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High Eagle The Many Lives Of Colonel Tim Mccoy
June 1977 | Volume 28, Issue 4
World War I and, of course, I went to World War II. I was a lieutenant colonel at the end of World War I. And I became a brigadier general when I was adjutant general of Wyoming, but my real permanent rank was full colonel—Cavalry. That’s what I’m retired as.
Did you see a lot of action in World War I?
Well, you always see a certain amount. You know the odd thing about wars? The only things you ever talk about or think about or remember are the funny things that happened.
What are some of the funny things?
Well, once I was coming back to Washington on a job during World War I and we landed in the Azores early in the morning. We went in to get shaved and cleaned up and have breakfast while they were servicing our plane. I came out and as I was coming over toward our plane, this sergeant in charge of the ground crew came up and clicked and saluted, and he said, “Pardon me, sir, but isn’t this Colonel McCoy?”
And I said, “Yes.”
“Well,” he said, “I’ve helped you a lot.”
“Where did you ever serve under me?” I asked him.
“Oh,” he said, “I never served under you, but the small town that I lived in back in Indiana … there’s a small picture house there and it had a little balcony, and every Saturday I sat right in the front row of that balcony up there and I had a slingshot and a pocketful of iron staples, and every time the villains got anywhere near you, I shot the hell out of them.”
Are you able to appreciate from your vantage point the enormous influence you had on children?
Do you know that I get more darn fan mail now? I don’t know why. I wish I had gotten that much twenty years ago. Well, they send me posters of the theater to autograph. I’ve got one over here on my desk. They put the damn things out as postcards. You see … this one’s a honey. Look at that one, in big letters, “Starring Tim McCoy.” Now look at these tiny little letters, the supporting cast … “John Wayne.” I get a kick out ofthat. They’re selling them all over the country. People are sending these things to me to be autographed. I’ve got some that I haven’t even opened because I can see what they are.
What did you do during World War II?
Well, World War II … you see I came back on duty for World War II and, heavens, I was fifty years old.
Wich you thought was old at that time?
Well, everybody thought it was old. And, so, well, they asked me what I wanted to do. I said, hell, I wanted to command troops. That’s all I ever knew. They said, “Not at your age.”
I said, “What do you mean, my age?” I told the adjutant general of the Army in Washington, “Do you realize I’ve been competing with fellows twenty-five years old for the last twenty-four years?”
“Yes,” he said, “but did you ever hear of a thing called War Department policy? You will not command troops after you’re forty-five years of age unless you are a general officer.”
I said, “Well, how close can I get to the troops?” So they gave me the funniest job in the world. Here I am a cavalryman and they sent me over to the Air Force. But it was a great job. My job was to coordinate the air support for the ground troops, so I could whip back and forth from the Air Force. I lived with the Air Force and they lived all right.
Let me ask you, how didyou become so involved with Indians?
Well, you see, I was associated with the Indians out in Wyoming for so long, I could talk to them and they would listen to me and they would ask my advice on things.
As a cowboy you were associated with them?
As a cowboy, because when we were riding cattle the big outfits would arrange to get leases of those vacant Indian lands, big reservations, and run their cattle over them and pay the Indians so much. Those things always had to be handled through the Indian Department, had to be O.K.’d by the agent of that particular reservation, and so the Indians would be asking my advice all the time as to what they should do. I could sit down and counsel and talk to them, you see, and I had to give them my opinion. So the fact was that they wanted my opinion on so many things that finally I had more influence over those Indians than anybody else, so that’s about the angle of it. Of course, when I was adjutant general of Wyoming after World War I, well, that gave me a lot of latitude and I could get out among them and do about as I pleased.
You became adjutant general having served as an aide to General Hugh L. Scott, isn’t that right?
He was chief of staff of the Army and he was about the last of the old-time Indian fighters who were still on active service. And he was chief of staff up until World War I. He was just about to hit the retirement age then, so when his tour of duty was up he became a commissioner of Indian Affairs, and of course I was a protégé of his.
What was it about the American Indian that appealed to you?
There was great sympatico . I think I could sum it up best by what old Chief Goes In Lodge said one time. He was an Arapaho. He said, “Long time ago, you must have been an Injun.” I guess that’s the answer.
In another life?