Your BNA Family History Stories – ‘From Worcestershire to the North American Plains’ | The British Newspaper Archive Blog


Your BNA Family History Stories – ‘From Worcestershire to the North American Plains’

Much like Scheherazade’s husband, the BNA Team is lucky enough to hear a wonderful story almost every day from visitors to the website. So when Sarah Hayes, a freelance curator from the West Midlands with a passion for social and family history, tweeted to tell us about her research in the BNA, we were all ears.

Sarah and her mum are researching their family tree and, well, they are certainly discovering some fascinating stuff. In particular, the story of one ancestor who emigrated from Worcestershire to the USA in the early 1850s and then enlisted in the 4th Cavalry, has, thanks to online historical newspapers, developed into a fascinating and poignant story ‘flooded with colour’.

Sarah has written a terrific article about her research at the BNA, and has very kindly allowed us to publish this article below.


From Worcestershire to the North American Plains

As a keen family historian my mum is forever delving through records in search of new information to help colour the picture of our family’s past. While I show a keen interest in all her ‘finds’ nothing has gripped my attention quite like the story of Henry Rogers Moorby, my first cousin, four-times removed. Henry had emigrated to America from Worcestershire with his parents sometime in the early 1850s and at the age of twenty-three in 1876, he enlisted with the 4th Cavalry in Jersey City.

Having discovered this ancestor around two years ago, it was the information recorded on his army enlistment papers that first started my obsession with the circumstances around his death and therefore his life. The description simply noted, ‘died of wounds (killed in action with Indians)’ on 25th April 1882; that was as much as I could initially make sense of anyway. But nevertheless, I was convinced that those few indecipherable words would eventually unlock more information about key circumstances surrounding Henry’s death, and indeed they did.

Group of Apache Indians

The Graphic – Saturday 15 April 1882


Persistence paid off and the clincher was in transcribing a small section of information that appeared immediately after the reference to being killed by Indians. Without it, Henry’s story couldn’t have expanded much beyond this point. It turns out that he had not only died of wounds in action with Indians, but ‘on cars between Lordsburg and Separ, New Mexico’.

You’d be forgiven for thinking ‘so what?’ but not only did I now know that Henry was killed by Native Americans, I could at last place his death as well. A simple search of ‘Lordsburg 1882’ revealed an abundance of sources, initially from books which seemed to place Henry in a conflict with Apaches on April 23rd 1882 that’s frequently referred to as the Battle of Horseshoe Canyon or Doubtful Canyon. Present at the battle, Colonel Forsyth reported that:

“I ordered Lieutenant McDonald, with six Indian scouts, to scout the country and proceeded across the Gila River. When about two-thirds across, one of the Indian scouts announced to me that four of the scouts were killed by a large number of Chiricahuas and Lieutenant McDonald and the other two were defending themselves against them. I galloped for sixteen miles to them and found the Indians strongly entrenched in Stein’s peak range. I attacked them at once and drove them from their entrenched position. I found it impossible to dislodge them without great loss and gave up further operations. My loss was four Indian scouts and one private of C Company killed and one sergeant and four privates wounded.”

The Graphic – Saturday 30 December 1876


There are many other accounts which refer to this battle and the point that six (or seven in some accounts) soldiers were killed, including four ‘Indian’ scouts, one private and one sergeant, just as the extract asserts. Indeed, searching the U.S. Registers of Deaths in the Regular Army, 1860-1889 of people who died on 23rd April 1882 reveals just five men: four ‘Indian’ scouts by the names of Yuma Bill, Kaloh Vichajo, Panocha and Ceguania and a private named William Kurtz, whose death certificate reveals that he died of gunshots to the head. As for the circumstances around the scouts’ deaths, their entries are all identical simply noting that they ‘died in action with hostile Indians’.

Further examination of each record confirms their place of death as ‘Stein’s Peak, New Mexico’, just as the passage above clearly states. Surely, I thought, the sergeant referred to had to be Henry, as this was the only battle that occurred around the date of his death. A search of the same register easily finds Henry as well, even noting that he ‘died of gunshot wounds of chest’. I later learned from various passages that the wounded were sent to Lordsburg by train for treatment. As Henry was shot in the chest, dying two days after the battle, this also seemed to explain his death ‘on cars between Lordsburg and Separ’. Seemingly then, Henry was on one of those carriages dying en route before he reached the town.

Knowing that this battle or skirmish had made the history books, there was a good chance that it would have also been reported at the time in the local, national and perhaps even international newspapers. As a seasoned ‘veteran’ at this, my mum convinced me it was worth searching the British newspapers first, because in her words ‘you just never know’. And to my surprise, there it was. The battle we suspected Henry was involved in was referred to in at least three newspaper articles that we managed to locate using the online British Newspaper Archive, including ones from Wales, Lancashire and Somerset.

Report from Manchester Courier and Lancashire Adviser, 29th April 1882 reporting on the battle Henry was caught up in.

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser – Saturday 29 April 1882


News of the battle even reached Wales! Article from the Western Mail, April 27th 1882 describing the skirmish that occurred on 23rd April 1882 near Stein’s Peak, New Mexico.

Western Mail – Thursday 27 April 1882


The Western Gazette in Somerset reported on the skirmish in New Mexico on 28th April 1882, virtually identical to the Western Mail’s article above.

Western Gazette – Friday 28 April 1882


Feeling pretty confident that these reports were referencing the battle Henry was involved in, I had no doubt his story was there to be found in the American archives too. This battle after all, had made international news and in 1882 the US government was staunchly focussed on suppressing what was often referred to as the ‘Indian problem’, so surely this skirmish with Native Americans, which was part of a much bigger series of events had made the headlines there.

The discovery I’d made in the British newspapers was surpassed by what can only be described as ‘hitting the jackpot’ once I started searching the American newspaper archives. An article from the Sacramento Daily Record-Union not only reported on the battle that took place on 23rd April, but confirmed by name that the sergeant who died that day was indeed Henry Moorby. It even disclosed more information on the circumstances around his death. Henry was indeed shot in the chest, but more specifically he was ‘shot through the left lung just below the heart; the wound being probably fateful’ and of course, it was.

Newspaper report from the Sacramento Daily Record-Union, 26th April 1882.
California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside,

Suddenly this story was ‘flooded’ with colour and what was once a partially developed image had seamlessly matured into a perfectly preserved snapshot of the past.

Henry’s story has brought me closer to a bigger chapter of world history that I never suspected my family had a direct connection to, but more than that, it’s reinforced how there are many more stories out there ‘lost’ in the archives patiently waiting to be found. Without the various newspaper articles reporting on the Battle of Horseshoe Canyon, I still had the foundations of a great story, but with the addition of the reports, this great story quickly evolved into a priceless piece of family history you would never trade or ever part with.

Sarah Hayes, Freelance Curator.

Keep up to date with my latest blogs by following me on Twitter @HayesSarah17


3 comments On Your BNA Family History Stories – ‘From Worcestershire to the North American Plains’

  • I found your story facinating. I ventured to look into the American civil War on my own in 2001 spending 8 days in Northern Vaginia around the battle of Manases(Bull Run to the Southern army) and then fredricksburg and Gettisburg. I Thought the Indian wars came to an end at Wounded Knee. But Obviously Congress kept its military campaign going well into the 1880s some 20 years after the end of the Civil War. Unfortunately your ancestor was a victim of those military skimishes. If you haven’t read it, I recommed ‘Bury my heart at Wounded knee’ by Dee Brown. It will help place you ancestors death into some historical context. Kind Regards
    Ian Isaac

    • Hi Ian, thank you for posting all this information. I was going to email Sarah to tell her about your very helpful reply to her article, but I see she has already replied to you. Best regards, Grant.

  • Hi Ian,

    Thanks so much! I’m really pleased you enjoyed reading my blog and thank you for the tip regarding the book. I’m looking it up now. I’m still gripped by Henry’s story and one day, I will hopefully make it to New Mexico to pay him a visit. That would be the icing on the cake!

    Best wishes,


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