Hickey talks U.S. Cavalry during Brown Bag Lunch

EVANSTON — Joe Hickey of Lonetree has a passion for the history of the early horse soldiers. The U.S. Cavalry originated with the horse soldiers who were sent into the western United States after the Civil War (1861–1865).

The forts and outposts of the U.S. Army were isolated and scattered. There was a need to be able to cover a vast range with few resources. The Cavalry played an important role in the protection and governance of the ever-expanding United States territory.

Hickey shared U.S. Cavalry artifacts and stories with an audience of about 50 on Thursday, May 3, at the Brown Bag Lunch presented by the Uinta County Museum. Hickey had a large display set up with relics and artifacts he has been given or has found. He said he has a love of history and a friend gave him a four-volume set of books to help him research the Cavalry.

Hickey said he was not stating history, but only what he personally has discovered and researched about the artifacts in his possession. He began by showing a Cavalry sword that was made in 1857, explaining that it showed the rank of the owner and “U.S.” engraved on the blade. The sword was called the “wrist breaker” and he invited any in the audience to lift it to understand the nickname.

In 1857 Johnson’s army came to put down the Mormon rebellion and camped at Fort Bridger. The former residents of the fort had burned it and all the grazing area for miles so the army horses were starving.

A local man named Jack Robertson told Johnson, “The only grass you will find is on Henry’s Fork” (now known as Lonetree). Johnson moved his cavalry to Henry’s Fork. Hickey said a man from Utah spent time in Lonetree trying to find remnants of the cavalry but never located the campsite.

He did find a lot of items and gave Hickey one artifact, a mini-ball bullet which was invented after the Civil War and was found to be a very effective ammo. The Utah man never did find genuine cavalry artifacts, Hickey said, but did find a stake for hobbling horses. Hickey surmised it could possibly be from the cavalry but he isn’t certain. 

Hickey showed a Smith & Wesson pistol that was the first military pistol created by the War Department. Moving on to the 45 Long Colt created in 1873, he explained his was not the Army version as that would have a wooden grip and “U.S.” engraved on it. The Army loved this gun as it worked well on horseback, Hickey said, and an Army version today would be worth $5,000.

The trap door on the rifle was fast to load and the aim reached farther. However, the bullet was made of copper and the leather bullet cases had a chemical in the tanning formula that reacted negatively with the copper and the bullets would sometimes not eject, which is probably why many broken knife blades were found near the bodies of soldiers who died at the Little Big Horn battle, Hickey said.

It’s assumed that they were desperately trying to get the bullets out of their rifles, so they could reload. The War Department knew they better invent a different cartridge. Hickey said he thinks an even better story and the one he likes best is that a soldier at Fort Bridger invented a canvas bullet case that would not react with the copper. 

He mentioned the 50/70 cartridge and the Sharps Carbine, which was built after the Civil War for greater accuracy and multiple purposes, such as battle and hunting, was used in WWII and probably in Korea and Vietnam. Buffalo Bill even had one because one can shoot, eject the shell and put another one in with ease while riding a horse.

Two other items Hickey brought for the presentation are a bridle with a Civil War bit and genuine cavalry saddlebags with “U.S.” stamped on them. He also had a .95 carbine similar to what officers carried with Teddy Roosevelt at San Juan Hill. It was a faster rifle and much loved, Hickey said.

He also has a spur that his father found along the Bridger road that they felt was a cavalry spur belonging to an officer as it had rounds on it with the original stamp. He said the enlisted men would not have had rounds on their spurs as they made too much noise.

Hickey showed pictures of his grandfather’s two brothers who both served in the cavalry in WWI. The youngest, Uncle Alfred, rode in the cavalry around 1910. The other, Uncle Cal, was a farrier who, when asked if he missed not being one of the cavalry riders, answered, “It was much better shoeing horses than riding and packing a rifle through the brush.”

Lying next to the pictures on the table was a fragile gas mask one of the uncles brought back from France and wire clippers that were used to cut the barbed wire as the soldier climbed out of the trenches.

The last artifact on display was a McClellan saddle designed by General McClellan for the western cavalry. The saddle proved to be very uncomfortable. A later study of the remains of many young soldiers who used it showed skeletal damage probably caused by the saddle, Hickey said.

Hickey recalled when the WWI monument was placed in front of the Uinta County Complex and the dedication that took place. He has a copy of the program from that ceremony. In the program is a picture and bio of each of the soldiers from Uinta County.

Hickey said that, of the 27 soldiers from Uinta County who died in WWI, three of those soldiers were from Fort Bridger; a Smith, a Davis and a Harvey boy. Their families still reside in the Valley.  Mrs. H.J.B. Taylor from Mountain View wrote a poem about the heroes from Bridger Valley. Hickey concluded with an emotional reading of excerpts from her poem.

He then told the audience a story about how his grandpa would take him on a ride down the old Carter road which was awfully bumpy, and he hated it.

“Grandpa, why do we have to go this way and why the long route?” Hickey would ask.

His grandpa would reply, “We’re driving down this road to keep it up.”

Hickey admonished the audience members to keep history alive by sharing stories with their kids and grandkids or our history could disappear just like a road.

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