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All Because of a Mormon Cow: Historical Accounts of the Grattan Massacre, 1854-1855

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On August 19, 1854, U.S. Army lieutenant John L. Grattan led a detachment of twenty-nine soldiers and one civilian interpreter to a large Lakota encampment near Fort Laramie to arrest an Indian man accused of killing a Mormon emigrant’s cow. The terrible series of events that followed, which became known as the Grattan Massacre, unleashed the opening volley in the First Sioux War—and marked the beginning of a generation of Indian warfare on the Great Plains. All Because of a Mormon Cow tells, for the first time, the full story of this seminal event in the history of the American West.

Where previous accounts of the Grattan Massacre have made do with limited primary sources, this volume includes eighty contemporary, annotated accounts of the fight and its aftermath, many newly discovered or recovered from obscurity. Recorded when the events were fresh in their narrators’ memories, these documents bring a sense of immediacy to a story more than a century and a half old. Alongside the voices heard here—of the Indian leaders Little Thunder and Big Partisan, of Mormons from passing emigrant trains, and of government officials charged with investigating the massacre, among many others—the editors include a substantial and thorough introduction that underscores the significance of the Grattan Massacre in all its depth and detail.

All Because of a Mormon Cow offers a better understanding even as it evokes the drama of a highly controversial episode in the history of relations between Indians and non-Indians in the American West.

ISBN-13: 9780806161532

Media Type: Hardcover

Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press

Publication Date: 11-22-2018

Pages: 240

Product Dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

John D. McDermott (1935–2016) was a historian and administrator with the National Park Service and the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. His numerous published books and articles on the American West include Red Cloud’s War: The Bozeman Trail, 1866–1868. R. Eli Paul heads the Missouri Valley Special Collections at the Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri. He is the author of Blue Water Creek and the First Sioux War, 1854–1856, coauthor of Eyewitness at Wounded Knee, and editor of the Autobiography of Red Cloud: War Leader of the Oglalas. Sandra J. Lowry (1943–2016) was a librarian for more than thirty years in the Research Library at the Fort Laramie National Historic Site.

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The French Armies have no communication and one army no knowledge of the position or circumstances in which the other is placed; whereas I have a knowledge of all that passes on all sides.


The intelligence that Wellington found so useful during the Peninsular War was collected by agents who reported to Charles Stuart, the British minister in Lisbon, and Henry Wellesley, the British ambassador to Spain and coincidentally Wellington's younger brother. Stuart and Wellesley coordinated British government resources to orchestrate a network of agents that spanned the Iberian Peninsula. That Wellington was able to benefit from this intelligence was a unique circumstance. First of all, it was rare for a British commanding officer to have his headquarters in such close proximity to a British diplomat in an allied court; but more generally, and prosaically, the apparatus of British intelligence collection and information management was not designed for such immediate sharing with military personnel: Stuart reported to the Foreign Office, Wellington took his orders from the War Office. Only a few years prior to the outbreak of the Peninsular War, the two departments hardly shared the information at their disposal. Wellington was lucky that Stuart was willing to bend the rules to support the British campaigns in the Peninsula. The evolution of Whitehall's information management is a crucial indicator of the challenges and difficulties Wellington faced in getting reliable intelligence on which to base his decisions.

To describe British intelligence organization as amateur during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars would be a generous assessment. Frequently ad hoc and almost always late, the main organs of intelligence collection during Britain's struggle with France were her diplomats, housed in embassies throughout Europe. Their intelligence was frequently derived from court gossip, and occasionally also from a network of locally recruited agents. The focus of the intelligence was the political stability, military preparedness, and likely courses of action of the governments of their host countries. This intelligence system prompted Richard Glover, writing in 1963, to describe it as "Cyclopean," because, at the moment of greatest necessity — the outbreak of war — it was blinded, as said diplomats boxed their possessions and hurriedly departed enemy territory.

