One of the more intriguing family stories to emerge from my research is that of my great uncle, Crockett Sheffey. While his story is far from fully told, what I have uncovered strikes me as somehow poignant. His story alone would be riches enough to justify the time, effort and periods of frustration that have gone into researching my family.
My guess is that Crockett was named either for the Crockett area in Wytheville, Virginia or after the Crockett family for whom that area of Wythe was named. With a family filled with Daniels, Henrys, Williams and Josephs as Christian names, he remains the only Crockett.
Crockett Sheffey was born in Wythville, Virginia in 1874. He appears in the 1880 Census with his father Daniel Henry Sheffey, Jr and his step-mother Jane A. White. By the 1900 Census, he’s enlisted in the US Calvary 9th Regiment, Company A as a cook at Fort Grant in the Arizona Territory (see Line 26 in the Census).
Some quick research showed that the 9th Regiment wasn’t a typical Calvary regiment. This was a distinguished Buffalo Soldier regiment. In other words, a regiment composed entirely of African Americans. His regiment fought Apaches and other Native American tribes in Texas and the Arizona Territory. It also fought in the Spanish-American War in 1898. In 1903, the regiment was President Theodore Roosevelt’s Honor Guard when President Roosevelt visited the Presidio in California. It was the first African American regiment to do so.
I have yet to find records that show whether Crockett was involved in actual combat. I’m currently corresponding with historians who specialise in the history of Fort Grand, and others who specialise in the 9th Calvary Regiment, to ascertain if there is any documentation regarding Crocket and his service in the Calvary. Whether he bore arms or provided food for his comrades, I find it fascinating that a distant relation was present at seminal moments in American history. This knowledge would have made dull American history books – and uninspiring history lessons – more interesting.
I’m left wondering what prompted him to enlist. He would have left everything he was familiar with, and his family, far behind in Virginia. Whether he was escaping a restrictive life in post-war Virginia, a desire for adventure, the stigma of post-slavery life in Virginia, he doesn’t seem to have looked back. It also appears that he never returned. I remind myself that Crockett, Daniel Henry Sheffey, Jr.’s firstborn, was the first child of my Sheffey family line to be born free. His decision to enlist could have been as simple as wanting a different world view from that of his parents and their contemporaries.
Through his story, what little of there has been unveiled, are some interesting glimpses of history. We forget that America is a work in progress. It’s not something that was fully formed all in one go. In the year 1900, Arizona was still a territory, and not a state (that wouldn’t happen until 1912). The American conflict with Native American tribes was still very much active. The idea of Manifest Destiny continued to spur American expansionism, with the challenges, discord and issues that accompany such beliefs. I’ll never know if he thought about such things. It would have made for an interesting discussion if he did.
In 1909 he applied for a Veteran’s Pension. This remains the last official record of him. His name does not appear in the 1910 Census.
I wait in the hope that more information about him will come to light about this long-lost relation. A man with a seemingly simple life has certainly been one of the more intriguing discoveries.
Note: 30 March 2012: You can catch Part II of Crockett’s story here: http://genealogyadventures.net/2012/03/30/crockett-sheffey-buffalo-soldier-part-ii/
For more information about the 9th Cavalry, please visit: http://www.9thcavalry.com/index2.htm or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/9th_Cavalry_Regiment_%28United_States%29
For more information about Fort Grant, please visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Grant,_Arizona