I had been scrutinizing the photograph binders at the Frontier Army Museum for months. Buildings, many now gone, were identified. Men in uniforms, women in their Sunday best, lived on, frozen forever holding coffee and cake in images of parties long past. Moving on to the binders containing images of officers at Fort Leavenworth was more intriguing.
All of the photographs of those officers, some with their wives, fascinated me. Many of those photos showed the men wearing unofficial medals. Others provided a glimpse into their homes that still stand at Fort Leavenworth, KS. One man, however, refused to look at me.
He wears the rank of Major. His gray eyes look away, possibly in contemplation of his next move. His hat has the insignia of Tenth U.S. Cavalry embroidered and sewn on. His face shows scars.
Posing for it in 1869, George Wallace Graham’s scars had a story to tell. He would add more scars before his life ended.
Graham earned that brevet the year before he sat for the image. He was in command of Company I, Tenth U.S. Cavalry, at Fort Hays. Sent with his company to protect the construction of the Union & Pacific Rail Road west of Hays, Graham spent much of 1868 gambling at saloons and keeping company with his favorite “lady of town” at her house in Hays City. One incident at Annie King’s domicile later became a charge against him at his court-martial.
Major Andrew K. Long, formerly President Johnson’s private secretary and now in the Dept. of Commissary and Subsistence, was a useful connection. 1st Lt. Graham, a New Yorker, pretended to be a native North Carolinian, using Long as a liaison to get in good with Johnson and score a brevet Lieutenant Colonelcy. Long wrote to the President, reasoning that Graham had served in the Civil War and as long as his current comrades had brevets, so should Graham. It was refused. He did earn the rank of Captain in August however.
Also by autumn, Graham’s dangerous territory extended to more than brothels and drinking dens.
Lt.Col. Louis H. Carpenter miraculously survived what would become known as The Battle of Beecher Island in September. He would be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1898 for his campaigns in Kansas and Colorado. His fellow officer, Capt. Graham, would also find himself in a similar engagement.
Graham and his company left Fort Wallace in September to scout an area of the Smoky River west of Cheyenne Wells in the Colorado Territory. Bivouacked near Sand Creek, possibly at the site of the famous Chivington Massacre, approximately 100 Cheyenne or Arapaho attacked them, and they had most of their horses stolen.
Another attack came in October, when Graham, Carpenter and their respective companies were ordered to escort Maj. Carr of the 5th U.S. Infantry to the Colorado Territory. After a surprise attack in which Graham lost control and fell off his horse, Lt. Myron Amick of his company rescued him, alone and vulnerable after the horse ran back to camp.
Graham was approved for his brevet as a major in March of 1869, retroactive to September. Carpenter was breveted as well, and the two men traveled to Washington, D.C. in April. Contemporary newspapers announced his arrival at the Planter’s Hotel in Leavenworth as he made his way to Washington.
A copy of his oath, taken and signed on June 11, 1869, is on microfilm at the National Archives. He was in no hurry to get back to Indian Territory, where he would next be stationed at Camp Supply. He possibly visited his family in Essex County, NY. He would also find a different environment at Camp Supply when he did return at the end of the summer.
The Army was investigating a suspected band of horse thieves in Kansas. Another officer in the Tenth, Capt. Charles Cox, had been arrested for, among other things, stealing and selling government horses. Major George A. Armes, also of the Tenth, was making enemies in the regiment by writing letter after letter of complaint regarding Graham’s behavior. Graham hadn’t been wearing his brevet rank long when he found himself in arrest, not only for incidents back at Fort Hays, but for his part in selling government property.
Before he was ordered to Fort Leavenworth for his court-martial he took opportunities to opine to the local newspapers about the “Indian situation.” He told the Daily Kansas Tribune on Dec 11th that, although eight companies of infantry and cavalry were stationed near Supply, he predicted more trouble in the future from the “noble red man.”
He was not under house arrest during the time he awaited his trial. Ironically, Armes was put under the highest levels of arrest for the crime of suggesting that Graham be put under the same! While Armes went hungry, as the stipulations of his arrest stated that he was to have no contact with other men and had no meals brought to him, Graham was roaming the streets of Leavenworth City, his ego or sociopathy causing him to become well known to the police in that town.
Indeed, after his court-martial had started, he was getting himself arrested and fined for such gentlemanly behavior as assault, driving fast through town, and engaging in “lewd behavior” with a very questionable and married female who changed her name as often as she did her locations around the state.
The charges against Graham were conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, wrongfully and knowingly selling or disposing of government property, and conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline.
Carpenter was a witness for the prosecution. On the original board was Capt. George W. Yates, who would die at Little Big Horn. It also came out during the trial that another woman close to Graham was in Hays: his lawful wife, Josephine, who was listed as a witness but never spoke. Apparently she followed Graham to Kansas from New York, some sources claiming she had their infant in tow, and was forced to take a job in a Hays hotel/restaurant because Graham refused to support her, preferring to run with the town’s bawdy girls instead. As for the horse thievery, papers in the form of bills of sale for the horses were missing from his defense papers. At the close of the trial Graham published a small booklet in his defense. The tract is remarkable in its criticism of the Judge Advocate, and reeks of Graham’s pompous and self-assured nature.
Found guilty on two counts and one specification, he was sentenced to be cashiered, pay a fine, and serve time in prison. Due to connections with President Grant and William T. Sherman, he did not serve any time.
About one year after Graham returned to Kansas and posed for this photograph with his new brevet rank proudly displayed, he was disgraced and alone. He left Kansas. He would not return to New York. He did not make his way to North Carolina, where he had raided towns during the Civil War with his local Unionist troops. Instead he went further west, passing the civilian battlefields in wild Hays City, on the recently completed rail lines to the Utah Territory, and later to Denver and its environs, leaving a trail of scandals and crimes, until his luck ran out in a mining town near Cañon City. He went by the moniker “Major Graham” until his death.
As for other images of George W. Graham, none have been unearthed. A rare group photo of officers of the Tenth Cavalry at Fort Riley from those early days is missing one of its officers: Graham. Photographs of Union officers standing around occupied houses in New Bern, NC are missing the cavalry leader as well. In those days before photographs were the norm in newspapers it is hardly surprising that he is not illustrated in at least one, despite the fact that the papers covered his exploits. As for his post-military prison records? There has been no image found of Graham wearing stripes.
A volunteer mesmerized by a lone image uncovered a fascinating story of a man. That image hints that Graham has more to tell. No doubt this man hides other scars, waiting for a “find” to learn the story behind them, hopefully in a forgotten image in an archives or attic.