Valentine T. McGillycuddy: Army Surgeon, Agent to the Sioux

Valentine T. McGillycuddy: Army Surgeon, Agent to the Sioux

by Candy Moulton



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Valentine T. McGillycuddy: Army Surgeon, Agent to the Sioux by Candy Moulton

On a September day in 1877, hundreds of Sioux and soldiers at Camp Robinson crowded around a fatally injured Lakota leader. A young doctor forced his way through the crowd, only to see the victim fading before him. It was the famed Crazy Horse. From intense moments like this to encounters with such legendary western figures as Calamity Jane and Red Cloud, Valentine Trant O'Connell McGillycuddy's life (1849–1939) encapsulated key events in American history that changed the lives of Native people forever. In Valentine T. McGillycuddy: Army Surgeon, Agent to the Sioux, the first biography of the man in seventy years, award-winning author Candy Moulton explores McGillycuddy's fascinating experiences on the northern plains as topographer, cartographer, physician, and Indian agent.

Drawing on family papers, interviews, government documents, and a host of other sources, Moulton presents a colorful character—a thin, blue-eyed, cultured physician who could outdrink trail-hardened soldiers. In fresh, vivid prose, she traces McGillycuddy's work mapping out the U.S.-Canadian border; treating the wounded from the battles of the Rosebud, the Little Bighorn, and Slim Buttes; tending to Crazy Horse during his final hours; and serving as agent to the Sioux at Pine Ridge, where he clashed with Chief Red Cloud over the government's assimilation policies. Along the way, Moulton weaves in the perspective of McGillycuddy's devoted first wife, Fanny, who followed her husband west and wrote of the realities of camp life.

McGillycuddy's doctoring of Crazy Horse marked only one point of his interaction with American Indians. But those relationships were also just one aspect of his life in the West, which extended well into the twentieth century. Enhanced by more than 20 photographs, this long-overdue biography offers general readers and historians an engaging adventure story as well as insight into a period of tumultuous change.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806148410
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date: 05/18/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 294
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Candy Moulton is the award-winning author of eleven books on western history, including Chief Joseph: Guardian of the People and Everyday Life among the American Indians, 1800 to 1900. She lives in Wyoming.

Read an Excerpt

Valentine T. McGillycuddy

Army Surgeon, Agent to the Sioux

By Candy Moulton


Copyright © 2011 Candy Moulton
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-5141-0


An Irish Lad

BLOOD TRICKLING FROM the bayonet wound stained the ground in front of the guardhouse at Camp Robinson that September day in 1877 as men pressed around the downed Lakota fighter. Into the melee pushed a wiry, blue-eyed young doctor. Kneeling, he saw the victim "on his back, grinding his teeth and frothing at the mouth." Already the man's pulse had weakened; his heart failed to strike every beat. Hundreds of Sioux Indians and soldiers surrounding the injured man reeled in shock. The doctor understood that a wrong move could set off full-scale bloodletting.

Valentine Trant McGillycuddy knew this patient well: he was Crazy Horse, war leader of the young Oglala Lakota fighters. The doctor moved back through the crowd, crossed the parade ground, and found the post's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Luther Prentice Bradley. The commander ordered the doctor and the officer of the day, Captain James Kennington, to put Crazy Horse in the guardhouse and give him medical care. The doctor returned to the injured man and with help from Kennington and a nearby Sioux began lifting Crazy Horse. But before they could transfer the patient, it became clear that if they did so, more than one man's blood would be spilled on the grounds of Camp Robinson that day.

Undaunted, the doctor began walking back to Bradley's office to persuade him to change his order. On the way he met angry Indians. American Horse peered down from his mount as McGillycuddy explained that Crazy Horse was badly hurt but would be put in the guardhouse, where the doctor would care for him. The Indian curtly replied, "Crazy Horse is a Chief and cannot be put in the guard house."

McGillycuddy continued across the parade ground and told Bradley that although his eight hundred men could force the issue and place Crazy Horse in the guardhouse, the consequence would be more violence. The doctor stated the obvious about the Lakotas' mood: "The Indians are ugly." Reluctantly, the colonel agreed to the doctor's plan of moving Crazy Horse into the adjutant's office instead.

Red Shirt and Two Dogs, under direction from American Horse, helped McGillycuddy carry Crazy Horse to the office, where the doctor instructed the men to lay him on the table. The Indians resisted, instead placing their injured leader on a blanket spread on the dirt floor. From his black satchel the doctor retrieved a syringe and a bottle of morphine. He knew the stab wound was fatal; he would keep his patient as comfortable as possible.

