• Civil War veteran became frontier scoundrel

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  • Heidi Crabtree | Special to the Fort Leavenworth Lamp
    Among the early commanders in the 10th U.S. Cavalry was a man who is forgotten now, but in his day was rather infamous both on Fort Leavenworth and in the city. A dashing daredevil by day, a dastardly dude by night, Brevet Maj. George W. Graham could charm his way out of almost anything until his luck ran out.
    Raised in New York, Graham served during the Civil War with several regiments, finishing the war as a captain in the North Carolina Union Volunteers, leading southern Unionists on raids in eastern North Carolina. Credited with burning the bridge at Goldsborough, the young man made a name for himself. Though he was involved in less valorous events, he was honorably discharged in June 1865.
    His application for a commission in the Regular Army was approved, and he was assigned to the newly formed 10th Cavalry as a lieutenant. After recruiting duties in Leavenworth and Kansas City, he was made a captain and given Company I.
    Company I spent much of its time near Fort Hays guarding the railroad terminus. This is where Graham met Buffalo Bill Cody, and Cody wrote about Graham in his autobiography. Curiously, the southern Unionists that Graham commanded in the Civil War were derogatorily known as “Buffaloes” by other North Carolinians, giving food for thought as to whether Graham had a silent giggle at again leading what were now being called Buffalo Soldiers.
    In 1868, Company I was at Fort Wallace, where scouting along the Smoky Hill and escort duties were common. In September, Graham and his men were surprised by a large number of Cheyenne along Sand Creek in Colorado Territory, not far from the earlier Sand Creek Massacre. He was saved from death by his trusty lieutenant, Myron Amick, and earned a brevet. Immediately afterward, his company and Louis Carpenter’s Company H were called to help in what would become known as the Battle of Beecher Island.
    Returning from Washington in 1869 with his new rank, Graham stopped at the photo studios of E. E. Henry on Delaware Street in Leavenworth to have his photograph made.
    Graham had earned a reputation for being a man who “can’t be killed.” Escorting Maj. Eugene Carr through part of Kansas, Graham was ambushed along a trail and allegedly came out unscathed, with three shots passing through his clothing and hat.
    His reputation for gambling and hell raising didn’t sit well with another captain, George A. Armes, who made every other officer’s business his own. Armes proffered charges against Graham for riding through Fort Hays with a “shady lady,” and for selling Army horses. The court-martial was set for summer of 1870 at Fort Leavenworth.
    Page 2 of 2 - Graham wasn’t going to act like a good boy during his time in Leavenworth. He lived at the Planter’s Hotel and was arrested several times by the city police for riding too fast through the streets, cavorting with a “lewd and lascivious woman,” and smacking a newspaper editor over the head with his gold-tipped walking stick because the man wrote insulting things about him. The lewd woman was already well-known in Leavenworth for being a troublemaker herself. Graham also had, according to articles, a “blonde actress” gal pal who rode through the streets of Leavenworth with him.
    Another woman who had a legitimate claim to the tall, popular officer was his wife. Josephine Jones Graham claimed that they were married in North Carolina and that he’d abandoned her after taking her to New York City. Josie wrote several letters to Generals Winfield Hancock and Phillip Sheridan pleading for help.
    Col. Benjamin Grierson summoned Graham about it, and Graham denied that he was married, and, despite Josie having signed letters by the chaplain who had married them in 1863, he escaped court-martial for non-support of a wife.
    His 1870 court-martial did not go as well. Receipts and proof of ownership on the horses Graham allegedly sold were provided. Officers giving contradicting testimony as to whether the woman riding through Fort Hays was a shady woman or the sutler’s wife, as Graham insisted, didn’t help. In mid-August 1870 at Fort Leavenworth once-Brevet Maj. George W. Graham became a private citizen after being cashiered from the Army at the parade field.
    He would remain in Leavenworth for a time, racing his locally well-known team of grey horses. Later he would get himself into trouble in Utah, go to prison on Colorado for an attempted paymaster robbery and have several obituaries printed yet survive each.
    In 1875, the “man who can’t be killed” was gunned down by a mob in a mining dispute in Rosita, Colo., and his body thrown into an unnamed gulch. Nothing remains except for a tombstone with his name on it in North Carolina at the grave of an old “Buffaloe” who admired his commander so much he unwittingly gave Graham the tombstone he would never otherwise have.
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