Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Colonel Samuel W. Summers


Samuel W. Summers is a Virginian, and the only native of that State who has held a colonel's commission from Iowa. He was born in the year 1820. In about the year 1842, he came West and settled in Van Buren county, Iowa, where he began the practice of law. A few years later, he removed to Ottumwa, Wapello county, where he continued his law practice, and where he still resides.

In Colonel Summers' experiences may be seen the difficulties and discouragements under which a young attorney labored, In the early history of Southern Iowa. Fees were small, and credit was small. Law cases were scarce, and money still more so. Indeed, at that day things were done on a small scale in this Western Country. If I allude to a few items of a personal character, the colonel will excuse me; for they will certainly do him no discredit. For three or four years after coming to Ottumwa, he looked poor, lived poor, and was poor. A five-dollar fee in those days was enormous, and to get it all at once, and in cash was extraordinary good fortune. He had little business and little money. I have been told by old resident-merchants that it was no uncommon thing for him to ask credit for the cheapest articles of merchandize. He was never refused; for the first fee he received was sure to find its way into the pockets of his creditors. They say it was fully four years before he could keep his head above water long enough to take a long breath. But his perseverance and economy at last conquered, and, in 1858, he had acquired a respectable property.

Colonel Summers never held a public office. I think he never sought one. There was no money in it. He was always to be found in his office, and attending to his business. In 1860 he accepted the nomination for district judge of his district on the Republican ticket; but a few weeks later he withdrew his name from the canvass. He never commanded any thing but the business of his office, and the pockets of his clients, till he commanded his regiment. He was commissioned colonel of the 7th Iowa Cavalry the 8th of January, 1863, and on the 25th of July following, was mustered into the United States service. Like Colonels Wilson and Pollock of the 6th Iowa Cavalry, Colonel Summers was stationed during his whole term on the Western Frontier. It might have been an arduous, but was not a very dangerous service; for his antagonists were "the red men of the forest" to fight and chase whom, some have regarded as amusement. There is, of course, nothing brilliant about his military record. He was in the service about two years, and the principal portion of that time had his headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska Territory, where he slept on a downy bed, and ate at a bountiful board. He was mustered a citizen in the spring of 1865, in consequence, I am told, of his regiment being reduced below the minimum of a regimental organization.

The 7th Iowa Cavalry, from the day it went on duty in Nebraska, till the time Colonel Summers left it, was broken up into detachments, and stationed at different points in the vast stretch of country lying between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains. But to give a detailed account of the movements made by the different detachments of the regiment, is impossible in the limited space to which I am confined. I can only allude to some of the most important ones.

In February, 1864, the regiment was stationed as follows: Company A, Captain E. B. Murphy; Company D, Captain W. D. Fouts, and Company H, Captain D. S. Malven, were stationed at Fort Kearney, under Major John S. Wood. Company G, Captain E. Hammer; Company F, Captain J. S. Brewer, were stationed at Cottonwood Springs. Company E, Captain J. B. David, at the Pawnee Indian Agency. Company B, Captain John Wilcox, at Dacotah City, and Company C, Captain J. C. Mitchell, at Nebraska City. Companies I, K, L and M, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Pattee, were stationed at Forts Randall and Sully, and at Sioux City. These last named companies were those which accompanied General Sully on his Indian expeditions up the Missouri River in the summer and fall of 1864. The heroes of Plum Creek and Julesburg belonged to the 1st and 2d Battalions of the regiment; but in neither of these affairs was there more than two hundred and fifty men engaged.

Plum Creek is on the road from Fort Kearney to Denver, and some thirty miles west of the former place. It consisted of only some half-a-dozen dwellings or ranches at the time of which we speak. When the place was attacked in the fall of 1864, Colonel Summers, with a small detachment of his regiment, was stationed at Fort Kearney, having a few weeks before relieved Major Wood of his regiment. Word was sent to the colonel of the approach of the Indians, accompanied with a request that he hurry to the relief of the place. He at once began making preparations to march; but one thing after another delayed, till nearly two hours had elapsed before his regiment was in the saddle. The weather was dry and excessively hot, and, to spare his horses, he moved with much leisure. Indeed, it is said ten hours were consumed in traveling the thirty miles. In the meantime the Indians had completed their work and fled. Some of his officers, who had no care for government property, were clamorous to hasten the march, fearing that the Indians would be off before their arrival; but the colonel was resolute, preferring to forego the prospect of glory, rather than run down and ruin his horses. One of his officers in particular, Captain Edward B. Murphy of Company A, was so restive that the colonel had to threaten to put him under arrest before he could be restrained; but this same captain, Colonel Summers has since said, was one of the best officers of his regiment.

