Private George McAllister

Fifth Iowa Volunteer Cavalry

The following account of McAllister's life was researched and written by Scott Swan, one of his clearly gifted descendants. It originally appeared in MacAlasdair Clan, the journal of Clan McAlister of America.

George M. McAllister of Mayfield, New York

George M. McAllister was born in Mayfield, New York about 1827 (1) into a family of farmers. Life took him from home as a young man and showed him a remarkable portion of America. He was witness to four years of the Civil War as a cavalryman. After the war he worked on ranches in Kansas and Oklahoma Territory (2) during the time of the great cattle drives from Texas to the railheads in Kansas. He also lived in a mining camp in the Colorado Rockies (3). His life ended in Arizona Territory in 1885 when he was killed by "renegade" Apaches (4). Experiences like his are an important part of our American folklore. They have had a significant effect on who we are or, more to the point, who we imagine ourselves to be.

Charles McAllister, Jr. of Mayfield and his wife Charlotte migrated to DeKalb County, Illinois before 1850. They are listed in the census for that year as the only residents of a home in South Grove Township (5). In a short time Charles was joined by kinsmen. The families of Charles and James McAllister were sharing a house in Kingston Township, DeKalb County when the Illinois State census was taken in 1855 (6). Charles Jr.'s elder brother J. C. married Orilla Palmer on November 3, 1853 (7) and George McAllister married Miss Elenor E. Rowen on May 28, 1857 (8). Charles (9) and J. C. (10) were sons of Charles and Thankful McAllister. Charles, Sr. was born in Ireland (11) about 1792; his wife was born in New York State (12) two years later.

Charles and Thankful McAllister had at least five children, J. C., Charles, William, Julia and Edward. George would fit nicely into the fourteen-year gap between the births of Charles, Jr. in 1818 and William in 1832.

George M. McAllister enlisted October 11, 1861, in Co. "D" Curtis Horse Cavalry, later known as the 5th Iowa Cavalry. He was 34 years old, 5 ft. 8 1/2 in. tall with a light complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. He claimed to be a farmer from Omaha, Nebraska Territory (13) He served as a private for the duration of his military career. The Civil War historian Shelby Foote calls the men who served as privates through the war high privates, meaning they were the backbone of the army.

The only blemish on his record was an arrest for intoxication at Fort Donelson while the regiment was posted there (14) George appeared on a report of arrests made by the Provost Marshall at Fort Donelson, Tennessee, for the week ending March 28, 1863. He was arrested on that date and imprisoned (15) No mention is made concerning the length of his confinement. Discipline deteriorated when the troops were garrisoned for long periods of inactivity, when camp life brought out the worst in them. Pvt. McAllister was no exception.

During George's time in the army he was sometimes attached to the Quartermaster's Department. While on duty there he worked as a teamster for a total of six months. Another five months were spent as the Regimental wagon master. For enlisting he was granted a $100 bounty (16). When he reenlisted in January 1864 he was given a bounty of $300, a furlough and an additional month's pay of $13 (17). The $300 bounty equaled 23 months of a soldier's pay, strong incentive to reenlist. New Spencer repeating rifles were promised to returning veterans (18). Men that reenlisted were released on furlough from January 7 till April 24, 1864 (19). It is impossible to know what George did with himself during this much-needed break from the hardships of army life.

The 5th Iowa Cavalry served in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia, where they were involved in numerous skirmishes and battles. The major battles and campaigns in which they were involved included: the Battle at Fort Donelson, Tennessee; the Battle of Corinth, Mississippi; the Middle Tennessee (Tullahoma) Campaign; The Siege of Atlanta; and, the Nashville Campaign (20).

George McAllister was injured during the fight at Spring Hill, Tennessee in December 1864, and was declared unfit for duty after that time (21). During his recovery, however he was able to serve as an orderly at Regimental Headquarters at Edgefield, Tennessee from January to May 1865. He was readmitted to the hospital on June 16, 1865 and received a Certificate of Disability for Discharge on July 22, 1865.

