Sigmund Shlesinger Indian Fighter

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

In the 1870's, in some parts of the United States, you needed to be a Christian to own a gun. The area between Kansas City, Missouri and California was mostly open space. Nebraska had just become a state and Colorado was a territory. And the United States was at war.

"The West" didn't look much like it does in movies. Cowboys and the people who inhabited the towns in the territories were more likely to be Confederate veterans or deserters, former slaves, or new immigrants than anyone looking like a John Wayne movie. Life was hard, work was hard.

Sigmund Shlesinger was a Czech immigrant. He was brought up in his father's tailor shop in Philadelphia. He didn't want to be a tailor. He headed west. The railroad stopped in Kansas City. He found a job bringing newspapers from Kansas City to Fort Hayes, Kansas.

One day while he was at Ft. Hayes, he was told to go stand in a line of other men. Shortly he discovered he had just joined the US Calvary as a scout.

European settlers were moving westward into areas that had been given to the Sioux and Cheyenne. The Native Americans were fighting back. The US Army was dispatched to fight the Native Americans.

General Forsyth was in command of the 9th Calvary. Shlesinger was one of the 48 men in the detail. General Forsyth was worried about Shlesinger. He had never fired a gun before. He road a mule as opposed to a horse. The Army did not provide horses, you road your own. But the General had an ace. One of his men was a Confederate veteran who had served in combat in several battles. 

On September 17, 1868, at Arikaree Fork (Beecher Island) on the Republican River, General Forsyth's men met the forces led by Chief Roman Nose.  Somewhere between 600 and 1,000 Native Americans attacked the 50 soldiers under Forsyth's command. The Calvary were quickly pinned down on a sand bar in the river. The Calvary took shelter behind their saddles, trapped by an overwhelming force. Forsyth also learned something about his great Civil War CSA veteran, he was a liar. He had never served in combat and was in fact a coward under fire. He also learned something about Shlesinger. He was a fast learner. He turned out to be an excellent shot after a brief lesson in how to use his rifle. A lesson taught under fire.

Four men were dispatched to bring reinforcements.  The trapped soldiers ran out of food and were forced to eat their horses. Shlesinger refused to eat horse because it is not Kosher. There are a few books that point this out, becoming perhaps the first US soldier to keep Kosher in battle. Although, he did eventually eat non-kosher food. His diary records that he "shot a coyote and eat him up." (Coyotes aren't Kosher either.)

On September 25, members of the 10th Cavalry Regiment (Buffalo Soldiers) arrived at Beecher Island and rescued the remaining scouts.

Why is this important?

Sigmund Schlesinger survived the Battle of Beecher Island and later moved to Cleveland and became a successful very tobacconist and tobacco importer. His son Albert Schlesinger served in the Spanish-American War. The man who wold become his grandson-in-law ran away from home to join the Army in World War I. The son of that World War I aircraft mechanic served as a Green Barret in Vietnam. The son of that Green Barret was a Green Barret JAG Officer in the invasion of Panama.

One of that mechanic's daughters is Yael and Merav's grandmother.



Battle of Beecher Island / General Forsyth

General Forsyth Arlington National Cemetery

Biography of Sigmund Schlesinger, American Jewish Archives - Yael's Great Grandfather used to distribute copies of this.

Obituary of Sigmund Schlesinger -

Link to the Shlesinger papers at the American Jewish Archives.

The story of Sigumund Shlesinger appears in several books on the Indian Wars.

The Story of Beecher Island - American Legion Magazine March 1942

Smithsonian Magazine - Buffalo Soldier - December 1, 1998

The 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Beecher Island

Books from Sigmund Shlesinger's library