Monday, April 21, 2008

Robert McGee

Today we feature a picture of Robert McGee. The picture was taken in 1890. As a child, Robert McGee was scalped by Indians. He is the only person I am aware of who survived the horrific experience of being scalped.

Robert was the son of emigrants. In 1864, Robert and his family decided to migrate west, as was the custom of many emigrants of the day, to seek a better life. The family joined a wagon train heading to Leavenworth, Kansas. Somewhere on the trail, Robert's parents died, and he was left an orphan. Others on the wagon train cared for Robert on the trail. Once they reached Leavenworth, Robert, a mere child, was left to fend for himself. At the time, the government was in desperate need of men for the army to protect the overland trail to Santa Fe. Robert applied to join the army, but he was not accepted, because he was too young. Desperate for work, Robert took a job with a freight company to take supplies to Fort Union in New Mexico. In July of 1864 the freight company had a wagon train leave Fort Leavenworth bound for Fort Union, and Robert was one of the teamsters working on this wagon train. Because of the dangers on the trail, the wagon train had a US army escort. The wagon train traveled on the Lonesome Trail. Along the way, the group had several minor skirmishes with Indians, but because of the army escort, there were no significant problems.

On July 18, the wagon train arrived in the vicinity of Fort Larned. The teamsters let their guard down, and became careless. They assumed that because of their proximity to the fort, their would be no problems, and they ended up camping about a mile from their army escort. At about 5 in the afternoon, the camp was attacked by 150 Sioux under the command of the chief Little Turtle. The men were caught completely off guard, and the group was slaughtered.

Robert was the sole survivor of the slaughter, and he remembered the details of the ordeal. Robert had been dragged by some of the Indians to Chief Little Turtle. The chief first knocked him down with a lance, and then shot him with a revolver. The chief then shot him through with two arrows, to pin him to the ground, and then scalped him. As each of the Indians passed him, they beat and stabbed him, and then he was left for dead.

The army at the nearby post heard that there were Sioux in the area, so they sent out a patrol to check things out. The patrol reached the scene of the slaughter about 2 hours after it occurred. They were shocked to see the carnage, and even more shocked to see that Robert was still alive. He was taken to Fort Larned, where the post surgeon treated his injuries. Amazingly, Robert recovered from his wounds. He lived, even though he no longer had a scalp. It is hard for me to even understand how a person could live out there life in such a fashion, but Robert did, as evidenced by the picture above, which was taken some 25 years after the event. Unfortunately, I was not able to determine other events of Robert's life after the ordeal, other than he survived.

25 comments:

  1. We know what happened to Robert McGee after his ordeal, he forever more answered this same question "Man. what in the world happened to your head!"
    JD

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  2. What a great story. The more I read about the 19th century, the more I like it, despite the wars and carnage.

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  3. this is a great blog! your stories really give some insight to the times. thanks.

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  4. That cut looks fresher than of it had happened to him as a child

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  5. I think I would have just kept my head shaved.

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  6. i dont think thats a cut your looking at,it looks like his skulls exposed so isnt it a crainial suture? where the individual bones of the skull fuse together soon after birth

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  7. That is indeed his skull bone, as scalping cuts under the skin to the bone....

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  8. That cant be his skull bone. The bone surface would dry out and get infected. That would cause a deadly brain fever.

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  9. Amazing story. Great blog. Just out of curiosity, where do you get find info like this for a man like McGee?

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  10. good thing you always wore hats back then

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  11. Well at least we know what the Joplin lyrics were about in "Bobby McGee":

    "I pulled my harpoon out of my dirty red bandanna"

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  12. "i dont think thats a cut your looking at,it looks like his skulls exposed so isnt it a crainial suture? where the individual bones of the skull fuse together soon after birth"

    "That is indeed his skull bone, as scalping cuts under the skin to the bone...."

    "That cant be his skull bone. The bone surface would dry out and get infected. That would cause a deadly brain fever."

    First, that is definitely not the cranial surface because that can't be a suture--study of the human skull will show you sutures occur in specific places, and that is not one of them. [And they don't fuse together soon after birth--they are fusing together your whole life.]

    Second...well, you get it. His skin was definitely cut, but it looks like it was sewn back on!

    Third, indeed, if the skull surface was exposed, horrible infection would occur, likely resulting in a high rate of porosity of the bone and the "deadly brain fever" you speak of. When infection occurs, the bone reacts to produce blood more quickly, causing the tiny pores of the bone to expand. It's a circular process--not only because one things leads to another and back again, but also because such an infection looks like a halo!

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  13. Ann Bush Niece of Castlewood VA was scalped TWICE by Indians and survived both times. Many of her descendants still live in Southwest Virginia.
    I am a direct descendant of her brother, who coincidently married an Indian woman.

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  14. Well thats not his bare skull. When they scalped him they probrobly left a flap of skin. So I think that they sewed the flap of skin back onto his head. I can't imagine having to go through that.

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  15. "Well thats not his bare skull. When they scalped him they probrobly left a flap of skin. So I think that they sewed the flap of skin back onto his head. I can't imagine having to go through that."


    but surely the hair would of grown back if the skin stayed intact

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  16. Maybe his hair was cut around the wound so they could show the it in the picture. It's possible he was paid for it; this doesn't seem like a family photo, but something intended for a book or magazine.

