Lieutenant Colonel Leavitt L Bowen: The “General” – Part 1
This morning, the author Brad Meltzer was talking about his latest book The Escape Artist, and he said something quite notable. “Writing and the written word are the most important and most dangerous things.” He is so right. Our foundations came from great writers like Paine, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Think about it. From the Committees of Correspondence to Common Sense, we owe our national existence to important and dangerous writers and their words.
It’s open to argument, but John Lewis Dailey, co-owner of the Rocky Mountain News with William Newton Byers, was the workhorse of the newspaper and probably its most prolific writer. Byers was the ‘mouthpiece,’ promoter and propagandist, but Dailey was the “real newspaperman” who wrote most of the important words for the paper. Dailey leaves his diaries for our reading and he gives us a glimpse into “General” Bowen that we would not have found elsewhere.
[For more, see a genuine account of the first and lasting Colorado media outlet: Perkin, Robert L., The First Hundred Years: An Informal History of Denver and the Rocky Mountain News, Doubleday & Co., Inc. Garden City, NY, 1959. A good and interesting read. Hopefully it will be re-published, but copies are available through inter-library loan.]
When you study history, read the old letters, papers, diaries and reports, you can’t help but let your imagination paint a picture of a person, especially if you haven’t found a photograph or painting of them. When I first looked into our subject I pictured him much older. See what kind of drawing your mind’s eye can pencil in.
One of the least recognised names of principal actors at the Sand Creek massacre is the third in command – 40 year-old Leavitt L. Bowen. In this series, he was the third “Colonel” on the field on November 29, 1864. Forty years isn’t an old man by our 2018 standards. I’ve yet to find a photograph of the Denver attorney and long-time Mason. One thing we do know is he was associated, through witnesses, as one of the officers who participated in the mutilations early on the first day the soldiers were on the ground. We also know he’d had an association with Colonel John Chivington going back as far as the late 1850s in Nebraska.
The 5’ 8” [a little above average for 1864] Bowen had blue eyes, brown hair and was born in Cuyahoga County, Ohio in about 1824. His mustering record for the 3rd Regiment Cavalry, Colo. [U.S.] Volunteers describes him as having a “florid complexion.” At some point before reaching Nebraska in the 1850s, he’d become an attorney. According to the same records, he was commissioned on August 27, 1864 by Gov. John Evans (a Masonic brother). He mustered out of the service on December 28, 1864.
Over 150 years ago, having a “florid complexion” was often used to describe individuals prone to alcohol abuse. It’s a clue. This lawyer was known to have a drinking problem. One of his major detractors, John Dailey, also enlisted in the 3rd Regiment and appears to have taken special pains to track Bowen’s drinking while on duty. We have Dailey’s diaries for the time period but have yet to find the journalist’s notes.
Dailey also appears to have been one of the significant documentarians of the 3rd and very probably wrote the articles about Sand Creek that were printed in the RMN. Because of Dailey’s style and intimate connection to the paper, it’s also probable he wrote some of Chivington’s reports sent forward to Denver.
Dailey, enlisted in the 3rd Regiment five days after authorization, August 16 and was made a Sgt. in Theodore Greenwood Cree’s Co. A, which was in the main recruited in Denver City. As a member of Cree’s Co., he found himself on details along the Cherokee Trail from Denver to (old) Colorado City on down to Pueblo and Fountain City at the junction of the Fontaine qui Bouille and the Arkansas River.
He also was part of the detachment that was an escort of the Jim Reynolds’ group of prisoners. Dailey was not present at the killing or roadside execution of the five Reynolds’ gang but noted same in his diaries. [see previous COL Shoup articles in KCI that detail the killing of Reynolds] Dailey was also part of the detachment assigned to escort Governor Evans and party, including “General” Bowen, to the Conejos Treaty grounds in early October and gave us his observations of Bowen’s drinking habits throughout and at Ft. Garland.
[It has been one of the fortunate instances this writer has had in the last seventeen years to meet a descendant of Dailey who was generous in giving me insight into the newspaperman’s life and family.]
It is pure speculation on the part of this writer that one of the most false accusations against the troops at Sand Creek was that they were all drunk. For that, there is no documentary substance; although, many who had an axe to grind with Chivington and his attack on the village had ample opportunity to present evidence, or even conjecture about drunkenness amongst the troops or that drinking spirits was condoned by command, none was given.
John Dailey was a man who wrote many words. His words left for us are dangerous because they give us insight into behavior of the officer who was third in command at Sand Creek.
Next time, Three Colonels: The “General” Part 2
Jeff C. Campbell