A Call to Glory: The Last US Cavalry Campaign

Paul Colt

Paul Colt

I’m pleased to have Paul Colt return to this site this month. Paul, who hopefully needs no introduction by now, has a new book out.  Boots and Saddles:  A Call to Glory has had a splendid review in Publisher’s Weekly:  “Colt’s novel is hyped as a story about George Patton’s early career as a cavalry officer in the U.S. Army, but really is much more. The Patton angle is certainly interesting, but it’s Colt’s sweeping and historically vivid portrayal of the punitive expedition, American and Mexican relations, and German double-dealing that really makes this novel an exciting and stunning success.”  Let’s hear more:

PAUL COLT:

I’ve observed in these pages in the past once in a while historical research can uncover a little known circumstance or event lost in our conscious recollection. I call it “unexpected history.” It may be an oxymoron but I love that premise for a book. You know the synopsis conversation you have at a cocktail party that elicits the response: ‘I had no idea.’ One of those discoveries gave rise to the book I call Boots and Saddles: A Call to Glory.BootsAndSaddles email Cover-2

I stumbled on it reading Jeff Shaara’s book on the Normandy invasion, Steel Wave. In his book, Shaara made a background reference to Patton having served under John J. Pershing in his pursuit of Pancho Villa. I remembered reading something about Pershing and Villa, but I was surprised to learn Patton played a part in it. We have this iconic image of Patton as famously portrayed by George C. Scott. The Shaara line suggested a young George Patton, unknown before he became that icon. You had Patton, Pershing and Villa, three compelling characters, together in a dusty corner of history. I had to take a deeper dive.

What I discovered was a fascinating story—two stories really. The first is the turning point that saved young Patton’s military career. We very nearly lost one of our most consequential World War II military leaders to the frustrations of a mid-career crisis. The second story is nothing less than the end of an era, the last United States Cavalry campaign. What a wonderful combination. It’s a story that had to be told.

Patton_at_VMI_1907In 1913, George Patton is a thirty year old cavalry officer. He is a West Point graduate and the Army’s first Saber Master. He is a nineteenth century warrior, facing the emerging realities of twentieth century warfare. He has served long past his junior officer time in grade, and remains the lowly Second Lieutenant he was commissioned out of the academy. A man of action, he is shuffled from one staff job to another with no line assignment to give chance for promotion. His vision of a glorious military career is fading with each passing year.

Patton married his adolescent sweetheart. Beatrice Ayer Patton is the love of his life, yet the life he gives her as a junior officer’s wife is a hard one. They move from one remote post to the next, subsisting on low wages and bare essential living conditions. A girl accustomed to privilege, ‘Beat’ bears all of it with little complaint, yet she sees her husband’s growing frustration and wonders where all of this leads.

The outbreak of war in Europe deepens Patton’s frustration. President Woodrow Wilson proclaims America neutral. The president stands passively by in the face of German aggression. Patton receives something of a reprieve when he is assigned to the Eighth Cavalry at Fort Bliss, El Paso, Texas. The Eighth is one of five cavalry regiments, under the command of Brigadier General John J. Pershing, deployed to secure the Mexican border against the threat of 2401pershingrevolutionary hostilities crossing into the U.S.

El Paso is another dusty disappointment for Beatrice. The dreary reality of military life is punctuated by long periods of separation that weigh on the young couple. Increasingly, reason leads to the conclusion that the glorious career George envisions is slipping away. The only prudent course would be to resign his commission in favor of some civilian pursuit.

In March 1916, Pancho Villa raids Columbus, New Mexico. President Wilson orders a Punitive Expedition to bring the revolutionary bandit to justice. Pershing is given command. He prepares to lead the Seventh, Tenth, Eleventh and Thirteenth cavalry regiments into Mexico on what will become the last United States Cavalry campaign. Patton and the Eighth will stand rear guard. Patton refuses to be left behind. He boldly argues his way onto Pershing’s staff.

Pershing mounts an aggressive campaign to apprehend Villa under difficult mountainous conditions. Patton confronts twentieth century warfare first hand. Reconnaissance and communications, traditional cavalry missions, are usurped by the Army’s fledgling air service and the marvel promise of wireless communications. Modern ballistics render the cavalry obsolete as a fighting force. Mexican federal forces repeatedly crush Villa’s signature cavalry charge. Patton’s beloved saber is useless against such firepower. He views these developments with a wary eye that sees no place for his training in this twentieth century military.

