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*The birth of Pompey Factor in 1849 is celebrated on this date. He was a Black Seminole Scout for the U.S. Army during the Indian Wars.
Factor was born in Arkansas to Hardy Factor, a Black Seminole chief and Indian scout, and an unknown Biloxi Indian woman. Factor was a descendant of runaway slaves and Seminole Indians. Many fought against the U.S. Army in the Second Seminole War (1835–1842). By the end of that conflict, most of them were captured and removed from the Indian Territory. The fear of enslavement, however, drove many Black Seminoles to migrate to Mexico in the 1850s. Factor’s family was among those who emigrated. Factor and other Black Seminoles remained in Mexico until 1870, when the U.S. Army recruited them to serve as Indian scouts. He was one of the first men to accept the U.S. offer. In return, the United States promised land for their families and located them on a reservation at Fort Clark near Brackettville, Texas.
On August 16, 1870, Factor enlisted in the Army and was assigned the rank of private with the Detachment of Seminole Negro Indian Scouts and the Twenty-fourth Infantry, an all-black regiment. As a scout, he performed reconnaissance duties in Texas for the Army by tracking the movements of American Indians who remained free and refused to go to reservations. By 1870, the United States government and tribes of the southern plains had signed treaties that established reservations in Indian Territory. Still, many chiefs did not sign and refused to lead their people to the reservations. The Army attempted to force the free Indians to the reservations. As part of this effort, the Army employed scouts who were Indian because they were considered to be excellent trackers, and they could help demoralize the Indians whom the Army was fighting. The scouts identified any Indian groups they located and determined their strengths. Although the scouts were not expected to fight in any battles, they frequently did.
Factor was involved in a conflict on April 25, 1875, during the Red River War between the United States and the Comanche and Kiowa. Factor, Sergeant John Ward, and Trumpeter Isaac Payne, along with their commander, Lieutenant John L. Bullis, came upon the trail of a herd of seventy-five horses they suspected had been taken from white settlers. They followed the tracks to the Eagle’s Nest Crossing, just east of present-day Langtry, Texas, where they spotted the horses and twenty-five to thirty Comanche. Factor and his companions took cover within seventy-five yards of the Comanche and opened fire.
They killed three warriors and wounded another. Twice, they took the horse herd, but both times, they had to retreat and take cover. The scouts then realized they were about to be encircled by the Comanche, which would make them unable to get to their horses. They retreated to their horses and started to ride away. Sergeant Ward then noticed that Lieutenant Bullis could not mount his frightened horse and was nearly surrounded by the Comanche. He alerted Factor and Payne, and they turned around to rescue their commander. Under heavy fire, Ward pulled Bullis onto his horse while he and Payne provided cover. The scouts then rode to safety.
Factor and his fellow scouts were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on May 28, 1875, for their bravery at Eagle’s Nest Crossing. They were three of only eighteen Black soldiers during the Indian Wars who received such an honor. In 1875, he received the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroic actions during the Red River War. On New Year’s Day, 1877, less than two years after receiving the medal, Factor left the scouts and returned to Mexico.
He had become concerned by the rising tensions between Black Seminoles and white settlers in southern Texas. Two scouts, one of whom had received the Medal of Honor in another engagement, had been murdered. On May 25, 1879, Factor returned to the United States and rejoined the scouts. In 1880, he again went back to Mexico. In 1926, he returned to Texas. His request for a pension was finally approved before his death. Still, he died destitute on March 28, 1928, and is buried in the Seminole Indian Scout Cemetery at Brackettville, Texas.
Johnson, John Allen
“The Medal of Honor and Sergeant John Ward and Private Pompey Factor.”
Arkansas Historical Quarterly 29 (Winter 1970): 361–75.
Freedom on the Border. Lubbock:
Texas Tech University Press, 1993.
Porter, Kenneth W.
The Black Seminoles
Revised and edited by
Alcione M. Amos and Thomas P. Senter. Gainesville:
University Press of Florida, 1996.