Now What: Scout’s Honor

Now What: Scout’s Honor

Answers for the beginner, the befuddled and anyone hitting a brick wall.

American Indians served as scouts for both the Union and Confederate armies.

Q. How do I trace an American Indian when all I have is the name the Army gave him when he became an Indian scout around the Civil War era?

A. You’re fortunate to have that English name for your ancestor. It will help you research backward, so you can learn your ancestor’s American Indian name and tribe.

Start by documenting your ancestor’s service as a Civil War Indian scout. American Indians served in volunteer and Union and Confederate Army units. The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System <www.itd.nps.gov/cwss> indexes 6.3 million service records for soldiers from both sides.

Most Civil War Indian scouts, though, weren’t traditional enlistees. Army generals hired scouts for their knowledge of area resources and geography, and their tracking and fighting skills. Despite their unconventional roles, Indian scouts are documented in Civil War and local histories, in claims filed with the government after the war, and later in correspondence of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (202-308-3710, <www.doi.gov/bureau-indian-affairs.html>).

While much has been written about American Indians’ service in the Confederate Army, their Union service isn’t documented as well. Lists of Civil War scouts in published or online histories are valuable because they provide names and usually list tribal affiliations. Identifying your ancestor’s tribe will open a treasure trove of Bureau of Indian Affairs records — see the Guide to Records in the National Archives of the United States Relating to American Indians (National Archives and Records Administration, $25) for details.

Like many family traditions, the story about your ancestor being an Army Indian scout may have become distorted over time. So don’t overlook the possibility that his service came later. Immediately after the Civil War, the US Army established a formal Indian Scout Service, and scouts were documented as regular enlistees. I’d suggest reading chapter 11 of the Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives of the United States, 3rd edition (National Archives and Records Administration, $25), for an excellent introduction to federal American Indian records, including military records of American Indians and Indian scouts. You also could try the Native American Genealogical Sourcebook edited by Paula K. Byers (Gale Research, out of print), available at many libraries.

From the August 2006 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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