Pershing recognizes the young man’s frustration. He knows the army is ill-prepared for the coming conflict in Europe. It will need officers of young Patton’s stripe. The General extends a mentor’s hand to encourage the young officer. He assures Patton that “Time and invention” will lead him to new purpose.

On a routine supply mission, Patton sees an opportunity to search a suspected Villa hideout. He turns his supply operation into a mechanized assault that flushes out elements of Villa’s elite Dorado guard. In the firefight that follows, he has the opportunity to test himself in combat. He is pleased by the result and takes comfort in knowing he has the metal for field command.

Villa and battlefield success elude Pershing’s forces. Politics reduce the Punitive Expedition to the blunt instrument of a clumsy diplomacy. The last United States cavalry campaign fails to achieve its objective. As the storied American horse soldier passes into the pages of history, the United States prepares to enter the war in Europe. Pershing is given command of the American Expeditionary Force. He takes, now Captain, Patton with him. A new cavalry is born out of that conflict. A warrior emerges who will lead an armored cavalry to glory in the two great wars that follow.George_S._Patton_-_France_-_1918

And so we find Patton, Pershing and Villa together in a dusty corner of history. Who knew? Most don’t. Some may suggest the story isn’t a western. It most certainly is. It takes place in the west. Every other western cavalry campaign qualified, certainly the last must. Oh, and that shootout with the Dorado guards, Wyatt Earp would have approved of young Patton, blazing away with his signature single action Colt revolver. There’s a story behind that too. You can find it in Boots and Saddles: A Call to Glory, brought to you by Five Star Publishing. It’s available at fine booksellers everywhere. How’s that for shameless self-promotion?

Thanks, Andi.

Paul Colt

***********************************************************************

Paul has very kindly offered to give away one hardcover copy of Boots and Saddles: A Call to Glory to one person, randomly chosen, who leaves a comment. Winner will be announced on or about the 23rd Jan. For further info on this and Paul’s other books, please go to http://www.paulcolt.com    

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30 responses to “A Call to Glory: The Last US Cavalry Campaign

  1. OK, Andrea, looks like it works now!
    In 1972, when I was just turned 18, I volunteered to work in a political HQ for an afternoon – and it was a very quiet office. The only other volunteer was an elderly man who said that he was in his nineties (although he looked to be in his sixties and pretty fit at that) and to pass the time, he started talking about his life. I was a history freak even then, and I hung on every word. He had grown up in Montana (IIRC) and in a very rural district. He was sent to school on horseback – but he was too small to mount the horse himself at first, so his father would lift him into the saddle, slap the horse on the rump and the horse would take him to school. The schoolteacher would lift him down at the school – and at the end of the day, reverse the process.
    He wound up enlisting in the US Army before WWI, serving in the cavalry – when that meant – cavalry, as with horses. He was also on the expedition into Mexico, hunting for Pancho Villa, and then he was sent to France with the AEF… suddenly his commander called him into the office, handed him a set of lieutenant’s bars and told him that he was now an officer and gentleman.
    I so wish that I had taken notes, or recorded something, or at least asked more questions, as I have nothing now but memory to go on.
    I wrote about Pancho Villa’s raid on Columbus on my own book blog – here
    http://www.celiahayes.com/archives/357

  2. Celia,
    Thanks for sharing a great story. The conditions the Punitive Expedition faced were pretty tough, so your gentleman probably had a pocket full of stories. The image that sticks out for me is a Seventh cavalry column crossing a mountain pass in the midst of a winter storm. The trail was so bad and the visibility so poor that the troopers had to dismount and lead their horses by holding on to the tail of the horse in front of them. As I sit here looking at seven below and listening to forecasts of minus ten and fifteen for the weekend I don’t think that march would be much fun.

  3. I love the term “Unexpected History”. Finding a nugget of a fact and chasing it to flesh out the total story is fascinating. Jim and I are anxious to read your latest story “Boots and Saddles: A Call to Glory”. It is always wonderful to be entertained while still learning. Thank you for doing such awesome research.

  4. Paul, that snapshot time in American and Texas history you write about has always fascinated me. I envy your skill at capturing little known surprises and then fleshing them out to a wonderful read. Best of luck with the book.

