04 September 2014

When Myth Becomes a Reality: The Mysterious Background of William Bent

Remembering Our Civil War Heritage and Heroes:

When Myth Becomes a Reality: A Mysterious Background for a
Milk River Pioneer William Bent

By Ken Robison
For The River Press
August 27, 2014

This is the twenty-ninth installment of a monthly series commemorating Union and Confederate veterans of the Civil War who came to Montana after the war. This month features the mystery of Confederate veteran William Bent—was he, or was he not the son of Colonel William Bent of Bent’s Fort fame? Descendants of Montana Civil War veterans are encouraged to send their stories to mtcivilwar@yahoo.com.

   “When myth becomes reality” might well be the title of this saga of William Bent, Confederate soldier, Montana scout, and pioneer rancher. His family legend portrays him as a son of the famed Colonel William Bent, founder of Bent’s fort. Unfortunately, Col. Bent had no son named William. (See Progressive Men of Montana; In the Land of Chinook; and Thunderstorm and Tumbleweeds 1887-1987 East Blaine County.)
   William Bent of Harlem, Montana led a life worthy of legends even if he could not claim those of Col. William Bent. Montana’s William Bent was born on May 11, 1846 in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of William and Sarah Sullivan Bent. After attending private school in St. Louis, young William joined the Confederate Army in the spring of 1863, enlisting in the 2nd Arkansas Battalion of Mounted Infantry.
   On May 14, the 2nd Arkansas joined the Confederate troops of General Joseph E. Johnston engaged in the Battle of Jackson, Mississippi as Major General Ulysses Grant moved to seize the city, cut Johnston’s supply lines, and disrupt Confederate troops from interfering with the on-going Siege of Vicksburg. After Vicksburg’s surrender to the Union on July 4th, the 2nd Arkansas as part of General Johnston’s army attempted once again to defend Jackson from Union attack. After a ten-day siege and strong Union probes, Johnston ordered withdrawal on July 16th, ending any Confederate threat to Vicksburg by then in Union control.
    During the Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia September 19-20, 1863, the 2nd Arkansas served with General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. This bloody battle ended with the most significant Union defeat in the Western Theater in the Civil War and resulted in the second highest number of casualties next to Gettysburg. During the battle, Private William Bent was wounded severely and incapacitated for an extended period.
   Bent returned to service in 1864, and he remained with his battalion until the end of the war. The 2nd Arkansas participated in nine major engagements during the Atlanta Campaign from May to September 1864 as General Johnston’s Army of Tennessee attempted to stem the invasion of northwest Georgia and Atlanta by Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman. The fall of Atlanta on September 2nd, set the stage for Sherman’s March to the Sea.
   With the defeat of Confederate forces at Atlanta, the 2nd Arkansas and the Army of Tennessee, now under Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood, participated in the Franklin-Nashville campaign. In a series of five battles, Hood’s army suffered repeated defeats and on December 15-16 his depleted army was routed in the Battle of Nashville, and retreated to Tupelo, Mississippi.
   After the battle of Nashville, the 2nd Arkansas of Reynolds’ Brigade marched via Bainbridge, Alabama, Tuscumbia, Iuka and Corinth to Tupelo, where they went into a brief winter camp on January 19, 1865. They departed Tupelo on January 30 and marched to West Point, Mississippi, from there traveling by rail to Selma, Alabama. From Selma the battalion boarded a steamboat to proceed to Montgomery, and then by rail to Columbus, Georgia. From there they marched to Mayfield, Georgia; once more boarded trains to Augusta. They then marched to Newberry, South Carolina, and on March 19 joined Gen. Johnston’s army to fight their last major engagement at the Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina March 19-21.
   After defeat at Bentonville, the 2nd Arkansas marched to Smithfield, North Carolina, where a depleted Arkansas brigade consolidated into a single understrength regiment, the 1st Arkansas Consolidated Mounted Rifles on April 9, 1865. The 2nd Arkansas formed Companies C and D in the new regiment. The new 1st Arkansas Consolidated surrendered with the rest of Gen. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee at Greensboro, North Carolina, on April 26.
   The 1st Arkansas was paroled five days later at Jamestown, North Carolina and offered free rail transportation to locations near their homes by the remnants of the Southern railway companies. Most of the men, including presumably William Bent, traveled by rail. Adding to their misery, a large number of Arkansas men were killed or injured in a railroad accident at Flat Creek Bridge, Tennessee on May 25, 1865.
   William Bent’s war was over and after returning to St. Louis he thought about going to Mexico with other Confederates to join Maximilian but instead drifted north. He came to Atchison, Kansas, and remained a while before drifting west into the Platte country. There he fell in with a Spaniard called ‘Sago,’ and the two wandered around until at last they reached the wonders that became Yellowstone Park and from there to Virginia City, in June 1866. Spending only a few months there, Bill Bent moved on to Dry Gulch near booming Last Chance Gulch (Helena) and for a short time worked as compositor on the first issues of Helena’s first newspaper, The Radiator, printed on a hand press.
   In the spring of 1867 Bent joined the Montana Volunteer Militia being raised by Acting Governor Thomas Francis Meagher to respond to incidents on both the Bozeman Trail and the Benton to Helena Road. Bent’s militia served in Helena and was soon disbanded. Many years later after his death, William’s widow was granted an Indian Wars pension based on this militia service.
   From Helena, Bent drifted into the Musselshell River country. During the summer of 1867 he rode for the Northern Overland Pony Express between Forts Abercrombie (near today’s Fargo) on the Red River, and Helena. Bent rode with partner Henry Macdonald on the segment from Fort Hawley on the Missouri River to Diamond City in Confederate Gulch. Fort Hawley, a trading post of the Northwest Fur Company, located about twenty miles above the mouth of the Musselshell, was a mail station on the express circuit. The Express Company started tri-weekly service beginning July 1st, and Bent had several harrowing experiences with companion rider, Henry Macdonald, on that dangerous circuit. That express enterprise failed by March 30, 1868, after just nine months, and Fort Hawley closed for a time shortly after because of incidents with native Indians.
   In 1868 Bent came to Fort Benton and hired out in August to help construct a new trading post (Fort Browning) for Hubbell and Hawley, and an Indian agency, the Milk River Agency, at the “Great Bend” of the Milk River, about 90 miles upstream from the Missouri River, near today’s Dodson.
   When work on the agency was completed the men engaged were discharged. Bent joined William A. Hamilton and five other companions on a gold prospecting expedition to the Little Rocky Mountains. They built a camp on Dry Beaver Creek at the east end of the mountains, where they found gold, but not in paying quantities. When they had to give up prospecting as winter set in, they started wolf hunting and trapping for furs, with considerable success.
   During 1869 Bent served as Indian interpreter for the government along with Alexander Culbertson, the famed founder of Fort Benton. The following year he worked at the Medicine Lodge trading post on the lower end of the Great Bend of the Milk River. Upon the arrival of trader James Stuart at Fort Browning trading post on January 6, 1871, Bent began working for him. During the winter of 1871 Bent hunted buffalo and trapped on streams south of the Little Rockies and Bear’s Paw mountains.
   In 1873 Bent moved to old Fort Belknap, on the south side of the Milk River (opposite today’s Chinook), where he began a long career working for the Indian Service as an interpreter. That same year he was married at the agency to Bettie [NFI], an Assiniboin (or Nakota) woman, and they had eight children; George, Louis, Mary, Lucy, Nellie, Emma, Ida and Florence. After the death of his first wife, Bent married another Assiniboin woman, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Canoe, on April 4, 1891, and they had six more children including Elsie, Ruth, and Louis. The marriage license between William Bent and Lizzie Canoe confirmed that William, a white man, was the son of William Bent and Sarah Sullivan—not the mixed race son of Colonel William Bent and his Cheyenne wives Owl Woman and Yellow Woman.

