Hubman served (1881) most of his time at Fort Assinniboine, Montana, prior to his desertion in 1883, but not after writing a wonderful account of army life on the northern plains.
Nearly ten years ago when I finely got around to researching this great group of letters, I sent them out to Douglas McChristian, a military historian for his perusal, he having a great interest in researching the lives and times of regular army soldiers on the Western Frontier. I am most grateful to him for sharing with me, pertinent data on Henry Hubman, the solder and author of this correspondence.
Henry Hubman was born in Fayett, New York in 1860. Prior to his enlistment, he left home to attend a course of study in Keokuk, Iowa at the Medical College there. Getting into some unknown problem there, he left there abruptly as noted in a letter home from a brother’s letter in 1881. Shortly after Henry enlisted in Cincinnati, Ohio in April of 1881, and was assigned to the Company “H,” 18th U.S. Infantry, and spending most of his time in service at Fort Assinniboine, Montana Enlistment documents stated that Henry Hubman was 5 feet 6 1/2 inches tall, had brown eyes, dark brown hair, and having a dark complexion. He had lied about his age (law requiring all enlistees been 21 years old), being only 21 years and 9 months according to his birth records.
This correspondence covers the time before entering the army, and the difficulties Henry was experiencing at school, with funds to maintain his existence there for cost of living and for education. He was, according to his letters, doing well in his medical classes, and there are good descriptions of his courses, opinions about various professors and doctors (one in particular who over anesthetized a subject/patient in a class and the subject died on the table. There is also a reference to a telephone call in Keokuk in 1881, just a few short years before the phone system had be created there in 1878. Whatever the reason for leaving so suddenly from school, there is enough in the letters to draw reasonable conclusions; he mentions in his third installment, that he was dared to enlist, and if that is true, then certainly he would have been taken up immediately into Uncle Sam’s waiting arms.
Henry’s first letter (in the collection) written home on Aug. 17, 1881 from Columbus Barracks, Ohio, states he was rather busy with guard duty. “They are deserters from the Army. Men that have fallen asleep on post, fighters, men that disobeyed orders or have committed some offense against the U.S. Government.” He goes on talking about there routine, conditions, limitations, etc. He describes the officers as mean swearing and kicking the men like dogs. The drum rolls and he mentions having ten minutes to write the letter. Henry closes writing he is in company “C” at Columbus Barracks, and may still in training at this point in the first letter.
On August 2, he is being trained in marksmanship with his “Breech loading Springfield Rifle,” and boasts of his new abilities to beat his brother “in shooting at a mark.” Henry talks of being at Columbus for a couple of months, but most likely go to Montana or Utah. His opinion of the army at this point is not high, dislikes the discipline, and being paraded in fancy uniforms to make people think how great the army is. “after I get to the front again, will send you a lot of Indian Curiosities.”
Still at Columbus, he writes on July 10th; “After I left Keokuk I went to Saint Louis- got acquainted with a fellow and one night he dared me to enlist. I hardly knowing what I was doing, told him I would do it so we went to the office and while they were examining me, he stepped out and that is the last I have seen of him.” I suspect that some alcohol may have something to do with this recklessness. Henry writes about being all over Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi bring in prisoners to Columbus Barracks, and now will have to travel west to Fort Ellis, Montana near Bozeman, to collect more. He related the sad tail of a new buddy’s reasons for having to enlist; a well educated young man, and a teacher in High School, went to a dance, go drunk and nearly killed another man and was off to the penitentiary, then offered an enlistment.
