Give Me Eighty Men
Women and the Myth of the Fetterman Fight
Shannon D. Smith
"With eighty men I could ride through the entire Sioux nation." The story of what has become popularly known as the Fetterman Fight, near Fort Phil Kearney in present-day Wyoming in 1866, is based entirely on this infamous declaration attributed to Capt. William J. Fetterman. Historical accounts cite this statement in support of the premise that bravado, vainglory, and contempt for the fort's commander, Col. Henry B. Carrington, compelled Fetterman to disobey direct orders from Carrington and lead his men into a perfectly executed ambush by an alliance of Plains Indians. In the aftermath of the incident, Carrington's superiors including generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman positioned Carrington as solely accountable for the "massacre" by suppressing exonerating evidence. In the face of this betrayal, Carrington's first and second wives came to their husband's defense by publishing books presenting his version of the deadly encounter. Although several of Fetterman's soldiers and fellow officers disagreed with the women's accounts, their chivalrous deference to women's moral authority during this age of Victorian sensibilities enabled Carrington's wives to present their story without challenge. Influenced by these early works, historians focused on Fetterman's arrogance and ineptitude as the sole cause of the tragedy. In Give Me Eighty Men, Shannon D. Smith reexamines the works of the two Mrs. Carringtons in the context of contemporary evidence. No longer seen as an arrogant firebrand, Fetterman emerges as an outstanding officer who respected the Plains Indians' superiority in numbers, weaponry, and battle skills. Give Me Eighty Men both challenges standard interpretations of this American myth and shows the powerful influence of female writers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Shannon D. Smith is the executive director for the Wyoming Humanities Council and an author focusing on women in the West. She taught at Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for seven years.?
"Well-written and thoroughly documented, Give Me Eighty Men offers important new interpretations of the Fetterman Fight and how the myth developed. It is a significant contribution to the literature on the fight and the first months at beleaguered Fort Phil Kearny."?Susan Badger Doyle, South Dakota History
"Thoroughly researched and very well written, Shannon D. Smith's book joins the works of other recent writers, such as Sherry L. Smith, who have found in the writings of officers' wives not only important chronicles of the post-Civil War West, but the testimony to the growing importance of women in the American public sphere."?Ronald Schultz, Great Plains Quarterly
"Smith's depth of research and her ability to present clear and concise information will add significant resources for historians of nineteenth-century women."?Michele Nacy, Western Historical Quarterly