of the most romantic stories in the lore of the Old West originated at Fort
Davis. The tale has been told and retold in all media. And now it’s on the
internet. It’s the story of Indian Emily and goes like this:|
In the late
1860s, an Apache female fell wounded in a skirmish between cavalry troops stationed
at Fort Davis and
her band. The soldiers took her back to the fort, where a Mrs. Eason nursed her
back to health and named her Emily. The Indian girl grew up on the post and eventually
fell in love with Mrs. Eason’s son, Lt. Tom Eason.
Davis and its Buildings c. 1950|
Photo Courtesy TXDoT
|But the soldier married
a girl of his own culture and the broken-hearted Emily returned to her people.
Some time later, so the story goes, the Apaches planned a major assault
on the fort. Emily, in an act of selfless love, slipped away from her village
in the middle of the night to warn the young officer.
As she approached
the fort a jittery sentry shot her. She died in Mrs. Eason’s arms after telling
her of her everlasting love for Lt. Eason and of the impending attack on Fort
They buried Indian Emily in the post cemetery. After the Army abandoned
the garrison in 1891, the graves of most of the soldiers were relocated to the
National Cemetery in San Antonio.
Emily, however, was left behind.
story goes back to 1919, when Carlyle Graham Raht included it in his book, “Romance
of the Davis Mountains and the Big Bend Country.” Raht said he got the tale
confirmed by Henry O. Flipper, the first African-American graduate of West Point
and a one-time lieutenant at Fort Davis. |
During the Texas
centennial in 1936, the state placed a granite marker at Emily’s grave. The
inscription reduced her story to 38 words, concluding that she had “saved the
garrison from massacre.”
Alas, though touching,
the account of Indian Emily and her valiant death is pure folklore.
1969 as a reporter for the San Angelo Standard-Times, I had a hand in exposing
it as such. I interviewed Franklin Smith, then superintendent of the Fort Davis
National Historic Site, and asked him about the Indian Emily story.
evidence points against it,” he said.
In fact, he continued, National
Park Service historians had refuted every aspect of the story.
thing, Smith said, the National Archives had no record that a Lt. Tom Eason was
ever stationed at the fort. Further, researchers had found no record a person
by that name ever served in the U.S. Army prior to 1903.
park superintendent said the military kept pretty good records, better than most
people would think.
Those records also showed that Fort Davis never experienced
an attacked by hostile Indians and that no attack ever had been seriously anticipated.
Smith, who had done socio-anthropological studies of the Apache culture, also
said Emily did not behave like an Apache woman in the story. “Her general behavior
was, well…very un-Apache,” he said.
Though the legend has Emily being
wounded during the fight with the soldiers, according to Smith, “Apache women
didn’t do any fighting except under dire circumstances.”
Too, the circumstances
of her supposed capture did not ring true.
“Normally,” he said, “when Indian
dependents were captured, they were cared for as best as the Army could. They
were usually farmed out to boarding schools. They were not normally kept around
Smith said someone likely dreamed up the story after reading
one too many Victorian romances.
my interview with Smith the NPS removed the piled stones from Emily’s purported
grave, cut off access to the site and even took down the heavy historical marker,
storing it along with other artifacts associated with the fort.
Emily Marker in storage today|
Photo courtesy Barclay
Gibson, May 2009
late Barry Scobee, one of the frequent tellers of the Indian Emily story, went
to his own grave believing it contained at least some elements of truth. He set
forth two pieces of circumstantial evidence in his 1963 history of Fort Davis.
Scobee’s Exhibit A came from a military report describing an engagement
between three companies of Fort Davis troops under Lt. Patrick Cusack and a party
of Indians on Sept. 8, 1868. Following the fight, Cusack’s command returned to
the fort with two Mexican children who had been captured by the Indians and “an
Indian female child.”
local lore had Emily’s death occurring in 1879 or ’80, Scobee wrote, the child
brought in by Cusack more than a decade earlier could have been Emily.
writer offered as Exhibit B the recollection of David Merrill, the man who got
the government contract to exhume the Fort Davis post cemetery. Merrill related
that the military told him to dig up all the remains except for a soldier who
had committed suicide and an Indian woman. He said he removed 89 sets of remains,
though a later account has the number at 83. No matter the count, he did not remove
the Indian burial.
Scobee wrote that the grave had been marked by a board
bearing an inscription that said “Indian Squaw—Died by Accident.” By the time
the state put up the historical marker, Scobee continued, the board had disappeared.
Warren D. and Herbert D. Bloys, local old timers, pointed out the grave’s location
and recalled the no-longer politically correct wording of the wooden grave marker.
As Scobee wrote: “These bits of ‘evidence’…constitute the supporting circumstances
of Emily’s reality.”
For a story teller, killing off a legend is a mighty
hard thing, almost as tough as putting down a good horse with a broken leg. Fortunately,
a story does not have to be true to be engaging.
© Mike Cox
October 2, 2008 column
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