Ellen Beck Goldsby Lynch, a freedwoman, member of the Cherokee Nation, laundress for the Tenth United States Cavalry, and wife and mother, was born on February 16, 1859, in the Delaware District of the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Ellen and her parents, Tempe and Luge Beck, had likely been enslaved persons once owned by Jeffery Beck, a member of the Cherokee Nation. They continued to reside in Indian Territory as freed persons after the Civil War. Ellen cited Cherokee heritage on her father’s side when she registered with the government as a member of the Cherokee Nation in 1880, 1893, 1901.
At approximately the age of fifteen, Ellen Beck married George Goldsby, then a private of mixed-race heritage in the Tenth United States Cavalry, on July 4, 1874, at Fort Sill, Indian Territory. As a member of the Tenth Cavalry, George belonged to a group popularly called the “Buffalo Soldiers,” which refers to the six regiments of African American soldiers that served in the United States western borderlands after the Civil War. Between 1874 and 1879 the couple had four children: Georgia, Crawford, Clarence, and Luther Ellen worked as one of four official laundresses for Company D, Tenth U. S. Cavalry, alongside three other women identified as Mrs. Murray, Mrs. Parker, and Mrs. Johnson. On May 27, 1875, Company D was officially transferred to Fort Concho near Saint Angela (present-day San Angelo, Texas). At Fort Concho the Goldsby family likely lived in the married enlisted men’s quarters which were crude shacks constructed on the north side of the fort grounds near the stables and barracks. The family would have received money from both her position as a laundress and his military pay. In addition to cleaning and sewing clothing, Ellen might have also assisted as a cook, nurse, or midwife.
In 1878 turmoil struck the family. George Goldsby and the rest of the Tenth Cavalry had endured prolonged racial animosity, discrimination, and physical violence from White civilians and Texas Rangers for years. In February 1878 Goldsby, who had been promoted to first sergeant after his re-enlistment in 1872, and a small group of his men were involved in a gunfight at Morris’s saloon in Saint Angela after some White cowboys and buffalo hunters accosted another Black sergeant. The gunfight left three civilians and one soldier dead. Before the trial, however, George Goldsby deserted his post on May 23, 1879, and left his wife with their four children, all under the age of six, at Fort Concho. With one exception a year after Goldsby left, Ellen did not see him again until decades later.
Ellen remained a laundress with the Tenth Cavalry after her husband abandoned the family. While she moved from post to post with the cavalry, her children stayed in Fort Gibson in the Illinois District of the Cherokee Nation in Indian Territory. They lived with various relatives and members of the Cherokee freeperson community, including a woman named Amanda “Mandy” Foster, who sent Crawford to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. During Ellen’s time with the cavalry, she was stationed at Fort Davis in Texas and Fort Grant in Arizona. She likely continued to work in this capacity until the official position of laundress was removed in the late 1880s. Believing her first husband was dead, on June 27, 1889, Ellen married Pvt. William Lynch of Troop K, Ninth U. S. Cavalry, in Kansas City, Missouri. The couple then moved back to Fort Gibson where William worked as a barber.
Turmoil continued for Ellen when her son Crawford turned to a life of crime. Considered a notorious outlaw, Crawford (often called “Cherokee Bill”) committed a number of murders which, according to Ellen’s testimony to the Commission of the Five Civilized Tribes, included that of his brother-in-law, Mose Brown, in 1894. According to newspaper accounts, Crawford was apprehended by Isaac “Ike” Rogers, a Black U. S. deputy marshal who befriended him before the arrest. Crawford was taken to Fort Smith, Arkansas, to await trial. Ellen moved to Fort Smith to be near her son and obtained a lawyer to defend him in the trial. Reportedly she would walk by the prison daily and talk to Crawford through the window of his cell before going to the river to fish. Eventually, Crawford was tried and hanged, as ordered by Judge Isaac Parker, on March 17, 1896, in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Ellen attended the trials and hanging. The next year her son Clarence fled law enforcement after he killed Rogers, who he felt betrayed his brother, in mid-April 1897. Clarence eventually joined the U. S. Army and served in the Philippines. After the murder of her son-in-law, Mose Brown, Ellen raised her granddaughter, Maud Brown Surrell.
Ellen’s first husband’s and sons’ lives became subject of Western tales and lore. For a brief period during the Mexican Revolution, newspapers from across the country publicized a widely spread series of rumors that erroneously claimed George Goldsby was the Mexican Revolutionary leader Francisco “Pancho” Villa, despite the men’s significant age difference. Some articles even alleged that Ellen Beck Lynch had confirmed the connection between the two men.
In 1912, possibly in preparation for filing for his military pension, George Goldsby tracked down Ellen and unsuccessfully requested an official divorce. In 1922 she filed for her first husband’s military pension, which was approved. At the age of seventy-three, Ellen Beck Lynch died while staying with her granddaughter, Maud, in Muskogee, Oklahoma, on December 17, 1932. She was buried at Fort Gibson in the Citizens Cemetery alongside William Lynch and her four children, all of who proceeded her in death. Posthumously, Ellen is depicted in a historical novel called Sergeant Goldsby and the 10th Cavalry (2014) by Fred Staff. The novel was inspired by the life of her ex-husband, George Goldsby.