Writing from Poplar Creek Indian Agency, MT on Sept. 10, 1881 to his folks, Henry picks up were he left off at Columbus Barracks, with his last letter having been sent only a few hours “before we were ordered to pack our knapsack ad prepare for a journey of three thousand miles, Fort Assinaboine, Montana being the destination, it is in the north western part of Montana 45 miles from the British Possessions on a branch of the Missouri River, about in the center of the Sioux Reservation……” He like the scenery until he reached the Dakotas which he states he did not like. He didn’t see trees through that land, but once in Montana, he describes seeing “rough mountains, and Indians and cold we have to wear Overcoats all the time and then we hardly can keep warm.” There is a postal cover with this letter and a steamer he mentioned in the letter is the “Nellie Peck” of the Northwest Transportation Co., Sioux City, Iowa, Jno. Belk, Master.
Still on board the “Nellie Peck” the troops are stuck on a sand bar in the Missouri, “for two days with no one within 400 miles of us surrounded by about 1500 dirty Sioux Indians….” Henry is writing this letter from Wolf Point, Montana on Sept. 15, 1881, and he goes back into describing his trip out, mentioning the Falls of Minnehaha, wildest scenery, mountains and deep ravines. Wisconsin, with its scenery and grape vines made for a nice sight to see. “Wisconsin is one of the best and finest state in the Union,” as Henry called it going on about the grains, and vegetables. “A soldier on horseback is going to take all the mail overland, so I will have to close, but I will tell you of an Adventure I had last night. While laying on the River bank fishing…….I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard a grunt, looking up I saw the ugliest Sioux that you can imagine. I jumpt about ten feet and done some of the liveliest running I ever did till I came to the boat, the boys say I was as white as a sheet and plagued me quite a good deal….”
Fort Assinaboine, MT, Sept. 28, “Father , hear I am at last four hundred miles to the nearest town in about as an unhospitable liking country as you can imagine. Every where you look you can see nothing but Mountains, and snow and Indians of these we have plenty being completely surrounded by them as near as can be told they are about 40,000 of them on the American side of us, on the British we can not tell, all we have to do with them is to keep them on their side of the line.” Henry refers his father to the Geography for the Bear Paw Mountains in Montana and measure off 100 miles straight north….he goes on to tell of their first snow fall and that they can hardly keep warm. “Our Sergeant told me that it was 50 degrees below zero last winter and then some of the “Red Devils” (so he calls The Indians) run around with nothing on but a Buffalo robe.” Henry talks about the plentiful game in the area; he shot a buffalo (of which there are thousands), “we kill lots of them eery day, many to far to carry to the Fort. I cut out the tongue and took that in.” Henry has a run-in with a Grizzly bear.
In his letter from Fort Assinaboine on Oct 1st, Henry writes to his brother Herman, and in a subtle manner gives the first inclination of his great displeasure about being in the army. “You need not be afraid of my writing to anybody at home as I want to forget that there was such a boy as Henry.” He encourages his brother in his studies and promises to send him a Sioux scalp. “We have lots of ugly cusses all around us, they are about as mean and dirty an Animal as you can imagine and think no more of killing a white man or another Indian than you would of a fly. When they kill a soldier they eat his heart and liver, they say it makes them brave.” The rest is mostly general news.
October 5, 1881, Belknap, Montana, “Father we are out on the Canadian line after 9000 Cree Indians. We are 200 strong and are now within 3 miles of them and are a going to pitch into them tomorrow morning. Our Commanding officer says he will send a courier in to the post in 1/2 hour and that all that wanted to write should do so……for may be some Cree may want to send me to the Happy Hunting ground but he will have to be sharper than I am. We have slept with 60 cartridges around us and our gun along side of us for 4 days. The Crees came over here to fight the Assinnaboine Indians and made a mistake and killed a lot of white settlers on the Milk River and tried to get back across the line but we headed them off…..It is so cold here now, we wear fur caps and gloves and Buffalo Overcoats.” More.
