John Gregory Bourke:

A Soldier Scientist In The Southwest

William Gardner Bell

by William Gardner Bell, U.S. Amy Center of Military History

The military profession is often perceived in physical and structural terms that classify the soldier's realm as "the inside" and civilian life as "the outside." It follows naturally that the armed services are parochial and military men narrow and unworldly. Like most generalizations, this one is wide of the mark. Our military institutions often demonstrate a high order of sensitivity and wisdom, and our soldiers a commendable degree of versatility and depth. Indeed, no uniformed service that would permit an officer to take extended leave from straight military duties to engage in intellectual pursuits, and no soldier who would take advantage of that and other opportunities to produce a distinguished body of published works, could be criticized as shallow. The United States Army's utilization of Captain John Gregory Bourke and Bourke's productive use of his military career offers a valid case in point.

Bourke was not only an outstanding soldier but a noted ethnologist and author-historian. While all his accomplishments were complementary, the writing was a controlling element, for literary rather than military or scientific considerations seem to have bracketed his life. The beginnings were auspicious. His father, for example, was assured that the family was "closely akin" to Edmund Burke; his mother, for her part, dedicated her son, at his confirmation, to St. Gregory, the patron of learning. John attained the promise in full measure and left an enduring legacy of scholarly works.2

Bourke was born in Philadelphia on 23 June 1846, the son of Irish emigrant parents who were fortunate in having been educated to a higher degree than was usual for those of their order and times. Writing in his diary in later years, John noted that his father, Edward Joseph Bourke, proprietor of a bookstore, "had an especially good English rudimentary discipline; his grammar was exact, his spelling faultless, his hand-writing clear, rapid, perfectly legible." As to his mother, Anna Morton Bourke, he was sure that he had never met "a more carefully trained woman in English studies. history, and the Belles Lettres."3

The Bourkes had high ambitions for their son John, as indeed they did for their other children, and in his eighth year he was studying Latin, Greek, and Gaelic under a Jesuit priest, building the foundation that would move him through higher levels of schooling and give him the grounding for later literary endeavors. At St. Joseph's College in Philadelphia, a Jesuit institution, young Bourke went on to excel in languages and the classics. But a hot temper, an outraged sense of justice, and an early proclivity to speak his mind coincided one day in a classroom denunciation of a teacher over another student's cribbing. With his face crimson and stinging from the pedagogue's slap, Bourke walked out of the classroom and out of school.4

Despite his apparent probity, Bourke was not above a bit of falsification in a just cause. Only two months beyond his sixteenth birthday, he ran away from home, gave his age as nineteen, and enlisted as a private in the Fifteenth Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry. He served from August 1862 to July 1865 and was later awarded the Medal of Honor for gallantry at the Battle of Stones River, Tennessee, a recognition accorded to all members of the unit who perfomed creditably in the action.5

Still in his teens when the Civil War ended, Bourke was ready to fuse his earlier formal schooling with his recent practical military experiency in building a career. His wartime commander, Major General George H. Thomas, set the direction by recommending Bourke for an appointment to the United States Military Academy. The young veteran entered West Point in October 1865 and graduated in June 1869, eleventh in a class of thirty-nine. As a cadet Bourke again excelled in languages and did well in English, mineralogy, geology, ethics, and law. A classmate, Charles Braden, recalled that Bourke's weakness in mathematics was more than offset by a remarkable memory and a capacity to "book" what he did not understand and get a "max" for "talking well on a subject when he knew nothing whatever about it."6

Bourke was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Third Cavalry Regiment and in September 1869 joined his unit in the Southwest. His first duty stations were Fort Craig on the Rio Grande and Camp Grant in Arizona Territory. Although he did some scouting and participated in several skirmishes, time hung heavy on an officer's hands at remote frontier posts and Bourke made use of the opportunity for self-improvement. "I can certify," he wrote later, "to no inconsiderable amount of reading and study of Spanish language and literature, of mineralogy, of botany, of history, of constitutional and international law, and of the belles-lettres by officers of the Army….7

At Fort Craig, Bourke's quarters consisted of a single room about twenty feet square with a dirt floor and a caving earthen roof bolstered by an immense cottonwood log. As Bourke describes it: "I had a small iron bedstead, a bottle-green glass mirror, a few pegs upon which to hang uniform and a sabre, three pine shelves filled with books, a round pine table . . . a wash-bowl . . . and finally a heavy iron poker serving the double purpose of stirring at the fire and stirring up Espiridion, the Mexican boy, who, in the wildest freaks of my imagination, I sometimes looked upon as a "valet ."8

Bourke described Fort Craig as "a lonesome sort of a hole" located at the northern end of the Jornada del Muerto to protect travellers against prowling Apaches. His daily routine reveals the opportunities available to a farsighted and energetic officer. Reveille, stable call, breakfast, guard mount, and cavalry drill were followed by a period of open time that Bourke devoted to reading; after lunch there was more open time which Bourke used for reading; an eigh- or ten-mile ride, stable call, and parade completed the afternoon duty schedule, and after supper, Bourke was free to devote the evening hours to reading and study.9

On the face of it, Bourke may appear bookish, single-minded, and introverted, an oddity in the rough and tumble frontier military environment. His diary reveals that he was not. A number of regional villages--Paraje, San Marcial, Contedera--beckoned the garrison, and Bourke's native curiosity took him often on rides that gave him an opportinity to observe the local residents and comment in his journal. He found the women to be "as a rule, tall, slight, straight and graceful . . . neat and clean . . . . Frequently in my rides across country, I came upon bevies of women--old matrons and pretty maidens, splashing in the limpid waters (of the canals), the approach of a stranger being the signal for a general scramble until they were all immersed up to their necks. They never seemed to mind it in the least and I may as well admit that I rather enjoyed these unexpected interviews.10 Obviously soldier, scientist, and man joined in happy communion in the person of John Gregory Bourke.

