Grierson, Alice Kirk (1828–1888)

By: Shirley A. Leckie

Type: Biography

Published: January 1, 1995

Alice Kirk Grierson, frontier army wife, the daughter of John and Susan (Bingham) Kirk, was born at Youngstown, Ohio, on May 3, 1828, the oldest of thirteen children. After graduating from Huron Academy in Milam, Ohio, she taught school in her hometown, as well as in Lafayette, Indiana, and Springfield, Illinois. She was a devout member of the Disciples of Christ, but she married Benjamin Henry Grierson, musician and band leader, in 1854, despite her father's objections and Grierson's lack of religion. By 1861 she and two sons (another had died in infancy) resided in Jacksonville, Illinois, while her husband served in the Sixth Illinois Cavalry. At the end of the Civil War Grierson's two successful raids through Mississippi in 1863 and 1864 had catapulted him to major general of volunteers.

After giving birth to a daughter in 1865, Alice encouraged her husband to accept the colonelcy of the Tenth United States Cavalry, one of two newly formed black mounted regiments. From her earliest days on the frontier, Alice, unlike most officers' wives, displayed no fear and little prejudice against the "buffalo soldiers." Unceasingly, she intervened on their behalf whenever officers or their wives mistreated the soldiers. She bore her fifth child at Fort Riley, Kansas, in 1867. Two years later, she moved from a tent at Fort Sill, Indian Territory, into the newly completed commanding officer's quarters shortly before her sixth child arrived. Less than two weeks later she entertained a member of the Board of Indian Commissioners and his wife. In 1871 her seventh child, a second daughter, died at three months. By then Charlie, her oldest son, was living with Chicago relatives to finish school. Alice's depression over her frequent pregnancies and the loss of her infant, as well as her guilt over separation from Charlie and her inability "to harmonize public life with nursery duties," placed her under intolerable strain. She went to Chicago to regain her mental health.

Mrs. Grierson subsequently returned to the frontier, where her husband's support for President Ulysses S. Grant's peace policy had placed him in a tense relationship with Philip H. Sheridan, commander of the Department of the Missouri. In 1875 Sheridan ordered Grierson to Fort Concho, a dilapidated post on the High Plains of West Texas. Grierson was unhappy with his transfer to such a remote post and considered resigning; however, Alice advised him to stay in the army. The seven years at Concho brought calamities. In 1877, twenty-two-year-old Charlie had his first episode of manic-depressive psychosis while attending West Point. Ben and Alice nursed him back to health, but a year later she lost her remaining daughter, thirteen-year-old Edith Clare, to typhoid fever. Alice tried to keep up a cheerful front, describing herself as not "forlorn, and gloomy at any time." Two years later, this resilient woman nursed her second son, twenty-one-year-old Robert, through his first bout with mental illness.

In 1882 the Tenth moved to Fort Davis, Jeff Davis County. The Griersons, captivated by the rugged beauty of the region and believing in its economic potential, acquired ranches for their younger sons and planned to make Fort Davis their permanent home. To their disappointment, however, the Geronimo campaign necessitated the Tenth's removal to Arizona Territory. Alice moved to Santa Fe in 1886, when Grierson became commander of the District of New Mexico. When a persistent lameness grew worse, she returned to Jacksonville for treatment. On August 16, 1888, she died of bone cancer. She was buried in Jacksonville, Illinois. Fortunately, this forthright woman left behind a remarkably frank correspondence describing the problems of raising a family in the frontier army.

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Benjamin H. Grierson Papers, Southwest Collection, Texas Tech University. Shirley A. Leckie, ed., The Colonel's Lady on the Western Frontier: The Correspondence of Alice Kirk Grierson (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989). William H. and Shirley A Leckie, Unlikely Warriors: General Benjamin H. Grierson and His Family (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin, Benjamin H. Grierson.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Shirley A. Leckie, “Grierson, Alice Kirk,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 20, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995

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