November 19th, to his brother Herman; Henry is just starting back to Assinaboine. He goes back a year in time to tell his brother of what happened to him will at medical college, and it concerns a man named Tuttle. Apparently this Tuttle (Henry in St. Louis at the time) meet him there, and he (Tuttle) liked his clothes, trying to pry into his life and find out if he had money. The truth came out, but Henry told he it was a lie and had to leave home because of some body snatching; believable because Tuttle found some of Henry’s papers from the medical college. Later on this Tuttle tried to involve the police by says Henry had borrowed a good sum of money from him. “Today the Surgeons are going to cut off both feet for a man named Steward from “K” company who froze ….while on escort duty. His comrades say he was drunk that he could not walk….they throw him down into the bottom of a wagon and the first thing they knew he was frozen.” Now back to old history, Henry admits that from the time he left Keokuk to the time he enlisted, he did not take a sober breath. His briefly describes one of his sergeants, an old timer with 35 years in the army. He mentions that recruits from the ranks are being sought for the Jeanette Relief Expedition to Alaska and the North Pole, that men would have to serve that expedition for two years. The call was made to the men in Henry’s Department due to their being more acclimated to the severe weather, etc……
From Fort Assinaboine, Dec. 11, 1881; Henry writes to his brother, and talks about a few private issues back home. A story from home reminds Henry to convey a story of a card game in a tent with 4 of the boys playing cards, “one of them had a card in his hand which he was just a going to play when a bullet came and knocked it right of his fingers. Another one was cleaning his gun when the bullet cut the ramrod between his hand and the gun such is our life and you can see we get used to most anything.” Henry and another soldier are out trapping for jack rabbits when they see a large grey wolf. His friend’s hands are too cold to shoot, so Henry takes the shot. The snow on the ground is so smooth that he lost his footing and began to slide down a hill until reaching bottom. Henry also mentions that he has a pair of moccasins to send home.
Camp in Bear Paw Mountains, December 27, 1881. “Herman, a scout from Fort Assinaboine brought out your letter last night and as he is going back tomorrow will answer it right away. …….I am 60 miles from the Fort…..on wood detail, that is we are out here with a lot of half breeds cutting wood for the fort. This is the nearest point in the United States were we can find wood and it is way up in the air as we can look down on cloudy days and see the Clouds below us……” Henry also sends a list of clothes and other articles he needs sent from home, and mentions the high cost of goods in the west. He requests a certain type of hat that he can trade for a buckskin suit. “3 boys deserted, one of them was killed by the Crees, and it is supposed the wolves eat the others as some of their clothes were found by the Grovon Scout……..I have studied medicine long enough to learn that Cyanite of Potasium is a very good feed and I always keep some about me in case of Capture by Indians for I am not very brave and think I would flinch some if they began to skin me alive which is one of their favorite amusements when they have prisoners. Could send you a cart loud of Indian Relics if I only had the way,……..”
Fort Assinaboine, Feb. 28, ’82. (To Father) Henry is looking for a letter from home he fells long over due. “There is a joke that the boys get off it runs something like this, when the Sergeant came to relieve sentinel in the morning he found him froze to death, in the afternoon he found the one he left in the morning Sunstruck, that will give you some idea of the climate and you can imagine what this country is like….snow covered Mountains and Alkali Plains covered with wolves, Buffalo and Indians……We have has six mend desert two this morning. The cavalry has not come back yet so so I do not know whether they have got away or not. I hope they do as they are pretty good fellows.” He mentions that they pay was reduced to $10.00 a month, and make for hard living…..“many of the boys say that they are a going to skip the first chance they get. I am much played out to try it and my only hope is your mercy. I been looking around and find that if I go to Helena and can work down on a Steamboat I can get home for $130.00 if you will get me discharged and send me this I will work at anything that I can till you have every cent back that it may cost……I must close now and clean my Gun and Cartridge as I go on guard tomorrow.”
