The faded faces look back at you from the past. An old photograph taken in 1890s Nebraska showing the U.S. Army’s 9th Cavalry’s K Troop or, as they were better known, buffalo soldiers. One of my journalistic quests for the last two decades has been the search for any personal effects belonging to the soldier seated third from the left. The man under that hat is Medal of Honor Recipient First Sergeant George Jordan. He also held a Certificate of Merit – the two highest commendations a U.S. soldier could receive in his era.
Jordan was born in 1847 in Williamson County, Tennessee, enlisting in the Army six months after President Andrew Johnson signed the 1866 bill allowing African-Americans to serve in the post-Civil War Army. Jordan educated himself, learning how to read and write, and joined K Troop four years later. He remained there throughout his career, proving to be one of the best field commanders in the Army west of the Mississippi. No one buffalo soldier so epitomized their motto of “We can. We will.” The white officers in charge of the all-black units often trusted Jordan with half of their commands because of knowledge and skill in the field. He served 30 years in the Army and retired.
He died Oct. 14, 1904, from what the post chaplain said was “want of proper attention and living alone where he had no one to attend his wants.” The entire fort turned out for his funeral, and Jordan was buried with full military honors. Fort Robinson’s Hospital’s inaction brought national rebuke from the Surgeon General regarding the medical treatment of retired veterans. Then all traces of his life vanished. A headstone, a bureaucratic record of military awards in D.C. and that faded group photo is all the nation possesses of such a legendary life as his.
I spent years scanning estate and militaria auctions searching for artifacts or relics among collectors and shared his photo and story, dropping his name in columns on African-American history and in documentaries I produced, featuring him prominently in one on Tennessee’s military legacy in 2015. All in hopes some personal item would shake loose that spoke to that 30 years of dedicated service. A monument stood to him in Franklin, his name first among the list of African-American recipients in the Old West and one of the most respected by U.S. Army and military historians.
What followed was a flurry of calls between Nazario, myself and the owner, Janet Mize, establishing provenance of the items and the back story on how Jordan’s effects, including his Medal of Honor, which everyone, including U.S. Army historians, believed had been buried with him, had found their way to Arkansas.
Jordan’s personal effects were placed in a barrel by his friends after he died and deposited with the Army to hold for his next of kin. None ever showed, and around 1909 a ranch manager’s widow in Nebraska bought the barrel at auction for $1. It was passed to her schoolteacher daughters, who never married and and then willed it to their caretaker, Janet Mize, who later moved to Arkansas.
Mize said during the time the sisters possessed the barrel, most of the old photos of black soldiers, personal items and Jordan’s military accouterments got parceled out. The Medal of Honor itself was saved only by the shining brass that made it a useful Christmas tree decoration in a historic home. Hundreds of people passed by it for years never noticing what it was. Mize is considering finding a suitable museum for the Medal of Honor where it will be displayed and featured properly.
Monday, April 3, 2017
The shining brass that made it a useful Christmas tree decoration in a historic home
What a wonderful little story. From Iconic Medal of Honor discovered in Arkansas by Ed Hooper.