The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 90, July 1986 - April, 1987

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

Colonel Tommy Tompkins: A Military Heritage and Tradition. By John M.
Carroll. (Mattituck, New York: J. M. Carroll and Company, 1984.
Pp. 191. Introduction, illustrations, maps, index.)
From 1885 to 1927 Selah R. M. ("Tommy") Tompkins served as a
commissioned officer in the U.S. Army, most of the time in the famed
Seventh Cavalry. He saw action at Wounded Knee, in the Philippines,
and later on the Rio Grande. His reputation, however, was won for ex-
ploits far from the battlefield. Following in the footsteps of his father, a
quartermaster officer who once refused to issue an army buckboard to
Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant and suddenly found himself posted to Sitka,
Alaska, Tommy quickly established himself as a legend in the Old
Army. As a shavetail at Fort Leavenworth, he rode his horse up a stair-
case to the second floor of the officers' quarters. Discovering that the
horse was unable to walk down the stairs, the men solved the horse's
predicament "by hiring a piano mover from the local community who
had to rig a hoist, remove a window, place the horse on a sling and
thereby remove the horse to the ground" (p. 72). As a first lieutenant,
Tompkins visited a touring circus and "rode grandly into Fort Riley, at
the head of his troop, mounted on an elephant" (p. 8o). As a captain,
Tommy's men were reviewed by President William H. Taft. When Taft
turned to Tompkins and said, "That's certainly a fine body of troops,"
Tommy responded, "You bet your - [backside] it is, Mr. President"
(p. 85). Despite these incidents Tompkins managed to become a colonel.
As a colonel, Tommy served in Texas along the Rio Grande during
the border disturbances with Mexico. Posted to a succession of posts
from Fort Bliss in El Paso to Fort Brown in Brownsville, Colonel Tomp-
kins patrolled southern Texas. Aware of certain problems with news-
papers and publicity, he lined up his command on the north bank of
the Rio Grande and confiscated all paper and pencils, announcing,
"I'm keeping the only record of this expedition, and I've got a poor
memory" (p. 91). Later in Mexico, Tompkins showed his contempt for
the textbook strategists at the Command and General Staff College in
Fort Leavenworth. During the battle of Juirez in 1919, he ordered his
adjutant to bring him whatever map was handy. It turned out to be a
map of the battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Colonel Tompkins looked at it
and then gave orders to deploy his regiment. Turning to the stunned
adjutant, Tommy remarked, "That ... Leavenworth outfit says you
gotta look at a map in a situation like this" (p. 1 o 1). Having fulfilled the
letter of the law, he now returned to the battle. Tompkins also was
involved in two other incidents in Texas. At Fort Sam Houston he
watched the filming of the silent movie Wings, photographed at Fort
Sam and at Camp Stanley and at Fort Bliss, where his retirement cere-

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 90, July 1986 - April, 1987. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117152/. Accessed September 1, 2015.