Two years after his arrival in the Southwest, Bourke became a part of one of those alliances that are relatively rare in human affairs--associations in which the parties complement each other and make each other whole, and of which history is the beneficiary. In June of 1871, Brevet Major General George Crook was placed in command of the Department of Arizona, and early that fall Bourke was assigned as one of his aides-de-camp. Crook served two extended tours in Arizona between 1871 and 1886, with a-bridging tour on the Northern Plains, and for the entire span Bourke was one of his trusted subordinates. At the outset of his service with Crook, Bourke began a systematic compilation of field notes. Crook relied heavily upon.these notes in exercising command and preparing official reports, while for Bourke they became the foundation of his subsequent literary career. They were the raw material, the primary sources, from which he wrote the books, monographs, and articles--historical and scientific--that reflected his intellect, revealed his experience, recorded his observations, and enlightened his fellow man.

Few officers matched Bourke in frontier service, fewer still brought his attainments to the field. Geographically and militarily his western service comprehended the Indian Wars. He participates in the Apache campaigns in the Southwest in the early 1870's. In the Sioux-Cheyenne campaigns on the Northern Plains in 1876, as a member of Crook's field staff or his representative with elements of the field forces, Bourke served with Joseph J. Reynolds on the Powder and Ranald Mackenzie on the Red Fork in Wyoming and with Crook at the Rosebud in Montana and at Slim Buttes in South Dakota. He pursued Cheyennes with Thomas T. Thornburg across Nebraska's sandhills in 1878 and was with Wesley Merritt's relief column in the Ute campaign in Colorado in 1879. Back in the Southwest he served with Crook in the Sierra Madre operation in 1883, and he sat at Crook's side in that remote region of Northern Mexico during the historic conference with Geronimo in 1886.11

Although Bourke's interest in people and places was universal and his military service exposed him to every section of the country, his first tour of duty as a commissioned officer fixed his attention upon the Southwest and it became the focus of his life's activity. In George Crook, Bourke found a kindred soul, a man of parts whose soldiering was tempered by a deep interest in and compassion for the Indian. Crook's determination to inform himself fully concerning his opponents and his area of responsibility, and Bourke's ethnological curiosity and desire to record his observations, brought the two together in a collaboration of some military and cultural significance.

On the military side, Bourke took the field in Crook's first campaign in the Southwest against the Apaches, a summer scout lasting from 11 July to 31 August 1871, that took them from Tucson eastward to Camp Bowie, northward to Camp Apache, then northwestward to Camp Verde and finally to Fort Whipple near Prescott--a total distance of more than 650 miles. The military threat was exemplified in an incident in August high on the Mogollon Rim. Bourke records that several Apaches "jumped from behind a screen of low bushes, yelled a defiant war-whoop, fired two arrows at General Crook," and escaped down the almost vertical escarpment before the astonished soldiers could obey their commander's order to dismount and open fire. The arrows whistled by Crook's head and "imbedded themselves so deeply in a tall pine tree that it was impossible to extract more than half the shafts."12

The physical strain was demonstrated in a long day's march across rugged and unfamiliar terrain, in oven-like heat, and with the party suffering from thirst. Long after dark a parched and exhausted command camped on a fork of the Rio Verde. As Bourke describes it, Captain Thomas L. Brent was so exhausted that he fell from the saddle "and immediately after was attacked with a copious haemorrhage of the lungs."

In the fall of 1872 Crook used the Verde, McDowell, Grant, and Apache bases to launch a campaign against Apache and Yavapai bands, gradually tightening a ring of First and Fifth Cavalry Regiment companies and Indian Scouts around the Tonto Basin. Bourke rode with Major William H. Brown's column in a punishing sweep through the Mescal, Pinal, Superstition, Sierra Ancha, and Mazatzal ranges and the southwestern perimeters of the Mogollon plateau--an operation that culminated in the Battle of Skull Cave in the Salt River Canyon. Through hard campaigning and unrelenting pressure, crowned by the successful action at Skull Cave and another at Turret Peak, Crook won the Tonto Basin War. Bourke's field notes of the campaign constitute a remarkable record of military operations in the Southwest in the period. His entries give place names, incidents of the march, time and distance, weather, military action, and the state of wood, grass, and water at campsites, all cast in a spare but thoroughly adequate style.13

In the fall of 1874, anticipating his transfer to another theater, General Crook, with Bourke at his side, made a tour of military installations and Indian reservations in his department. After inspecting Camp Verde, San Carlos, and Camp Apache, they struck out for the Hopi Villages above the Little Colorado River. Bourke recorded the expedition in detail; it proved to be the experience that transformed his sociological inclinations into ethnological intentions. Out of it came his first piece of scientific writing, an article titled "The Moquis of Arizona: A Brief Description of Their Towns, Their Manners and Customs," which was published in the Daily Alta California in San Francisco on 14 December 1874.14 Out of it also a decade later would come his first book.

On 25 March 1875, General Crook departed Arizona for Nebraska by way of California to take command of the Department of the Platte at Omaha. His two aides, Bourke and Captain A. H. Nickerson, accompanied the general, and they left Arizona with their ears ringing from the uniform expressions of thanks and appreciation of the military and civilian communities and of the legislature of a territory at peace. Several days of travel brought them to Marl Springs, where Bourke, who had been recording the details of the trip, prepared a note that illustrates as well as anything in his diaries his powers of description:

Found Marl Spring station a little "dug-out" excavated in the side of a mountain marl; the joists supporting the roof were gnarly branches of the stunted mountain cedar peculiar to this section; the thatching was formed of the leaves of the wild date palm and limbs of various species of cactus.

The thorny plants indigenous to Southern California and Arizona had been brought into requisition to constitute railings and fences for the corrals and other appurtenants of the house.

In the "dug-out" proper, a small den, in dimensions 15 by 20 feet, served as a sitting room, general sleeping apartment and bar-room. On one side some sacks of barley were piled up ready for issue and sale to passing teams; on the other, a counter provided with a small decrepit pair of Fairbanks's scales, was the only ornament. Behind this arranged on a set of weak-minded shelves, were a few cans of peaches, tomatoes and peas; yeast powders, sardines, candles, heavy shirts, pickles, matches, cigars, and tobacco, in promiscuous confusion and perhaps not aggregating in value $200.