As the sun crossed the sky, Old Crazy Horse, also called Worm, father of the injured chief, arrived at the adjutant's office. So did the war leader's Miniconjou uncle, Touch The Clouds, who bent his nearly seven-foot frame to enter the small log building. With the young doctor, the two Indians sat beside Crazy Horse, the man who had been instrumental in the battle that had killed Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and his Seventh Cavalry troopers the previous year. Outside, hundreds of Indians and soldiers hunched in denial, anger, disbelief, and fear as day turned to night and Crazy Horse's spirit fled. Kennington, other officers, and an interpreter came and went; guards paced outside.

The doctor who tried valiantly to save Crazy Horse and who insisted on affording him as much dignity and comfort as possible in his final hours already had a history with these Lakotas. Soon, he would become their federally appointed agent. With the change would come additional interaction — and further conflict — with the Indian people who claimed the Black Hills as their homeland. The Lakotas could not have known that McGillycuddy's circle with them had only begun.

* * *

The doctor had a full-bodied name reflecting both his birthday and his heritage. Valentine Trant O'Connell McGillycuddy had come into the world on February 14, 1849, the son of good Irish stock. The Irish ancestors of his father, Daniel McGillycuddy, originally Catholics, had converted to Protestantism in 1685 after James II ascended to the English throne in a coup that overthrew the Irish government and usurped Catholic-owned land. Although his family held onto its land, Daniel found life in Ireland oppressive under English rule, and in 1842 he boarded a ship bound for the United States.

On the vessel he met Johanna Trant, a Catholic Irishwoman who was traveling with her sister. The Trant sisters, "well educated, religious," and of "spotless purity and propriety of conduct," had watched their parents die and left their grief in Ireland. They were armed with an optimistic spirit and a letter of introduction to the archbishop of New York written by Daniel O'Connell, a relative and, more important, one of the most influential men in Ireland. He was considered the uncrowned king of Ireland for his effort in passing the 1829 Catholic Relief Act. That act, for which O'Connell first campaigned in 1823, removed many of the restrictions placed on Catholics, giving them greater freedom than they had previously known.

Drawn together during the passage, the Protestant Daniel McGillycuddy and the Catholic Johanna Trant wed, passed through New York, and avoided the archbishop. Instead they traveled west to Detroit and eventually settled in Racine, Wisconsin, where in 1849 their second son was born on Valentine's Day. Their elder son, Francis Stewart McGillycuddy, then five, had been born on September 25, 1843. The couple also had a daughter, who died in infancy.

Once living in Racine, with a home on Chatham Street, Daniel McGillycuddy became a store clerk and later had his own business on Main Street. As the Racine Daily Journal reported on September 4, 1858, Daniel had opened a confectionary establishment at the corner of Main and Fifth Streets, "where he intends keeping fruit and confectionery of every description."

A year earlier the Daily Journal had noted the accidental shooting of one of the boys. "We learn that a son of Daniel McGillicudy [sic] was badly wounded in his left thigh on Saturday, by the accidental discharge of a pistol. He, in company with another lad was hunting and when passing through a piece of underbrush, the lock of the pistol caught and went off."

It is uncertain whether the gunshot was to Francis or to Valentine, but perhaps as a result of the child's treatment after this accident, Valentine soon began to take a vivid interest in medicine. As a boy, he treated cats and dogs that had real or perceived medical problems. He began reading medicine at age seventeen at the University of Michigan and ministered to sailors at the Marine Hospital of Detroit for six months after completing his first year of courses. At the hospital he learned to avoid diseases by washing his hands with strong disinfectant, a practice not necessarily common at the time. Meticulous and concerned for his health, he seldom touched a doorknob at the Marine Hospital unless he first covered his hand with the tail of his coat. His ministrations to the sailors, and his subsequent treatment of prostitutes who worked in Detroit's brothels, exposed him to the drudgery of the job.