George described the incident that caused the injury leading to his discharge in his final claim for an increase in pension dated March 13, 1885. "At Spring Hill, Tennessee, by bursting of a shell his horse was frightened and his cinch of saddle broke, he fell and his horse being sharp shod stepped on groin lacerating same and that said sore swells and ulcerates forming an open sore every month or two, walking, lifting, and using hands cause it to be so much worse that he is unable to labor for a livelihood." The surgeon's statement agreed with the statement given by McAllister and in his opinion McAllister was entitled to a full rating for disability caused by the above injury. This claim was accepted and the pension was increased to $8 per month.

George's injury affected his health for the twenty years that he survived after the war. His ability to engage in manual labor was limited by the recurrence of the symptoms mentioned (22); however, he was a competent man who managed to find work that he was capable of doing.

The most interesting part of George McAllister's military file concerns his last full day as a trooper of the 5th Iowa Cavalry. On that day George was involved in a shooting while on guard duty at the stables in Edgefield. The following excerpts of testimony are included in George McAllister's military records. All the pages included in the file are included here, with minor changes by this author. Any changes were made solely for clarification; none of the facts were altered or omitted.

At five o'clock PM on July 21, 1865 a Court of Inquiry was convened at the office of Surgeon B. F. Wise "to examine into and report upon the shooting and killing of Christian Olsen (formerly a member of Co. A, 5th Iowa Cavalry) at or about 1 1/2 o'clock this PM of the 21st day of July, 1865 by George McAllister, a private of Co. D, 5th Iowa Cavalry." Three officers of the 184th Ohio Volunteer Infantry were appointed to hear the case. They adjourned to meet the 22nd at 9 AM (23).

Surgeon B. F. Wise testified he knew Olsen on sight but nothing concerning his character. He knew McAllister to be a good soldier and was respected by his officers as such. About one o'clock PM July 21st I heard the report of a firearm. A man came for me reporting a man shot and asking for my professional services. On arriving at the spot, I recognized the man to be Olsen. McAllister was admitted here as a patient in the hospital and as a convalescent I assigned him to light duty in connection with other duties. I ordered McAllister to take care of my horse, keep the stable locked at night and watch it by day. The stable being under my charge at that time, particular instructions were given to watch the stable carefully and allow no other horses to go into the stable except upon my orders or that of Mr. Cowan (a civilian and owner of the stable). McAllister had an extraordinary devotion for a horse and I think he would protect a horse when in his charge by orders. When I arrived at the stable where the shooting took place McAllister said "Major, he came to take Jim off." (meaning my horse). On examining the two papers found on the person of the deceased I found nothing contained in them which ordered the taking or delivery of any horse (Mr. A. C. Burk had testified that he searched the body and found two small papers, which he turned over to Dr. Wise).

Mrs. Lt. Murphy was an eyewitness to the shooting and testified that Olsen swore he would get the horse and McAllister swore he couldn't have him or any other man, without orders. He (Olsen) said, "By God, I'll have him." McAllister said he couldn't have him till Major Wise gave him orders. Olsen was on his horse and McAllister was at the stable door. His (Olsen's) tone very threatening to McAllister. She testified further that she heard the report of a firearm, the distance being about 50 yards from where she stood and that it was about five minutes after this conversation that the shot was fired. She testified that she saw Olsen lying on the ground and saw the pistol in McAllister's hand. She also testified that no other person or persons that she could see were near the stable when the difficulty took place.

Thomas Newman testified that he heard the shot while in his tent and arrived on the scene after Dr. Wise, who was standing over Olsen. A guard of two men arrived after him and he assisted them in arresting McAllister. He approached McAllister saying hold up both hands, which McAllister at first refused to do. McAllister finally raised his hands, saying to Newman "God damn him, I shot him, came to take Jim away." (Jim was Major Wise's horse) Newman thought McAllister was intoxicated, from his walk, talk and breath.

Capt. Lee Manning testified concerning the character of Olsen and McAllister having known both men for over two years. Of Olsen he said, "his reputation by his officers was not of the best report and they did not consider him a very good soldier while in the service." Concerning McAllister he said, "I knew McAllister's reputation as a soldier in the service to be of good report and never heard anything to the contrary. [I] Never have known McAllister to be a quarrelsome man."

