February 21, 2023

New Book by Emeritus Professor Robert McPherson

Article by Robert McPherson

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Scouting for the Bluecoats: Navajos, Apaches, and the U.S. Military, 1873-1911 was published December 1, 2022, as an outgrowth of a friendship established forty years before. While working on my Ph.D. at Brigham Young University in the 1980s, I met a teacher, V. Robert Westover, who shared a similar interest in the Navajo people. My dissertation centered around their history in southeastern Utah and so it was natural that we struck up a friendship. Bob had stumbled upon the pension files of the Navajo scouts stored in Window Rock, the Navajo Nation’s capital, and then broadened his research to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. For three decades, he collected materials dealing with their story, amassing a large filing system with documents of all types. He intended to write the scouts’ history, but life remained busy with work and other responsibilities and so he postponed the project. We shared information and enjoyed each other’s company, but once I returned to my college duties in Blanding, life had a way of making my visits to his office infrequent. He retired, and eventually I retired, so we lost touch. In 2020, a familiar voice over the phone asked if I would be interested in helping to tell the scouts’ story. I readily agreed, Bob opened his files to me, and the process began.

It soon became evident that there was a lot of material to go through, but much was oriented toward genealogy while other sources focused on the Anglo military side of the equation. I was interested in taking a different approach by telling the experience of the scouts from their perspective. This was difficult because although there is a large body of Navajo oral history collected by anthropologists, linguists, historians, and others in the social sciences, little mention has been made about the scouts. I tried to include much of what I discovered, but there were still gaps. When I went to the Apache side of the Apache-Navajo-military triumvirate, there was a lot more information, much of which clarified and added detail to the Navajo accounts. Since both groups worked together, either alone or in tandem, I have felt justified in using Apache accounts in conjunction with Navajo accounts to get into the fieldcraft of tracking. In related topics, however, the emphasis has been on the Navajo scouts and what they encountered during field operations.

What emerged from this effort is a detailed history of the scout experience. Their story starts with the relationship between the Navajo and Apache, both of whom speak the same language, followed by a look at how each tribe, as well as the U. S. military, waged war from its own unique cultural perspective. The next chapter examines the start of the scouting program, accompanied by three chapters that look at how the Apaches waged war, Navajo and Apache scout fieldcraft, and three personal accounts. An evaluation of their contribution, the success of the scouts who formed an all-Navajo military unit at Fort Wingate or joined the tribal police, and finally the process undertaken by the Bureau of Indian Affairs agency at Crown Point to see that these veterans received federal recognition, concludes their story. For those interested in one of the final phases of the “Old West,” this book explores a little-known facet of the Navajo and Apache experience.


(Robert S. McPherson, Scouting for the Bluecoats: Navajos, Apaches, and the U.S. Military, 1873-1911, Amazon, 2023.)