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Suitt, William C (Ca. 1859-?). Original Autograph Manuscript Letter Signed by Will C Suitt, an Army Soldier and Musician in the 18th U.S. Infantry at Fort Assiniboine (Montana Territory), Talking about Indians Selling a Woman Slave, Starving, and Threatening an Outbreak; also Mentioning his Friend’s Suicide, the Execution of a Thief, a Journey to Fort Benton, etc. Fort Assiniboine, Montana Territory: 6/8 July 1884.



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Octavo ( 20x12,5 cm or 5x8 in.) 10 pp. Blu ink on yellowish watermarked lined wove paper. Fold marks, but overall a very good letter, written in a legible hand.

Historically interesting letter by a young soldier at Fort Assiniboine (est. in 1879), with notes about severe famine in the nearby Piegan reservation. In 1883/1884, ca. 600 Piegan Indians starved to death due to buffalo extinction and the government’s neglect to supply food aid.

The author, “Will C Suitt,” originally from Scioto, Ohio, was a 25-year-old soldier and an E flat cornet player in the 18th U.S. Infantry. The regiment was deployed to Fort Assiniboine from Atlanta in 1879 to ensure control over the local Indian population.

In the letter to “Friend Mame,” Suitt describes his “fearful” recent trip to Fort Benton and talks about high rates of gambling, “exceptionally good looking” girls, Montana horse races for the 4th of July & drunk cowboys, the tragic suicide of his companion (from “one of the oldest families of Prussia”), and the hanging of a horse thief. He then writes that the Indians at the Piegan agency are “starving to death” and that “the carpenter has made forty coffins in the last month for starved red skins.” In another interesting passage, Suitt notes that the Indians are trying to sell “a sound” woman to the soldiers and “can’t see why the boys won’t buy her as they only want ten dollars for her.” In the rest of the letter, Suitt talks about “Montana torture,” aka mosquitos, extremely hot weather, love matters, and him arranging the Sioux Indian war song for the piano. Overall, a historically interesting manuscript letter by a young soldier at Fort Assiniboine.

Excerpts from the letter:

Perhaps you think the spirit is rather slow in moving me to answer your last, as nearly two weeks has elapsed since I received your letter. I started to Fort Benton the same day I received it, and as I only returned on Monday, you see I am embracing the first opportunity to answer. Don't tear up any more letters, because you think them foolish; first impressions are the best generally: besides it delays your letters.”

“Had a fearful old trip to Benton by ambulance (eighty miles) over worse roads than even West Virginia can boast – alkaline dust and water enough to kill a decent white man. Played for the celebration on the fourth and three balls in succession. Consequently, am pretty well played out. Benton is a model frontier town (city they call it), about as many Indians and half breeds as whites and more bad whiskey and gambling than one could suppose possible in so small a place. The Benton girls are exceptionally good looking. The French quarter breeds are nearly all positively handsome. Fine figures and splendid eyes and teeth. Most of them very graceful dancers. I had the pleasure of dancing with the Belle of the City and consider myself lucky to come away heart whole, as several of the boys have been talking of nothing else since we got home. The races on the afternoon of the fourth were not much. Montana horses won't compare well with Buckeye stock except in the matter of endurance. The monotony was relieved by a crowd of drunken cowboys running a "free for all, scrub race" without any particular turn regulations. Did not enjoy it much as my time was too much occupied in dodging around to save my very valuable bones. The most startling part of the programme was a couple of half-breed girls, well dressed, but evedently well wined up, riding a race on their own account and as they were riding men's saddles, and man fashion they presented a rather cute appearance. Don't know which one won as the last we saw of them they were going over the hills as though the mischief was after them. The Indian blood will come to the surface occasionally. The only draw-back to our trip was the suicide of one of our men. He is supposed to be a member of one of the oldest families of Prussia. But some domestic trouble threw him in the army and eventually caused his rash act - drinking may have had something to do with it, as he was a confirmed drunkard and was in confinement for being drunk on duty when he killed himself. He went by the silk handkerchief route. Having a corpse with us naturally made the return trip tedious, and the general depression was not much relieved by finding a man hanging to a tree at the crossing of the Marias River. Some horse thief, gone to heaven by the kindness of a Vigilance Committee. This is a great country for quick justice. It would be well if Ohio would pattern a little after Montana in this respect. But I dont want to give you bad dreams with my lugubrious tales. Everything is lovely now at the Fort except that it is hotter than the mischief.”

Mosquitos language is a dead falure. It wont half cover the ground. Add about twice the length of bill, and ten times the blood sucking capacity to your Ohio insect, and you have the improved Montana torture. Calculate them at ten thousand to the sq. yd. and you arrive at their number pretty closely. Every one wears head nets when they venture to go out for a stroll, and even with this protection it is scarcely endurable. Indians are threatening an outbreak again as they are starving to death. The carpenter at the Piegan agency has made forty coffins in the last month for starved red skins, and the mortality is at least twice that, as the majority of the Indians still adhere to their old custom of putting their dead in tree tops and stone piles. It looks as if I am bound to make a blue letter of this with suicides, starved Indians, &c, &c. Well Mame, I suppose all your girls will have married and wished you hadnt before I see you again: and I know you would consider me a selfish brute, not to congratulat you all, and pretend to be wonderfully pleased to see you all, one of the heads of a big matrimonial venture. But to tell the truth it makes a fellow feel decidedly “left.” I dont like the idea of going to Coolville and not finding any of my old chums single. Misery loves company.”

Mame, I am arranging the Sioux Indian war song for the piano and if it sound[s] properly on the piano I'll send you a copy to give you an idea of Indian music. We have it for – and - , but I dont know how it will do for the piano. Well Mame I cloze as the boys are having some fun with a lot of Indians, and are making more noise and dust than a threashing machine. The Indians want to sell a squaw and warrant her to be sound and gentle. She don’t look like it by any means, as she is bow legged and has a vicious look in her little snake eyes. They can’t see why the boys won’t buy her as they only want ten dollars for her. “The noble red man”. Give my regards to all my friends and Dora especially. Now Mame, dont forget a fellow because he is almost out of the world, but write often and all the foolishness you can, dont get mad and throw this away before you finish reading, and the next – - and bring to the amen, sooner. Remember me as your old friend, and overlook my inconsistencies, bad spelling and scribbling, as they are only errors of the head. Don’t delay your answer”.

Item #MA94
Price: $1500.00