Dismal as this place was, it yet parodied the functions of a mecca to weary prospectors who hied from the adjacent hills to learn at the "station" the latest news or what passed for news with these poor people. Who had "struck it rich" in the Greenwood; whose drift had "got in on" "the pay streak"; what Scotty Smith's ore was probably worth to the ton; were "things lively" down to Gerbat; who was running the station at "Sody"; why Wallace "got shot" and how--in lazy continuity the talk drifted slowly along from meridian until far after sunset.

The raiment of the miners was as monotonous as their conversation; cow-skin boots, old patched pants, coarse woolen shirts and hats which had a look of having been born second hand.

Yet to these hardy prospectors our nation is largely indebted for much of its material development and prosperity on the Pacific coast; the mines of Washoe, Arizona, Pike's Peak, Boise, and Panamint owe their discovery to the very class of men whole colloquy and appearance are referred to in these pages; seldom do any of the poor wretches make money; like straws on the wave of a fast-advancing civilization they float along helplessly until they stand forever on some barren shore and become an example and a mockery to the children growing up in the mining towns. Sometimes one more fortunate than his comrades will manage to sell at a fair figure mineral ledges he has "prospected" and "located"; and then for a brief carnival the dissolute and depraved run riot with his hard-earned gains; when the last dollar has gone, with no companion save a pack mule and dog, no fortune except a pannier or two of provisions, a pick, shovel and horn-spoon, away from the glittering lamps and squeaky music of the faro-banks which stand to him as the semblance of an alluring civilization, away to the desolate plains and rugged mountains, descending gloomy canyons or slowly climbing dizzy precipices, away, restless, as the Wandering Jew, until the sharp twang of the Apache's bow brings rest to the weary feet or until, worse fate, old age shall surprise him decrepit and almost imbecile, despised as a suppliant by the same gin-mills which race their first prosperity to his old-time prodigality.15

On the way to Omaha, General Crook's party had pleasant interludes at Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Salt Lake City, and a delay caused by railroad washout gave Bourke an opportunity to record his impressions of the Utah metropolis, Mormonism, and a meeting with Brigham Young. He was quite taken by the manner in which the residents had made a barren alkali flat "bloom as a rose." Perhaps out of his Catholic upbringing and preconceived feelings about plural marriage, he saw "animal passions strongly marked" in the countenance of Brigham Young, a man he described as "intellectually bright" and "of no common character." As to Mormonism's salient feature, polygamy, Bourke thought it could "exist only in the isolation of our Great Western Solitude," and he was convinced that the railroad more effectively than 100,000 soldiers would break in upon that seclusion, leaving the disciples of Smith and Young "to a destiny of dispersion and extinction."16

What Bourke envisioned, in passing, for the Mormons was a far greater likelihood for the Indians of the Upper Plains; General Crook assumed command of the Department of the Platte in late April 1875 at a moment when things were coming to a head. Stanley's Yellowstone Expedition of 1873 and Custer's Black Hills Expedition of 1874 had posed serious threats of white encroachment upon the Black Hills area of the Great Sioux Reservation and the unceded and treasured Sioux hunting grounds in the Powder River region north of the Platte River and east of the Big Horn Mountains. Crook was quickly drawn into the problems of the area, and by February of 1876 Bourke was in the field with his commander on one of the longest and most difficult campaigns of the Indian Wars. Bourke celebrated his thirtieth birthday in June deep in the Powder River country, six days after the Battle of the Rosebud in which he took part, and forty-eight hours before Custer would fall fifty miles to the north, on the Little Bighorn.

Civil War service and campaigning in the Southwest and the Northern Plains had begun to take its toll; an 1875 portrait of Bourke, compared with one taken as a cadet in 1869, suggests a man closer to fifty than to thirty. Bourke was of average height and muscular build, with "deep-set grey eyes under bushy eyebrows, a prominent nose, well-formed chin, and the heavy mustache of the period." The Irish background leavened the temper with good humor. He was a curious mixture in many ways--a delightful raconteur; yet a good listeners diarist who kept himself in the background but held strong opinions.17

Few in high places escaped the barbs of his exacting pen as he chronicled the impressions and experiences of his career and the events of the times. Taking exception to a number of presidential appointments of civilians to positions with the Army, Bourke concluded that "President Hayes made such ado about reform in the administration of the government that some people (at the start of his administration) were deluded into believing that he was honest in his expressions, but a uniform duplicity and treachery have convinced the nation that something besides Apollinaris water at a State Dinner or an unctuous outpouring of sanctimonious gab at all times is needed to make a man holy."18 Much of Bourke's castigation was directed at those he considered to be misguided or corrupt in matters concerning the American Indian. When Vincent Colyer, Secretary of the Board of Indian Commissioners and a noted humanitarian, visited the Southwest to make peace with the Apaches and establish a reservation system for them, his method and results put him down in Bourke's book as "that spawn of hell."19 Secretary Carl Schurz was dispatched by Bourke as that "spindle-shanked Mephistopheles presiding over the Department of the Interior";20 a member of the Board of Indian Commissioners named Barston, who was dealing illicitly in stove contracts for the Indian Bureau, was, as far as Bourke was concerned, "a whining, psalm-singing hypocrite." Above all, Bourke was sure that it would be impossible to find "a more thorough rascal" than Commissioner of Indian Affairs Ezra A. Hayt, whose corrupt practices led to his dismissal in 1880.21

The strong judgements were not reserved for domestic figures alone. Bourke thought that the assassination of the Czar of Russia was "a good thing," and he hoped "before many months to be able to chronicle the assassination of Bismarck, one of the coldest-blooded and most unprincipled tyrants who have ever sprung to power."22

