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Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

Quotable Sheridan

by Clay Coppedge

Most of the country knows U.S. General Philip Sheridan for what he did in the Civil War, but in Texas he's just as well known for what he said.

Sheridan was commander of the U.S. Army in Texas after the Civil War when the wholesale slaughter of the buffalo was under way. The Texas Legislature was close to adopting some measures to save the animal from extinction, but Sheridan argued against it.

"These men (the buffalo hunters) have done more to settle the vexed Indian question than the entire regular army has done in the last thirty years," Sheridan declared. "They are destroying the Indians' commissary. Send them powder and lead if you will, but for the sake of a lasting peace let them kill, skin and sell until the buffalo are exterminated. Then your prairies can be covered with speckled cattle and the festive cowboy who follows the hunter as the second forerunner of an advanced civilization."

The part about the "Indians commissary" has endured because it was blunt but true. The Plains Indians couldn't live without horses and the buffalo, and their eventual defeat came about only after they lost access to both, paving the way for "speckled cattle and the festive cowboy." Newspaper writers of the day delighted to reference Sheridan whenever a bunch of "festive cowboys" rode into town and shot it up and terrorized its citizens or ended up getting shot or killed their ownselves.

The most famous (or infamous) quote from Sheridan concerning Texas came just after the Civil War had ended. Asked his opinion of Texas, Sheridan replied, "If I owned Texas and all hell, I'd rent out Texas and live in hell." The line was quoted so often, and Texans took such a perverse delight in the old Yankee's disdain, that historians began to wonder if Sheridan ever said such a thing at all. Or was it one of those quotes that's just too good to verify?

Sheridan not only said it, but he later apologized for his remarks and explained them during a speech at a public dinner in Galveston in 1880 when he was touring Texas with former president and Union commander Ulysses S. Grant. Sam Atcheson describes the explanation and apology in his book "35,000 Days in Texas."

"Speaking so kindly of Texas - and I speak from the heart - probably I ought to explain a remark I once made about it," Sheridan told his audience. "It was in 1866, and I had just returned from San Antonio from a hard trip to Chihuahua on some Mexican business, when I received an order to proceed at once to New Orleans. I hired relays and coaches so that I had only to hitch on the wagon and go speedily to get the boat from Galveston.

"I traveled night and day. It was in August and, need I say, very warm. I arrived here covered in dust, my eyes and ears and throat filled with it. I went to a little hotel in that condition and had just gone up to the register when one of these newspapermen rushed up to me and said, 'General, how do you like Texas?' I was mad, and I said, 'If I owned Texas and all hell, I would rent out Texas and live in hell.' Needless to say, that did not represent my true opinion of this magnificent state."

The old Confederates gave the U.S. general a standing ovation.


Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" October 16, 2017 column


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    Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

  • Skyline Club 10-16-17
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  • Harvey's Ancestor 9-20-17
  • Saltpeter and Bat Bombs 9-3-17
  • Dangerous Al Jennings 8-17-17

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