Fort Assinaboine, Mar 1, ’82. (To Father) Henry is pretty down in this letter, and it address more of the problems he was dealing with in Keokuk prior to enlisting. Having asked for money in the last letter and help in obtaining a discharge his father must have replied in the negative. “I was not much surprised at the answer I got yet I had hoped you would have forgiven me and helped me once more. I am sure you would not have regretted it as I would have done every thing I could to have made up for past time I know I will be 25 next birthday and put 5 more on top of it will make me 30 rather old to start in life may be with a broken down Constitution. You seen to be ashamed to have me at home for which I do not blame you as I know my life has been a failure, but God knows I am sorry for it and have suffered for it terribly. Now Father as you expect mercy, I beg you to have mercy on me and help me to get on my feet once more. You can get me out easy and if you will only do it and send me forty dollars so that I can get where there is work to be found I will send it back as soon as I can, possibly earn it. Now Father, for pity’s sake do this for me and I am sure in after life you will not be sorry for it. I got a letter from Keokuk last week in which she told me that she had sent mother a letter of Sympathy and that she had received an answer in which mother had said that I had always been a “wicked boy” that is hard from a “mother. (para) Now father for pity’s sake help me get my discharge do have pity on me this time and if I make a failure of it again, I will pay for it with my life. Please answer this as soon as you can as i can not and will not stay in the Army. I would rather take my chances at desertion than stay the balance of my 5 years in the Army. The Sentinel on Post No. 2 has just fired a help and if he fires again I will have to go as I am on second relief tonight, so I have to close. Answer this as soon as you can, as you can not imagine how anxiously I will want for it. Your Unfortunate son. Henry Human, Company “H” 18 Infantry, Fort Assinaboine, Montana. ” (additional letter) March 1st, 82. “Since writing this letter I have been ordered to fill my belt and carry 160 rounds of cartridges and prepare for a trip of 15 days on the Mountains. Our Captain and 5 of the men out of each company are going, making an outfit of 60 men. I suppose we are a going to have some fun. The Indians have been killing Cattle and stealing Horses. I suppose you have read about the Sioux we are right in the midst of them. and expect to have a lot of Crows here next Spring. One of the men that deserted fell into Milk River and was Captured the other is free yet I suppose he is in Canada by this time. Another of the men skipped last night. The officers have spies among the men and are up and down themselves all of the time, if they can not stop it one half of the men will have left before July……”
Ft. Assinaboine, Mar 20. (To brother Herman) Henry is just back to the fort, and now has to go out another 20 days down the Milk River after some Cree Indians who have captured some whites. ” Major Cline (Kline) our General has orders to burn their tents and take their guns and Ponies. I suppose the Indians will have some Objection and their will be a chance for an argument. I wish they would kill the white cusses before we get thee as they had no business down there. We have had a hell of a time on our last trip we got lost in the mountains and it was lucky for us as the Indians were waiting for us at the mouth of the pass where we intended to come out and they could have cleaned us out in less than no time as we were only 50 strong and there were about 400 of them. We got snowed in for two days and could not move out side of our tents. Me and an Indian went hunting for Buffalo, we shot one and were chasing another when we both went over a bank about 30 feet deep which we did not see on account of the snow. I was riding a Government Mule he came very close near getting out o sight in the snow and I flew about 10 feet to beat a Circus Rider all to pieces at turning Somersaults of course we could not climb up a straight bank about had to ride around and did not get in till about 10, they were considerably alarmed as they thought we were grabbed up.” Henry’s brother Herman must have mentioned in a letter that a friend was “coming out here” and Henry calls him a bigger fool than I thought he was as everyone (deserters) that can get out is leaving. “There is quite an excitement kicked up about Montana and that is all about it is the most dismal country here you can imagine and a man that will settle down here is a fool. I am going to get out of the Army if I have to Desert. If I get caught I will only get 2 years in Prison which will be better than staying here.”