Bourke's commitment to the study of American Indian culture and Crook's assignment to head an investigation into the condition of the Ponca Indians of Nebraska, led to Bourke's designation as recorder of the commission, and the winter of 1880-1881 saw him in Washington writing the group's report. The Chief Clerk of the Adjutant General's office, where Bourke occupied a desk, was inspired to compare Bourke's output with that of two of the division's most expert penmen, and the visitor put the staffers to shame. This led Bourke to voice his regret that his education was so imperfect--a sort of personal putdown that he indulged on several occasions. As he saw it, "If, instead of a lot of useless classical training, I had been carefully instructed in phonography and telegraphy, I should have been a man of more consequence in my day and generation." This observation is interesting in the light of the fact that his classical training contributed so much to his linguistic and literary qualifications. His pen more than his penmanship was in great demand, and beyond that, he had managed early in his commissioned service in the Southwest to quash orders assigning him to West Point as an instructor in languages, a billet many would have considered choice.23

His visit to Washington threw him into some of his first contacts with men who were influential in various fields of scientific study. He visited John Wesley Powell at the Smithsonian Institution and was invited to participate in Powell's forthcoming summer expedition to the New Mexican pueblos. This was a most attractive and flattering offer, but considerations of time, military commitment, official blessing, and perhaps even a suspicion that he might be restricted and overshadowed by Powell, kept him from leaping at the opportunity. Proceeding deliberately, and mindful of the dozen years he had already invested in the study of Indian culture, he wrote Lieutenant General Philip H. Sheridan, commander of the Military Division of the Missouri, which incorporated Crook's Department of the Platte, requesting that he be detailed full time to conduct some ethnological work on the North American Indians. Crook gave the application a strong endorsement, and Sheridan summoned Bourke to his Chicago headquarters to discuss the projected work in detail.24

Bourke's request appears to have coincided with Sheridan's sharpened interest in enhancing Army knowledge of Indian culture as a means of furthering Indian acculturation and reducing the friction between Indians and whites. By the early 1880's the Indians were becoming generally resigned to white domination and the Army was weary of hard campaigning. In meetings on two consecutive days concerning the subject of ethnological investigations, Sheridan directed Bourke to devote his time in general to the tribes south of the Union Pacific Railroad, adding that he was detailing Captain William P. Clark, who had already prepared a manuscript on the sign language of the North American Indians, to deal principally with those north of the continental line. Both men were enjoined to take their time and make a success of their studies. Bourke's formal instructions, issued on 26 March 1881 in Special Order 33 of Headquarters, Military Division of the Missouri, are a model of faith, flexibility, and support:

First Lieutenant John G. Bourke, 3rd Cavalry, Aide de Camp, under instructions from the Division, will proceed to Fort Hall, I.T., and thence to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and from that place to such other points as will enable him to comply with said instructions. Post commanders, on his written application, will furnish Lieut. Bourke such transportation and scouts as he may require.
By Command of Lieut.-Gen'l Sheridan (signed) Gen G. A. Forsyth, Lieut. Colonel., A.D.C.25

Bourke left Omaha by train on the last day of March, 1881, for Fort Hall, Idaho, to begin several days of preliminary work among the Shoshone and Bannock tribes. These Indians were of the same linguistic stock as the Hopis, and Bourke felt that it was incumbent upon him to familiarize himself with these branches of the Shoshonean people before picking up his studies of the pueblo branches to the south. With the help of post and agency officials, he completed his work in three days and departed for Denver and Santa Fe. His diary provides a running comment on the many subjects that touched his inquiring mind: comparisons of several rail lines; an anecdote about financier Jay Gould; Denver's potential as a city but the filthy output of its waterworks; the extortionate rail fare to Santa Fe; five villainous tramps around a fire in a ravine south of Colorado Springs who "ought to be hanged"; descriptions of changing scenery and peoples along the way; and so on to arrival at the Espanola rail terminus and a Palm Sunday ride via Concord coach and six to Santa Fe.26

Bourke's activities at Santa Fe show how closely his professional interests blended with his private life; it is often difficult to discern where one leaves off and the other picks up. He had a faculty for giving a sociological twist to the most ordinary events of the day. He and several friends, for example, visited the gambling rooms of a Mr. She-lby, "one of the old-timers of this country, who may have much information of value to me in my work . . . . Despite the character of his profession (he) is regarded with much esteem . . . one of the social incongruities to be met with in a place like Santa Fe, where public opinion, under the influence of Mexican ideas, does not regard gaming as dishonorable."27

With respect to Santa Fe, Bourke noted that "it has gas works, is putting in water works, building a new hotel, has a fine new college under the Christian Brothers, a convent school for girls--and Metropolitan uniformed policemen! These innovations jostle against and contrast strangely with the medieval rookeries of adobe, the narrow streets, still lit at night with camphine torches or filled by day with a motley crew of hook-nosed Jews, blue-coated soldiers, curious tourists, senoritas wrapped to the eyes in rebosas, muchachos enfolded in bright colored serapes, Pueblo Indians stolidly marching alongside their patient burros, upon whose backs are tied great bundles of wood or hay." Even when early in the morning, a Pueblo Indian couple came to his door selling pottery and Bourke bought several pieces, he noticed and jotted down in his journal as a point of ethnological significance the fact that the woman, not the man, kept the money. During his stay in the city he made it a point to visit stores in the Mexican section to exercise his Spanish by inquiring about the prices of various products.

Bourke had a keen eye for the incongruous. Taking a stand with Lieutenant Robert T. Emmet before the Palace of the Governors to hear an "afternoon concert of selections from the Little Duke, Pinafore, and Carmen played by the colored band of the 9th Cavalry," he was struck by the "odd jumble of ideas of the past and present suggested by a glance around. Here was the bank of Africans to redeem whom from slavery had died the brave men to whose memory yonder cenotaph (in the plaza) has been erected; here is the palace of the old Castillian governors," while across the street is the headquarters of the U.S. Army's Military District; "not a musket shot distant are the hoary old temples of San Miguel and,Guadaloupe…"

While at Santa Fe, Bourke visited churches, public buildings, and several unique private residences, as well as a number of regional points of interest. He met on several occasions with General Edward Hatch, commander of the Military District, and Lew Wallace, Governor of the Territory, and in company with General Hatch visited the Navajo Agency at Fort Defiance. Here he witnessed an issue day proceeding, visited and blasted the so-called Boarding School for Indian Children run by Agent Eastman, another of Bourke's "psalm-singing hypocrites," and gathered data within the framework of an outline which he used for all his investigations of Indian tribes.

