Michael McCarthy was born at St John's Newfoundland on 19 April 1845. That was 168 years ago today.
His parents were of English and Irish decent. On his father's side relatives could be traced back to some of the earliest settlers on the island. His mother's family had resided there since 1784. His maternal grandfather built the very blockhouse that was home for the Marconi wireless station. With this kind of history around him perhaps it was destined for him to also make history, but this time as a war hero.
At the age of six he moved with his family to St. Mary's Harbour, about 125 kms south west of the capitol where his dad became the sole merchant for years. At age 14 the family would return to the capitol and he would take two years of college training. Then the family was up-routed again and off to Trinity Bay, much closer to the capitol where father and son worked on relaying some of the underwater cable in the Atlantic cable system.
In 1852 the family moved to the Boston area and just before the Civil War came to an end, Michael had traveled south to meet up with a cousin who was then the Colonel of the 57th Massachusetts infantry. It is possible that Michael served briefly under his cousin. There was a Private Howard at the Battle of the Wilderness with the regiment, and it is known that McCarthy used the alias Augustus Howard a little later in life. Maybe he used it earlier as well!
After the Civil War Michael took his release and invested some money in a printing operation of some sort. But he would soon leave this to get back in uniform. This time in the Cavalry though, with the 4th US Cavalry... and again possible under his cousin who then held a lower rank, as Captain and officer commanding McCarthy's Troop. Actually it wasn't McCarthy. This time he enrolled as Augustus Howard, for unknown reasons, and stayed with that unit, from November of 1865 till his term was up in November of 1868.
Over the next decade he would serve two consecutive 5 year terms with the Ist US Cavalry, but this time he was serving under his real name. He would get promoted to Cpl, then Sgt, then First Sergeant over the years which would see him patrolling across many lands in several states during the Indian Uprisings of the time. Many famous personalities served in the US First Cavalry. Among these can be found the names of Kit Carson, Jeff Davis and later General Pershing.
In H Company where McCarthy served there was an officer named Lt. William R Parnell. This man many years earlier, was one of the few with Toronto born Lt Alexander Dunn VC, who managed to walk off the field of battle after the famous Charge of the Light Brigade. (Dunn's VC was the only VC to an officer in the Charge)
The native Indian stories of being rounded up in forced to move off their traditional lands for years to accommodate the new fellows... read the white man... are well recorded for those wishing a good read.
This map could tell the same story.
It would come to a head at White Bird Utah, some 200 miles s/e of Spokane Washington and directly east about 450 miles from Portland Oregon.
Back in 1855 the US government signed an agreement with a native band called the Nez Perce. The agreement was that if they occupied only certain lands, the white man would leave them alone and hopefully the Indians would agree not to harass the whites. Sounds great... if you are white. But then along came the discovery of Gold and of course it was on the Indian lands. So the whites decided it was time to renegotiate. By that I mean force the Indians further away from their traditional grounds, and in this case to accept a reduction in their new reservation size to 10% of what it was under the old agreement. Some of the natives felt this was unfair. Imagine that!
Some went along in peace but others were less willing to accept this abusive treatment and decided that enough was enough. Push came to shove repeatedly on both sides and white settlers and miners were pushing the government to send in the troops. And so they did.
It was on 14 June 1877 that things started to get really stirred up. On that day some of the natives tackled some white ranchers and killed one of them. It was a payback for the murder a few years earlier of the native's father or brother. Back at the reservation others soon decided to join in and extract their own pound of flesh from the white settlers who were very soon abandoning their properties and seeking protection in some of the larger homesteads and communities of whites. Word got out to the military and the natives knew that there would be a major confrontation soon.
On the 17th it came.
F and H troops of the First US Cavalry arrived, tired and beat, after a 24 hour march. On arrival about 1/2 mile north of White Bird they came upon the natives. They did not want a fight by just wanted to show the force of 106 men on horseback. Surely that would turn the natives away. Not so! The true owners of the land outsmarted the whites and were well prepared to protect their lands and anticipated the arrival of troops. They were well entrenched in their own hiding places along the route and in no mood to sit still for a show of force. It would be the cavalry who would see a show of force... and much more. And in that little army was First Sergeant Michael McCarthy.
It was said that the natives outnumbered the Cavalry about 2 to 1, and because of the position the troops got themselves into, an attack was most difficult, as was a retreat. Their only option was to try and set up a defence... but how do you when the enemy was hiding behind rocks and bushes just about everywhere.
A small defensive position was sighted and one of the officers ordered McCarthy to take 6 men to this high ground and protect it at all costs. Meanwhile ... " The Indians broke forth, yelling and screaming, , filling the air with hideous howls and showers of bullets."
While McCarthy and his men took the high ground, word was sent back to main force to get there quickly. On arrival they soon were overwhelmed by the effects of the well placed natives. In very short order men from the cavalry pulled back in somewhat of a confusion, the officer having lost control of them. Soon the officer thought the only thing to do was order a retreat and so he did. But he was then told that the officer was abandoning McCarthy and his men. The officer then canceled the order and tried to regroup the men for an assault. McCarthy seeing the officer having trouble reorganizing the men, left his high ground and went out by horseback to help the officer. En-route he had two horses shot out from under him. He would then return as ordered back to his high ground. The troops were again driven back by the natives and so a full retreat was under way to abandoned the area.
But that still left McCarthy and his few men, not yet shot, to fend for themselves. Soon another officer arrived to help and managed to get a few more of the men to safety. But McCarthy got into another bad situation. His new horse was badly wounded and unreliable, so he to take a dive off it and into a bush for protection. Lying very still, natives actually rushed right past him without realizing it. Then a few native woman saw his boots sticking out and made a motion to go after the boots. Seeing this he managed to slip them off, and still leave them in place and crawl back into deeper brush and witnessed several more of his men being killed.
Eventually he made it away from the scene and for the next three days he travelled at night and hid by day and roamed through heavy brushed areas and mountainous terrain without food or water, a horse or even boots. Finally after three days of roaming through enemy territory he finally made it back to the cavalry fort and surprised all there who thought for sure that he was dead.
The battle of June 17th was over several hours after it started with both combatants heading off to their perspective corners. The cavalry lost 34 soldiers and 2 more wounded. They also lost over 60 rifles, ammunition an other supplies to the enemy who no doubt made the best use of them in future skirmishes. The natives that day only lost 3 man. It was probably one of the most humiliating battles of the native wars that spanned some 30 years or more.
More on Michael McCarthy tomorrow in a make-up blog for the one missed yesterday.