Ft. Assinaboine, June 2, 82. ( To Herman) ……“Tell Father I am so much obliged for his advice but I don’t think that I will follow it as I have three years to serve yet and I would any time rather be in Hell than in the Army. The Police Gazette has it bad enough but it don’t tell half the truth. Two of the Boys besides myself are going to try and make Canada after we are paid in September , it is Pretty Risky piece of Business as we have to go through 200 miles of Hostile Cree Indian Country, but I am willing to risk anything to get out of this hole. If I get though all right I will be over to see you about Christmas, you must not give me away as I will be advertised in the two leading papers of the Country and 100 dollars offered for me. If I get caught I will get two years in Leavenworth Prison. Then I will try and see if Strangers will not do more for me than my Father did. I will write to Henry Troutman and Wilkinson to send Petition to General Sherman an to Pardon me out.” (para) “I wanted to turn over a new leaf and try to make a man of myself and would have worked the skin of my back to do it if Father would have only given me a chance which if he had tried he could have done very easily, but I suppose he thinks he has gone to the Devil let him go he is going down Hill, give him a shove and right only I wish he had killed me while I was young and not let me live to go through what I have went. I have not got the Nerve to shoot myself and abuse only gives me more pain but does not put an end to my miserable life so I suppose the Devil has more work for me, I wish he would hurry up and get up and get through with me and let me Die.” (para) “I suppose you got the Moccasins this time as I registered them. They belong to the Greatest Foe of the White man in Montana, Two Bears (Yankon Sioux) by name. Keep them and whenever you look at them think of your Unfortunate Brother and try and shun his ways. May Your Path through life be more Pleasant as the Sincere Wish of your Brother Henry…….”
Camp on Milk River near Canadian line, July 23, ’82. (To Herman) “Feeling lonesome and having nothing else to do I thought I would write you a letter and let you know what we are doing in Montana. We are out here after Indians and have been prowling around here over a Month and don’t expect to get in before December. We have got the indians in the Blue Grass Mountains right across the line, but I dare not go over after them. They can not get anything to eat over there so they have to come across the line to Hunt. When we Gobble them up if they are not to strong for us. Day before Yesterday we caught 30 men and about 70 women and Children out on the Prairie when they saw us one of them came to meet us and said they were good Indians but one of them had on our Mail Curriers Clothes whom they had Ambushed and killed, and besides had the Blankets of some of the boys who went on the Buffalo hunt and never came back. Our Captain asked them where they got them. They said that they found them, we knew better, but our Captain did not want to kill them after they surrendered themselves and we could not take them along as prisoners as we were 50 miles from water and had to make to before Night. He thought a minute and then he said G-d D-mn them I will fix them and gave orders for us to take their Ponies and Guns from them, empty their water skins and put their Carts, food, and tents and 15 blankets on a pile and set fire to them, you just ought to heard them howl, I thought hell was turned loose, but then they had good cause as it meant death to some if not all of them, but they would have served us the same way if they could have got the upper hand of us.” (para) “We are 230 miles from any white mans house so you can think how lonesome it is. Have not had a letter from you in four months may be you are not to blame for it as Two Bears has got a couple of our mails and we can not get near enough to him to find out whose it was. I suppose you are hard at work in the Harvest Field, wish I was there too.”
Fort Assinaboine, Aug 8, 82. (To Herman) ……..“Well Herman of news I do not know any as my Company has been out Herding Cree Indians all Summer and do not know when they are coming in probably not before December, a young fellow by the name of Richardson, and myself was sent in with the mail we had to carry it 120 miles right through their Country and a pretty tough time we had of it as they set the Prairie on fire and it drove us over on the Milk River. We made it in 3 nights and 2 days starting at night, how would you like that kind of traveling. When I came in I was so sore that I could not walk and had to stay in Hospital 2 days, now I have nothing to do as it will be a Month before I will have to go out to my Company again.”…..more.
Fort Assinaboine, Sept. 3, 82. (To Herman) “Enclosed find in little Red Box wound up in Cotton, the Rattles of a Rattlesnake that I killed about an hour ago while out Hunting. He had me cornered so that I had to kill him or he would me as I met him in a pass and he would not turn out worth a cent. He was 4 ft. 7 in. in length and very near as large around as my wrist.”……..
