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Raymond Hatfield "Arizona Bill" Gardner

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by Gene Fowler, Austin
“Arizona Bill” Gardner, a true Old West character, led a peripatetic life—and death.
Many a kid of the 1920s and ’30s treasured the memory of a wiry old frontiersman passing through town. Bearded, wild-haired, riding his beloved burro named Tipperary as he crisscrossed the country, Raymond Hatfield Gardner—better known as Arizona Bill—enthralled young and old with a repertoire of tales that chronicled the American West.

Born in Louisiana in 1845, Gardner said that Comanches had captured him from a wagon train crossing Texas before he could walk. Traded to the Sioux some years later, the red-headed boy didn’t know he wasn’t an Indian until he rejoined his own culture around the age of 13 (probably after a rescue by soldiers). When the Civil War broke out, the teenager joined the Union Army, serving as a courier for General Ulysses S. Grant. Gardner reenlisted several times and became a valued scout in the Indian wars. Generals Crook and Miles renamed him Arizona Bill during their hunt for Geronimo in the land of the giant saguaros. Gardner also scouted for Custer, but luckily missed out on the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Gardner’s varied resumé also included a stint riding pony express for Wells Fargo, and—like anybody who was anybody in the Old West—he also performed with Buffalo Bill for a time. Along the way, Arizona Bill found time to dabble in mule-trading and gold-prospecting.

From the mid-1930s on, when he wasn’t wandering the country, Arizona Bill lived at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. Unaccustomed to sleeping indoors, the elderly scout preferred to bunk in the stables beside Tipperary. Army medic George Miller heard Arizona’s colorful tales in 1939, when Bill checked into Fort Benjamin Harrison Hospital in Indiana. When he checked out, he invited Miller to visit him in “my city,” San Antonio.

Arizona Bill died in “his city” the following year, but he was buried in an unmarked grave in San Fernando Cemetery #2, instead of at Fort Sam, because the Army couldn’t locate his service records. Porter Loring Funeral Home donated an olive green casket with brass bugles for handles.

When George Miller moved to San Antonio in 1950 as a retired Master Sergeant, he undertook a 26-year quest to prove that Arizona indeed had served his country. After the old scout’s enlistment papers were finally located, in dusty cavalry archives, Arizona Bill was reburied with full military honors in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, on Veterans Day in 1976.

Read 2697 times Last modified on Friday, 13 July 2012 13:06

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