Monthly Archives: April 2019

General William Rufus Shafter

William Rufus Shafter was a Union officer in the Civil War.  Born in 1835 in Michigan, he was in seminary at the outset of the Civil War and enlisted in the Union Army.  About thirty years after the end of the Civil War, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for meritorious service pertaining to an incident on May 31, 1862.  Shafter had been a lieutenant involved in bridge construction near Fair Oaks, Virginia when the Union forces were engaged by Confederate troops.  Shafter left the bridge and took about twenty-two men to counter the Confederate attack.  All but four of his troops were killed and he received a flesh wound and possibly other wounds.  However, Shafter stayed on the field, concealing his wounds.  In a later battle, he was captured by the Confederates and served three months in a prison camp in 1864 before being released.  He was then assigned to the 17th United States Colored Infantry, which appears to be his command when the war ended.  Shafter had been elevated to the rank of brevet brigadier general.

Shafter remained in the United States Army after the end of the war and was posted in West Texas during the years of the Indian Wars.  In the southwest, he commanded the 24th United States Infantry, one of several African American “Buffalo Soldier” regiments, and was one of the commandants of Fort Davis and Fort Clark.  During this period, Shafter was credited for effectively leading campaigns against the native tribes in the area, including Kiowa, Kickapoo, Cheyenne, Apache and Comanche.  He participated in the campaign to capture and subdue the Apache leader Victorio.  Nicknamed “Pecos Bill” as a likely reference to the nearby Pecos River, Shafter was physically large, weighing over three hundred pounds most of his career, but was considered an effective leader while serving in the Big Bend and Llano Estacado areas under Col. Ronald Mackenzie.

While serving as commandant of Fort Davis, Shafter was involved in the court-martial of Henry O. Flipper, the first African American graduate of West Point and the first African-American commissioned officer in the United States Army.  Flipper had been accordingly assigned as the first African-American officer of an all African-American regiment, with only his fellow officers being Anglo.  In his short military career, he served at Fort Sill, Fort Elliott, Fort Quitman and Fort Davis.  Flipper was convicted of improprieties and dishonorably discharged from the United States Army as a result of finding of the the court-martial.  The case had numerous racial overtones, including the possibility that it could have been racially motivated and/or that he could have been framed.  After his dismissal from the Army, Flipper went on to a career as an engineer and as a specialist in Mexican and Spanish land law.  He died in 1940. His conviction and dismissal was appealed by his descendants for being “unduly harsh and unjust.”   In 1976, Flipper was posthumously granted an honorable discharge by the United States Army.  In 1999, President William J. Clinton posthumously issued Flipper a full pardon.

The former town of Shafter, Texas (now a ghost town in Presidio County) was named for General Shafter.  It was once the site of a number of silver mines.  According to local history, the silver deposits were discovered prior to 1880 by John W. Spencer, a former freighter and prospector.  Per the John William Spencer story as related in the Jimenez Family Album, John Spencer, Gen. Shafter, a Lt. Bullis (possibly John L. Bullis), and a Lt. Wilhelm were believed to be investors in the Presidio Mining Company.  Silver and other minerals were extracted from the area until around 1940 when most of the operations finally ceased, although later attempts have been made to resume the mining operation from time to time.

Shafter had risen to the rank of Major General prior to the Spanish-American War and was in his mid sixties at the outset of that war.  Although his command adequacy has been called into question by some, he participated in that conflict, despite his age and physical limitations.  Shafter remained in the Army until his retirement at the rank of Major General in 1901.  Shafter died in 1906 in Bakersfield, California and is interred in the San Francisco National Cemetery.

For further reading:
John William [Spencer] Story
Text of William Rufus Shafter Medal of Honor Citation

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Posted by on April 18, 2019 in biography


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Fort McKavett

Fort McKavett is located near Menard in Menard County, Texas.  It was one in a line of Texas frontier forts built during the era to protect settlers who were moving into the area.  The forts were situated roughly in a diagonal line connecting the Red River to the Rio Grande and about one hundred miles west of the currently occupied land at the time.  United States Army infantry colonel Thomas Staniford was given orders to build a military post at the headwaters of the San Saba River and he arrived with his regiment on March 14, 1852.  The headwaters were a natural spring and Staniford decided to move the location about two miles down from it where the spring formed a small lagoon, favoring the water supply there.

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Posted by on April 11, 2019 in forts


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Belle Starr

Belle Starr, the famous “female outlaw” was born Myra Maybelle Shirley on February  5, 1848 to John and Elizabeth Shirley in rural Missouri near the town of Carthage.  It was a time when bandits, either male or female, were celebrated in some ways.  Her family lived on a farm.  Reportedly, they were also slave owners in a time when strong attitudes for or against slavery divided residents especially in so-called border states.  Her family later sold their rural property and moved into Carthage where they ran the inn and several other businesses.  The civil war came and a brother joined the Confederate army and more specifically the controversial outfit known as Quantrill’s Raiders.  Her brother Bud Shirley was killed in Missouri in a skirmish between Union and Confederate troops.  The economy had generally deteriorated in Missouri because of the war and the Shirleys packed up and moved to near Scyene, Texas, at the time located southeast of Dallas, around 1864.

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Posted by on April 4, 2019 in biography, outlaws and crimes, texas women


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