These diplomats reported directly to the Foreign Office, but the Foreign Office was not the only office of state with the capacity to spend money on secret intelligence collection. In 1782, under the terms of the Pay Office Act, all secretaries of state were granted the right to spend state money on intelligence collection. As a result, the Home Secretary, and, following the creation of a separate Secretary of State in 1794, the War Office, as well as the Admiralty, all organized some sort of intelligence-gathering effort on the Continent. The degree to which each secretary spent the resources at his disposal varied from department to department, while these offices also proved poor cooperators, as the various secretaries preferred to "intrigue against each other, rather than agitate for a more sensible organization;" many blind giants are as useless as a solitary one.

Formal intelligence networks organized and controlled by government departments only account for a fraction of the information that was received in Whitehall during wartime. Snippets of intelligence can be found in almost all the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century government correspondence, but there is limited, if any, evidence of organization. This suggests that, at the beginning of the French Revolutionary War, formal intelligence networks were in fact the weakest state organs for the collection of intelligence. In reality, a widespread array of informal mechanisms existed, which provided the British government with large amounts of information of varying reliability and usefulness. These mechanisms had existed in various forms for centuries. Rather than a blind Cyclops, Whitehall was more akin to a rabid arachnid, seizing upon whatever information came its way. Over the course of the first fifteen years of the Great War with France, British intelligence collection grew better equipped to deal with the plethora of information with which it was presented.

In the eyes of British ministers, the outbreak of revolution in France created a new threat to the British constitutional monarchy that strongly resembled many previous dangers. British interest in the collection of intelligence tended to peak at times of national crises, when threats to the crown, the state, or the nation were apparent. During the reign of Elizabeth I, Francis Walsingham, "the greatest master of intelligence in the age," built networks of informants to combat Catholic plots to depose the queen. These networks waxed and waned with the threats they countered. No single intelligence service existed. During the seventeenth century, particularly during the English Civil War, members of the clergy would frequently deal in matters of intelligence. In 1657, the Post Office was established in Britain, but it was not until 1742 that Parliament learned of a Secret Office within the Post Office, which was responsible for the interception, opening, copying, decryption, and translation of foreign diplomatic mail.

Intercepts provided high-value intelligence on enemy intentions and designs throughout the eighteenth century: decryption of French diplomatic mail revealed French plans for the invasion of Britain in 1759. More generally, intercepts gave British policy-makers unrivalled access to the thought processes and intentions of enemies or potential enemies. By the end of the Seven Years' War, however, British success had become its own Achilles' heel. It was quite clear to the other European Great Powers that British code-breakers were reading secret diplomatic mail. Interception continued in colonial America, where the British government made a concerted effort to understand colonial opinion, but in Europe, Charles, 3rd Viscount Townshend was moved to comment that he never wrote "anything, but what I desire the Ministry may see. There is no great skill or dexterity in opening of letters, but such is the fate of this administration that they have managed this affair in such a manner as to lose all advantage by it." As such, critical information stopped being passed by diplomatic mail, and British code-breakers found their products were less and less useful to ministers and policy-makers. Instead, alternative means of espionage were needed, and British intelligence operations in the second half of the eighteenth century began to diversify.

With French support to the Jacobite Risings between 1715 and 1746, semi-permanent agencies were established across Europe, including in Rotterdam, where an agent who went by the pseudonym Le Connû intercepted and copied the correspondence of prominent Jacobite sympathizers. Another agent established contact with François Jaupain, the postmaster at Brussels, in order to "open and send me copies of all letters that come and go ... from all parts of Europe, and whatever else he may apprehend to be of consequence." By 1718, Jaupain had thirty-one European post offices under his direction, including Antwerp, Amsterdam, and The Hague. Simultaneously, British diplomats across Europe set about collecting intelligence on Jacobites. John Dalrymple, 2nd Earl of Stair, while ambassador in Paris, paid, with government approval, for "correspondence and intelligence from the several towns and ports of France concerning the Pretender, the Rebels, and their adherents in these parts." Fragments of the intelligence system that would prove effective during the Napoleonic War were evident in the early eighteenth century, but the networks established by the likes of Jaupain and Stair were unique to those individuals, and existed as long as they survived or remained in post. Replacements brought their own ideas and understanding to the role, if they appreciated the importance of intelligence collection at all.

