The Portugee Phillips Ride, the facts and the legend – Sheridan Media


The monument near Fort Phil Kearny

In historical research, it is often difficult to find the true story. Over time, stories are told and repeated like facts, and the facts are often lost in the mists of time. So it is with John’s famous ride, “Portugee” Phillips from Fort Phil Kearny to Fort Laramie after the Fetterman massacre.

Phillips was born Manuel Felipe Cardoso on April 8, 1832, in the Azores. He came to the United States to search for gold and he followed the gold strikes in Montana in 1865. Since he was born in Portugal he has been nicknamed “Portuguese or Portuguese”. In early 1866 he joined a group traveling to the Big Horn Mountains to search for gold. His group arrived at Fort Phil Kearny on September 14, and he was at the fort during the Fetterman fight on December 21.

After Fetterman’s death, Colonel Carrington estimated that the Piney Creek Fort could fall into the hands of the Sioux. Believing it was a suicide mission, he asked for volunteers to venture into the blizzard and subzero temperatures and travel to Fort Laramie to bring in a rescue force.

Phillips and another man volunteered for the ride. Both were dressed in buffalo coats, heavy hats, boots and gloves, and armed with Spencer rifles, pistols, and ammunition.

They went to Fort Reno and stopped briefly to rest and warm up. Lt. Col. Henry Wessells gave Phillips another message to take to Fort Laramie, sending horsemen with them. At Horseshoe Creek Station, near present-day Glendo, a former pony express stop with a telegraph, he rested again and sent a telegram to Fort Laramie. Not trusting the telegram to be delivered and having promised to deliver the dispatch to the fort commander, he got back on his tired horse and continued to cover the last 26 miles to Fort Laramie. He arrived at Bedlam Hall on Christmas Day, where a Christmas ball was in full swing. Cold and exhausted, he handed the dispatches to the Commanding Officer, Colonel Innis Palmer.

The buildings of Fort Laramie were to be a welcome sight

The loyal horse that carried him the 236 miles through -20-degree temperatures, high winds, blowing snow and deep snowdrifts, died hours later. Phillips and the other rider received $ 300 for their ride. Although there is a story that says the ride was outside of his scout duties, Phillips never received the $ 300. Phillips ‘widow later asked Congress for money because of Phillips’ life shortening commute. These are the facts.

However, there are several stories about the famous merry-go-round. In the Kaycee Independent newspaper for March 1917, an article on the Bozeman Trail says this about Phillips volunteering for the mission.

Half the small garrison was now wiped out and ammunition was low. The cold was intense, but Fort Laramie must be made aware of the sad situation and a miner who was there, taking Colonel Carrington’s horse, traveled the 236 miles of Indian infested country, riding nights and days in hiding, reached Fort Laramie on Christmas night when reinforcements were dispatched.

This article referred to the fact that Phillips had taken the colonel’s horse, which has been disputed by some historians. In another article it is said that the horse was named “Gray Eagle”, another gave the horse the name “Dandy”. In a Laramie Boomerang article from June 2, 1903, the horse had no name but said this:

Colonel Carrington, believing that the The Indians would try to capture the Fort, called for volunteers to come to Fort Larame for reinforcements. A “Portuguese” citizen Phillips by Last name offered to make the attempt on condition that he is allowed to choose his mount. This was granted, asd he chooses the commander’s horse, a magnificent black thoroughbred, on which he reaches its destination safely.

Wyoming National Guard 94th Troop Command crest in honor of Portugee Phillips

Historian Bob Wilson, in his recent speech on the Fetterman fight, was asked about the Phillips ride. Wilson said Carrington lost his horse to alkali poisoning earlier in the year, and Phillips and the other man took the two best remaining horses at the fort.

Wilson added that the horses at the fort were in an extremely weakened condition. If Phillips and the other rider took “the two best horses in the fort,” Phillips’ horse must have been in better condition than the others to make the trip. Even if it was not Carrington’s favorite horse, the officers would ride the best horses in the fort, so no doubt the horse ridden by Phillips could have been “Carrington’s mount”.

But whatever. Whether the horse is a “magnificent black thoroughbred” or a sturdy little mustang, the fact remains that the horse, as much if not more than Phillips, deserves to be recognized for having transported the rider safely for the ride. 236 mile trip in extreme winter conditions. . With sub-zero temperatures, blowing snow and deep snowdrifts, it must have been a nightmare trip.

Plaque near Fort Laramie

Here is a version of The Wheatland World story from January 5, 1900, when the newspaper ran an article about Phillips’ widow, Hattie, who approached Congress to receive payment for her husband’s service.

Fort Phil Kearny was taken over by the Sioux, who had suddenly risen in the dead of winter. A detachment of troops, under the command of Colonel Fetterman. came out and was cut and killed to the last man after making a desperate resistance until all of their ammo was gone.

The brave of Red Cloud outnumbered the garrison twenty times. An attack was expected every hour and the women and children begged to be placed in the powder magazine and blown up if the attack seemed to have any chance of success, so that they could escape the fate that would be theirs if the attack was to be successful. fort was captured.

There was no hope of repelling the Indians unless outside help, and the outside world ignored the siege of the fort. Phillips volunteered to make the attempt. With a few biscuits for rations, he leaves the fort at midnight and makes his way through the Indians. It was a desperate five-day ride through a land inhabited by white men but teeming with Indians. He moved around at night, and during the day he had to go into hiding. The thermometer was 23 degrees below zero. When Phillips reached Fort Laramie, he fell from an unconscious horse, throwing his dispatches at the feet of the sentry. A force was dispatched from Fort Laramie, and Fort Phil Kearny was relieved just in time.

Former Bedlam Hall, Fort Laramie

Phillips’ story isn’t over when he arrives at the fort. For years, the Sioux harassed him and killed his cattle on his ranch near Chugwater.

In The Wheatland World, January 5, 1900. The rest of Phillip’s life was spent dodging the Indians, who held him responsible for the failed attack on the fort and made several attempts to capture and kill him. At one point, he was lassoed and dragged, but managed to escape. Once again, a band of Indians destroyed their cattle. Phillips obtained a judgment of $ 2,210 from the claims court. But it turned out that Phillips at the time was not a fully naturalized citizen and the claim could not be paid. He was a government scout and received $ 300 for various services as such, but his trip to Fort Laramie was not part of his duties as a scout, and he never received payment for it.

Phillips died on November 18, 1883 at the age of 51. Eventually, his widow, Hattie, received a large sum for her husband’s sacrifice. In the same article cited above, it is written: Relief for a hero’s widow. The New York Times reports on the measure recently introduced in Congress by Representative Mondell, of that state: A bill is now pending in Congress for the relief of Hattie A. Phillips, widow of John Phillips. Two eons and two congresses failed to pass similar bills, but it is believed that the renewed patriotic enthusiasm brought about by the war, will secure the passage of this one especially, as there is a desire to honor heroes. John Phillips was the man who made the famous ride from Fort Phil Kearney to Fort Laramie at the start of the Sioux plague many years ago. Although the difficulties of his journey shattered his health and resulted in his untimely death, he never received anything from the government.

Thirty-four years after the famous Phillips ride in 1900, Hattie received the $ 5,000. (That’s about $ 150,000 in cash today.) The couple had five children but four are deceased. The remaining son was named Paul Revere Phillips, after the famous hero of the War of Independence.

Hattie Phillips used some of the money to erect a monument to her husband in Lakeview Cemetery in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where it still stands today. There is also a monument to Phillips not far from Fort Phil Kearny, and a plaque in Fort Laramie honoring Phillips and his mount.

Grave of John Phillips in Cheyenne


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