  5. Peggy,
    Thanks for the comment. Those little nuggets don’t come along every day, but when you find one it can very often lead to something special. Hopefully Boots and Saddles will be one of those.

  6. Karen,
    Thanks for the kind words. I was a little nervous about the early twentieth century time period. Like young Patton, I’m more comfortable writing in the nineteenth century. In the end, the change of pace was refreshing and the research into things like specifications for the M1913 cavalry saber and the controls on a Curtis Jenny biplane proved fascinating.

  7. Curiously enough, some military historians have it that the expedition chasing after Pancho Villa was a kind of shakedown cruise – or a really, really challenging real-bullets war exercise for the US Army, especially the officer corps, and useful to them for providing experience with motorized transport and aerial reconnaissance. Lessons were learned, and thoughtful officers put them into practice.
    I did a book event a couple of years ago in Abilene, Texas – the West Texas Book & Music Festival – where Scott Zesch was one of the keynote speakers. (He had a wonderful book, The Captured, about white children taken by the Comanche in the 1860s and 1870s, who wound up identifying so thoroughly with their captors that they never were able to reconnect with their real families when they were returned to them. I used this situation in one of my own books in the Adelsverein Trilogy) He did a talk about how going back and looking at real people, and real documented history would provide so many thrilling and astounding stories – stories which were relatively unknown. This was, I think, one of the wonderful things about writing historical fiction – there are just so many great stories out there! All you have to do is go and dig around a little. And they are right there, crying to have books made out of them – books like this!

    • celia,
      Thanks for the comment. The ‘War games’ perspective on the Punitive Expedition sounds good in hindsight because as events unfolded that’s about all that was accomplished. I doubt that was deliberate policy. President Wilson was running for reelection on the platform ‘He kept us out of war.’ He got pressured into going after Villa because the border states we angry over the lack of border security. (Sound familiar?) He needed the electoral votes. The military did learn that we were totally unprepared to enter the war in Europe. One interesting question is what made Wilson change his mind in the face of a total lack of military preparedness? My sense is he wanted a seat at the table when the victors formed the League of Nations and drew the outlines of a new world order.

      • Possibly, Wilson was also pressured by popular opinion regarding various shenanigans carried on by the German secret agencies in the US. There was a lot of sabotage carried out against shipping out of east coast ports… and then there was the Zimmerman telegram. At the beginning of the war, I think Americans were pretty well split; there was an anglophile element all in favor of the English and French, and a pretty substantial German and Irish ethnic component sympathetic to Germany/Austria. But German conduct through out the first years began to whittle away that sympathy, until finally Wilson didn’t have a patch of neutrality to stand on.

      • The Germans were busy in Mexico too, playing both Caranza and Villa at various times, depending on which one they thought might provoke war with the United States. All in all a fascinatingly complex chapter in our history. I remember my American history course covering the start of WW I with the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand. It makes me wonder how much of our history is being lost to educational neglect.

      • We’re probably loosing a lot of our history through educational neglect – but I believe there is a lot of amateur and self-directed interest bubbling away outside of the official educational organs, so we’re winning ground in that respect. Look at how popular history reenactment groups are; there are people who are passionately interested in historical events. I write historical novels as a way to teach people painlessly by making a ripping good yarn out of it – and I’ve met so many other people in the course of doing book talks and events who are also passionately interested.

      • Celia, keep writing those “ripping good yarns.”

      • Thanks, Paul – and I am working on the next one right this very minute. It started as a joking comment on a blog, about the recent disastrous Lone Ranger movie. I suggested that the only possible way to re-boot the franchise was to remove all the easily-identifiable bits (the mask, the silver bullets, etc, but keep the Lone Ranger guiding principles) and move it back in time to the 1840s. Make the hero a Ranger who survived an ambush, joined forces with a Delaware Indian scout, and roamed Texas sorting out … things. Make it more a YA adventure, with a series of shorter mysteries and adventures aimed towards boys. And one more thing – I’m posting chapters as I write them on my own blog, for suggestions and feedback. I’d welcome any western enthusiast to take a look.

      • Celia,
        That is a great concept for a series! I toyed with the idea of trying something YA but never pursued it. I got the thought while preparing to give a talk to a group of at risk middle schoolers for the theraputic riding stable where I do some volunteer work. They asked me to talk to the kids about the Cowboy Code, so I did some research. Turns out there isn’t one cowboy code, there are a bunch of them. Going back to the 1950’s Lone Ranger TV series, the Lone Ranger had his own version of the cowboy code or code of the west as some prefer. I thought the cowboy code might make an interesting platform for a YA short novel series. If you’re interested in the cowboy code, I’d be happy to share what I learned.

