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Cornelius C. Smith
Cornelius C. Smith displaying his Medal of Honor.
Born (1869-04-07)April 7, 1869
Died January 10, 1936(1936-01-10) (aged 66)
Place of birth Tucson, Arizona Territory, United States
Place of death Riverside, California
Place of burial Evergreen Memorial Park
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1889–1920
Rank Colonel
Unit 4th U.S. Cavalry
2nd U.S. Cavalry
6th U.S. Cavalry
Commands held Philippine Constabulary
5th U.S. Cavalry
10th U.S. Cavalry

Indian Wars

Spanish-American War
Philippine Insurrection
World War I
Awards Medal of Honor

Colonel Cornelius Cole Smith (April 7, 1869 – January 10, 1936) was an American officer in the U.S. Army who served with the 6th U.S. Cavalry during the Sioux Wars. On January 1, 1891, he and four other cavalry troopers successfully defended a U.S. Army supply train from a force of 300 Sioux warriors at the White River in South Dakota, for which he received the Medal of Honor. He was the last man to receive the award in battle against the Sioux, and in a major Indian war.

In his later career, Smith served as an officer during the Spanish-American War and the subsequent Philippine Insurrection under Generals Leonard Wood and John J. Pershing. In 1910, he was appointed by Pershing as commander of the Philippine Constabulary and served at Fort Huachuca as commanding officer of Troop G, 5th U.S. Cavalry from 1912 to 1914. It was in this capacity that he accepted the surrender of Colonel Emilio Kosterlitzky, commander of Mexican federal forces at Sonora, on March 13, 1913. In 1918, he was appointed commander of Huachuca and the 10th U.S. Cavalry. Prior to his retirement, he also oversaw the construction of Camp Owen Beirne, adjacent to Fort Bliss, which served as the model for similar camps built following the end of World War I.

Smith's son, Cornelius Cole Smith, Jr., who also served as a colonel in the Philippines during World War II,[1] was a successful author, historian and illustrator who wrote several books on the Southwestern United States including his biography entitled "Don't Settle for Second: Life and Times of Cornelius C. Smith" (1977).


Early life

Cornelius Cole Smith was born on April 7, 1869, in the frontier town of Tucson in the Arizona Territory. A member of a distinguished military family dating back to the Revolutionary War,[1] his father, Gilbert Cole Smith, had served an officer in the Union Army's famed California Column during the American Civil War and later became quartermaster at Fort Lowell in Tucson.[2][3] He was also related to brothers William and Granville H. Oury. His family lived at several outposts in the Arizona and New Mexico Territories, wherever his father happened to be stationed, until December 1882 when they finally settled at Vancouver Barracks in the Washington Territory. Smith was then sent back east to Louisiana, Missouri, and later to Baltimore, Maryland in 1884. Four years later, Smith moved to Helena, Montana where he joined the Montana National Guard on May 22, 1889.[4][5]

Smith poses with his favorite horse "Blue" in front of his quarters at Fort Wingate in 1895.

At age 21, Smith followed in his father's footsteps by enlisting in the United States Army in Helena, Montana on April 9, 1890, and was immediately sent out with 6th U.S. Cavalry Regiment for frontier duty in the Dakota Territory.[2][3][6][7][8][9][10][11]

Battle at White River

Within a year, Smith reached the rank of corporal and saw his first action during the Pine Ridge Campaign. On January 1, 1891, two days after the Battle at Wounded Knee Creek, he accompanied a fifty-three man escort of a U.S. Army supply train to the regiment's camp at the battle site. While preparing to cross the White River, partially ice-covered during the winter, the supply train was suddenly attacked by a group of approximately 300 Sioux braves. In an attempt to save the wagon train, he and Sergeant Frederick Myers chose advanced positions from a knoll 300 yards from the river and held back the initial Sioux assault with four other troopers successfully defended their position against repeated enemy attacks.[12] After they had withdrawn, Smith and the others chased after the war party for a considerable distance before breaking off their pursuit.[4][6][9][10][11]

Smith's actions at White River prevented the Sioux from capturing the supply wagons and he was cited for distinguished bravery in the face of a numerically superior enemy force. For his actions he received the Medal of Honor[4][6][7][8][12] on February 4, 1891.[9][11]

Service in Cuba and the Philippines

Smith as a captain with the 14th U.S. Cavalry in the Philippines during 1904.