This outline embraced eighteen sections, and the subject headings suggest the scope of Bourke's inquiries. The first section identified a subject tribe in some detail. Following sections dealt with Births; Dress and Personal Adornment; Toys, Games, Musical Instruments, and Modes of Recreation; Personal Appearance; Marriage and Divorce; Residences; Implements and Utensils of War and Peace; Food; Colors, Dyes, Paints and Powders; Standards of Measurements and Values, Kinship; Tribal Government; War Customs; Therapeutics; Mortuary Customs; Religion Superstitions and Myths; and a catchall category labelled Miscellaneous.28

At the end of April 1881, following this first visit to the Navajo, Bourke returned to Omaha for a ten-day visit. Although his diary does not reveal the reason for what was a long trip for a short stay, one cannot help speculating, for his notes touch upon "a delightful evening" at the residences of several Omaha friends, among them a Miss Horbach, and a series of farewell visits including one to the Horbach family. The several calls to the Horbach home may indicate that Bourke's flying trip was for other than military or ethnological reasons.29

Bourke returned to the Southwest in May for a first visit to the Zunis and a second to the Navajos. On his first tour he had run into Frank Hamilton Cushing of the Smithsonian Institution at Fort Wingate and had had an opportunity to talk about field studies presently in progress. Cushing and Army Dr. Washington Matthews were engaged in extensive work on both the Navajo and Zuni; thus while Bourke would learn much from his own investigations of these tribes, he would recognize that he was something of a latecomer to this particular field and would himself concentrate on the Apache and Hopi tribes. No matter what the tribe and what the opportunity, he was always ready to add to his store of knowledge, and in June he interrupted his work in the area to journey all the way to Pine Ridge, South Dakota, to witness the annual Sun Dance of the Sioux. One wonders whether, while in the Upper Plains, he made a side trip to Omaha!

Back in the Southwest once again, Bourke visited the pueblos north of Santa Fe, making his careful observations, keeping his meticulous journal, and suffering the discomforts of irregular hours, bad weather, jolting conveyances, bug-ridden hostelries, and abominable food--yet regularly compensated by ethnological progress and the delights of natural and manmade wonders. During an interlude at Taos he visited Mrs. Charles Bent who gave him a firsthand account of how her husband, the civil governor, was murdered in 1847 by Mexican and Indian residents of the area who were opposed to the inception of American rule.30

In August and again in October of 1881 Bourke visited the pueblos of Arizona and New Mexico. His investigations took him to such places as Taos and Picuris; Nambe, Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, and San Juan; Oraibi and Walpi; Acoma and Laguna; Isleta and Sandia; and Cochiti, San Felipe, and Zia. His reception was by no means evenhanded, and Bourke used a combination of knowledge, psychology, bribery, flattery, arrogance, courtliness, officiousness, and pomp and circumstance--fortified by occasional references to the Great Father in Washington--to gain his ends. The Indians were naturally secretive about tribal customs and personal affairs, and Bourke's favorite tactic in opening a dialogue and gaining their confidence was to purchase a piece of pottery or jewelry, a blanket, or an implement for his swelling collection. To break down the reserve of the residents of San Juan and unlock some ethnological background, for example, Bourke dazzled them by opening his trunk to expose his gaudy Cavalry Aide de Camp's uniform with its bright buttons and yellow facings. At Sandia he ran into a different situation; he
was examining a building when a pair of Indians came barging in and ordered him to leave. Bourke informed them that he was "a big capitan from Washington," and would leave when he was ready. He completed a careful survey of the interior.32

If he was willing to pull rank on occasion, there were other moments when things got far enough out of hand to embarrass him. En route from San Ildefonso to Boquet's Ranch for a night's accommodation, Bourke and his driver arrived quite late and in a violent storm, to be greeted at the door by Boquet's Mexican wife and her Negro cook Rosie. In response to Bourke's apologetic request for food and lodging, Rosie informed all and sundry in a loud voice that she wasn't going to do any more cooking that night for anybody! Senora Boquet, recognizing her guest from a previous visit., hushed Rosie in a Spanish undertone in which Bourke came out as "the Government" rather than "of the Government." Rosie did a fast double-take, and with a stream of apologies and obsequies turned out mutton chops, frijoles, eggs, hot biscuits, and tea. Bourke, surprised at the quick turn of events, yet too hungry to set the record straight, reserved his comments for his diary: "In my time," he wrote, "I have been called 'Cap,' 'Maje,' 'Kunnel,' (and) 'Ginneril,' in the line of military preferment; 'Jedge' and 'Gov' in the channels of political distinction; 'Doc' and 'Purfessor' in the course of scientific attainments, and once (but only once and then by a drunken man in Dakota) I was mistaken for a Church dignitary and accosted as 'deacon' . . . all these honors I had borne with proper meekness and humility; but to be taken for the whole Government of 50,000,000 of peoples was a compliment which made me blush to the ears at such unexpected recognition of my merits."33

Bourke terminated his field investigations in the closing weeks of 1881 and returned to Omaha to work up his notes and commence preparation of a manuscript on the Snake Dance of the Moquis, using his early observations as well as his recently collected data. He had no chance to pursue things to a conclusion, for he returned to the Southwest when General Crook was reassigned to command the Department of Arizona and began in September 1882 to deal with renewed Apache outbreaks. Bourke was adjutant general of the expedition, under Crook's direct command, that crossed the international boundary on 1 May 1883 and penetrated the Sierra Madre Mountains to strike hostile Chiricahua Apaches in their long invulnerable sanctuary. In a command composed of about 50 whites and upwards of 200 Apache Scouts--a comand that returned from the six-week campaign with almost 400 Chiricahua prisoners--Bourke had a fine opportunity to combine ethnological work with military duties, and he took every advantage of the situation.34