Intelligence activities were not the exclusive preserve of diplomats, and from the 1740s onwards, British envoys, consuls, and mercantile agents achieved greater success in planting spies close to the heart of enemy governments. George Cressener, who was successively British resident in Liège, Cologne, and Maastricht during the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years' War, maintained a network of agents throughout the Low Countries and northern France, and was able to furnish the British government with intelligence on French military and naval strength, as well as indications of French intentions. The British mercantile agent in Rotterdam, Robert Wolters, seemingly inherited the fragments of the intelligence network developed by Jaupain and forwarded reports on enemy naval strength to London. By the 1780s, Wolters's Dutch wife, Margrete, ran the network, which now extended to include Paris, as well as numerous French ports. As tensions flared between Britain and France, in the period between the American Revolutionary and French Revolutionary Wars, the Wolters network supplied regular intelligence on French naval activities. In Spain, as well, British consuls ran networks of spies and informants, and continued to do so from Portugal during the War of Jenkins' Ear (1739–42). Such networks were of mixed reliability, however, with frequent communications failures and agent disappearances. That said, even as the European powers became aware of Britain's success in the realm of code-breaking and interception, notice was also made of the general quality of Britain's intelligence collection operations. Frederick the Great complained in 1755 that the British were "so well informed that they know my very phrases. Clearly there is no secrecy in the French Court, or a leak."

At the commencement of the French Revolutionary War, then, a considerable wealth of knowledge existed, though of variable practical experience, on how to collect intelligence on enemy policy and military intentions. Moreover, since the end of the American Revolutionary War, Britain had reformed its governmental architecture and created the Foreign and Home Offices in 1782, replacing the anachronistic Northern and Southern Offices. At the same time, a new act of Parliament specifically legalized the use of public money for the "Secret Service." The Foreign Office was responsible for the formal collection of intelligence, while the Home Office established a more informal network of informants, principally focused on maintaining Britain's domestic security. Diplomats could now organize and administer intelligence-collection and espionage networks not only in their country of residence but in neighboring countries as well. This latter point is often overlooked, because in wartime the "Third Country" system became important: with no diplomats in France, the British government became reliant on her diplomats in the Low Countries and Germany, for the maintenance of intelligence networks in France itself. Between 1784 and 1792, government expenditure on the "Secret Service" averaged at £25,000 per annum, and through this budgetary trail, historians have been able to assemble a fragmentary understanding of the networks established by British diplomats in Europe.

In France, the new British ambassador, John Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset, was specifically instructed to determine the nature of French intentions toward India, the extent of any treaties between France and other European nations, and the quality of ships of war in French ports. Dorset set about achieving these instructions by recruiting a number of spies, some of whom turned out to be unreliable, and possibly double-agents; others, though, were extremely useful. One, an artillery captain at Versailles, was described as the "golden key to the ports of this country." In Brussels, meanwhile, a fragmented intelligence network existed that maintained surveillance of the French border and kept up communications with agents in Paris and other French cities. Claims were made in 1787 on the Secret Service fund for excursions to the "Frontier ... to watch the French Army, at that time said to be under orders to march into Holland."