      • Sure – I’d like all the feedback I can get for this. I truly want to write something that would engage boys, especially middle-school age. There is so little out there for them, after Harry Potter. Something that would encourage boys to be heroes, be adventurous, be chivalrous … but to rise above fear, and to do the right thing.

        I’m writing it as a series of short self-contained episodes, mixing in real people and events as much as possible. It’s lighter in tone than my usual – and rather easier to write, although the research into specific events and personalities is still there.

        And I welcome any input – which is why I am putting the first drafts out there.

  8. Curiously enough, some military historians have it that the expedition chasing after Pancho Villa was a kind of shakedown cruise – or a really, really challenging real-bullets war exercise for the US Army, especially the officer corps, and useful to them for providing experience with motorized transport and aerial reconnaissance. Lessons were learned, and thoughtful officers put them into practice.
    I did a book event a couple of years ago in Abilene, Texas – the West Texas Book & Music Festival – where Scott Zesch was one of the keynote speakers. (He had a wonderful book, The Captured, about white children taken by the Comanche in the 1860s and 1870s, who wound up identifying so thoroughly with their captors that they never were able to reconnect with their real families when they were returned to them. I used this situation in one of my own books in the Adelsverein Trilogy) He did a talk about how going back and looking at real people, and real documented history would provide so many thrilling and astounding stories – stories which were relatively unknown. This was, I think, one of the wonderful things about writing historical fiction – there are just so many great stories out there! All you have to do is go and dig around a little. And they are right there, crying to have books made out of them – books like this!

  9. Not only has Paul discovered this exciting moment in Western history, but his style and approach are superb. He writes with the kind of flare and excellence our “Marilyn Brown Novel Award” committee at Utah Valley University is looking for (UVU.edu/english/marilynbrown). He won the thousand dollar award for Western literature without hesitation. He is also a gentleman, and we have enjoyed keeping in touch with him and learning of his great reviews and other successes.

  10. Just the sort of story I love. Thank you for finding and bringing to life a piece of history that had been lost. Looking forward to this one. Doris

  11. This made for some good reading, Paul and Andi. Paul piqued my interest when he wrote “once in a while historical research can uncover a little known circumstance or event lost in our conscious recollection. I call it “unexpected history.” I love that part of historical research! It’s both a surprise and a delight when I find these nuggets, too, and they eventually wangle their way into my own stories. And I love when authors talk about their experiences with their own “unexpected history” tidbits.

    I thought this post about George Patton and “Beat” was mightily fascinating. Paul has done his research and it shows in this piece about the frustrations Patton endured in his early military career. It takes a genuine history lover to dissect the pieces of Patton’s fortitude he experienced at the end of one century and the beginning of another newer one, combining all this into a compelling read.

    I also enjoyed Celia Hayes’ input to this discussion. Boots & Saddles is on my TBR list!

    • Alice, thank you for the comment. Finding those nuggets is a little bit like prospecting for gold. They’re out there. They don’t all make for a book, but you can sure deposit them in the right place for the reader.

  12. Great post, Paul. Fascinating glimpse into a little known but important piece of the puzzle that is the past. I hung on your every word. The father of my best friend in high school drove a jeep for Patton during WW11. At one point, when neither of them were in the jeep, it was blown up. I wonder if this famous Patton is descended from the Ulster Scots (Scots-Irish) by that name who settled in the Shenandoah Valley and surrounding mountains in the early-mid 1700’s. I have family ties to these early families.

  13. Sounds interesting, Paul. I never thought about a back story for Patton . I guess I thought he arrived to do battle fully formed. :-) I enjoyed your Union Pacific story, Case File something, I’ve forgotten what, and thought I’d look for more, but you know how it is, so many books, so little time. Thanks for jarring my memory and my interest in another of your books. I love Celia Hayes idea for a book for boys. I’ll have to check out her website.

    • Eunice,
      Thanks for your comment. Patton was an interesting character as a general officer in his later years. Discovering the path he followed to become that character certainly appealed to me. Hopefully the story will appeal to others, whether you think of him as a western character or not.

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