Charlton, John B. (1848–1922)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1994

Updated: September 2, 2011

John B. (Jack) Charlton, an Indian fighter known as the "Old Sergeant," was born on August 6, 1848, in Bowling Green, Virginia, into an old planter family. His father died when Charlton was nine, and the family lost its fortune during the Civil War. Charlton enlisted in 1865 and served for five years in Gen. William Graham's Light Battery K of the First United States Army Artillery. He reenlisted in April 1870 in Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie's Fourth United States Cavalry and joined other recruits traveling west to forts Concho and Griffin from Texas Department headquarters in San Antonio. At Mountain Pass he encountered his first Indians, who attempted to steal the army mules. By encouraging soldiers without guns to find sticks that resembled weapons, he bluffed the Indians and averted the attack. He was subsequently assigned to Company F under Capt. Wirt Davis, promoted to corporal, and transferred to Fort Richardson.

Charlton escorted William T. Sherman and Randolph B. Marcy on a frontier inspection tour that narrowly escaped the Kiowas in 1871. Charlton killed Kiowa chief Satank when the Indian escaped his chains en route to Jacksboro to stand trial for the Salt Valley Massacre. Before the year's end, Charlton also took part in Mackenzie's frustrating Blanco Canyon campaign, captured deserters between Weatherford and Hillsboro with Lt. Robert G. Carter, and achieved the rank of sergeant. In 1872 he accompanied the Mackenzie expedition to New Mexico across the Llano Estacado and on September 29 he remained uninjured in the initial charge on Mow-way's camp at the North Fork of the Red River but the four men with him were either killed or wounded. A few days later he was twice wounded while saving Lt. Peter H. Boehm and another wounded man from the Comanches. Charlton participated in attacks on Kickapoo villages in Mexico with the Fourth Cavalry in early 1873. During the Red River War he was a member of Lt. William A. Thompson's scouting party, which sighted tepees in Palo Duro Canyon on September 27, 1874; Charlton won praise as a fighter in the ensuing battle of Palo Duro Canyon. In April 1875 he reenlisted at Fort Sill and accompanied the delegation under Dr. Jacob Sturm that induced Mow-way and Quanah Parker to surrender to federal authorities. After that, Charlton trailed horse thieves and outlaws in Northwest Texas and the Indian Territory with Jack Stilwell, until, dissatisfied with army life and suffering from an abdominal rupture, he obtained his discharge in 1876.

He next began a freight service between Cheyenne and Deadwood, South Dakota, where he met Wild Bill Hickok, John Burwell (Texas Jack) Omohundro, and Buffalo Bill Cody. After the Meeker Massacre (1879), he was among civilian teamsters in Major Thornburg's cavalry column, which was ambushed by Utes at Milk Creek in western Wyoming and rescued after a six-day siege by Gen. Wesley Merritt. Charlton prospected in Alaska and South America, accompanied the Cole Circus as a horse trainer to Hawaii and Australia, and worked in Mexico as a grader for the Mexican Central Railroad. In 1884 he returned to Texas and settled in Brackettville as a stock raiser.

Officers of the Fourth Cavalry acknowledged Charlton's bravery, but he was never awarded the Medal of Honor. He wrote his memoirs in a series of letters to Lt. Robert G. Carter, who edited and in 1926 published them as The Old Sergeant's Story. Charlton married Letitia Walling in 1892 and later moved to Uvalde, where he spent his remaining years in failing health. He died of heart disease on March 5, 1922, and was buried in the old Post Cemetery at Fort Clark near Brackettville. His remains were later moved to Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio.

Robert G. Carter, On the Border with Mackenzie, or Winning West Texas from the Comanches (Washington: Eynon Printing, 1935). Ernest Wallace, Ranald S. Mackenzie on the Texas Frontier (Lubbock: West Texas Museum Association, 1964).


  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Military
  • Soldiers

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

H. Allen Anderson, “Charlton, John B.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 22, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994
September 2, 2011