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AfriGeneas Military Research Forum Archive

Re: Cathay Williams
In Response To: Re: Cathay Williams ()

Tom and Tony-I agree with you both, as there are several things about the Cathay Williams stuff that bothers me. It's been a great thing for some people to latch on to, but a lot just doesn't wash. A number of women did impersonate men, and join the service. During some of the mass enlistments, the exams would have been cursory if done at all. I have the disability discharge cert. ,invalid claim and rejection from NARA, but>>>>

These are the things that bother me.

1st. the disability claim lists Cathy Williams, and the service information as WILLIAM Cathay. It seems unusual that the gender change wouldn't have been questioned.

In the St. Louis article, which by the way, Tom is the St Louis Daily Times 1-2-1876, there is a line that just hits me wrong. In it it claims she was taken by the soldiers to Jefferson City with "other colored folks." and that Col. Benton wanted her to cook for the officers, but she didn't know how to cook. It goes on to say she learned to cook after going to Little Rock and was with the army at Pea Ridge. (It does NOT say she was a soldier)....later it says she was enlisted on Nov. 15, 1866 at St, Louis in the 38th. and that the regiment wore a Zouave uniform?????

She also states that only two people, a cousin and a "particular friend" members of the regiment, knew that I was a woman. They never 'blowed' on me.

Questions:1. Since the 38th was a regular army unit-they never would have had zouave uniforms to my knowledge, so that is strange.
2. By what she DOESN'T say, it is easy to infer she may have worked as a cook or laundress-and is letting people ASSUME she was a soldier.
3. The most probable to me-that William Cathay was a legitimate soldier whom she got to know, and whose identity she assumed, by using the tool of switching the name. She would have had nothing to lose-and an income for life to gain. If it was someone she knew was dead and had no family-or family who were literate-there was little likelihood of being caught from that direction.
The description of her by the surgeon who assessed her for the pension department described her as 5'7", 160 pounds, large stout and 49 years of age. All of us know rather amorphous people whose features could indicate neither male or female specifically. That would add to the charade. If you doubt that thought look at any number of photos from that can pick out any number of folks who by a change of clothing, demeanor could pass for the opposite sex.
4. Her claim was for deafness from exposure and a case of smallpox, which conveniently could not be verified in the records. On exam, it was found that she had lost all her toes to amputation (again, no military record) and could walk only with a crutch, but there was no sign of rheumatism or neuralgias caused by weather exposure. If her toes had been amputated in the army, there surely would have been something in her record, and losing the balance for walking would have been obvious to anyone.

All in all, I take the case with a truckload of salt, and it's sure not proved valid to me. Makes me sad, a little, to see things like a recent parade where half a dozen women were riding in uniform as cathay williams reenactors. Sigh.


Last September, when I was at Seminole Days, there was a lady there, Air Force, retired who had been called back to the Guard-Bennie knows her name-and she was telling us that Cathy's mother ran a boarding house in Pueblo, and that belongings of hers had been found recently in the basement. If she was in Pueblo with her mother, it would explain her period of "disappearance" from Trinidad.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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