But Virgil Brumback did attract the attention of women, if an 1881 gossipy piece in the Idaho Statesman is any indication. An observer noted some girls on the street. “Yonder goes Virgil Brumback,” whispered one. “He always did have a fine figure, but somehow the training of the army has given him a certain distinguished air, that few boys attain.” The writer continued, “They passed out of hearing, but as I watched the free stride of the young man across from me, I thought the girls had summed up impressions exactly.”
That Brumback was in the Army was the talk of the town, though Army enlistments were common enough. The girls had been observing Idaho Territory’s first West Point cadet.
The papers in Idaho, if not the girls, followed his postings and adventures for the next few years. At first, Brumback was stationed at Collville, Washington, until the Army abandoned that post. In 1883, he moved to Fort Spokane. Established in 1882, it was the last Army fort built in the American West.
In 1884, First Lieutenant Virgil Brumback found himself in the Yukon Exploring Party sent out by General Nelson Miles. They went to Alaska on the steamship Idaho. To get the party to Copper River, the Idaho sailed nearly 500 miles northwest of its usual Sitka port. The explorers intended to follow the Copper River inland to the Yukon, traveling first in canoes and then trading those for dog sleds. They depended on indigenous locals coming down from the Yukon to trade.
When the group arrived at the mouth of Copper River, they found the native traders had come and gone. Nevertheless, the explorers sent the Idaho on its way and began their trek. They made it only as far as Child’s Glacier, about 33 miles inland, before giving up.
The newspapers were quiet about Brumback until 1887 when he inexplicably resigned his commission. His resignation was, at first, accepted by President Grover Cleveland, then later rejected.
In 1888, Brumback was court-martialed at Fort Omaha for throwing a glass of whisky into a first lieutenant's face. Brumback was said to have been moody, shunning society. If the charges were sustained, Omaha newspapers said, he would be dismissed from the service.
Apparently, the outcome of the court martial was in his favor because, in July 1891, he reported for recruiting duty at the Columbus Barracks in Ohio. Only eight months later, in 1892, the first lieutenant was relieved of his recruiting duty and given six months leave.
In November of that year, he resigned again. Again, his resignation was accepted by the president, effective February 12, 1893. But when that February rolled around, the president suspended the acceptance of his resignation.
The picture of a troubled young man began to take shape when in April 1893, “brother officers” escorted First Lieutenant Virgil Brumback to Washington, DC, from Fort Sherman in Coeur d’Alene. Those officers intended to deliver him to the surgeon in charge of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for the Insane. Told of the plan the morning after their arrival in DC, Brumback seemed to take it calmly. Shortly after breakfast, however, he couldn’t be found. He had picked up his valise, paid his bill at the hotel, and disappeared.
In reporting on the event for its Boise readers, the Idaho Statesman reviewed Brumback’s history, revealing that he had left his command suddenly in Omaha following the whiskey-throwing incident to return to Idaho. Rather than return to Boise, where he grew up, Brumback found a secluded spot in Kootenai County, where he had lived as a hermit. The report ended with, “The unfortunate young officer is well known in this city, and his many friends here hope to learn soon that his reason has been fully restored.”
Brumback’s subsequent movements are unclear, but the Army gave up on him, “retiring” the man.
Fast forward to August 3, 1937. Why such a long skip? Virgil Brumback didn’t make the news for 40 years. He had taken up residence, again, in a ramshackle cabin he had built himself in Kootenai County. He had homesteaded the property where he lived in seclusion.
Brumback never talked about his past, rarely talking at all with neighbors. Though most believed he was poverty-stricken, he had been drawing a $60 monthly soldier’s pension for decades. Known only as the “old soldier” to those who were aware of him, Virgil Brumback, 80, died that August with $3181 sewn into his vest, ending the tale of Idaho’s first West Point graduate. He is buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery, St. Maries.