The colonel was more fortunate at Julesburg; for there the Indians came within striking distance, and lost by their rashness one of their boasted chiefs. Julesburg is situated in the extreme north-east corner of Colorado Territory. It is four hundred miles west from Omaha, and two hundred east from Denver, and is on the main thoroughfare from the Missouri River to California.

At the time the attack was made on Julesburg, Colonel Summers, with Major O'Brien and Captain Murphy of his regiment, chanced to be at Fort Rankin, near that place. On the evening before the attack, a stage-driver, or teamster, came in and reported that the Indians were in the neighborhood, and had fired on a train, then approaching from the west; but the man was known to be unworthy of belief, and little attention was paid to his story. The next morning, however, the Indians made their appearance on the prairie, and Colonel Summers collected and mounted his men to give them battle. Including the commands of Major O'Brien and Captain Murphy, he did not have more than one hundred men; and the Indians did not number less than five hundred; but they were concealed behind some of the small hills that abound in that region, and he could not learn their strength. He accordingly rode boldly out to fight them, and moved in three detachments: Major O'Brien was on the right, Captain Murphy in the centre, while he held the left.

Immediately on coming among the hills of which I have spoken, he found himself confronted by a superior force; but he opened the fight with great vigor. It had not progressed long, however, before, looking to the right, he saw that Major O'Brien was nearly surrounded, and the major, instead of falling back was endeavoring to fight the Indians off. The colonel at once sent word to him and to Captain Murphy to fall back to the fort. But in the meantime, the Indians had moved so far round to his own right and rear that, should he attempt to reach the fort, he would probably be captured; and he therefore, with a few of his men, made his escape to a ranch only a few miles away. The Indians pursued Major O'Brien and Captain Murphy to the fort, and a severe fight ensued for its possession; but they were finally beaten off. It was through the courage of these officers only that the place was saved from capture. Julesburg was then sacked, after which, the Indians left. The next day, Colonel Summers went upon the field, and, finding the dead body of an Indian chief, who had fallen by his own hands, stripped him of his toggeries. I understand that he brought them to his home as trophies, but have never had the pleasure of seeing them.

The loss of the 7th Iowa Cavalry at Julesburg was about fifteen; and all who were wounded and left upon the field were murdered, and their bodies most shockingly mutilated. Sergeant Alanson Hanchet, a brave and powerful man, after killing seven Indians, was shot from his horse and left upon the field. When the fight was over, the inhuman wretches beat a hole in his head, and, filling it with powder, blew It to atoms: they afterwards chopped his body into inches. Nearly all the wounded had their legs and arms severed.

Soon after this affair, Colonel Summers started for .Omaha; but before leaving, the citizens of Julesburg assembled and passed resolutions, thanking him for his defense of the place. They were grateful testimonials, and have been published in several of the papers of Southern Iowa.

I have been told that many of the officers of the 7th Cavalry have made frequent complaint because they were kept on duty in the Indian country. Had this regiment served at the front, there is no doubt it would have made a record, equal to that of any other Iowa Cavalry regiment.

Colonel Summers is a slender, spare man, of great activity, and weighing about one hundred and forty pounds. He does not have the appearance of vigorous health; and yet, he is one Of the hardiest men of my acquaintance. I have never known him to be sick. He has a small, restless, black eye, sunk well in his head, and wearing, at will, a most unfriendly leer. You would know, to look at him, that he was a sharp, shrewd man. He is sociable and agreeable, and would be generous and liberal, if he loved money less. "Keep what you get," is his motto. He will do any thing to accommodate a friend, except to disembowel his wallet, or put his property in peril, by attaching his name to a note or recognizance.

The colonel is very common in his manners and dress, and temperate and economical in his habits.

SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 633-8

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