April 27, 2013

Fort Larned presented with Medal of Honor recipient’s sword

Frank Dwight Baldwin was a career Army officer who spent time at nearly all the frontier forts in Kansas.

Frank Dwight Baldwin was a career Army officer who spent time at nearly all the frontier forts in Kansas.

He was a soldier who fought Native Americans but also understood their plight and hardship. Baldwin also is one of only 19 men who have received two Medals of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration.

On Saturday, nearly 141 years after he served at Fort Larned, the sword Baldwin wore was presented to Fort Larned National Historic Site by the fort’s Old Guard, a volunteer and support group that provides funding for special projects and promotes the fort’s history.

“The opportunity to get something like this is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity,” said Leo Oliva, a Kansas historian and writer from Woodston.

Baldwin was stationed at Fort Larned – where the sword will be on permanent display – from May 1 through June 5, 1872, and again from Oct. 29, 1872, to May 1873.

The sword was originally presented to Baldwin by the Michigan Horse Guards on Sept. 19, 1861, at the beginning of his Civil War service. He served in the war with the Horse Guards and the 19th Michigan Volunteer Infantry. The sword – designed and engraved by Tiffany, the renowned jewelry maker from New York – was presented to him by his sergeants.

When the sword recently was placed for sale on eBay by an anonymous seller, Fort Larned’s Chief Ranger George Elmore saw it and contacted Oliva and Rex Abrahams, members of the Old Guard. The sword cost $6,000; it has been appraised at $15,000 to $25,000.

For Kansas to have such an artifact is a tangible connection to its Old West past, said Dan Holt, retired director of the Eisenhower Library and Center and Kansas historian who has written about Baldwin.

“It is almost as cool as Custer’s boots,” Holt said. Gen. George Armstrong Custer’s boots are on display at the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka.

“It is appropriate that it be at Fort Larned, because that was where he (Baldwin) was stationed.”

Two medals

Baldwin, who was born in 1842 in Manchester, Mich., was awarded his first Medal of Honor during the Civil War. He was honored for his actions during the battle of Peachtree Creek, Ga., on July 12, 1864, while Baldwin was a captain serving in Company D, 19th Michigan Infantry.

Under Confederate fire, Baldwin charged ahead of his own troops and into the enemy line, capturing two commissioned officers and a small flag from a Confederate Georgia regiment.

His second Medal of Honor came during the Indian campaigns while he was a lieutenant with the 5th U.S. Infantry. On Nov. 8, 1874, at McClellan’s Creek, Texas, he led the charge against a group of Kiowa and Cheyenne who had four kidnapped Kansas girls with them. According to his citation from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, Baldwin led the attack despite the enemy’s “superior numbers and strong position (that) would have warranted delay for reinforcements, but which delay would have permitted the Indians to escape and kill their captives.”

In addition to helping lead an Indian expedition across the Great Plains, Baldwin also served in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection and later was the adjutant general for Colorado.

After he died on April 22, 1923, he was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

Kansas connections

Fort Larned, about 130 miles northwest of Wichita, is considered one of the best-preserved frontier Indian posts in the American West.

Several thousand soldiers were stationed at the fort during its 19-year operation, from 1859 – two years before Kansas became a state – to 1878. During its life, the fort’s main duty was to preserve the peace among travelers along the Santa Fe Trail, new settlers and American Indians.

On Sept. 11, 1874, the John German family was attacked by Cheyenne as they were breaking camp along the Smoky Hill River east of Fort Wallace, near the current Kansas-Colorado border. Some of the Indians were from Black Kettle’s camp and were survivors of the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864.

Of the nine German family members, only four daughters survived the attack. The Indians took the girls – Catherine, 17; Sophia, 12; Juliana, 7; and Nancy Adelaide, 5 – with them as they quickly traveled over the gullies and ravines of western Kansas, through the Oklahoma Panhandle and into Texas.

Baldwin was sent with Companies D of the 5th Infantry and 6th Cavalry to locate the Indians. He was in charge of 76 men, 23 wagons and a howitzer. One of his scouts was Bat Masterson.

The troops initially endured 100-degree days, drought and extreme food shortages. Holt writes that at one point, Baldwin’s men were so desperate they tried to make chowder out of large fresh-water clams found in pools in the Cimarron River.

When they found water, it was often too muddy to drink. One desperate soldier tried to open a vein to drink his own blood; another was prevented from drinking his own urine.

Finally, with winter nearing, Baldwin found the Indians on McClellan’s Creek, near present-day Pampa, Texas. The band of about 200 Indians, led by Grey Beard, was starving and freezing.

Baldwin and his troops attacked. He led the charge, placing the wagons and cannon in the middle with his troops on the outside. Some of the Indians were able to escape with the two oldest girls; the youngest were left behind.

Baldwin wrote in his journal of the Indians: “They were nearly starved and naked and could hardly talk. It was a pitiable sight and many a wet eye showed the feelings of those brave men, who had just driven their enemy so gallantly from their ground.”

The oldest girls, Catherine and Sophia German, were released in March 1875.

Some historians believe Baldwin’s rescue of the German sisters from the Cheyenne was the basis for John Ford’s movie “The Searchers,” which starred John Wayne.

Holt says that although he has his doubts about the Ford movie connection, he is certain Baldwin deserves recognition. In a story published by the Kansas City chapter of Westerners in 1965, Holt wrote: “We often overlook the men riding in the dust of the leaders who actually get the job done by perseverance, courage, and split-second decisions made far from the operations tent of the commanding officer.

“One such man was Frank D. Baldwin.”

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