of service in the Army (1st Oct.). somethingover 4 months. I hardly hoped to obtain it on account of the troublesome times we have just now with the Indians.

You will doubtless before this have heard of the battle [Cieneguilla] we had with the Indians on the 30th March here. My Company was in it, out of 60 men we had 23 killed on the spot & 22 wounded, the remainder with difficulty escaping. I was at Santa Fe with dispatches. My horse giving out luckily detained me a day, or I should have been in the middle of the fight, the road running over the battle ground, & my chance of escape would have been small, being in the rear of the Indians. hearing of the fight, however, a few miles from the battle ground, I made a large circuit & arrived safe after a few days delay.