The primary focus for British intelligence activities was the French navy, however. Philippe d'Auvergne was but one example of a British naval officer who supplied the Admiralty with detailed and reliable intelligence. In the late 1780s, he commanded the frigate Narcissus, and reconnoitered the French coast between St. Malo and Le Havre, providing valuable information on the attempts to construct a deep-water port at Cherbourg. Prior to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, he toured the maritime provinces of France, establishing contacts in the major ports. These contacts formed the foundation of a network of agents throughout France, with whom d'Auvergne remained in contact when he was appointed to command the gunboat flotilla defending the Channel Islands from 1794. In October of that year, John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, then First Lord of the Admiralty, "strongly represented to Mr Pitt [prime minister] and Mr [Henry] Dundas [secretary for war] the infinite benefit that would result, from the communication with the continent being exclusively lodged in [d'Auvergne's] hands."

Over the course of the next fifteen years, d'Auvergne maintained a large network of agents, on the coast and in the interior of France, that did much to enhance governmental knowledge of primarily naval, but also of general military, affairs within France. He had a regular supply of intelligence on the activities of each of the important French-controlled ports from L'Orient to the Texel, reporting any sign of French naval activity to the nearest signaling station on the English coast. D'Auvergne's accounts highlight the multilayered nature of the intelligence-gathering organization. Each agent communicated with a number of correspondents, who, in turn, had several informants of their own. Up to 1808, this intelligence network was extremely productive, with agents reporting on naval activities in the major ports on the French coast, most importantly Brest. The French were aware of d'Auvergne's intelligence activities and in 1798 considered attacking the Channel Islands purely in order to destroy the base of the network. D'Auvergne also established links with royalists in western France and was able to supply them with weaponry and specie. However, on the capture of one of his main agents, Noel François Prigent, the network, known as La Correspondance, was dismantled by the French authorities, as Prigent exposed his fellow agents in a vain attempt to prevent his own execution.

As well as proactive intelligence collection, d'Auvergne engaged in counterintelligence activities. After the failure of the third French invasion of Portugal, d'Auvergne distributed propaganda leaflets such as Les Campagnes du Portugal, 1810–1811, the contents of which were designed to encourage discontent within France by highlighting French suffering in Spain and Portugal. D'Auvergne's intelligence network is illustrative of the typical organization adopted at the end of the eighteenth century. He acted as a regional hub of intelligence collection, with most information gathered on the French coast and interior passed through his hands before being forwarded to the government.

As can be seen, then, d'Auvergne's intelligence network, and those of his peers elsewhere in European capitals, mainly comprised men of humble birth engaging in espionage in return for payment. The intelligence from such sources, however, was inherently limited, as, with the exception of a chance circumstance, these individuals rarely had access to the inner workings of the French government. Discussion about foreign policy and military planning took place within a close-knit inner circle of advisors, close to the French king. Such a community might seem to be impenetrable, but the advisors were frequently in competition with one another, and as Jeremy Black has pointed out, "the debates about foreign policy were intertwined with struggles over power, patronage and domestic factional considerations and this made it possible for foreign individuals to find allies in divided courts and ministries." In 1789, and more so after the execution of Louis XVI in 1793, this avenue to the inner workings of the French government might have seemed to be permanently closed to British diplomats, but in reality, was embodied in exile in London in the comité français. Ostensibly organized to keep an eye on French royalist refugees in Britain, earning the sobriquet comité de surveillance, in fact large numbers of Louis XVI's former ministers played significant roles in the comité, affording Whitehall with access to unrivalled knowledge of French foreign and military policy-making processes.


Excerpted from "Spying for Wellington"
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations,
1. Blind Cyclops? Britain's Intelligence System in the Eighteenth Century,
2. The House of Cards: Arthur Wellesley, the Development of Military Intelligence, and the Origins of the Peninsular War,
3. Diplomats as Spymasters: Agent and Spy Networks in Spain and Portugal,
4. Wellington's Military Intelligence Network,
5. Intelligence and the Retreat to Torres Vedras, 1809–1810,
6. Stalemate and Intelligence Development in 1811,
7. The Limitations of Intelligence: The Invasion of Spain, 1812,
8. Tactical and Topographical Intelligence: Wellington's Mapmakers and the Vitoria Campaign, 1813–1814,
Epilogue: Waterloo and Beyond,