    Back then it wouldn't matter so much since hats were in fashion.

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  17. Maybe his hair was cut around the wound so they could show the it in the picture. It's possible he was paid for it; this doesn't seem like a family photo, but something intended for a book or magazine.

    Back then it wouldn't matter so much since hats were in fashion.

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  18. "Maybe his hair was cut around the wound so they could show the it in the picture. It's possible he was paid for it; this doesn't seem like a family photo, but something intended for a book or magazine. "

    Please be serious rather than writing silly things. We are not in 2012 were everybody is ready to do anything stupid in front of a camera to get some money and become famous for a month.

    We are in 1890, 120 years ago!!! You really think that guy was going to shave a portion of his head just to get a picture and some money? Back in 1890?

    It is just common sense. At the time photography was rare.

    "but surely the hair would of grown back if the skin stayed intact"

    Again, it is a contest of who is writing the most idiot remark? Do you realize that if your scalp is gone, so are the roots, bulbs, of your hairs? Everywhere on earth men look for fighting against baldness and try to make their hair to grow. And here we have a guy scalped by indians and you conclude the hairs are growing back.

    Maybe that guy used Petrol Hann at that time?

    Just ask your doctor next time about if a scalp is removed, if any hair can grow back.

    Seriously, this poor guy never saw his hair back on the top of his head.

    And thanks for the article, great blog. Good continuation.

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  19. I've been looking all over for a description of what was done to this guy's head, and I'm still confused. It's obviously not his skull we are looking at -- as someone else pointed out the anatomy is all wrong. It looks like they did some crude skin grafting, which I wouldn't have guessed they could do back then... but I also cannot imagine someone could survive 25 years with their skull exposed. I *have* heard of someone walking around with their brain exposed, but they were dying of cancer and did not survive long in that state, I don't think.

    As for the "idiot remark" stuff in the previous comment -- do you suppose people did not get desperate for cash in the 1890s? I think you should read about the Panic of 1893 before you go making comments like that. If you think somebody shaving their head for a few bucks sounds outrageous, you don't have a good understanding of what life was like at the time.

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  20. I am writing a book on the Indian raids along to roads to Denver and I have convered this story already in my manuscript. I gathered the facts from the National Archives in DC from a never before published Indian depredation claim, filed by the owners of the wagon train attacked. What was posted on the story up above is not accurate. I will post from my manuscript below. But my question is this: who has the picture and can I use that in my book? I did not have his name. Also, two men were scalped that survived. I gather this person was the one who was shot by several arrows.
    From my manuscript:
    The Kiowa, no doubt emboldened from their easy success at Ft. Larned, then went north and caught a freight train just east of where soldiers were camped at what would by September become Fort Zarah, about three miles east of present-day Great Bend, Kansas. Jerome Crow had contracted with Fort Union to deliver twenty-two wagons of flour and other goods, mostly wagon-bows. Having started from Fort Leavenworth, on July 17 he had joined up with nine additional wagons of Richard Barret under the charge of John Hiles, also hauling freight to Fort Union. Early in the morning of July 18 the two trains were only about a third of a mile east of the military camp when about 125 Indians approached the long wagon train from the west. The 31 wagons were stretched out for about half a mile. The Indians acted friendly and had spread out on both sides of the train, shaking hands with several of the freighters. James Riggs, one of the assistant wagon masters under Crow, said “I gave tobacco to several of them, and talked with one of them for about five minutes. When they got about half way down the train (the two trains were then about a half mile long) they commenced firing upon our teamsters with bows and arrows and some fire-arms.” From Riggs description, one of the Indians involved was White Antelope. Ten men were killed and an additional five wounded. Eight of the dead men belonged to the smaller train of Barret, while two belonged to Crow’s train. One of Barret’s teamsters was wounded, while four from Crow’s train were wounded. Ten men were scalped. Two of the dead from Barret’s train were Negroes and were not scalped. One of the wounded was shot with several arrows and scalped but he recovered. One of Crow’s wounded men was also scalped. They then plundered the wagons, destroying 132 sacks of flour. Nine wagons were completely destroyed and several mules killed. At least thirty oxen were either killed or stolen One of the leaders of the Kiowa was recognized as Little Heart. Captain Dunlop was commanding the men of Company H, 15th Regiment of Kansas Cavalry. He wrote that the attack was about three miles away from his camp (what would soon become Fort Zarah), immediately preceded to the scene but when he got there the Indians were gone. He saw a dead horse in the field and knew that it had belonged to Kiowa chief Kicking Bird. Albert Gentry, one of the teamsters, shot both the horse and the rider.

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    1. Please let me know more about your book. Interesting read. thanks

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  21. If you ever read books by Louis L!amor. You would know his ancestor was scalped & lived

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  22. This blog is not factual due to the sole fact that chief little turtle died in 1812, thus he was not alive when this scalping and whole ordeal took place.

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  23. I think upon some investigation that it might have been Chief Little Thunder of the Brule Sioux and not Little Turtle, who was chief of the Miami and did indeed die in 1812.

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  24. I think they took skin from another who was killed to patch him up.

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