George Crook

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George Crook

The American army officer George Crook (1828-1890) campaigned against Indians in the southwestern and northwestern United States, but he was also an outspoken champion of Indian rights.

Born on Sept. 8, 1828, on a farm near Taylorsville, Ohio, George Crook was appointed to the U.S. Military Academy in 1848. Four years later he graduated thirty-eighth in a class of 56 and was commissioned a lieutenant of infantry. Assigned to the Pacific Northwest, he spent the next 9 years exploring the area and fighting Indians.

During the Civil War, Crook was appointed colonel of the 38th Ohio Infantry, in command of the Department of West Virginia. By 1865, having distinguished himself in numerous battles, he was commissioned a major general of volunteers.

At the end of the Civil War, Crook reverted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and commanded the 23rd Infantry, which was headquartered at Boise, Idaho. He campaigned against Native Americans until 1871, when President Grant sent him to command the Department of Arizona. By this time he usually wore a weather-beaten canvas suit and a Japanese summer hat but no military trappings of any type, not even a symbol of his rank. Because of his manner of dress and his peculiar whiskers, the Apache dubbed him "Gray Fox."

Using unorthodox techniques, such as the enlistment of Apache scouts to guide his troops, Crook quickly brought peace to Arizona. For this feat he received a spectacular promotion in 1873, from lieutenant colonel to brigadier general.

In 1875 Crook was transferred to command the Department of the Platte, where he had to contend with the Sioux. His success on the northern plains was not so great as it had been in the Southwest, and in 1882 he returned to quell disorders in the Department of Arizona. He quickly restored order, forcing renegade Apache to return to their reservation. He also conducted the final Geronimo campaign of May 1885 through March 1886, which brought Geronimo to the conference table, where surrender terms were arranged. Geronimo returned to the Sierra Madre of Mexico, however, and Crook was pressured into asking for a transfer. Politics dictated a military solution to the Apache wars, while Crook believed in diplomacy.

In 1886 Crook resumed command of the Department of the Platte; then, in 1888, upon his promotion to major general, he was assigned the Division of the Missouri, with headquarters in Chicago. He died there on March 21, 1890.

Crook was a model soldier—fearless, modest, a good listener. He did not drink or use strong language. In his years in the West he fought corrupt Indian agents and spoke and wrote in favor of granting the Indians full citizenship and the right to vote. His wife, Mary, supported him throughout his long and colorful career.

Further Reading

Martin F. Schmitt, ed., General George Crook: His Autobiography (1946), is the standard account of Crook's life; Schmitt pieced this work together from Crook's diary and letters and gave an excellent picture of the man. John G. Bourke, On the Border with Crook (1891; repr. 1962), is the account of Crook's adjutant during many of his military years, while Crook's own work, Résumé of Operations against Apache Indians, 1882-1886 (1887), indicates his attitude toward the Indians.

Additional Sources

Crook, George, General George Crook: his autobiography, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986, 1960. □