The Tarnished Saber
by A.D. Juarez
There's a Movie Here Major Azor Howett Nickerson, USA. Never heard of him? Little wonder. He fought his wars (plural) when the nation was ripped apart by the slavery issue. In 1876 he was wounded three times, collected eight citations for gallantry in battle against overwhelming odds - a thousand-plus Sioux and Cheyenne warriors.
If nothing else, the uniformed Nickerson was a war correspondent without War Department portfolio. He simply kept diaries, notebooks, and, as his biographer Angelo Juarez reveals, piles of “unpublished manuscripts.”
That is what drew my attention to this 2001 publication of The Tarnished Saber.
When Major Nickerson was in battle during the most trying times of this new nation, he did not have exposure to embedded reporters. There was no CNN with reporters sacking out with moving troops as they raced into a battle. There were no Oliver Norths collecting tape for a documentary. There were no military comedy acts by the likes of Geraldo Rivera playing war correspondent.
One hundred and fifty years ago Nickerson was his own correspondent. But time and untrained archivists almost lost this soldier's writings.
Biographer Juarez had the professional calling, meaning ability, to report a war the hard way. He dug into long lost and faded government files. He did have official assistance once he pulled the shades from the National Archives.
Rosebud Valley in Montana
Juarez wrote two telling paragraphs in the early pages of this 184-page barnburner.
In describing Nickerson, Juarez wrote of facing “Indian warriors in Rosebud Valley in southern Montana.”
As the commanding general's adjutant, Nickerson collected from the battlefield a rather new Winchester repeating rifle that had been taken from the body of a fallen Indian. The general looked at it for some time, then casually inquired of Nickerson, then a captain, “Well, how do you think they came by it?”
Juarez wrote this: “Nickerson looked skyward for a moment and sadly replied, 'Sir, I think that the Winchester Arms Company should sue the Indians for infringement of their patent rights. Since they seem to have plenty of these rifles and since the traders and Indian agents swear they do not furnish them, the Indians must manufacture them themselves.'”
That common thread of Nickerson-the-manuscript keeper remained throughout the Juarez work.
Juarez said “the Army had not won that day, neither had it been defeated.” He wrote of “those inconclusive actions so characteristic of Indian fighting.”
Nickerson's life and battles made him a citizen of the nation. He never returned to his native Ohio.
Juarez has become a battle correspondent, 150 years removed from the action that needed to be recorded.
Juarez, while unsaid in the book, writes vividly of a time when the United States was trying to invent something called democracy.
Juarez has become a novelist with this teaser at the end of his first chapter: Nickerson would “have a major impact upon this nation even though his name, today, is virtually unknown...but it needn't have been, except for his illicit love of a woman.”
The dignified author would never say it, but his gripping battle story has what Hollywood would call box office.
REVIEWER NOTE: I want this book to gain wide currency if for no other reason than it illustrates how much time and effort it took to see print.
The Nickerson Family Museum
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The Tarnished Saber.