The year 1883 was a milestone in Bourke's life. On the heels of the Sierra Madre campaign he returned to Omaha, where, on July 25, he and Miss Mary F. Horbach were married in a quiet ceremony at the Horbach family home. Bourke's crowded schedule of the last few years had left him with an accumulation of unused leave, and he was granted a six-month absence which the couple used for a honeymoon in Europe. Bourke took with him his manuscript on the Moqui Snake Dance, and in a visit to London completed arrangements with the publishing firm of Sampson, Low, Marston, Searl, and Rivington for its publication. Charles Scribner's Sons in New York bought up a good part of the London edition and provided an American imprint, and the book was published simultaneously in London and New York in 1884. Bourke was on the threshhold of his major writing career.35

Still on Crook's staff, Bourke participated in the final Apache troubles in the Southwest. In March of 1886 he took notes as Crook and Geronimo met in a canyon a dozen miles south of the.border to discuss a surrender by the remaining hostiles. Although Geronimo and a few others slipped away, Crook brought in most of the remaining dissidents, but when Washington failed to back the field commander on the terms by which he had negotiated the surrender, Crook asked to be relieved of command in Arizona. Nelson Miles was designated to replace him and Crook was posted once again to the Department of the Platte. Bourke preceded Crook by ten days with the sad duty of accompanying to Nebraska the remains of Captain Emmet Crawford, who had been killed during operations south of the border.36

In sixteen years Bourke had accumulated a tremendous volume of material on Indian culture, and he was anxious to organize, collate, interpret, and publish it. Upon his return to Omaha he asked to be released from field duty and to be assigned to Washington with its valuable concentration of archival collections. A perceptive War Department granted the request, and Bourke spent the period from 1886 to 1891 on detached service in the nation's capital pursuing his scientific studies. Professionally it was a most productive sabbatical; out of it came the bulk of his published works. Personally, the tour provided Bourke with five satisfying years of family life. John and Mary Bourke had three daughters--Sara, Anna, and Pauline--and the Washington interlude was a precious one for the family of an Amy officer subject to the call of duty on remote frontiers.

Bourke's comprehensive service in the Indian Wars and his unceasing study of Indian Culture and critical observation of natural surroundings, people, and places, stamped his published works as authentic, valuable, and important. As soldier and.scholar, man of action and man of letters, Bourke brought style, scope, sensitivity, and understanding to his works. Most of his writing and practically all his publication were concentrated in the last dozen years of his life. The little article that had appeared in the San Francisco paper in 1874 proved to be the forerunner of some fifty-odd articles and monographs that were published in various periodicals and reports. He regularly contributed material on esoteric such learned publications as the American Anthropologist and the Journal of American Folk-Lore. He was a friend and colleague of many of.the leading scientifc scholars and writers of his day.

His book production, although relatively modest, was highly significant. The Snake Dance of the Moquis of Arizona was considered the "pioneer publication on the subject, containing much of interest to ethnologists." The publication in pamphlet form in 1888 of his notes and memoranda on the ordure rites of primitive peoples led in turn to his book Scatologic Rites of all Nations, published in Washington, D.C. in 1891, and of sufficient significance that Sigmund Freud wrote the foreword to a later German edition. In 1892 the Bureau of American Ethnology in its Ninth Annual Report issued Bourke's "The Medicine Men of the Apache," which Dr. Walter Hough of the Smithsonian Institution considered "a major work" and a "most valuable contribution to the literature of the Southwest."

Bourke was as active in the historical field as in the scientific. he knew the leading military men of his time and was held in high esteem as a soldier and scholar. Two of his historical articles that appeared in magazines were later issued in book form: An Apache Campaign in the Sierra Madre, originally published in Outing Magazine in 1885, was published by Scribner in 1886; Mackenzie's Last Fight with the Cheyennes, first released in 1889 in the Army and Navy Register and in 1890 in the Journal of the Military Service Institution was published by that organization in a hardbound separate edition in 1910. Both of these accounts illuminated and were illuminated by his other writings.

Bourke's major work was On the Border with Crook. A classic of Western Americana, he wrote it at a point in his career when he had turned from active field soldiering and was being permitted to give his attention to intellectual pursuits. He dedicated this book to Francis Parkman, and it appeared in 1891 at a time when the final bursts of fire of the Indian Wars were echoing across the land. J. Frank Dobie, writing in 1958 in a regional context, considered this book "one of the dozen or maybe only half-dozen most illuminating and most readable interpretations of the Southwest of pioneer days yet published." Dobie's comment is valid in the broadest of Western connotations.37

General Crook's debt to Bourke--in life and death, in war and history--was incalculable, even though Crook needed no champion. No other soldier-author of the time did for another military leader what Bourke did for Crook: not Robert Carter for Ranald Mackenzie, not Charles King for Wesley Merritt. In On the Border with Crook,Bourke fixed his commander for posterity. And how many later chroniclers of the Indian Wars were beholden to Bourke for both the form and the substance of their histories? Few other single works, not even George Bird Grinnell's The Fighting Cheyennes, have the breadth, the scope, the authority of Bourke's book, as well as his influence upon the period and the subject.38

During the Washington tour, in December 1888, Bourke was urgently called to Philadelphia where his mother lay gravely ill. Despite her serious condition she received her son with solicitude over a recent disappointment. Bourke had cherished the hope that he would be appointed to the vacant post of assistant inspector general of the Army. President Cleveland gave it instead to a man whose qualifications and military record were far inferior to Bourke's but who possessed, greater political influence. Bourke assured his dying mother that he was not in the least cast-down, that his friends in and out of the Amy had condemned the whole transaction "which would result in worse consequences to Cleveland than to me."39