Ken Robison is a local historian and author of Montana Territory and the Civil War: A Frontier Forged on the Battlefield and the forthcoming Confederates in Montana Territory: In the Shadow of Price’s Army.


1.     Battle of Jackson, Private William Bent’s first major battle.

Milk River Pioneer William Bent
 Played a Key Role in the Nez Perce War. (Continued)

By Ken Robison
For The River Press
September 3, 2014

This continues the story of Confederate veteran William Bent who fought with the Arkansas 2nd Battalion of Mounted Infantry in the Civil War before heading up the Missouri River to Montana Territory. Settling with the Assiniboin Indians, Bill Bent became an important advisor on the Fort Belknap Reservation. Descendants of Montana Civil War veterans are encouraged to send their stories to mtcivilwar@yahoo.com.

   In 1876 the Nez Perces sent a delegation with horses to trade and present as gifts to the Assiniboin. According to Bent, the Nez Perces stated that they expected to have trouble with the whites in the country where they lived in Idaho Territory. One year later by late September 1877 the Nez Perces had moved from their traditional homeland, with the U.S. Army in pursuit, and were approaching the Missouri River with their clear destination the Province of Canada. In early October with Colonel Nelson Miles was in pursuit from southeast of the Bear Paw mountains, Major Guido Ilges, commanding the Fort Benton Military Post, sent couriers to Fort Belknap directed Bill Bent to keep the Assiniboin from joining the fleeing Nez Perces. Bent related to historian Al J. Noyes in 1917:
    “I at once called the Indians together in council and told them that the people who were here the summer before [the Nez Perces] with all the horses and presents were fighting the soldiers and that the soldiers were after them and coming this way and the best thing they could do would be not to have anything to do with them as the soldiers would punish all they found in arms.”
   Just an hour later five Nez Perces arrived in the vicinity, though the Assiniboin heeded Bent’s advice, refused to offer assistance to the Nez Perces, and remained in camp. Two days later sounds of battle were heard in the distance in the direction of Snake Point north of the Bear’s Paw. To keep the Assiniboin in camp, Bent told them it would be better for him to go to scout the situation. Bill Bent related,
   “So I started and kept going toward the sound and got south of the West Fork of Snake creek and it became so dark that all I could see was the flashes of the guns once in a while. I got up to where I could see the pickets in one place and laid down and waited till morning. As soon as it was light enough I went to one of the men on picket and explained who I was and he told me to go in. I could see the whole thing, the pits of the Indians, and the breastworks of the soldiers, and away back were the tents. I went over and reported to Miles . . .
   “In my report I told him what the Assinniboines were doing and the orders I had from the War Department through [Major Ilges]. He told me to go back and keep them in hand and see that they did not get in the fight . . .
   “After going back and telling the Assinniboines what Miles had said I returned to the battlefield. I think it was the fourth day of the fight that Miles, Sweeny, Arthur Chapman, an interpreter from Idaho, Captain John, a Nez Perce, and myself went down to have a talk with the Indians. John was sent down into the pit to talk with the Nez Perces while we laid down peeping over a hill. He rode a pinto horse with a hospital sheet tied to a pole. He would stop and wave the flag and halloo at them and at last he was allowed to approach near enough to carry on a conversation. You could see them throwing out the dirt, as they were occupying all their spare time fortifying. After a little some of the Indians came out and John went out of sight for a few minutes and then appeared again with six or seven of them. They all had their guns with them, and Miles said to Chapman: ‘You tell those fellows not to use any treachery because there are hundreds of men looking through their sights ready to shoot.’ They shook their heads and came on. Of course we did not know who they were.
   “We started towards Miles’ tent but a lot of officers began to crowd around, the Indians stopped and Miles said to Arthur: ‘What’s the matter with them?’ Chapman replied that they did not like the officers to be so handy so Miles ordered them back as they were confusing the Indians.
   “We all went over to Miles’ tent and he got some camp stools for the Indians, but not enough as some had to sit on the ground. They sat there a while and then he said that they had better have a smoke but for the Indians to furnish the tobacco as then they would be sure it was all right.
