Soldiering in the Shadow of Wounded Knee
The 1891 Diary of Private Hartford G. Clark, Sixth U.S. Cavalry
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: The Arthur H. Clark Company
In the aftermath of the December 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, U.S. Army troops braced for retaliation from Lakota Sioux Indians, who had just suffered the devastating loss of at least two hundred men, women, and children. Among the soldiers sent to guard the area around Pine Ridge Agency, South Dakota, was twenty-two-year-old Private Hartford Geddings Clark (1869–1920) of the Sixth U.S. Cavalry. Within three days of the massacre, he began keeping a diary that he continued through 1891. Clark’s account—published here for the first time—offers a rare and intimate view of a soldier’s daily life set against the backdrop of a rapidly vanishing American frontier.
According to editor Jerome A. Greene, Private Clark was a perceptive young man with wide-ranging interests. Although his diary begins in South Dakota, most of its entries reflect Clark’s service at Fort Niobrara, located amid the sand hills of north-central Nebraska. There, beginning in February 1891, five troops of the Sixth Cavalry sought to protect area citizens from potential Indian disturbances. Among his hard-drinking fellow soldiers, “Harry,” as Clark was called, stood out as a teetotaler. He was also an avid horse racer, huntsman, and the leading pitcher on Fort Niobrara’s baseball team.
Beyond its descriptions of a grueling training regimen and off-duty entertainment, the diary reveals Clark’s evolving perception of Native peoples. Although he initially viewed them as savage enemies, Private Clark’s attitude softened when the army began enlisting Indian men and he befriended a Lakota soldier named Yellow Hand, who shared Clark's love of sports.
Drawing on his extensive knowledge of nineteenth-century military history, Greene offers a richly annotated version of Private Clark’s remarkable original text, replete with information on the U.S. Army’s final occupation of the American West.
“Private Clark’s 1891 diary is an exceptional, intimate chronicle of day-to-day army life at the end of the Indian Wars era. Clark never intended his record to be shared, much less distributed for public consumption. Here, with Jerome A. Greene’s unquestionably sound, thorough documentation, it provides an unparalleled window on army life at the close of the era.”—Douglas C. McChristian, author of Fort Laramie: Military Bastion of the High Plains
“While other published diaries chronicle daily garrison life of frontier soldiers, this diary is unique in chronicling the army’s transition to peacekeeping duties at the end of the Indian Wars. Private Clark’s diary goes beyond other memoirs with its fascinating tales of hunting trips on the Nebraska plains, nineteenth-century baseball, and Clark’s friendship with Lakota soldier Yellow Hand. Jerome A. Greene’s introduction and extensive annotated footnotes contextualize all aspects of the diary. An essential sequel to his American Carnage: Wounded Knee: 1890.”—John H. Monnett, author of Where a Hundred Soldiers Were Killed: The Struggle for the Powder River Country in 1866 and the Making of the Fetterman Myth