Edwin B. Fair Letters


Date: 1877-1880 | Size: 0.25 Linear feet, 5 letters


This small, but interesting collection consists of five letters written by Corporal Edwin B. Fair, a member of the U.S. Seventh Cavalry who was stationed at Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory and Little Missouri, Montana Territory. In addition to touching upon encounters with Native Americans, the letters chronicle the rough and dangerous nature of life on the frontier in the 1870s and 1880s.

Background note

Corporal Edwin B. Fair, who became a telegraph operator in Montana, belonged to the Company E of the U.S. Seventh Cavalry, George Custer's former outfit. The Seventh Cavalry left Fort Abraham Lincoln in the Dakota Territory for its ill-fated encounter with a large band of Native American warriors on the Little Bighorn in 1876. The unit was decimated in the encounter, with Company E wiped out as part of "Custer's Last Stand."

Fair's earliest letter in this collection, is one year removed from this disastrous expedition; he was fortunate to have missed out on Little Bighorn. Earlier in 1877, the Seventh Cavalry captured Chief Joseph's Nez Perce at the Battle of Bear Paw (30 September - 5 October 1877). Fair mentions encounterning Crow and Nez Perce Indians after this event, in his letter dated 26 November 1877.

Scope and content

The collection is comprised entirely of five letters written in 1877-1880 by Corporal Edwin Fair of the U.S. Seventh Cavalry. Fair writes home to his sisters from his posts in the Dakota Territory and Montana. In the letters, Fair describes the daily life of and conditions faced by a common soldier stationed on the Plains; buffalo hunting; encounters with Native Americans, particularly the Crow and Nez Perce; and patrol and reconnaissance missions in Yellowstone National Park and other places. Fair relates the events and scenes witnessed in the plain, unvarnished vernacular of the day. Letters from the time and place are of infrequent occurence, making this a particularily interesting collection.

Collection Information


Accession M2013-04. Purchased from Michael Brown Rare Books, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 4/2013.

Preferred citation

Cite as: Edwin B. Fair Letters, American Philosophical Society.

Processing information

Processed by Michael Miller, June 2014.

Indexing Terms

Geographic Name(s)

  • United States -- History, Military.


  • Cavalry -- United States -- History
  • Crow Indians
  • Fort Abraham Lincoln (N.D.)
  • Indians of North America -- Montana
  • Indians of North America -- North Dakota -- History
  • Indians of North America -- West (U.S.)
  • Nez Percé Indians -- History

Detailed Inventory

Edwin B. Fair Letters
1877-1880, n.d. 5 item(s) box 1
Fair, Edwin B..
Letter to his Sister
1877 November 26 6 p. box 1

Fort Abraham Lincoln, autographed letter signed. Fair writes about his "trip this summer": hunting buffalo and antelope, encounters with the Crow and Nez Perce Indians, and the discovery of a slain rancher.

Fair, Edwin B..
Letter to his Sister [Maryetta]
1878 June 7 4 p. box 1

Fort A. Lincoln, D[akota] T[erritory], autographed letter signed. There is "strong talk of the Expidition [sic] starting soon." Details a favorite trooper's sport--hunting buffalo. Speaks of the possibility of being discharged should the cavalry be reorganized from 12 to 8 companies.

Fair, Edwin B..
Letter to his Sister [Maryetta]
1880 February 16 8 p. box 1

Little Missouri, Montana, autographed letter signed. Currently at Little Missouri after a time at Rapid City. Detached to the signal service as an operator with R. L. Rotchford, who "learned me to telegraph last summer." Includes postscript where Fair discusses his role as signal station operator and that he hopes to save his money. Also mentions that settlers are quickly moving in to Montana, that it is "very pretty land out here."

Fair, Edwin B..
Letter to his Sister [Mary]
1880 July 14 4 p. box 1

Plumb Creek, autographed letter signed. Discusses an incident where a fellow was planning to shoot Fair with a revolver. The fellow, who had too much to drink, asked Fair to join him and drink with him. Fair refused and the fellow threatened to shoot him. Fair "went at him open handed and gave him a little clouting and the hard case soon yielded."

Fair, Edwin B..
Fragment of letter [to his sister Mary]
Undated 4 p. box 1

Fragment of letter signed. Fair writes of the latest news: One man was found dead at Boxelder; apparently he became lost during a storm and froze to death ("out here it is every one for him self and the Devil for them all"). A man named Jim Belair was ambushed by a party of Indians and was struck by bullet, losing his thumb and forefinger in the process. And, "the odd fellows at Deadwood want me to join the loge [sic], but I think I won't until I come home."