   After a while Miles began to talk. He said that it pained him to do what he was doing but it was his duty. They did not make any reply. Captain Baird and another officer were taking down everything that was being said in writing. When Miles was talking he was addressing a very fine tall Indian who was sitting on a stool not far away. When Chapman was doing his interpreting he was looking and talking to an Indian sitting on the ground. The Indian to whom Miles was talking would hardly say anything but the Indian sitting on the ground would smile. A little while after I noticed an old gray-haired officer come in and stand way back, he only had one arm and the coat sleeve was pinned across his breast. As soon as the Indians saw him they seemed to be awful angry, their eyes blazed. This was Howard.
   “Miles once more addressed the Indian sitting on the stool and asked him if he hadn’t had enough of this by now. But the Indian did not reply. Miles turned to Chapman and looked for an answer. Chapman had noticed that Miles had addressed all his talk to the particular Indian who would not reply and as Miles looked at him he said (pointing to the one on the ground). ‘Why don’t you ask him? Miles said: ‘Who is he?’ ‘That’s the leader, Chief Joseph.’
   “Miles was surprised but he got up and handed his stool to the Chief and from that time all his remarks were made to the proper person. Joseph said that White Bird did not want to surrender and that he would take one more night so as to give him a chance to think it over. During that night White Bird escaped with his two wives and went over the line.
   “The next day, the last day of the fight, Miles said: ‘I want you to go down to the river and tell the Indians down there not to kill any more Nez Perces. About seven Nez Perces were killed by the Assinniboines.
   “The day that Joseph surrendered he said he thought the [Missouri] river was the line and that the Indians would be friendly but as they were enemies he would give up. He handed his gun, muzzle first, to Howard but Howard said: ‘No, that man, pointing to Miles, is the one who won it.’ He then turned and handed his gun, butt first, to Miles. I have always thought that if Howard had reached for that gun he would have been shot.”
   When Bent left the battlefield to go to the reservation to tell the Indians what Miles had said, he was captured by some of the escaping Nez Perces. His captors claimed that Bent was a soldier since he had been on the battlefield and was riding a government horse. Bent replied, I am “not a soldier but belonged on the river and that my children were the offspring of an Indian mother.” Eventually, Bent convinced his captors that he was from the Assiniboin camp, and he was released to go.
   William Bent played a key role in counseling and convincing the Assiniboin Indians not to aid the Nez Perces. The failure of the Nez Perces to win over Indian allies to their cause as they moved through Montana Territory was a devastating blow. The actions of roving bands of Assiniboin to seek out and kill escaping Nez Perces must have been a great disappointment to Chief Joseph. The role of the Assiniboin aiding the U.S. Army was rewarded later when their service was honored in 1879 when a new military post on Beaver Creek near today’s Havre was given the name Fort Assinniboine.
   Bill Bent continued work at Fort Belknap as interpreter until 1890, under successive Indian agents, Alonzo S. Reed, Clark, Capt. Buck, Fenton, Capt. Williams, W. L. Lincoln, Fields, Andrew J. Simmons and Lieut. Macanny. As interpreter and an intermarried ally of the Assiniboin, Bent played an important role in commissions negotiating relinquishment of Assiniboin lands. His influence together with that of Major W. L. Lincoln, were factors in negotiations that gained the right-of-way for construction of the St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba (later Great Northern) Railroad through the Milk River Valley.
   From 1890-93 Bent worked as interpreter at the new Fort Belknap agency, located southeast of today’s Harlem. The following year he served as government farmer at the agency and thereafter as government butcher for two years.
   In the fall of 1896 Bent located a 400-acre cattle and horse ranch at the mouth of Snake creek, five miles southwest of Harlem. Unlike most former Confederates, William Bent became an active member of the Republican party.
   William Bent lived the rest of his days on his ranch, working, reading, and swapping old time tales with visitors including Charles M. Russell. Suddenly on November 15, 1919 William Bent died at his home of heart failure. The old Confederate soldier and Montana pioneer was interred on his ranch beside the graves of two of his daughters.