In 1891 Captain Bourke was ordered to Texas to assume command of Troop C of the Third Cavalry at Fort Ringgold and joining other units in operations against Caterino Garza, a brigand and self-styled liberator whose revolutionists had violated the neutrality laws by invading northern Mexico and were raiding on both sides of the Rio Grande. The troops were in the field regularly from September to the following March, and Bourke's unit had its fill of hard riding and a lively engagement in December at Retamal Springs. The experience exposed Bourke not only to the dangers of military operations but to the machinations of corrupt American officials and politicians, some of whom were in league with the revolutionary movement. Bourke was not one to defer to their kind.40

In 1893, Bourke was detailed to the State Department for duty and from March to November served at the Columbian Exposition--the World's Fair--at Chicago as director of the recreated Spanish monastery, La Rabida, so much a part of the story of Columbus. Bourke was an apt choice for the assignment because of his deep interest in Hispanic culture, his knowledge of the Spanish language, and a long and close association with the Spanish borderlands. From this assignment he returned to troop duty at Fort Riley, Kansas, and took Troop C to Chicago in 1894 during the railway strike. There he was highly critical of higher authority over what he called "flap-doodle ceremonials," surface show as opposed to the fundamentals of military operation.41 Bourke, it may be noted, was an outstanding troop commander who looked after his men and was known affectionately among them as "John G".

Despite a quarter-century of Regular Amy commissioned service prefaced by three years of enlisted field service in the Civil War, all marked by distinguished military, scientific, and literary achievement, Bourke was still a captain in his primary profession. By 1894 he seems to have lost all hope of promotion, and his diary reflects an increasing testiness which also found its way into his official correspondence. Asked by the War Department to expand upon his answers to a previous questionnaire concerning extra-professional activities, he returned the communications asking to be relieved from its further application or reference to himself, "as it seems now to be assuming the character of a Jesuitical inquisition." He reinforced this in his diary, declaring that "What is known as the 'Efficiency Report' has degenerated into Jesuitical espionage and puts an officer, modest as to his attainments, at a disadvantage in comparison with the shoulder-strapped blatherskite who wants to parade his shallow proficiency."42

Some kind of corrective recognition seemed to come Bourke's way in the Spring of '94 when he saw in the St. Louis Globe Democrat a list of officers brevetted for gallantry in Indian campaigns Bourke appeared in the list with brevets to captain and major. He looked in vain for such names as T. H. Stanton, Howard Cushing, Frank Yeaton, Hayden Delaney, and Emmet Crawford. Their absence, along with the presence of others who, in his opinion, should not have been included, led Bourke to fire off a letter to the Adjutant General asking that his name be withdrawn. While propriety and principle were still his watchwords, it is unlikely that his censorius remarks endeared him to departmental officials.43

Bourke's last duty station, of one year's duration, was at Fort Ethan Allen, Vermont. Although he found little of challenge in routine peacetime military duty, he followed an active intellectual schedule, writing articles and reviews for scientific journals and for local and metropolitan newspapers. He spoke before the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was elected secretary of its Anthropological Section. He presided over a meeting of the American Folk-Lore Society and was elected its president. If military recognition fell short of what Bourke clearly merited, scientific approbation more than took up the slack. And yet, in the midst of this notice, Bourke was prey to a general melancholy, a mental state that may well have been a by-product of gradually failing health. The rigorous frontier service and demanding intellectu schedule of a quarter of a century had begun to take their toll.44

His position in the Army, his scientific interests, his health, and family considerations now began to compete for attention. Bourke toyed with the thought of a trip to Spain; of retiring from the Army to work in the Smithsonian Institution's Bureau of Ethnology; of editorial work for a metropolitan newspaper. There were outside influences as well. Scribner was interested in further writings on the Southwest; the American Association for the Advancement of Science asked the Secretary of War to make him available as American delegate to the 1895 meeting of the Congress des Americanistes at Mexico City; the Associated Press suggested that the President send him to Cuba with a military commission to look into island affairs; and the University of Vermont raised the possibility of a chair that would permit him to edit rare Hispanic materials in the Marsh Collection of its Billings Library.45

Family considerations won out, and Bourke joined his father-in-law on a trip to Mexico, where President Diaz, aware of Bourke's part in the Garza affair, greeted him with warmth and praise for his "resolution, independence of character, boldness, and determination to do the right thing regardless of consequence." Diaz referred expecially to Bourke's forthright opposition to corrupt American officials. The kind words must have been of some consolation to Bourke as he cut short his trip for reasons of health.46

The breadth and depth of Bourke's career may be measured simply by listing a few of the notable figures with whom he had direct and personal contact in one degree or another: American Presidents Grant, Hayes, Harrison and Cleveland; Mexican President Diaz; William Tecumseh Sherman, Philip H. Sheridan, George H. Thomas, and of course George Crook; Cochise, Geronimo, Washakie, Sharp Nose, Dull Knife, Spotted Tail and Red Cloud, Lew Wallace, Brigham Young, and Buffalo Bill; Frank Cushing, John Wesley Powell, Washington Matthews, and Frederick W. Hodge; Francis Parkman, Edward Everett Hale, George Bird Grinnell, and Rudyard Kipling--and many, many more. His correspondence file in the Nebraska State Historical Society includes letters from Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Havelock Ellis, and Frederic Remington, among many others.

Against the backdrop of these connections, the sacrifices but rewards of frontier service, the fascinations of scientific study, the gratification of ethnological recognition, and the satisfaction of widespread publication, one might think that Bourke would have approached the half-century mark with a general feeling of accomplishment. Strangely enough he did not. On 23 June 1895, having passed the last birthday he would see, Bourke confided to his diary that he could look back over "a life full of incident, with some pleasures, many perils, and a general failure as its characterization."47

Perhaps it was an Irish penchant for the lugubrious that led him to this conclusion; or perhaps it was a deep exasperation over health problems and unfinished work that brought despair. When death from an aneurysm of the aorta claimed John Gregory Bourke on 8 June 1896, yet two weeks short of his fiftieth birthday, a vast store of lore of which only he could have been the catalyst expired with him.


