Medical Student & Indian Territory Army Doctor, Edgar Lewis, Manuscript Archive, 1864-1875
33 Items, featuring: 30 letters detailing Edgar Lewis' studies at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, the U. S. Army Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, and his western experiences from army posts including Fort Arbuckle, Fort Berthold, Fort Leavenworth, Fort Stevenson, Fort Sully; CDV believed to be Edgar Lewis; 3.25 x 3.5 in. “Order of Dancing” card from army post; 5 x 8.25 in. invitation to Thanksgiving Dinner from “Ladies of New Jersey.”
The contrast could hardly be more pronounced between life as a young medical student in New York City and life as an army doctor. Fifteen hundred miles west at Fort Berthold, Dakota Territory, tribes of Sioux and Comanche possessed a distinct lack of agreement with the doctrine of coexistence. The correspondence of Edgar Lewis both from New York City and from his frontier posts reveals his thoughts on the characters and geography of the late Civil War and frontier periods.
In spite of the stress of his daily lectures and studies, Medical Cadet Lewis maintained a robust sense of humor. He writes on December 11, 1864 that it is now eleven o’clock & I with my dog [whose name is McClellan, as he always attacks in the rear & then runs] are here alone have just ordered a bowl of bread & milk which of course I shall share with McC. McC then moistens the carpet…doing the same thing which I presume his glorious predecessor had done before…
Lewis recounts also on December 11, 1864 that he was visited at his office by very nice ladies who said they were acquainted with a few very nice young ladies [not belonging to the fast Young American Style] who they would be very happy to give me an introduction to.
Introductions were much less complicated on the frontier. Chief Running Antelope’s daughter wished to leave with Lewis as he states in a July 14, 1867 letter: The Antelopes daughter wanted to go below with me said she was very smart & could catch a heap of Beaver and Muskrat & get Buffalo Meat & make robes, catch fish, cook & everything, take care of any pony & I can’t tell all she did say in praise of her qualifications, But – your letter in regard to my taking her did not arrive so I did not fetch her.
A few thoughts from Indian Territory are included in the following letters addressed to Lewis' mother:
Lewis writes April 10, 1867 from Fort Leavenworth…discussing drinking water… About as nice as suds which your stockings are washed in…People very fashionable...give parties with wine and cakes…
From Fort Berthold, Lewis describes the Dakota Territory as very pleasant country filled with fish and game. He writes on April 14, 1867, In one field it was estimated there were 20,000 wild geese. Lewis was a member of the 31st Regiment. I think they are all white men although they do drink some and gamble a great deal. We have a splendid band. He expressed great admiration for General Stanley…not a man among them but would be shot for him if necessary. The stable consists of 3 or 4 thousand horses or mules.
His July 14, 1867 letter describes an Indian battle at Camp Stevenson and Fort Berthold: The Indians came up to my tent but did no harm as my dog commenced barking so fiercely…have to carry a pistol and rifle all the time but I’m getting used to it. You will get an account of the first one in the Herald as one of their reporters was there but was fast asleep all the time. I shot a very large Rattle Snake & took off the rattles. You will find them in a newspaper which I send.
Lewis writes from Fort Arbuckle on October 17, 1867…think you are very foolish to worry about Indians as I don’t intend to end my days in their company. As to my going out alone I feel about as safe alone as though I had anyone along as I can with a good horse give them a good run. I feel safer here than among the Sioux as there are fewer hostiles around. By the way must tell you the Comanches made another dash on us and carried away all the horses they could get and got my fast mare among the rest but I have 2 more and shall have another soon. The Commanding Officer complimented Lewis on his medical skill in successfully treating a very bad case of Obstetrics. He was aware Lewis had plans to leave the service, and told him the pay was not sufficient and the mortality of the last few months among the Med Staff would deter almost any one from subjecting himself to orders that would so peril him. Lewis also asks for his mother’s thoughts about a fur coat, We have very nice Otter here but don’t know as that is worn. Write me what you think of Beaver & Otter & I will see what can be done.
In his additional comments from Fort Arbuckle, written on January 12, 1868, Lewis expresses his love of riding horses and hunting: Almost eaten by an American Lyon…but for the almost miraculous discharge of my gun he would have had me. I have a pony now that is extraordinary. We are just about getting up a nigger band which is expected to rival any in the world. I think often I should write to see what is to be done about getting out of the service. There is nothing for me to do here & I do not care to stay out of the world any longer.