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Dakota Cowboy Soldier


The Lake Region Pioneer Daughters have published a booklet called The Cowboy Soldier, which contains letters written by Michael Vetter to his brother in Pittsburgh. Vetter was a soldier in the 7th Cavalry stationed at Fort Totten. Today, we bring you excerpts of three letters written in January of 1876, which were translated from German.

January 1

Dear Brother, I wish you and your family a happy and healthy New Year! I am all right and well. Christmas we had good time and plenty to eat. Our Diningroom was decorated with Flags - we even danced after the Dinner. Since there are no girls on the Fort some of our men dressed as girls and the Dance went on with lots of fun.

Dear Brother, some sad case happened some time ago – 3 of our men wandered off from the Fort to buy some whiskey. They bought the whiskey all right, – but the guys didn't come home – so a 6 men patrol went out to look for them. They found them too – all three men frozen to death. We have Pay Day every 2 months. The clothes bill comes every 6 months. My bill so far run up to 19 dollar. Some guys have as much as 100 dollar in bills. Next month I will be able to send you some money. I smoke a pipe that is the cheapest anyhow - one cigar cost 10 cent and they are no good for the money - but some of our men smoking them anyhow...

8 miles from here is a Lake called the “Devils Lake.” The Indians gave him that name - since so many Indians drowned in there. The Lake has an Island. We can see it from our Fort. One time a sail boat went out to explore the Island - it didn't come back neither...

January 9, 1876

Dear Brother, ...we have good warm clothes and plenty good food. My blue overcoat covers even my face. The buffalo shoes which cost 3 dollar are warm on the feet. Blanket cost 6 dollar, - but a shirt is only 60 cent. My clothes bill last month was 7 dollar.

Dear Brother, Canada is 80 miles away from here. We were last week all the soldiers disinfected for sanitary reason. The temperature is sometime -30 degrees -40 degrees zero. The Fort is built in 2 floors, brick walls, hospital, Officer quarters, bakery warehouse, 3 horse barns with 65-70 horses, 4 rooms, 15 men per room. The rooms are 36 feet long and have a big stove for heating. Outside in the middle of yard is the Flagstand - from there is always the Red, White and Blue waving. A full set uniform cost 15 dollar. We go on guard in the night for 2 hours and daytime the sentry duty is 4 hours.

16 January, 1876

Dear Brother, I like to tell you how we sleep... each has a bunk with straw mattress 3-4 blanket to hold you warm, in middle is a big stove, a table with benches. Right now we have very little to do except in the evening we have to take care of the horses. Each soldier besides having a horse has to take care of a gun, a pistol, a sabre, prairie-knife.

Dear Brother could you send me a German printed newspaper. I'll pay you all what the expenses are. We have a tat of time on hand, enough to read a paper...When I look all the way around it is stark wilderness like the story you were once reading from Russia...

Your Brother Michael Vetter

In March, Vetter posted his last letter to his brother as he joined Custer’s troops in Fort Lincoln. He died three months later at the Little Big Horn.