His name was a plain one – John Phillips. Some called him Portugee or Portuguese Phillips. But whatever they called him, they couldn’t have said that he wasn’t a man: a man’s man.
John “Portugee” Phillips was a combination scout, trapper, Indian fighter and all-round plainsman. A man of medium height with dark semi-wavy hair, dark but not deep eyes, and a bearded strong face, his country was that of the Northern plains, the Wyoming-Dakota-Montana territory. He received his moniker because he was Portuguese: born Manual Felipe Cardoso on April 8, 1832, the fourth of nine children of Felipe and Maria Cardoso. Born near the town of Terra, on the island of Pico, in the Azores, he entered life as a citizen of Portugal. At the age of 18, he left the Azores aboard a whaling vessel bound for California, where the youth intended to pan for gold.
It was December 22, 1866. Just twenty-four hours before, Captain Wm. Fetterman and eighty men had been killed by Sioux and Cheyenne in a battle that history calls the Fetterman Massacre. The Sioux were holding Ft. Phil Kearny under a virtual state of siege. Ft. Kearny had been built smack-dab in the middle of Sioux territory. The great Red Cloud, then at the pinnacle of power and leadership, kept the fort under constant watch. Fetterman had gone out under strict orders to “relieve the wood train, drive back the Indians, but on no account pursue the Indians beyond Lodge Trail Ridge.” But Fetterman, who once made the grand statement, “Give me eighty men and I’ll ride through the whole Sioux nation,” disobeyed and, although he had his eighty, he didn’t even make a dent. Capt. R. Ten Eyck brought in the pitiful remains.
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