Fort Assinaboine, Sept 12, 82. (To Herman) “I send you one of my Pictures that I had taken today also one of an Indian Girl that lives near the Fort, by the name of Laughing Eyes, ain’t she a beauty and what do you think of her. How would you like to spark her. The Indian camp is her home and is about 1/2 mile from the Fort, they are a going to move over near Wine Peg this Fall. Her dad says soldering is no good and wants me to go along with them. He says he will make a big Hunter out of me, but I have burned myself so often that I am afraid of the fire and will not go.” Henry asks how he looks in the photo and how he has changed, and then mentions the Indians and how they are all covered in lice. “I left off Gun and belt and Uniform as much as could so that if anyone should get hold of it, it would not give you away.”
Fort Assinaboine, Oct 1st, 82. (To Herman) Henry has just received a letter from his brother after an 8 month wait…..“I have been in places in the last two years where you would not dare to show yourself. You can write my Captain and ask him whether I am one of the Skerry kind. I will tell you what I can do. I can let a bullet ring past my ears with out dodging if you think that you can do it just let Fred take a gun and let one fly near you. If you don’t dodge I will agree to serve my time out in the Army.”…….”If I marry anybody it will be Mary Scott. I don’t think I used her right. She wrote me a letter last week of which I send you a part to let you see what Prof Hughs says of me. Pretty good isn’t it.”……..more talk of girls, other friends, weather, etc. “Came in very near forgetting to tell you of the offer I had last week. The Indian Girl whose picture I sent you offered me 20 ponies if I would go across the lines and live with her. How would you like her for Relations.” ……….
Fort Assinaboine, Feb. 12, 83. (To Herman) Henry is waiting for pictures from his brother, and mentions not having any from his parents. “I am not surprised at Mother’s hatred, she never liked me. But at you I am. I am sure I never harmed you. ……Of course I never had any great love for her, but what else can she expect from a boy who when his Sister lay dying saw his Mother kneel down and pray that he would die instead of his sister, I wish now that her Prayer had been answered as I am sure I would be a great deal better off than I am now, but then that does not excuse her any, it only shows that she hated me as a child and has not ceased to hate me yet. Father I have wronged and abused shamefully and am sorry for it now. I did not know how good he was to me then, but I do know it now, especially when I think over the past can I see where he tried to work for my good. I know that I wasn’t a good boy, but I never heard him tell a Neighbor so. He always tried to cover it up, and besides that I have seen Father when I would do something very bad feel so sorry that he would cry. I see now who was my friend and who wasn’t………well I have written more than I intended to so you must excuse my intrusion on you valuable time. Yours Respectfully, Henry Hubman…..P.S. do not expect to be here in three months. Henry.”
According to Doug McChristian’s research, Henry waited until payday, and on June 1, made good his plan to desert the army. He did not take up the offer of 20 ponies to the Indian girl, but instead would marry a women of English descent and would settle down in Manitoba and Ontario for the rest of his life. It is doubtful if he and his family ever attempted a move back to the states. Once in Canada, and starting a new life there, he worked as a laborer in a grain elevator and would later become a grain buyer. With a growing family of a wife and three children, and in need of a better job, he would find that working as a railroad employee.
This is a sad tale, but a most interesting one. Psychologists and military historians could piece together a most interesting story. Might even make a great movie.
There are at least a couple of dozen letters written before and after Henry’s abbreviated enlistment; ten years of his life in letters, 1880-1889, from Keokuk, Iowa, to Emerson, Manitoba, Canada. A promising life that turned into a turbulent one.
I have left a good deal of content out, just to be able to get through these letters without it being a career. They are a good read, and deserving of further research. Most of the spelling and punctuation is Henry’s except were things may seem unclear. Actual photos are not included with this lot, but are part of research data that come with this correspondence. I have quickly transcribed the military letters so they will contain some errors.