Give Me Eighty Men


Give Me Eighty Men

Women and the Myth of the Fetterman Fight

Shannon D. Smith

Women in the West Series

262 pages
40 illustrations


June 2008


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December 2021


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November 2010


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eBook (PDF)
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June 2008


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About the Book

“With eighty men I could ride through the entire Sioux nation.” The story of what has become popularly known as the Fetterman Fight, near Fort Phil Kearney in present-day Wyoming in 1866, is based entirely on this infamous declaration attributed to Capt. William J. Fetterman. Historical accounts cite this statement in support of the premise that bravado, vainglory, and contempt for the fort’s commander, Col. Henry B. Carrington, compelled Fetterman to disobey direct orders from Carrington and lead his men into a perfectly executed ambush by an alliance of Plains Indians.
In the aftermath of the incident, Carrington’s superiors—including generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman—positioned Carrington as solely accountable for the “massacre” by suppressing exonerating evidence. In the face of this betrayal, Carrington’s first and second wives came to their husband’s defense by publishing books presenting his version of the deadly encounter. Although several of Fetterman’s soldiers and fellow officers disagreed with the women’s accounts, their chivalrous deference to women’s moral authority during this age of Victorian sensibilities enabled Carrington’s wives to present their story without challenge. Influenced by these early works, historians focused on Fetterman’s arrogance and ineptitude as the sole cause of the tragedy.
In Give Me Eighty Men, Shannon D. Smith reexamines the works of the two Mrs. Carringtons in the context of contemporary evidence. No longer seen as an arrogant firebrand, Fetterman emerges as an outstanding officer who respected the Plains Indians' superiority in numbers, weaponry, and battle skills. Give Me Eighty Men both challenges standard interpretations of this American myth and shows the powerful influence of female writers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Author Bio

Shannon D. Smith is the executive director for the Wyoming Humanities Council and an author focusing on women in the West. She taught at Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for seven years. 


"Well-written and thoroughly documented, Give Me Eighty Men offers important new interpretations of the Fetterman Fight and how the myth developed. It is a significant contribution to the literature on the fight and the first months at beleaguered Fort Phil Kearny."—Susan Badger Doyle, South Dakota History

"Thoroughly researched and very well written, Shannon D. Smith's book joins the works of other recent writers, such as Sherry L. Smith, who have found in the writings of officers' wives not only important chronicles of the post-Civil War West, but the testimony to the growing importance of women in the American public sphere."—Ronald Schultz, Great Plains Quarterly

"Smith's depth of research and her ability to present clear and concise information will add significant resources for historians of nineteenth-century women."—Michele Nacy, Western Historical Quarterly

"Give Me Eighty Men is essential for anyone interested in the Fetterman event. . . . More broadly, Give Me Eighty Men offers valuable insight into how historical narratives are constructed and maintained and reminds historians of the importance of questioning conventional wisdom."—Jeffrey Ostler, Annals of Wyoming

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Prelude to Disaster

3. To the Frontier  

4. Officers and Gentlemen

5. Ladies of the Regiment 

6. Lessons Learned   

7. The Battle of the Hundred-in-the-Hands

8. Blazing a Paper Trail  

9. Women's Work 

10. Conclusion 



Winner of the 2009 Wyoming State Historical Society Award, Non-fiction publications category

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