William Lawrence testified concerning Christian Olsen, having been in the same company. Olsen had a grocery in Nashville (24) and was a horse trader. Lawrence never heard him use any disrespectful language to anyone and that he possessed an amiable disposition. Olsen once told Lawrence that Capt. Garret told him he had a gray horse over in the direction of Edgefield and that it was in McAllister's stable. Olsen told Lawrence he was going after Capt. Garret's horse. Lawrence never heard Olsen say he had a claim on any horse in McAllister's stable. Lawrence didn't believe that Olsen and McAllister were enemies to each other.

John R. Cowan (owner of the stable) testified that McAllister had brought a gray mare to the stable on the 19th or 20th of July and he thought McAllister had papers on the horse. Cowan knew of no claim Olsen had to the gray mare.

Surgeon L. G. Meyer described the wound to Mr. Olsen as entering the upper front of the left arm shattering the humerus, then ranging inward lacerating an artery, breaking the 2nd left rib, passing through the apex of the left lung and lodging in the 2nd dorsal vertebrae. A large collection of blood in the left pleural cavity was the cause of death.

No record of a court martial for George McAllister was found in the Record Groups that should contain such a record. The opinion of David Wallace of the National Archives is that there was no court martial. "The fact he left the service a day after the inquiry would seem to confirm the case did not proceed to a court martial" (25).

George was "Discharged for Disability" July 22, 1865 at Edgefield, Tennessee. He was pensioned beginning July 23, 1865 at $4 per month for 1/2 disability. His pension was increased to $6 in July 1880 and to $8 in March 1885 when his final claim for an increase in pension was accepted.

Immediately after the war George settled in Kansas where he is known to have lived in the Kansas towns of Hendricks, Sedan (26) and Medicine Lodge (27). In George's dealings with the pension bureau in 1880, he used residents of Kansas to provide testimony concerning his case. Several of them declared they had known him since 1865 (28).

The fate of George's first wife, Elenor Rowen, is not clear. The known details regarding her life are that she married George in 1857 and she was gone by 1869 when George wedded Mary Jane Crosby on December 2, 1869 in Boone County, Illinois (29). At the time of this marriage George was 42 while Mary Jane was just 18.

Mary Jane was the daughter of Rebecca Cameron and Leonard Crosby. Rebecca and Leonard were married in DeKalb County, Illinois on July 18, 1850 (30). The Camerons had been in Kentucky since before 1792 (31). They then moved to Indiana and are recorded there in 1837 (32). They finally moved to Illinois and are first noted in Kingston in 1845 (33). There are indications that several families from Fulton County New York relocated to the Kingston, Illinois area in the late 1840's. According to the obituary of Leonard Crosby's brother Hiram, (34) the Crosbys migrated from New York in 1846. Among the families found in both Fulton County, New York and Kingston, Illinois are Crosby, Hait and McAllister (35). In Illinois these families were close neighbors and intermarried.

Mary Jane's father, Leonard, died in 1855 (36) when she was four. Her mother Rebecca Cameron Crosby married Charles McAllister, Jr. July 11, 1861 in DeKalb County (37). Charles already had two sons, Julius born in 1855 and Charles born in 1857 (38), by his first wife Charlotte. Charles and Rebecca were the parents of two children, James born in 1863 and Nellie born in 1870.

After George married Charles' stepdaughter, Mary Jane, they had two children, Vern and Edith Clare. Both children were born in Kansas, Edith in Sedan, Kansas on May 25, 1873. The details of Vern's birth are not recorded.

Sometime after 1880 the McAllister family traveled by covered wagon to Camp Supply, Oklahoma, where George was employed as commissary manager for the ranch of Stith and Watkins (39) Edith and Vern attended the Osage Mission School while the family was in Oklahoma (40).

Edith McAllister recalled a time in Oklahoma when 2700 head of longhorns were driven in from Texas. Her mother was given the honor of branding the first steer, which had a six-foot horn spread. The cowboys had to cut a foot off each horn in order to run the animal down the chute. Even so, the men still had to turn its head sideways so that it could pass. The cows and calves were separated during the branding, and they kept everyone sleepless most of that night as they milled about and bawled in their attempts to be reunited (41).