Ken Robison is a local historian and author of Montana Territory and the Civil War: A Frontier Forged on the Battlefield and the forthcoming Confederates in Montana Territory: In the Shadow of Price’s Army.


1.     Civil War and Nez Perce War Veteran Bill Bent in his later years. [In the Land of Chinook]     

29 April 2014

Henry Kennerly: From the Upper Missouri to the Missouri Confederacy

Remembering Our Civil War Heritage and Heroes:

Henry Kennerly: From the Upper Missouri to the Missouri Confederacy

By Ken Robison
For The River Press
April 24, 2014

This is the twenty-fifth installment of a monthly series commemorating Union and Confederate veterans of the Civil War who came to Montana after the war. This month features the adventures of a young man who had lived on the Upper Missouri before the Civil War, returned to “The States” to fight for the Confederacy, and then came back to leave his mark in frontier Montana. Descendants of Montana Civil War veterans are encouraged to send their stories to mtcivilwar@yahoo.com

When the Civil War erupted in April 1861 the Upper Missouri region that became Montana was a vast land of many cultures. In addition to the thousands of Native Americans populating the dozen tribes, just a small number of American, Canadian, French, Metis, Spanish, and Mexicans were present, primarily involved in the fur and robe trade.

One of the Americans on the Upper Missouri in 1861 was Henry Atkinson Kennerly who was born at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis December 2, 1835, the son of George H. and Alziere Menard Kinnerly. His father had served as U. S. Army quartermaster-general before becoming a prominent merchant, while his mother came from the fur trading Menard family related through marriage to explorer William Clark. The Kennerlys were friends of another important fur trade family, the Chouteaus.

