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Spare, frail, and plagued by old wounds, Ranald Mackenzie was still “the finest Indian-fighting cavalryman of them all”
June 1958 | Volume 9, Issue 4
In November, 1883, General Mackenzie was placed in command of the Department of Texas with headquarters at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. He had remained a bachelor, but now he again met the love of his younger days. Years before he had often visited the San Antonio home of Warwick Tunstall, making the round trip of 280 miles from Fort Clark. He had become deeply attached to his host’s daughter, Florida, but circumstances had prevented a strong mutual attraction from developing further, and in 1869, as Mackenzie moved on to the hardships of frontier warfare, Florida Tunstall had married an army doctor, Redford Sharpe.
Now, when Mackenzie returned at the apex of his career, he found Florida Sharpe a widow. They became engaged and he bought a ranch in the nearby town of Boerne as their future home. But this sudden happiness must have been too much for him. A number of factors—his old wounds, the extreme rigors and hardships of all his years of campaigning, the accident at Fort Sill, and his grave and constant responsibilities—all these had begun to take their cumulative toll on Mackenzie’s high-strung temperament and frail physique. The unexpected joy of his engagement must have opened the floodgates. His friends noticed that he was becoming increasingly irrational. Hoping it was only a temporary condition, they tried to keep him secluded and under watch. But his actions became more erratic and violent, and finally, in December of 1883, he had to be sent east to an asylum in New York. The following spring, retired for disability contracted in the line of duty, he went to live with his sister in New Brighton, Staten Island, and there five years later he died. He was buried at West Point.
So died unnoticed a splendid soldier who had rid Texas of the Indian scourge and who, though he had always shunned publicity, had been the finest Indianfighting cavalryman of them all.