October 01, 2014

Major Butt

Archibald Willingham DeGraffenreid Clarendon Butt, known as Archie to his friends, in which number could be counted Big Ego Roosevelt and Big Bill Taft, was a Georgia boy who worked as a newspaperman and then joined the army volunteers during the Spanish-American War, serving mainly as a quartermaster and working his way up to major.

So yes, Major Butt is what I call him.

After getting to know both of them personally when he worked for the army in The Philippines, Major Butt served as military aide to both Big Ego and Big Bill. (I'm not sure what the role of military aide entailed, but during Taft's administration he became the president's closest adviser, friend, and confidante.)

This is obviously comical and somewhat sad — that the president who couldn't catch a break had a best friend named Major Butt — but ol' Butt over there was truly a swell guy.

Quartermasters are the unglamorous heroes of the military, enormously essential but rarely acknowledged for their work. (Ulysses S. Grant worked as a quartermaster so obviously I love them. It was kind of the secret to why he was a great general, but that's not what we're here to talk about). At one point he was in charge of transporting 500 mules from Hawaii to The Philippines. That all 500 survived the journey was what first made the higher-ups take notice.

He moved to Washington in 1908 to serve under TR and then Big Bill. He wrote daily letters to his sister Clara, which are enormously helpful to historians in understanding the two presidents and especially their relationship to each other. Being close to both of them, their eventual feud stressed him out, and Taft told him to go on vacation during the 1912 primaries so he wouldn't have to take sides. He spent 6 weeks in Europe with his "housemate and friend" Francis (they were gay), even traveling to the Vatican with a letter from Taft to Pope Pius X.

Major Butt boarded the HMS Titanic in April 1912. Taft spoke at memorial services for him both in Georgia and Washington, although his eulogy at the second service had to be cut short because Taft couldn't stop crying. (To be totally honest, Taft cried a lot in 1912.) A bridge commemorating his death, known by locals as Butt Bridge, was built in his hometown of August, GA in 1914, and escaped demolition by a memorable "Save Our Butt" campaign in 1994 and 1995.


  1. A quarter master named Butt, etc, etc. Just fabulous!

  2. You are truly doing the lord's work with this blog.

  3. Archie is my great great great uncle by blood. Nice to know you are documenting him. :-)

    The Butt's are on my Mom's side.