8/4/2013 6:00:00 AM Days Past: German frontiersman a real-life 'Old Shatterhand'
Sharlot Hall Museum/Courtesy photo Despite his German origins, Albert Seiber adopted the look of a frontiersman, including a rugged buckskin “scouting” outfit, soon after he came to Arizona.
Days Past is a weekly feature in the Courier, supplied by Sharlot Hall Museum volunteers, chronicling historic events in Prescott.
By JOHN LANGELLIER Special to the Courier
Born in Germany on Feb. 29, 1844, Albert Sieber could have been an inspiration for Karl May's fictional frontier character "Old Shatterhand."
During 1848, Sieber's family emigrated as revolutionary unrest raged throughout their homeland. They made their first home in Lancaster, Pa., then moved on to Minnesota.
After the outbreak of the American Civil War, Sieber volunteered in support of the Union. As an enlisted man in Company B of the First Minnesota Infantry, he fought in the Peninsula campaign, and subsequently at Antietam, Fredericksburg and Gettysburg. During this last clash, he suffered a severe wound - the first of many -sustained during a dangerous, action-filled life.
After the war, Sieber headed west to try his hand at various pursuits from prospecting to ranching. His wandering brought him to California. He moved on to Nevada, then back to California, and eventually he found his way to Arizona Territory.
In the late 1860s, he drove a herd of horses from San Bernardino to Prescott. Before long he secured a position as foreman for Curtis Cole Bean and managed a ranch in Williamson Valley. While so employed, he participated in a pair of expeditions against local Indians in an effort to control raiding in the region.
Armed with this ex-perience, he offered his services to General George Crook's command, which at the time was undertaking aggressive campaigns against the people that came to be known as the Apaches and the Yavapais. His first duties were as a packer, but before long he became a civilian scout, with Crook naming Sieber chief of scouts in short order.
The lure of gold in east central Arizona temporarily ended Sieber's new career in pursuit of riches. When he failed to find his El Dorado, he returned to employment with the army. After another short stint as a muleskinner, Sieber returned to his position as chief of scouts, a post he held until 1887. For nearly a decade and a half, Sieber remained in the forefront of forays against the Apaches and other Arizona tribal groups. In 1875, he was present during the tragic forced relocation of the Yavapai people from their Camp Verde reservation near modern Cottonwood to San Carlos. Thereafter, when individuals or parties bolted from San Carlos, he often took to their trail.
Seiber's years of faithful performance earned him praise from Crook and other military field commanders, including Lt. Britton Davis of the Third United States Cavalry. It was Davis who succinctly summed up Sieber's record when he wrote: "We should remember him by the many critical situations he handled successfully over a period of nearly 15 years, risking his life repeatedly that others might be saved. If there ever was a man who actually did not know physical fear, that man was Al Sieber!"
From this high-water mark, Sieber's fortunes with the military ebbed. Sustaining a crippling wound during the violent arrest attempt of the so-called Apache Kid during June of 1887, he would never fully recover use of his leg.
On a positive note, two years later, his years as a foreigner ended with his naturalization on Oct. 30, 1889, in Globe. But, just a little over a year later, the new citizen experienced a setback when the commanding officer at San Carlos fired him from the government employ.
Returning to prospecting and other pursuits to make a living, Sieber eventually wound up working with crews constructing Roosevelt Dam. On Feb. 19, 1907, he died after being crushed by a falling boulder. Some scholars hold that his death was not accidental, but that instead Apaches working on a road crew nearby exacted vengeance for his actions against their people. The old frontiersman and bachelor would be laid to rest in Globe.
Although he left no family to mourn him, Sieber would not be forgotten. In fact, Hollywood has portrayed him a few times over the years; he was played by a number of actors, including John McIntire in the 1954 film "Apache"; Richard Widmark a quarter of a century later in "Mr. Horn," and more recently by Robert Duvall in 1993's "Geronimo: An American Legend."
Days Past is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit articles for Days Past consideration. Contact Scott Anderson at 445-3122 or via email at email@example.com for information.
Posted: Sunday, August 04, 2013
Article comment by:
Good article, John, but I want to read about your new policy at Sharlot Hall of keeping all the gates locked and having people get on the grounds through the Store. This will surely alienate more people toward you, plus did you stop to consider that possible visitors driving by will see the gates shut and assume the museum is closed and drive on? How has attendance been since you started this? I'd be interested in knowing.