The family soon relocated to the mining camp at Rico, Colorado. George worked as a mine manger and Mary Jane cooked for the miners. Rico in the 1880's was at the center of a rich silver and lead mining district high in the Rockies. The McAllister's stay in Rico was very brief and before long they were looking for new opportunities (42).

In 1884 George made the ill-fated decision to seek work in the southern part of Arizona Territory. Why he chose to seek his fortune in Arizona at that time is unknown. Having moved with George on at least five occasions, this time Mary Jane did not follow her husband. She and the children returned to the farm in Kingston, Illinois that was her childhood home. As the family was taking their leave of George they did not know that they were seeing husband and father for the last time.

On March 13, 1885, George filed his final claim with the Pension Bureau from the postal address of Bonita, Graham County, Arizona Territory. He spent his final days living in a bunkhouse there. Bonita, in the spring of 1885, was directly in the path of Geronimo as he led a band of Chiricahua Apaches off the Fort Apache Reservation. Thirty-five men, eight boys and 101 women traveled due South to an encampment near Douglas, Arizona, then on to the Sierra Madres of Mexico. Perhaps it was no coincidence that George McAllister's family received word of his death at the hands of "marauding Indians" that same spring (43). He was 58 years old.


1) NARA pension file; McAllister, George M., SC-172-069
2) Edith McAllister Allen memoirs
3) Ibid.
4) Ibid.
5) 1850 Fed. census, South Grove Twsp., DeKalb Co., IL, pg. 306
6) Index, 1855 IL State census, Kingston Twsp., DeKalb Co., KIN-51-28 & KIN-51-29 [denotes 2 families in same house]
7) IL Statewide Marriage Index 1763-1900 (hereafter called IL Marr.), DeKalb Co., Vol. A. Lic. 115
8) IL Marr., Vol. A, Lic. 630
9) 1860 census, Kingston Twsp., DeKalb Co., IL, pg. 105
10) 1850 census, Mayfield, Fulton Co., NY, pg. 418
11) Ibid.
12) Ibid.
13) NARA mil. File; McAllister, George. M., Co. D, 5th IA Cav.
14) Dyer's Compendium
15) NARA mil. File; McAllister, George. M., Co. D, 5th IA Cav
16) Ibid.
17) Ibid.
18) 5th IA Cav.;
19) Ibid.
20) Dyer's Compendium
21) Certificate of Disability for Discharge, George McAllister
22) NARA pension file; McAllister, George M., SC-172-069
23) NARA mil. File; McAllister, George. M., Co. D, 5th IA Cav
24) The Cavalry Depot at Edgefield was directly across the Cumberland River from Nashville
25) Letter dated July 19, 2000, from David Wallace, Old Mil. & Civil Records Textual Arch. Services Div. NARA
26) Edith McAllister Allen memoirs
27) NARA pension file; McAllister, George M., SC-172-069
28) Ibid.
29) IL Marr., Boone Co., Lic. 1184
30) IL Marr., DeKalb Co., Vol. A, pg. 244
31) William Cameron, father of Rebecca Cameron b. KY ca1792 per 1850 Federal census, Kingston Twsp., DeKalb Co. ,IL, pg. 101
32) BLM land sales, IN, cert.22675 [Wm. Camron, 1837]
33) IL Marr., DeKalb Co., [Rubin Camron &Susan VanDusen, Jan. 12, 1845; Rubin was brother of Rebecca]
34) Sycamore (IL)True Republican Sept. 18, 1901, (Hiram b May 20, 1832 NY, d Mch. 23, 1901 Alexander, IA)
35) Refer to census indexes Montgomery and Fulton Cos., NY 1800-1840 & census indexes for DeKalb Co., IL 1850
36) Youngest child born 1856 per 1860 census, Kingston Twsp., DeKalb Co., IL pg. 101, dwelling of Rebecca Crosby. Leonard not listed in index, 1855 state census.
37) IL Mar, DeKalb Co., Vol. B, pg. 268
38) 1860 census Kingston Twsp., DeKalb Co., IL, pg. 105
39) Edith McAllister Allen memoirs
40) Ibid.
41) Ibid.
42) Ibid.
43) Ibid.

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