24 March 2009 by Published in: General News 12 comments

I am deeply grateful to Chris Dixon, of Bridlington, East Yorkshire, England. Chris owns and operates a business selling old military medals. Chris has Dave Day’s Medal of Honor for sale. He was kind enough to forward the photos of the medal that appear here, as well as some more really useful material about Dave Day. Thank you, Chris.

Medal of HonorMedal of Honor

I now know that Dave was married March 10, 1870 to Victoria Sophia Falck, the 13th child of a wealthy Southern plantation owner and slaveholder. “Her engagement to Northerner Day caused consternation not only to her family but also the three other young men to whom she was simultaneously engaged. Gallant to the core, all her former beaux sat in the front pews at the church wedding, later serenaded the happy couple and refreshed themselves with five gallons of wine.” The Days had five children: Stanley, Roderick Seely, Gerald Letcher, George Vest, and Vic “Nona” Lenore, all of whom were born in Missouri, and another two, born in Colorado, who died in infancy. Mrs. Day lived until 1940.

Dave Day used to refer to himself as the Philosopher. What a hoot.

Day’s own legend was that he ran away from home at an early age to escape a cruel stepmother who wanted to force him to go to school, so he enlisted in the Union army at 15. Supposedly, he was illiterate at the time and unable to write his own name. Day claimed that, as a result of his valor, a commanding general had him tutored in reading and writing.

The following appeared in a 1971 tribute to his newspaper, The Solid Muldoon: “His post-war career in Missouri as a grocer ended in bankruptcy when he co-signed a note for a friend. Married and the father of five, he struck out for Colorado with a friend, Jerrold Letcher, who helped him set up the newspaper in Ouray, then took up the practice of law. The one and only Solid Muldoon flourished in Ouray from 1879 to 1892 when, with a $25,000 inducement, the paper was moved to Durango. Historians have some interesting speculations as to the source of the money. Day’s career in Durango was highlighted on May 18, 1903 when he and a rival editor exchanged 13 shots at a distance of eight to fifteen feet. Day was unscathed, the rival receiving a slight flesh wound. In 1893, Day founded the Durango Weekly Democrat and was appointed by President Cleveland as Indian agent for the Southern Utes. His son-in-law, Thomas Tulley, was publisher of the Democrat from 1900 to 1912, when it reverted to Day and a son, Roderick S.” (emphasis added)

Evidently, son Rod had a real precedent for his fatal showdown with the rival editor mentioned in my last post on Day. Thanks to Teej Smith for digging and finding out that Rod was acquitted of murder.

Sadly, Dave Day lay in an unmarked grave for decades, although I’m not sure how that happened. When the tribute to the Solid Muldoon was published in 1971, it stated, “His grave is still unmarked, which troubles many of his admirers, but is hardly likely to bother a man who wrote of death as ‘ascending the golden clothes pole.'” Fortunately, this has been corrected. According to his listing on Find-a-Grave, his resting place is marked by a simple veteran’s stone designating his status as a holder of the Medal of Honor.

Day’s grandson, Tom Tully, was an Academy Award-nominated actor. Tully, who had a very long career as an actor, received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Commander DeVriess in the movie version of The Caine Mutiny, which starred the great Humphrey Bogart. Tully himself has an interesting story. He started out in the family business as a reporter in Denver, then served in the Navy. He took up acting because he thought it paid better than journalism or the Navy. From his profile on IMDB: “While in Vietnam entertaining troops with Bob Hope and others with the USO, Thomas Tully protracted a filarial worm, similar to the worm that causes elephantiasis. After returning to the U.S. his condition was diagnosed after a blood clot in a major vein in his leg cut off circulation and his leg was amputated very close to the hip. This was circa 1971. The amputation was performed in Laguna Beach, California close to his home in San Juan Capistrano. Complications to this surgery caused pleuritis, deafness and serious debilitation. His death was due, in great part, to these serious medical conditions. He should be remembered as a patriot who sacrificed his life to entertain our troops in Vietnam.” Tom Tully spent the rest of his life gathering information on his interesting grandparents in the hope of writing a biography, but he died in 1982 before he could complete the project.

Too bad. I would love to read a full-length biography of this fascinating and colorful figure. Thanks again, Chris Dixon.

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Comments

  1. Valerie Protopapas
    Tue 24th Mar 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Is there any record of how MANY CMH were given out during the War of Secession?

    I seem to recall someone writing that the first was given to the soldier who shot the hotel owner who shot the officer who had removed the Confederate flag from the top of his hotel (Ellsworth was the officer shot, I believe). However, I also recall reading that the first medals were given to the military men who were involved in the Andrews’ plot to steal the locomotive, “The General”. Andrews, who was hanged as a spy along with several other members of his party, didn’t receive one posthumously because he was a civilian, if I remember aright.

    Seems to me that a considerable number of these medals were awarded during the war but that might be the norm of these things. I really do not know. Still, I’d like to know how many were actually awarded and compare that number with the numbers in the following wars. It might just be interesting.

  2. Dan
    Tue 24th Mar 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Valerie,
    I think you’re referring to the perceived devaluation of the medal by its being given for things like, oh, say, re-enlistment? This book covers the matter: A Shower of Stars: The Medal of Honor and the 27th Maine by John J. Pullen. It was quite a controversy. Now, when you see the medal, and most all other awardings of same during the Civil War, it’s the real deal (not about reenlistment or something less than outrageously heroic). I met a Medal of Honor winner who was awarded the medal because of his action on D-Day at Normandy. I’ll tell you, he was incredibly humble and said what all these real deal people say, “I wasn’t a hero. The real heroes are still there and never came home.”
    -Dan

  3. Tue 24th Mar 2009 at 9:13 pm

    In answer to Valerie’s question: 1,520 Medals were awarded during the Civil War, 1,195, Army, 308, Navy, 17, Marines. 25 of these were awarded posthumously.

    More importantly however, selling a Medal of Honor is illegal under the United States Code, Title 18, Section 704. While hardly a widespread problem, the sale of Medals of Honor is regularly investigated by the FBI.

    That the dealer is in England makes no difference in my opinion. While this particular sale, outside of US borders, may not actually constitue a crime, I’m disappointed that someone would seek to profit from the sale of a Medal of Honor. As the Nation’s highest military award, the Medal deserves respect and protection from commercialism. It isn’t just another artifact or a bauble to buy and trade.

    And for the record I’d feel exactly the same way if an American dealer was offering a Victoria Cross for sale. As an old soldier it irks me to no end that any decorations for valor can be bought and sold.

  4. Dan
    Tue 24th Mar 2009 at 9:20 pm

    Mike,
    I agree entirely!
    These medals are priceless!
    I understand that times are hard.. but, this is ridiculous, and, as you say, frickin’ illegal!
    Really, what are folks thinking??
    Dan

  5. Tue 24th Mar 2009 at 9:23 pm

    Dan, It’s important to remember that the original criteria for the Medal of Honor during the Civi War is significanty different than it is now. At the time, it was the ONLY decoration in existence in the US military. In addition to heroism, the Medal could be awarded for “other soldierly qualities”, opening the door to dozens of awards of the Medal later found to be questionable. By modern standards many of these acts would not qualify for a Medal of Honor and the armed forces have established numerous other awards for heroism, valor and service of a lesser degree. (They’ve gone overboard with awards in my humble opinion.) At the time of the Civil War however, the Medal could be legitimately awarded for acts other than the extreme heroism required for the award in more recent conflicts.

  6. Wed 25th Mar 2009 at 9:55 am

    Mike,
    You describe the award of the MOH in the Civil War era rather well. There also seemed to be many awards made based on “networking,” to a degree.

    I was recently reviewing a biographical sketch for a friend (names of friend and subject withheld, pending his publishing options). He spelled out the details of the MOH award of his subject. The award was made in the 1890s. The subject had served on the staff of three Generals post war, all of whom wrote recommendations, AND none of who were alive when the award was approved (so these reccomendations were clearly filed for future use). Three witnesses of the events for which the award was made were also MOH awardees. And the subject was also a witness on each of those MOH packets.

    Doesn’t take a David Hackworth to figure out something was connected.

  7. Valerie Protopapas
    Wed 25th Mar 2009 at 8:09 pm

    As I say, I am not familiar with the criteria of the time. All that I know is in my own very limited knowledge of the war in reading the accounts about it, I see a lot of “and he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor” for behavior that was more or less a matter of simple duty sans any truly unique or spectacular heroism. Somehow, it stuck in my mind as I read these various reports that the medal was being used as an attempt to bolster morale. Reminded me of Frank Burns Purple Heart.

  8. Dan
    Fri 03rd Apr 2009 at 4:05 pm

    Valerie’s comment that the merits for Day’s MOH may not have measured up by today’s standards is under valuing the “charge of forlorn hope at Vicksburg.” I seem to recall the W.T. Sherman in his Memoirs told those that did the charge that they probably would be killed. Perhaps Valerie should compere Frank Burns Purple Heart to the metal John Kerry boasted about being awarded in Nam.

  9. Jim Pettengill
    Sun 03rd May 2009 at 1:20 pm

    First, Eric, let me thank you for your work on Dave Day’s Civil War exploits. This is by far the most comprehensive discussion of his service that I have found to date, and I plan to refer to it in a book-length biography that I am working on. I live 5 miles from Ouray, Colorado and am a freelance writer. In 2005 I wrote a 6800 word article for the Ouray County Historical Society that is a general biography of Dave Day. While it does not pretend to be a comprehensive biography (it couldn’t be, at that length), It does serve as a good general summary of his interesting life. I would be pleased to email you a copy of the text file for your personal use.

    Some general comments:

    Relative to the term colonel, it appears that this was an honorary title bestowed by the governor of Colorado on a fair number of veterans in the early 1880s, and Day never stated in the Muldoon that it was an actual rank earned in the War. I’m still digging on this one.

    Relative to the scar, Day tells the story of the mule in the Muldoon, and in other writing says that he used the story of the saber as a means of gaining the confidence of Confederate soldiers when he was returning to Federal lines after one of his escapes. In later days he may have used the saber story on other occasions – he was not the most consistent writer. He was sensitive about the scar, and always posed for photos with the right side of his face away from the camera. So far I’ve only seen one photo that shows the scar.

    In his newspaper he rarely described his service in the War, only refering to it in general terms, except for a couple of occasions.

    His son Rod, who was involved in the shooting described on this site, was known as a fearless editor, particularly for attacking the Ku Klux Klan, which was quite powerful in Colorado around 1920.

    I have recently found reference to newspaper articles in the files of the Western History Collection of the Denver Public Library that imply that Day donated his Medal of Honor to a museum in Denver in the late 1890s. More on this after I get a chance to go over and copy it.

    Dave Day is quite a legend in southwestern Colorado, and as with most legendary characters, separating the truth from the fiction is a challenge. Among others, he was reputed to have had 47 libel suits pending at one time (apparently untrue), to have fought duels (maybe true – one documented case in Ouray was defused and didn’t take place, the Durango shooting may or may not have involved a duel at one time), to have met Queen Victoria who later was a subscriber to the Muldoon (true), and many others. He was the most quoted editor in Colorado, and his newspaper, the Solid Muldoon, became a publishing legend for it’s wit, it’s borderline bawdy remarks, and its fearless stand on mining issues.

    He was a fearless exposer of mining frauds and was a staunch Democrat, which made his life-long friendship with entrepreneur Otto Mears (a kingpin in Colorado Republican politics) unusual.

    All in all, a fascinating man.

    I would very much appreciate you contacting me with some references for the quotes you have used from Grant, Rice and others in your Day article. My local resources are quite limited, and knowing where to look for this information would allow me to locate and consult the primary references in a timely fashion.

    Finally, an interesting discussion on the Wieder Group’s history publications. I have recently started contributing to their Wild West magazine. Eric Wieder should be congratulated for his dedication to promoting history to the general public.

    Thank you again for your excellent article on Dave Day.

  10. Jim Pettengill
    Sun 03rd May 2009 at 1:28 pm

    A separate comment on Civil War Medals of Honor. In my Dave Day research I learned of the so-called “Purge of 1917”, in which all previous Medal of Honor awards were reviewed by a panel lead by General Nelson Miles. This review was prompted by complaints that many medals were not properly earned. The review led to the revocation of more than 900 Civil War Medals of Honor, as well as others, including one to “Buffalo Bill” Cody that was later reinstated late in the 20th Century. Dave Day’s medal (and those of the other members of the Vicksburg Volunteer Storming Party) was confirmed.

  11. Jim Pettengill
    Sun 03rd May 2009 at 1:32 pm

    And lastly, I agree totally about the sale of Medals of Honor. Dave Day’s medal should rightly be in the family, or at the Ouray County Historical Society museum. It should be donated.

  12. Fri 20th Dec 2013 at 2:55 pm

    The medal of honor from the civil war was over awarded , Just like the Purple Heart” was when first issued(ie Gen.Washington’s design) was awarded for Bravery -Loyalty and other duties and not for being wounded (any soldier could be wounded) until a act of congress changed it’s award status (unknown year?) or the Bronze star for lesser acts of bravery (ww2 era ) , Medals values of pride vary as new awards are created and slipped into the chain rankings ………………….

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