The following year, on November 19, 1892, Smith was made a commissioned officer as a second lieutenant with the 2nd U.S. Cavalry. He later fought in Cuba during the Spanish-American War and in the Philippines during the Filipino and Moro Rebellions under Generals Leonard Wood and John J. Pershing respectively. An captain with the 14th U.S. Cavalry,[13] he served in Mindanao under General Wood from 1903 to 1906, during which time he helped publish A Grammar of the Maguindanao Tongue According to the Manner of Speaking It in the Interior and on the South Coast of the Island of Mindanao (1906) with Spanish Jesuit Rev. Father Jacinto Juanmart, before accepting a two-year position as superintendent of California's Sequoia and Grant National Parks in 1908. He returned to the Philippine Islands in 1910[4] where he was appointed commander of the Philippine Constabulary by General Pershing.[2][3]

Fort Huachuca and World War I

Smith (far right) as commander of the Philippine Constabulary with Brig. Gen. John J. Pershing and Moro chieftains in 1910. Smith participated in expeditions against the Moro rebels for much of his time in the Philippines.

After a nine-year tour of duty in the Philippines, Smith was brought back to the U.S. in 1912 and transferred to the 4th U.S. Cavalry Regiment at Fort Huachuca, in his home state of Arizona, that fall.[13] He remained at Huachuca when the 4th U.S. Cavalry was sent for rotation to Hawaii and was reassigned to the 5th U.S. Cavalry serving as commanding officer of the 5th U.S. Cavalry's Troop G from December 1912 to December 1914. It was while with the 5th Cavalry that, on March 13, 1913, he formally accepted the surrender of Colonel Emilio Kosterlitzky, commander of Mexican federal forces of Sonora, and his 209 followers in Nogales, Arizona following his defeat by General Álvaro Obregón days earlier.[2][3][4] The surrender was conducted in a formal ceremony, with Kosterlitzky presenting Smith his sword, and the two officers later became lifelong friends.[14]

A military attaché in Bogota and Caracas for a time during 1915, he rose through the ranks from major to colonel of cavalry within the next two years.[2][3][4][13] Smith trained several regiments during World War I but was denied further promotion and a field command in the Europe due to the feud between General Pershing, then commander-in-chief of the American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front, and Army Chief-of-Staff Peyton March. In 1918, he returned to Fort Huachuca where he assumed command of the post and the 10th U.S. Cavalry Regiment. His last assignment was at Fort Bliss where he had Camp Owen Beirne built, the model for similar bases constructed for servicemen following World War I, before his retirement in 1920 at the rank of colonel.[2][3]

Retirement and later years

Smith taught military science and tactics at the University of Arizona after leaving the U.S. Army and was later hired as a technical advisor for war films in Hollywood. In 1928, he became a member of the American Electoral Committee which oversaw the presidential elections in Nicaragua.[2] That same year, he was also a contributing editor for Alice Baldwin's biography on her late husband Major General Frank Baldwin, Memoirs of the late Frank D. Baldwin, Major General, U.S.A., in which Smith related his experiences with Baldwin during the Spanish-American War. He went on to become a prolific author of articles relating to the American frontier in the Southwestern United States. Smith died in Riverside, California on January 10, 1936, at the age of 66.[4][11] He is buried at Evergreen Memorial Park and Mausoleum,[15][16] along with 1,000 other veterans.[17]

Grave site restoration

In November 2003, a special ceremony was held at Smith's grave site to display a new 18-foot-tall flagpole and stone bench nearby. Smith's son, Cornelius Cole Smith, Jr., was in attendance. Initially started by 16-year-old Michael Emett for an Eagle Scout project, this was the first of a planned restoration campaign for the graves of Riverside's military veterans and town founders. The story was covered by The Press-Enterprise and encouraged community leaders to raise money for an endowment to provide for the upkeep of older rundown areas of the cemetery that are not watered or maintained.[18] A few years before, the California Department of Consumer Affairs ordered that sprinklers in the historic section be shut off because it lacked an endowment to pay for the water.[17][19]

Medal of Honor citation

Rank and organization: Corporal, Company K, 6th U.S. Cavalry. Place and date: Near White River, S. Dak., 1 January 1891. Entered service at: Helena, Mont. Birth: Tucson, Ariz. Date of issue: 4 February 1891.


