Heritage, Volume 14, Number 3, Summer 1996 Page: 18
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AGNERL. INVYENOR . RIPSCAUION -MYIANCESOR
HENRY HOPKINS SIBLEY
THE GENERAL WHO WOULD (ONQUER
TE AMERICAN WIST FOR THE CONFDERACY
By William J. Sibley
Understanding and disclosing "the legend" of particular
individuals in our past can become as dismaying
as trying to speed read a nine-pound Russian
novel. How do we find the real Sam Houston anymore,
the real Charles Goodnight - or for that
matter, the real Janis Joplin? It seems the more one
reads, the less one knows. Who were these people,
really? How can they appear so different in each
subsequent telling of their frequently amended lives?
Can we ever fully know the spirit and essence of an
illustrious character, now deceased, reduced to the
dry, resolute pages of biography (or perhaps even less
reliable, the imaginative flights of narrative common
to many autobiographies?).
In particular, what of the dilemma of "familylegends"?
How do we separate fact from fancy, slander
from candor, when it affects a distant kin both acclaimed
and infamous at the same time? For most of
my childhood, I was prepped by my father with
countless stories of valor and honor concerning our
illustrious forebear, General Henry Hopkins Sibley.
When I would ask exactly how we were related, it was
always the same response: "He's an uncle." That
covered it. "Uncle Henry" became something entirely
mythic. "Uncle Henry" was held up as near a
perfect, noble, and godlike creature that ever roamed
the earth. It wasn't until I was an adult that I discovered
through research of my own that "Uncle Henry"
was mortal after all. Extremely mortal. In fact,
I was greatly relieved to discover that, indeed, we
were related, if somewhat distantly - we share the
same common ancestor who got off the boat in Salem,
Massachusetts, in 1629 (nine years after the Mayflower).
I became so confused poring through the
1,733 pages of "The Sibley Family in America" by
James Scarborough Sibley, that I arrived at the entirely
reasonable conclusion that I must be related to
everyone in the United States. Suffice it to say, General
Sibley, a native of Louisiana (the state from which
my father is also descended), had enough ancestors in
common with my ancestors to be blood kin. An
"uncle" will do.
Henry Hopkins Sibley had his share of critics.
There were many. It's a touchy subject for his scattered
descendants. Colorful, eccentric, smooth as a silk
General Henry Hopkins Sibley was the inventor of the Sibley war tent and stove before leading
troops in the ill-fated Battle of Glorieta Pass. Photo from the Library of Congress.
saddle - no question. Indecisive, egotistical, and admittedly fond of the grape
- conspicuously so. As my father might have prudently put it in a rare moment
of contemplation, "He may have been a bastard, but he was our bastard."
Sibley was born on his family's plantation in Natchitoches, Louisiana, on
May 25, 1816. A son of the South, Sibley was a direct descendant of the first
recorded Sibley to arrive in America (as indeed, most if not all Sibleys in
America appear to have originated from), John Sibley, an immigrant from
Dorsetshire, England, in 1629. With forefathers in the American Revolution
(Colonel Timothy Sibley), the westward expansion (Indian agents, Dr. John
Sibley, under Thomas Jefferson, and his son George Champlain Sibley, who
implemented the survey team charting the Santa Fe Trail), politics (Henry
Hastings Sibley, first governor of Minnesota), and commerce and education
(Hiram Sibley, founder of Western Union and Cornell University), Sibley
could authentically lay claim to an American ancestry of achievement and
18 HERITAGE *SUMMER 1996
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 14, Number 3, Summer 1996, periodical, Summer 1996; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45405/m1/18/: accessed January 23, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.