McGillycuddy became a full-fledged doctor in 1869, at the age of twenty, when he completed his medical school instruction at the Marine Hospital, where he interned and then joined the training faculty. He lectured men who were just beginning their own medical training about the use of splints and bandages. He administered anesthetics and worked with the Detroit city police and ambulance corps, again serving all classes of humanity. But it was his job as a physician at the Wayne County Insane Asylum that was the first step on a course that would change his life. There he treated patients suffering from a multitude of mental conditions. The misery he confronted pulled the talented young doctor into a pit of his own. To forget what he saw each day, he began drinking — lightly at first, then heavily. His health spiraled downward like that of his patients. His mentor, Dr. T. A. McGraw, watched the young man become pale and scrawny. In 1870 McGraw ordered an examination, diagnosed McGillycuddy with a "weak heart," and told him to recuperate by spending a year working outdoors.


Into the Outdoors

WHILE STUDYING MEDICINE at the University of Michigan, McGillycuddy had also taken some engineering courses. In 1870, needing new direction after his mentor's diagnosis, he contacted General Cyrus B. Comstock, superintendent of the geodetic survey of the northern and northwestern Great Lakes. Comstock, who had served with the Union balloon corps during the Civil War as the engineering supervisor for all federal balloon operations, hired McGillycuddy — with his limited engineering background but the advantage of his medical training — as an assistant engineer and recorder. He told the young man to prepare for the expedition, which would begin a week later.

The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway Survey had been established in 1841 under the U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers, and by 1870 General Comstock had overall command of the effort. The survey involved systematic mapping of the Great Lakes, including shorelines, rivers, shoals, and other navigational hazards. By 1871 McGillycuddy was working as the expedition's surgeon and as an assistant surveying engineer, gaining valuable field experience in both professions and regaining his health. He surveyed the shores of Lake Michigan, spending weeks at the head of a sounding crew, riding an open boat on the choppy waters.

Accustomed to city life, McGillycuddy adjusted to living in the outdoors and sleeping in a tent in all sorts of weather. His body toughened under the experience. But not all his work was done in remote regions. Highly competent, he attracted the attention of General Comstock, who sent him to Chicago when that city faced its greatest conflagration.

Around nine o'clock on the evening of Sunday, October 8, 1871, flames flicked straw in the cow barn behind Patrick O'Leary's cottage at 137 DeKoven Street on Chicago's West Side. The inferno spread quickly. Within three hours the fire had jumped the river's south branch, and by one-thirty the next morning the business district was ablaze. The inferno continued throughout Monday and was squelched only because it began to rain late that night. By Tuesday morning the devastation was clear: a four-mile-long, one-mile-wide stretch of downtown Chicago lay in ruins. Three hundred people had died, another ninety thousand were homeless, and the total property loss was estimated at between $200 million and $300 million. When it came time to rebuild, McGillycuddy worked with the team that resurveyed the devastated city.

During this period McGillycuddy occasionally visited Detroit, where a twenty-five-year-old blonde, blue-eyed schoolteacher named Fanny Hoyt had caught his eye. But after completing his work in Chicago, he packed his bags and struck into the outdoors again, serving for the next three years on Comstock's survey of the Great Lakes and with the United States Boundary Commission as it surveyed the British-American border. This survey, the final act of the British North American Boundary Commission, was completed in concert with the transfer of the British dominion to Canada.

* * *

The U.S. Boundary Commission was organized by the secretary of war under the direction of two former Union officers in the Civil War. One was Captain Francis Ulric Farquhar, a Pennsylvanian who had been recognized for gallantry and meritorious service during the battles of Williamsburg and Cold Harbor, Virginia. The other, Major William Johnson Twining, was similarly recognized for his service in the battle of Nashville and other engagements in Tennessee and Georgia in 1865. Both were now part of the United States Engineering Corps, and although Farquhar left the Boundary Commission at the end of the 1872 season, Twining remained throughout the project as chief astronomer. Working with them were Captain James Fingal Gregory, an 1861 West Point graduate from New York, who served as the assistant astronomer, and Second Lieutenant Francis Vinton Greene, of Illinois. Greene had completed training at West Point in 1866 and now worked as an assistant to both Farquhar and Twining, taking astronomical readings and directing topographical units. As a member of the topographic corps, McGillycuddy served under Greene's direction. This gave the doctor further field experience and, more important, his first exposure to the indigenous people with whom he would be entwined for the rest of his life.

From 1872 through the summer of 1874, the Northern Boundary Survey team worked its way west, covering 860 miles from Lake of the Woods, where the northern edge of Minnesota meets the southeastern corner of Manitoba, to the Rocky Mountains. Again McGillycuddy took to the outdoor regimen, riding horseback or in a wagon or field ambulance, packing both medical and engineering equipment, enduring heat, cold, wind, rain, snow, and a diet based on wild game, beans, and hardtack. During these first two years with the Northern Boundary Survey, McGillycuddy honed his skills as a topographer, engineer, and surveyor.

