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The Cowboy Soldier


Michael Vetter was a soldier in the 7th Cavalry stationed at Fort Totten. Today, we bring you excerpts of three letters he wrote to his brother in Pittsburgh in January of 1876, which were translated from German.

January 1st he wrote, Dear Brother, I wish you and your family a happy and healthy New Year! … Christmas we had good time and plenty to eat. Our Dining room 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.

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.

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 9th, 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.

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. … We go on guard in the night for 2 hours and daytime the sentry duty is 4 hours.

And on this date, in 1876 he wrote:

Dear Brother, … Right now we have very little to do except in the evening we have to take care of the horses.

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 as he joined Custer’s troops in Fort Lincoln. He died three months later at the Little Big Horn.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm