First Sergeant Dora Sherman Coffey, B Troop, 7th Cavalry – Killed in Action


It was bitterly cold.  The warriors’ blankets covered them completely, exposing only their eyes.  My first sergeant and I, with a few men, started the search of the line.
Captain Charles A. Varnum

Calvary First Sergeant chevrons, 1872-1902.[1]

Dora S. Coffey, the young twenty-four-year-old first sergeant of Captain Charles Varnum’s B Troop, was assisting his commander with the search of the warriors at the Indian council circle the morning of December 29, 1890, when the first shots rang out at the camp along the Wounded Knee Creek. Coffey was killed by a gunshot wound to the head according to newspaper accounts, likely occurring during the opening volley.

Brothers Dora and George Coffey, circa 1870.[2]

Born in 1866 at Ellettsville, Indiana, Dora Sherman Coffey was the eldest child of James Whisenand and Amanda Coffey. James was a farmer from Richland born in July 1846, the eldest son of James Davidson and Mary Ann (nee Whisenand) Coffey. James and Amanda were married on March 16, 1865, when he was just eighteen and she twenty-four. They lived variously at Ellettsville, Jefferson, and Richland, in Monroe and Greene Counties, Indiana, with James working as a blacksmith’s apprentice or farm laborer. James and Amanda had a second son, George Whisenand born April 9, 1868. Amanda died on January 12, 1909, and James on November 28, 1937. Their son, George, lived to the age of ninety-seven, dying on June 19, 1965.[3]

Dora Sherman Coffey, circa 1886.[6]

At the age of twenty, Dora Coffey traveled to Chicago, Illinois, and enlisted for five years on December 22, 1886. According to his enlistment record, he indicated that he was a year older than his actual age, likely to avoid providing a statement from his father allowing him to enlist under the age of twenty-one. He stated he was a farmer and stood just under five feet ten inches, had a fair complexion, blue eyes and brown hair.  Coffey was assigned to B Troop, 7th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Riley, Kansas.[4]

Coffey was apparently tried and sentenced under a general court martial at the beginning of 1890 forfeiting $20–more than a month’s pay for a soldier in the frontier army. Despite this setback, he was serving as a First Sergeant by the end of the October that same year.[5]

Following his death at Wounded Knee, Coffey was buried along with twenty-nine of his fellow troopers on New Years Eve, 1890, at the Episcopal cemetery at the Pine Ridge Agency. Coffey was placed in grave no. 8, and the War Department sent the next of kin official notification.

“Graves of Soldiers who were killed at battle of Wounded Knee, Dec. 29th, 1890, Pine Ridge Agency, S. D., 30 in number.” by W. R. Cross, circa 1891.

Three days after First Sergeant Coffey was killed at Wounded Knee and the day after he was buried at Pine Ridge, Dora Coffey’s brother and sister-in-law, George and Della Coffey, had their first son, whom they named in honor of the infant boy’s recently deceased uncle. Likely the family learned of Coffey’s death in the newspapers, which began publishing lists of the killed the day after the battle. Official word from the War Department came several days later. A week after his death the Monroe County Citizen ran a short article of the official notification.

This article original ran in the Monroe County Citizen and was republished in other papers like The Enterprise, Williamsburg, Kan.[7]

Coffey was one of four soldiers whose family had the body of their loved one removed from Pine Ridge and buried in a local cemetery. He was disinterred from the Pine Ridge Cemetery on January 17 by his family, and his second funeral was held on January 21, 1891.[8] The local Bloomington Telephone ran the following article.

First Sergeant Dora S. Coffey is buried in the Methodist Cemetery at Ellettsville, Indiana.[9]

Ellettsville– The remains of Dora S. Coffey arrived from Pine Ridge, South Dakota, Tuesday, the 20th, and although he had been killed 22 days before that date, his features were perfectly natural. He had received a wound directly over the left eye and one through the center of the body. He was taken to the house of his brother, George, until the next day when the funeral was conducted by Rev. Wood. The burial ceremonies were performed by the Grand Army of the Republic at the Methodist Cemetery west of town and, notwithstanding the wind and dampness of the day, a large gathering was out to pay the last respects to the dead soldier.
Dora S. Coffey, son of James and Amanda Coffey, was born July 28th 1865, on the farm where his father now resides about 1 1/2
miles southwest of Ellettsville. He was killed by the Indians at the
Battle of Wounded Knee in South Dakota, December 29, 1890. He was 24 years, 5 months, and 1 day old. Dora was the older of the two children and leaves one brother, George, to finish the journey alone.
Dora’s boyhood was spent in this vicinity. He attended school at
the Reeves School House which is in sight of this place. In his studies he was above the average. On the playground he was always congenial and unexcelled and was never disobedient to his teachers. Consequently, they will hold him in kind remembrance, and he will never be forgotten by his schoolmates.
Dora enlisted in the regular army December 24, 1886, for five years. Of that time he served four years and five months. He was on his last year. On account of his good behavior and soldiery ability, he was promoted step by step until he reached the highest rank that he could attain without having attended the Military Academy at West Point. We do not know that he ever professed religion, but for honesty and morality he leaves an example worthy of imitation. He is no longer a soldier of earth, but has joined the great army of the eternal shore.[10]

Following the deaths of Fist Sergeant Coffey’s mother, Amanda, in 1909, and his father, James in 1937, the family placed a memorial marker in the Ellettsville Methodist Cemetery for mother, father and son adjacent to the First Sergeant’s military headstone.

Family grave marker of Dora S., Amanda, and James W. Coffey at the Methodist Cemetery at Ellettsville, Indiana.[11]

Endnotes

[1] H. H. Booker, photo., “First Sergeant Chevrons,” U.S. Militaria Forumhttp://www.usmilitariaforum.com/forums/index.php?/topic/16004-first-sergeant-chevrons/ accessed 10 November 2013.
[2] Photograph courtesy Mary Summers, posted to https://mediasvc.ancestry.com/v2/image/namespaces/1093/media/c5c08ab8-fa2b-4d6c-8d7d-2b1c76510081.jpg?client=trees-mediaservice&imageQuality=hq&maxWidth=2732&maxHeight=1834, uploaded 19 Feb 2016.
[3] Ancestry.com, United States Federal Census [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009, Year: 1860, Census Place: Richland, Monroe, Indiana, Roll: M653_282, Page: 527, Image: 89, Family History Library Film: 803282; Year: 1870, Census Place: Jefferson, Greene, Indiana, Roll: M593_318, Page: 377B, Image: 274, Family History Library Film: 545817; Year: 1880, Census Place: Richland, Monroe, Indiana, Roll: 299; Family History Film: 1254299, Page: 35B, Enumeration District: 280, Image: 0228; Year: 1900, Census Place: Richland, Monroe, Indiana, Roll: 392, Page: 10A, Enumeration District: 0102, FHL microfilm: 1240392; Year: 1910, Census Place: Richland, Monroe, Indiana, Roll: T624_371, Page: 12B, Enumeration District: 0140, FHL microfilm: 1374384; Year: 1920, Census Place: Richland, Monroe, Indiana, Roll: T625_457, Page: 2B, Enumeration District: 169, Image: 785; Year: 1930, Census Place: Richland, Monroe, Indiana, Roll: 619, Page: 2B, Enumeration District: 22, Image: 401.0, FHL microfilm: 2340354; Ancestry.com, Indiana, Marriage Collection, 1800-1941 [database on-line], Book: 4, Page: 338, Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005; Ancestry.com. Web: Monroe County, Indiana, Obituary Index, 1899-2011[database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011, Original data: Monroe County Obituary Index, Monroe County Public Library.
[4] Ancestry.com, U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007, Original data: Register of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, 1798-1914, (National Archives Microfilm Publication M233, 81 rolls), Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s-1917, Record Group 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
[5] Adjutant General’s Office, Final Statements, 1862-1899, “Coffey, Dora S.,” at Fold3, http://www.fold3.com/image/271303403/ accessed 10 Nov 2013.
[6] Photograph courtesy Mary Summers, posted to https://mediasvc.ancestry.com/v2/image/namespaces/1093/media/e0277dcc-0160-47e4-8c7e-1674a8e42ebb.jpg?client=trees-mediaservice&imageQuality=hq&maxWidth=2732&maxHeight=1834, uploaded 6 Mar 2015.
[7] “A Monroe County Boy Slain at Wounded Knee,” The Enterprise (Williamsburg, Kan.: 10 Jan 1891), 5.
[8] Ancestry.com, Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, 1879-1903 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007, Original data: Card Records of Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, ca. 1879-ca. 1903, (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1845, 22 rolls), Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, Record Group 92; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
[9] John Maxwell, photo., “Dora Sherman Coffey,” FindAGrave, http://image2.findagrave.com/photos250/photos/2011/220/44184315_131292432929.jpg, accessed 19 Jan 2019.
[10] Bloomington Telephone, Bloomington, Indiana, January 27, 1891.
[11] Uncle Bob, “Dora Sherman Coffey,” FindAGrave, http://image2.findagrave.com/photos250/photos/2011/220/44184315_131292432929.jpg, accessed 19 Jan 2019.

Citation for this article: Samuel L. Russell, “First Sergeant Dora Sherman Coffey, B Troop, 7th Cavalry – Killed in Action,” Army at Wounded Knee (Sumter, SC: Russell Martial Research, 2013-2015, http://wp.me/P3NoJy-4L) last updated 30 May 2022, accessed date __________.

Posted in Casualties, Enlisted | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Investigation of the White Horse Creek Tragedy


I then called to the captain that it was squaws, and he replied “Don’t kill the squaws.” I said – it is too late, I am afraid they are already killed.
–First Sergeant Herman Gunther

Three weeks after Wounded Knee an Indian policeman named Red-Hawk, who had been searching for his sister since the battle, found her remains and those of her children near White Horse Creek. He returned to the Pine Ridge Agency and reported his discovery of the bodies. Major General Nelson A. Miles, perhaps concerned with Captain Edward S. Godfrey’s testimony two weeks earlier that “My men had killed one boy about 16 or 17 years old, a squaw and two children,” gave Captain Frank D. Baldwin instructions to locate the bodies and determine what happened. On January 21, 1891, Baldwin submitted the following report:

Captain Frank D. Baldwin at the Pine Ridge Agency, 13 January 1891.

Captain Frank D. Baldwin at the Pine Ridge Agency, January 13, 1891.

I proceeded this morning at 7 A.M., under escort of a detachment of the 1st Infantry, mounted to White Horse Creek, about eleven miles distant, where I found the bodies of one woman, adult, two girls, eight and seven years old, and a boy of about ten years of age. They were found in the valley of White Horse Creek, in the brush, under a high bluff, where they had evidently been discovered and shot. Each person had been shot once, the character of which was necessarily fatal in each case. The bodies had not been plundered or molested. The shooting was done at so close a range that the person or clothing of each was powder-burned. The location of the bodies was about three miles westward of the scene of the Wounded Knee battle. All of the bodies were properly buried by the troops of my escort. From my knowledge of the facts, I am certain that these people were killed on the day of the Wounded Knee fight, and no doubt by the troop of the 7th Cavalry, under the command of Captain Godfrey.

Continue reading

Posted in Enlisted, Newspaper Articles, Official Reports, Wounded Knee Investigation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

First Lieutenant Horatio Gates Sickel, Commander, E Troop, 7th Cavalry


…in remaining with a detachment of Troop “E”, 7th Cavalry, in a dangerous and difficult position in order to protect against possible mutilation the bodies of soldiers of his command already killed by the Indians….
–Colonel James W. Forsyth

Lieut. Horatio G. Sickel - Fighting 7th Officers - J. C. H. Grabill - colorized by Amy Gigliotti

First Lieutenant Horatio G. Sickel, Jr., E Troop, 7th Cavalry, at Pine Ridge Agency, 16 January 1891. Cropped from John C. H. Grabill’s photograph, “The Fighting 7th Officers.” Colorized by Amy Gigliotti.

Two weeks short of his thirty-seventh birthday, Horatio G. Sickel, Jr., was commanding E Troop during the Pine Ridge Campaign while Captain Charles S. Ilsley was commanding the 2nd Battalion. Lieutenant Sickel had served in E Troop for eight years and had been with the regiment since being transferred to it following the battle along the Little Big Horn River just a couple of weeks after graduating from the United States Military Academy in 1876. The troop’s second lieutenant was Sedgwick Rice, a civilian appointee that had been with the unit since transferring to the 7th Cavalry four years earlier. Lieutenant Sickel’s senior non-commissioned officer was First Sergeant Charles M. Clark, a veteran enlisted man with over twelve years in the saddle with the regiment and at least one prior enlistment with the 6th Infantry. E Troop had its full compliment of officers, fourteen of its fifteen non-commissioned officers, and forty-three of its forty-five privates at Wounded Knee, twelve of which were recently assigned from the recruiting depot at Jefferson Barracks, comprising twenty-eight percent of the troop’s junior enlisted soldiers.[1] Continue reading

Posted in Officers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments