John Phillips was born on April 8, 1832, in Lages do Pico, in the Azores. From
there, he headed to California in search of gold and was hired to be a water-hauler
on December 21, 1866, a group
of soldiers getting firewood some five miles away from Fort Kearny were ambushed
by more than two thousand members of the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes and the
relief force was obliterated,
leaving Fort Kearny with few men and supplies, the civilian Phillips volunteered
to ride for help. Leaving in the middle of a blizzard, he rode the 190 miles
to Horseshoe Station by night, hiding
by day, and arrived on Christmas morning. He sent a telegraph to Fort Laramie,
Wyoming, and headed on to the fort after only a short rest. The telegraph station
was burned, but Phillips had the
good fortune of sending his message before the attack. After riding 40 miles
farther in another blizzard, he arrived at Fort Laramie, which sent adequate
reinforcements. Phillips remained in the
hospital at Fort Laramie for several weeks before returning to work. He led a
mail party between the two forts and later became a rancher. In 1883, at the
age of 51, he died in Cheyenne.
There is a plaque at Fort Laramie commemorating his part in getting relief troops to Fort Kearny after what was termed the "Fetterman massacre." Although a congressional report praised him for his heroism and patriotism, in life the only reward he received was $300 for scouting duties, because, although he was a naturalized citizen, questions as to his citizenship slowed down the process, and in 1899 the Wyoming legislature posthumously awarded him $5,000, which his widow Hattie received. John "Portuguese" Phillips died on November 18, 1883. A monument in his honor is located ouside Fort Phil Kearny, and is part of the National Historic Landmark designation of the fort.
Lionel Homes and Joseph D'Alessandro, Portuguese Pioneers of the Sacramento Area (Sacramento, Calif.: Portuguese Historical and Cultural Society, 1990), 24-25.
John D. McDermott, The Famous Ride of John "Portuguese" Phillips [http://www.philkearny.vcn.com/phillips.htm].
Fort Phil Kearny State Historic Site (Accessed March 8, 2005).