Sagebrush Soldier: Private William Earl Smith's View of the Sioux War of 1876
Sagebrush Soldier is an account of military life during the Indian Wars in the late nineteenth-century West. Private William Earl Smith describes daily camp life, battle scenes, and the behavior of famous men - Ranald Mackenzie and George Crook - in public and private poses. His diary covers the war from the enlisted men’s viewpoint, as he worries about what he will eat and how he will keep warm in freezing conditions, and how he will keep calm when bullied by the sergeant major, of whom he says he would give "five years of my life to [have] walked up to him and smacked him in the nose."
To complete the picture of the Sioux War, and particularly the Powder River Expedition, Sherry Smith frames Private Smith’s narrative with contemporary accounts written by other participants in these events. She assembles a balanced, comprehensive history by also incorporating the testimony of officers, their Indian scouts and allies, and their enemy, the Northern Cheyennes.
In camp on Christmas Eve, 1876, Smith bought a can of peaches, which cost him two dollars, to share with his bunkmate. Meanwhile, he sees another man give ten dollars for a bottle of whiskey. His own words best convey the feelings of a young man far from home at Christmas: "We had a regular Old Christmas Dinner, a little piece of fat bacon and hard tack and a half cup of coffee. You bet I thought of home now if ever I did. But fate was a gane me and I could not bee there. My Bunkey bought some candy and we ate it."
Christmas candy and thoughts of home; some things never change, as readers will learn in this picture of military life unique in its eloquent honesty.