Official reports do not mention him by name, but it is clear that he was with the topographical crews in 1873 led by F. Von Schrader, Charles L. Doolittle, and Alfred Downing, who also worked under the direction of First Lieutenant Greene. Von Schrader was in the field through the summer but departed in September, to be replaced by Doolittle, who would remain with the boundary survey until its conclusion in 1875.

As part of its duties, the Boundary Commission team would survey the international boundary between Lake of the Woods and the Rocky Mountains, marking it at one-mile intervals on the eastern end. Beyond Fort Pembina, on the Red River where the present states of Minnesota and North Dakota meet Manitoba, the surveyors marked the line at points three miles apart. Where the boundary passed through timber, they cut a swath and erected monuments of earth or stone. Farther west, in country characterized by open plains, only the earth and stone markers were needed to identify the border. Once the entire route had been surveyed, the temporary stone and earth mound markers would be replaced with iron monuments.

The survey party in 1873 consisted of about fifty men organized into a "tangent," or survey line, party and two topographical parties. They started work at Fort Pembina on June 9 and "continued it without interruption until the 3d of October," Greene reported. They had a twofold mission: to undertake a geodetic survey, which "was necessary to establish and mark the forty-ninth parallel between adjacent astronomical stations," and to engage in topographical work to "survey a belt not less than five miles in width."

Their most difficult work in the summer of 1873 occurred during the two weeks it took the engineers to cut "a sight-line in Turtle Mountain," east of the Mouse River in present north-central North Dakota. Their surveys covered 384 miles west of Fort Pembina and concluded in western Dakota, just short of reaching the end point for the Northern Boundary Survey's astronomers, organized under the leadership of Captain James Fingal Gregory.

"The lateness of the season and scantiness of supplies on hand precluded the idea of finishing the topography of the twenty-four miles intervening between us and Captain Gregory's most westerly station," Greene wrote. So he turned east, caught up with a letter from Major William Twining on October 13, and proceeded to Fort Totten, which had been established in 1867 at a site just south of Devils Lake in present North Dakota.

Earlier in the year the surveying parties had been unable to negotiate a swampy area between Lake of the Woods and the Red River. With colder weather closing in, Twining ordered Greene's party to complete that section, writing in the official report: "A work so difficult could only be justified by the fact that the ground was utterly impossible in the summer. The freezing of the swamps would enable the supply-train to move east as far as the Roseau Lake." In ordering Greene to do the work during winter, Twining knew the crew would face grave weather conditions. "The men, though they had a rather rough summer, most of them, readily volunteered for the winter," he wrote.

Twining, Gregory, and other assistants retired from the field to Detroit, where they worked on the astronomical calculations that were part of the survey. Twining noted that "the topographers being in the field, no work could be done on the maps."

During September and early October, Greene's topographers had been accompanied by an escort of "twenty-five cavalry-men under command of Lieut. R.H.L. Alexander, Seventh Cavalry." As they began their late fall and winter work, they were unaccompanied by military escorts.

Again, no document specifically mentions McGillycuddy as having worked with the survey parties Greene kept in the field that winter, but he almost certainly was there, probably surveying, recording, and making field notes for the topographical maps he would later draw. As the only doctor known to have been with Greene, he likely also spent time ministering to the men's ailments as they endured excruciating cold, undeniably harsh weather, and isolation.


Excerpted from Valentine T. McGillycuddy by Candy Moulton. Copyright © 2011 Candy Moulton. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Illustrations 9

Preface 11

I Topographer

1 An Irish Lad 17

2 Into the Outdoors 23

3 Mapping the Border 33

4 Into the Black Hills 43

5 Negotiating for the Hills 59

II Doctor

6 The Big Horn and Yellowstone Expedition 69

7 Beyond the Greasy Grass 81

8 Eat Horse or Starve 91

9 Camp Robinson Surgeon 113

10 Crazy Horse 119

11 On the Move 143

III Indian Agent

12 Pine Ridge Agent 157

13 Indian Police 185

14 Educating the Children 195

15 Red Cloud 203

16 The Most Investigated Agent 231

IV Public Servant

17 Wounded Knee 245

18 Full Circle 259

Bibliography 269

Index 279

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