ST. PETER — William Carey Brown’s long and eventful life included service as a general in the U.S. Army.
Nicollet County Historical Society’s archives include a number of items that belonged to Brown, including his military medals.
He was born Dec. 19, 1854, to early Nicollet County settlers Susan and Garretson Addison Brown.
His parents had moved in 1853 from Ohio to the then-new community of Traverse des Sioux, where his father at various times operated a store, was in the stock business, served as a postmaster and was Nicollet County judge of probate (from 1859 to 1868).
Brown was educated in schools in Traverse des Sioux and in St. Peter. He and his family would have seen those two communities fill with thousands of refugees and soldiers during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.
Perhaps his memories of those soldiers inspired Brown to join the U.S. Army.
He attended West Point from July 1, 1873, until June 14, 1877, graduating 41st in his class.
As a new 2nd lieutenant, Brown was assigned to Company L of the 1st Cavalry Regiment at Fort Walla Walla in Washington Territory. June 7, 1878, he became a participant in a long campaign against the Bannock and the Sheepeater (Shoshone) Native American tribes under General O.O. Howard.
A report by Howard to his superior stated Brown was among a small number of men who “deserve special mention for gallantry, energy, and perseverance, resulting in success.”
After completing a variety of other duties, including exploring parts of the Pacific Northwest that had not been mapped and helping with construction of 100 miles of telegraph line, Brown was ordered to the Infantry and Cavalry school late in 1881.
The school had been founded in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in July 1881. As a member of the first class of student soldiers, Brown found himself acting not only as a student but also as one of the instructors.
“Operations of War,” “Cavalry Tactics,” and “International Law” were among the courses he taught. Brown was rated as No. 5 in his class during his first year, and as No. 2 in his second year.
In June 1883, he was one of only two graduates to be recommended for service in all of the seven departments or specialty areas of the Army.
A wide variety of military duties were assigned to Brown. From Aug. 1, 1885, to June 30, 1890, Brown served as adjutant of the academy at West Point in New York.
In September 1890, he took command of Troop C of the 1st Cavalry at Fort Assinniboine, Montana. Brown was involved in the winter campaign against Dakota Indians from the end of November until early in February 1891 in southeastern Montana.
Other assignments found him surveying in unexplored areas of what is now Glacier National Park; scouting to find Apache Indians in Arizona Territory; being on duty at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893; and traveling through England, France, Germany, Austria and Italy in 1895 to study the use of aluminum in manufacturing military equipment.
By the start of the Spanish-American War in 1898, he was a captain and the commander of Troop E of the 1st Cavalry. Brown participated in the battle of San Juan and in the siege and surrender of Santiago de Cuba.
Theodore Roosevelt, a lieutenant colonel with the Rough Rider Regiment, and Brown both charged up San Juan Hill.
Brown returned to the U.S. in August 1898. He found himself in command of Fort Washakie in Wyoming by October.
Roosevelt wrote a letter to Secretary of War Elihu Root giving high praise to Brown and recommending him as a strong candidate in several areas of military duties.
He served for a few weeks at Fort Snelling in St. Paul during late summer 1899.
Brown was then on his way to the Philippines, where the U.S. Army was attempting to deal with guerrilla fighters who wanted to end the U.S. involvement in the affairs of the country.
Soon after his arrival at Manila Bay Dec. 31, Brown was hospitalized for smallpox.
In 1901, Brown achieved considerable fame when the Americans encountered an especially dangerous guerrilla named Tagunton.
Gen. Frederick Funston described the event in his memoirs: “Tagunton, attempting to escape, was shot and killed by Major Brown who got him with a new Colt’s Automatic Pistol at seventy-five yards.”
Roosevelt, who by then was the U.S. vice president, sent a letter to the secretary of war with the following comments: “Let me respectfully call your attention to the case of Captain William C. Brown, of the Regular Service, who has just distinguished himself by a particularly neat surprise of the bandit chief Lieutenant Colonel Tomas Tagunton. He not only possesses exceptional gallantry and energy, but he has made a study of his profession in matters of equipment, commissariat and the like which really fit him to render the utmost possible service to the Army. He served with, and afterwards under me at Santiago. He was an exceptionally fine officer.”
In 1903, Brown embarked on a trip around the world. He visited China, Japan, Russia, Scandinavia and Europe, as well as Washington, D.C., and New York. While in New York, Brown was invited to lunch with Roosevelt, who by that time was the nation’s president.
Brown returned to the Philippines in 1906. During this time overseas, he purchased horses for the army in Australia and New Zealand.
When he returned to the United States in 1908, he had added Singapore, India and Egypt to his list of places visited. In 1910 and 1911, Brown visited Panama, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. An account of the trip was published in Cook’s Travelers’ Gazette.
With the rank of colonel, Brown was sent with his cavalry regiment to Mexico in 1916 when the Army was attempting to punish Mexican raiders who had attacked communities in the United States.
His expedition traveled more than 300 miles south of the border and came to the relief of another cavalry unit that had been attacked.
During World War I, Brown was sent to France in 1917, where he received the title inspector, Quartermaster Corps of the American Army.
Brown’s efficient and highly praised work earned him the Distinguished Service Medal, one of the army’s highest awards.
A War Department order in December 1918 brought a 64-year-old Brown’s military career to an end. He had served 45 years, five months and 19 days of service.
While in retirement, Brown continued to do important work for the Army. He was made a brigadier general Feb. 28, 1927, by a special act of Congress.
After leaving the Army, Brown moved to Denver, where he lived with a sister.
He was well-known for his extensive knowledge of military history, which he regularly shared with others.
Brown’s interests included the histories of Minnesota and Nicollet County.
Brown often visited Traverse des Sioux and St. Peter, and was a strong supporter of Nicollet County Historical Society. He worked with Mankato historian Thomas Hughes in the preparation of a book, “Old Traverse des Sioux.”
Brown died May 8, 1939, in Denver, where there is a memorial in his honor at Riverside Cemetery. He was buried at West Point Cemetery.