With 4 men of his troop drove off a superior force of the enemy and held his position against their repeated efforts to recapture it, and subsequently pursued them a great distance.[20]



  • A Grammar of the Maguindanao Tongue According to the Manner of Speaking It in the Interior and on the South Coast of the Island of Mindanao (1906, contributing editor with Jacinto Juanmart)
  • Memoirs of the late Frank D. Baldwin, Major General, U.S.A. (1928, contributing editor with Alice B. Baldwin)


  • Old Military Forts of the Southwest (1930)
  • Some Unpublished History of the Southwest (1931)

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Stokely, Sandra (May 6, 2004). "Pearl Harbor veteran, author, sculptor dies". Retrieved December 29, 2010. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 University of Arizona, ed (1978). "Review of "Don't Settle for Second: Life and Times of Cornelius C. Smith"". Tucson, Arizona: University of Arizona Press. pp. 89–90. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Finley, James P., ed (1996). "Roll Call: Col. Cornelius C. Smith". Fort Huachuca, Arizona: Huachuca Museum Society. Retrieved December 28, 2010. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Thrapp, Dan L. Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography: P-Z. Vol. III. Norman: University of Nebraska Press, 1991. (pg. 1324) ISBN 0-8032-9420-4
  5. Tribune Staff. "125 Montana Newsmakers: Medal of Honor Winners". Great Falls Tribune. Retrieved August 27, 2011. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. Medal of Honor recipients, 1863-1973, 93rd Cong., 1st sess. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1973. (pg. 228)
  7. 7.0 7.1 Hannings, Bud. A Portrait of the Stars and Stripes. Glenside, Pennsylvania: Seniram Publishing, 1988. (pg. 400) ISBN 0-922564-00-0
  8. 8.0 8.1 O'Neal, Bill. Fighting Men of the Indian Wars: A Biographical Encyclopedia of the Mountain Men, Soldiers, Cowboys, and Pioneers Who Took Up Arms During America's Westward Expansion. Stillwater, Oklahoma: Barbed Wire Press, 1991. (pg. 35) ISBN 0-935269-07-X
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Army Times Publishing Company. "Military Times Hall of Valor: Cornelius Cole Smith". Awards and Citations: Medal of Honor. Retrieved December 29, 2010. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Sterner, C. Douglas (1999). "MOH Citation for Cornelius Smith". MOH Recipients: Indian Campaigns. Retrieved December 29, 2010. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Sterner, C. Douglas (1999). "Photo of Grave site of MOH Recipient". Medal of Honor Recipient Gravesites In The State of California. Retrieved December 29, 2010. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Beyer, Walter F. and Oscar Frederick Keydel, ed. Deeds of Valor: From Records in the Archives of the United States Government; how American Heroes Won the Medal of Honor; History of Our Recent Wars and Explorations, from Personal Reminiscences and Records of Officers and Enlisted Men who Were Rewarded by Congress for Most Conspicuous Acts of Bravery on the Battle-field, on the High Seas and in Arctic Explorations. Vol. 2. Detroit: Perrien-Keydel Company, 1906. (pg. 327, 330)
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 United States Department of State. Register of the Department of State, December 17, 1917. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1918. (pg. 138)
  14. Trimble, Marshall. Arizona: A Panoramic History of a Frontier State. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1977. ISBN 0-385-14064-9
  15. Evergreen Memorial Historic Cemetery - Founders' Stories
  16. Haberman, Doug (January 18, 2008). "Evergreen Memorial gets a spruce up". Retrieved December 29, 2010. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 Haberman, Doug (January 20, 2005). "Ever green". Retrieved December 29, 2010. 
  18. Paul, Jaqcuie (November 14, 2003). "Scout's project honors vet". Retrieved December 29, 2010. 
  19. Mendez, Lys (June 2, 2006). "Cemetery volunteers help clean, raise funds". Retrieved December 29, 2010. 
  20. "Medal of Honor recipients". Indian War Campaigns. United States Army Center of Military History. June 8, 2009. Retrieved June 29, 2009. 

Further reading

  • Smith, Jr., Cornelius C. Don't Settle for Second: Life and Times of Cornelius C. Smith. San Rafael, California: Presidio Press, 1977. ISBN 0-89141-007-4
  • Wilson, D. Ray. Terror on the Plains: A Clash of Cultures. Dundee, Illinois: Crossroads Communications, 1999. ISBN 0-916445-47-X

External links

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