1. Some of this material appeared in a short dedication to Bourke by the author in Arizona and the West, Winter 1971, Vol. 13, No. 4, pp. 318-322.
2. Diary of John Gregory Bourke, 11 Dec 1888, Manuscript Section, U.S. Military Academy Library, West Point, NY. This collection .consists of 128 volumes of Bourke's diaries covering the period 1872-1896. Although they have been microfilmed in 10 reels by the Bell and Howell Company, they are not generally available in records repositories. Shortly after his transfer to Camp Grant, Arizona in 1870, Bourke began a systematic compilation of field notes in pocket-size notebooks. Upwards of three-quarters of the content is narrative in Bourke's legible hand. Although the material is not in the form of a pure diary with daily entries, many of the notes--especially those related to military operations--are dated. The text is interlarded with ethnological observations and data. In addition to the narrative, the notebooks contain scrapbook material--orders, clippings, programs, postcards, menus--and Bourke's pen and ink sketches, watercolors, and maps of areas with which he came in contact.
3. Ibid., Capt. Bourke's daughter, Mrs. Anna Bourke (Alexander H.) Richardson, in a 1971 conversation with the author, described her grandfather's bookstore as of the type that carried stationery, greeting cards, and small gifts.
4. Bourke Diary, 1-16 Dec 1888.
5. Personal file, John Gregory Bourke, National Archives and Records Services (NARS), Record Group (RG) 98. On 27 Oct 1887 the Secretary of War directed that "medals of honor be awarded to those members of the 15th Pa. Cavy who participated in the battle of Stone River
and rendered faithful service thereafter." Bourke applied for this award by letter on 8 Nov 1887.
6. E. V. Sutherland, "John Gregory Bourke, USMA, 1869,. Soldier and Student of Folklore," Assembly, Fall 1964, pp. 16-19.
7. John G. Bourke, On the Border with Crook (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1891), p. 12.
8. Bourke Diary, 3 Aug 1879.
9. Ibid.
10. lbid.
11. Bvt. Maj. Gen. George W. Cullum, Bioqraphical Register of Officers and Graduates of the U.S. Military Academy, Vol. III (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin &--Co., 1891-) pp. 131-132, and Supplement, Vol IV, 1901, p. 188. In the brief article on Bourke cited in Note 1, the author, on the basis of widely publicized evidence and belief, listed Bourke as having participated in the 1877 campaign against Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce. Further research indicates that Bourke, in company with General Crook, was little more than started for the Nez Perce zone of operations when General Sheridan ordered Crook back to Fort Robinson, Nebraska: "I do not like the attitude of affairs at Red Cloud Agency and very much doubt the propriety of your going to Camp Brown (later Fort Washakie, Wyoming).. The surrender or capture of 'Joseph' in
that direction is but a small matter compared with what might happen to the frontier from a disturbance of Red Cloud."
12. Bourke Diary, 9 Apr 26 Jul 1880. Bourke was writing at a later date to describe events covered in a missing notebook. He identified a half-dozen of his-notebooks as being lost or stolen.
13. Bourke Diary, 20 Nov 1872, 6 Apr 1873.
14. Ibid., 22 Sep, 20 Oct 1874; On the Border with Crook, pp. 230-231.
15. Ibid., 12 Mar 26 Apr 1875.
16. Ibid.
17. Lansing B. Bloom, "Bourke on the Southwest," New Mexico Historical Review, January 1933, p. 9; Dictionary of American Biography, (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1929), p. 483. The DAB entry on Bourke was prepared by his friend, Walter Hough.
18. Bourke Diary, 24 Jan 1881.
19. Ibid., 27 Dec. 1872.
20. Ibid., 10 Aug 1880. Mephistopheles was one of the seven chief devils of demonology, the most powerful of the infernal legions after Satan.
21. Bourke Diary, 5 Feb 1880.
22. Ibid. , 15 Mar 1881.
23. Martin F. Schmitt, ed., General George Crook: His Autobiograpy (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1946), pp. 231-235; Bourke Diary, 22 Jan 1881.,
24. Bourke Diary, 8-23 Mar 1881.
25. Ibid., 25-26 Mar 1881.
26. Ibid., 31 Mar 10 Apr 1881.
27. This and the following two paragraphs are based.upon the Bourke Diary entry for 10 Apr 1881.
28. Bourke Diary, 24-27 Apr 1881; Bloom, New Mexico Historical Review, XI, n. 4, pp. 85-86.
29. Bourke Diary, 29 Apr 10 May 1881.
30. Ibid., 20 Jul 1881.
31. Ibid., 17 Jul 1881.
32. Ibid. , 3 Nov 1881 .
33. Ibid., 22 Jul 1881.
34. For a full account of these operations see John G. Bourke, An Apache Campaign in the Sierra Madre (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1883). A second edition was issued in 1958.
35. Omaha Daily Republican, 26 Jul 1883, p. 4, col. 3; Bloom, NMHR, January 1933, p. 11.
36. Schmitt, Crook Autobiography, pp. 261-265.
37. Bourke, An Apache Campaign, 1958 reprint, pp. 5-6.
38. William Gardner Bell, "A Dedication to the Memory of John Gregory Bourke," Arizona and the West, Winter 1971, Vol. 13, No. 4, pp. 318-322.
39. Bourke Diary, 11 Dec 1888.
40. Annual Report of the Secretary of War, 1892, Vol. 1. p. 134. 1
41. Sutherland, Assembly, Winter, 1965, pp. 17, 40.
42. Ibid.
43. Bourke Diary, 21-22 Apr 1894.
44. Sutherland, Assembly, Winter 1965, pp. 41-42.
45. Ibid., pp. 42-43.
46. Ibid.
47. Bourke Diary, 23 Jun 1895.

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