75 Years Ago: End of the Trail

28 August 1947. Retirement ceremony of the last four U.S. Army Indian Scouts at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

Photo from the LIFE Magazine Archives – Allan Grant Photographer

The four Apache Indian Scouts are from left to right: Sinew Riley, William Major, Kessay, and Antonio Ivan. The Officer is Col. William L. Roberts.

In his book, Fort Huachuca: Story of a Frontier Post, historian Cornelius Smith recorded Sgt. Sinew Riley’s moving words at the conclusion of his service:

We were recruited from the warriors of many famous nations. We are the last of the Army’s Indian scouts. In a few years, we shall be gone to join our comrades in the great hunting grounds beyond the sunset, for our need here is no more. There we shall always remain very proud of our Indian people and of the United States Army, for we were truly the first Americans and you in the Army are now our warriors. To you who will keep the Army’s campfires bright, we extend our hands, and to you, we will our fighting hearts.

On 1 August 1866, Congress authorized the enlistment of up to 1,000 American Indians to serve as scouts for the U.S. Army, although, as noted by the service, “Native Americans had been utilized as Scouts as far back as white men had been settling the American continent.”

It was not uncommon for Native Americans to be enlisted as Indian Scouts for very short terms, usually three or six months at a time.

Sharp Nose enlisted more than 20 times, serving between 1876 and 1890. Here, one of his six-month tours, in 1890 with the famed Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th Cavalry Regiment, is enrolled. (National Archives)

With the retirement of the four above-mentioned scouts at Fort Huachuca, the Army’s Indian Scout program came to a close after 81 years.

For more information on the Scouts, check out the National Archives.

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