General "Black Jack" John Pershing
John Joseph Pershing's great, great grandfather, Frederick Pfoeshing, came to America in 1749 from Alsace. A year later he married, settled in York, Pennsylvania, and changed his name to Pershing. In 1769, the family moved to western Pennsylvania and were subsequently involved in Indian Wars and the American Revolution. Frederick died in 1794. One of Frederick's sons, Daniel, married and settled nearby in 1801. Daniel prospered and became a Methodist preacher. In 1810 Joseph Mercer Pershing was born to Daniel and his wife. Joseph married and on March 1, 1834, John Frederick Pershing was born in Derry, Pennsylvania. In 1858, John married Anne Elizabeth Thompson and that same year the new family moved to Laclede, Missouri. John was hired by the Hanibal and Saint Joseph Railroad as a section foreman. On September 13, 1860, John and Anne's first son was born - John Joseph Pershing.
During John's infancy, life was difficult for the family. A few months after his birth, the civil war started and the family's sympathies were seriously divided between a southern mother and a union father. John's father quit his job with the railroad and started a general store in Laclede. He served as subtler to a succession of Union volunteer units and prospered as the war continued. When the post office was established in Laclede, he became postmaster and the post office was established in his store. After the war ended, the family continued to prosper and added real estate investment to their endeavors and in 1866 John helped to incorporate Laclede. Several other children were born to the family.
In 1873 a financial panic hit the country and the Pershing family suffered financial distress, Young John was forced to work as a farm hand on the family's remaining land. John's father taught for a time at an African-American school and then took a job as a traveling salesman for a clothing firm. Eventually they lost the farm. In 1878, young John took a job as teacher in the local school. In 1879, he returned to school as a student in the Missouri State Normal School in Kirksville. He matriculated in 1880 with teaching credentials. In 1881, he passed the state exam for nomination to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point. In 1882, he attended a preparatory school in New York, subsequently passed the entrance exam, and on July 1, 1882, was admitted to the Academy. Jack Pershing did well academically and excelled in military subjects. He was First Captain and president of his class. He graduated on June 12, 1886, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the cavalry.
While Jack was at the academy, his father had moved the family to Lincoln, Nebraska. Jack visited them there briefly following graduation and then moved on to his first post in the 6th Cavalry at Fort Bayard, New Mexico. His commander was Colonel Eugene A. Carr, a major general of cavalry in the civil war. The 6th was a principal in the fight against Apaches and Pershing had specifically requested it as his first assignment. Even though Geronimo had surrendered the previous September, Mangus, another notable hostile Apache, was still causing concern. Brigadier Nelson A. Miles was determined to pacify all hostile Indians and Pershing wanted to be where the action was. Miles pressed hard and Pershing functioned well. Mangus was captured and the Apache Wars were ended. Carr and Miles both noticed Pershing and mentioned him favorably in several dispatches.
In the fall of 1888, Pershing returned to his parent's home in Lincoln, Nebraska, on leave. With the pacification of all hostile Indians there did not appear to be much of a need for the army and continuing in his military career needed to be considered carefully. No decision was made at that time, but he did begin thinking more seriously about leaving the military for a career in law. In 1889, he was assigned to Fort Stanton near Lincoln, New Mexico, as a troop commander in the 6th Cavalry. His unit had been regarded by Carr as needing some improved discipline and he expected Preshing to instill it. Shortly after taking command, Pershing was ordered to deal with a difficult incident on a nearby Zuni Indian reservation. He handled the situation well and was again noticed favorably in dispatches. His troop improved it's performance overall and that too was noted by his superiors.