of the country knows U.S. General Philip Sheridan for what he did
in the Civil War, but in Texas he's just as well known for what
Sheridan was commander of the U.S. Army in Texas after the Civil
War when the wholesale slaughter of the buffalo
was under way. The Texas Legislature was close to adopting some
measures to save the animal from extinction, but Sheridan argued
"These men (the buffalo hunters) have done more to settle the vexed
Indian question than the entire regular army has done in the last
thirty years," Sheridan declared. "They are destroying the Indians'
commissary. Send them powder and lead if you will, but for the sake
of a lasting peace let them kill, skin and sell until the buffalo
are exterminated. Then your prairies can be covered with speckled
cattle and the festive cowboy who follows the hunter as the second
forerunner of an advanced civilization."
The part about the "Indians commissary" has endured because it was
blunt but true. The Plains Indians couldn't live without horses
and the buffalo, and their eventual defeat came about only after
they lost access to both, paving the way for "speckled cattle and
the festive cowboy." Newspaper writers of the day delighted to reference
Sheridan whenever a bunch of "festive cowboys" rode into town and
shot it up and terrorized its citizens or ended up getting shot
or killed their ownselves.
The most famous (or infamous) quote from Sheridan concerning Texas
came just after the Civil War had ended. Asked his opinion of Texas,
Sheridan replied, "If I owned Texas and all hell, I'd rent out Texas
and live in hell." The line was quoted so often, and Texans took
such a perverse delight in the old Yankee's disdain, that historians
began to wonder if Sheridan ever said such a thing at all. Or was
it one of those quotes that's just too good to verify?
Sheridan not only said it, but he later apologized for his remarks
and explained them during a speech at a public dinner in Galveston
in 1880 when he was touring Texas with former president and Union
commander Ulysses S. Grant. Sam Atcheson describes the explanation
and apology in his book "35,000 Days in Texas."
"Speaking so kindly of Texas - and I speak from the heart - probably
I ought to explain a remark I once made about it," Sheridan told
his audience. "It was in 1866, and I had just returned from San
Antonio from a hard trip to Chihuahua on some Mexican business,
when I received an order to proceed at once to New Orleans. I hired
relays and coaches so that I had only to hitch on the wagon and
go speedily to get the boat from Galveston.
"I traveled night and day. It was in August and, need I say, very
warm. I arrived here covered in dust, my eyes and ears and throat
filled with it. I went to a little hotel in that condition and had
just gone up to the register when one of these newspapermen rushed
up to me and said, 'General, how do you like Texas?' I was mad,
and I said, 'If I owned Texas and all hell, I would rent out Texas
and live in hell.' Needless to say, that did not represent my true
opinion of this magnificent state."
The old Confederates gave the U.S. general a standing ovation.
© Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
October 16, 2017 column