Nineteen year-old Henry Kennerly first came to the Upper Missouri in 1855 as private secretary and clerk for senior Indian Commissioner Alfred Cumming as Cumming and Governor Isaac I. Stevens of Washington Territory negotiated a treaty with the Blackfoot Nation, Gros Ventre, Flathead Nation, and Nez Perce. This treaty began a new era for Native Indian-American relations in the Upper Missouri region. The treaty council culminated American efforts to impose peace and order among the Indian nations along both the east and west slopes of the northern Rocky Mountains.

Commissioner Cumming and his party departed St. Louis on June 6, 1855 on the steamboat St. Mary, commencing the long trip up the Missouri River. Accompanying Cumming were Kennerly, Charles P. Chouteau, son of Pierre Chouteau, Jr. and director of operations for the American Fur Company, owners of the St. Mary, and Major Alexander Culbertson, supervisor of company operations on the Upper Missouri. St. Mary also carried American Fur Company trade goods as well as treaty annuity goods for the various tribes. In this early steamboat era, goods were off-loaded at Fort Union to proceed laboriously up river to Fort Benton by mackinaw boats.

The Cumming party proceeded by the Northern Overland route, arriving at Fort Benton on August 19th. There, couriers were dispatched to summon the tribes to a treaty council. Kennerly, with a guide, was detailed to search for the tribes of the Blackfoot Nation including chiefs Little Dog and Lame Bull. The council was finally convened near the mouth of the Judith River on October 16th, and the Lame Bull Treaty was concluded and dated the next day although the distribution of presents and annuities continued until October 20th. Two days later Cumming and Kennerly departed to return to St. Louis.

In the spring of 1856, Kennerly again ascended the Missouri to Fort Benton, this time employed by the American Fur Company. In the fall of that year he descended the Missouri to northern Nebraska Territory (which became Dakota Territory in 1861). By late May 1857, a new fur trade coalition was formed in opposition to Chouteau’s American Fur Company. Robert Campbell joined forces with Frost, Todd and Company. Daniel M. Frost and John Blair Todd established a trading post at Vermillion and hired Henry Kennerly to operate their post serving both the Army at Fort Randall and nearby Indian tribes. Kennerly was also named register of land with his office in Vermillion. Henry was reunited with his brother Lewis Hancock Kennerly was also working for Frost and Todd in the area.

As the dark clouds of the Civil War began to form in Missouri in 1859-60, both Frost and Lewis Kennerly returned to become leaders in the pro-secession Missouri Volunteer Militia. That brigade deployed to the Kansas border on the Southwest Expedition in November 1860 with both Lewis and another brother Samuel Kennerly in their ranks.

When the Civil War began in Missouri in May 1861 with the Camp Jackson Affair, Brigadier General Daniel M. Frost commanded the secessionist Missouri Volunteer Militia that included Lewis and Samuel Kennerly as well as their teenage third brother, James Amadee Kennerly. After the surrender of the Militia to Captain Nathaniel Lyon’s loyal Union regiments on May 10th, Frost and the three Kennerlys broke their paroles to join the Confederate-aligned Missouri State Guard under General Sterling Price.

The Kennerlys all became commissioned officers with the 1st Missouri Infantry Regiment, one of the most effective regiments in Price’s Army. The 1st Missouri was composed largely of the young men who had been captured at Camp Jackson. The 1st Missouri fought in nine pitched battles including Shiloh, Corinth, Tuscumbia Bridge, Altoona, and Franklin. Commanding the 1st Missouri was Colonel John Stevens Bowen, married to Mary Kennerly, sister to the Kennerly brothers.

All of the Kennerlys, Sam, Jim, and Lew, served as officers in the hard fighting 1st Missouri Infantry Regiment. Eighteen-year-old James enlisted as a drummer boy, but soon became bandmaster of the regimental band. Later in the war, he commanded Company A. Following the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee on November 30, 1864, one of Lieut. Kennerly’s men in Company A wrote: “Our appalling loss was not generally realized until the next morning, when a ghastly sight was revealed to those still living.  . .  . Our regiment had but three officers left for duty, Capt. James Wickersham and Lieuts. James Kennerly and Patrick Collins. Our army was a wreck. Our comrades were lying in the embrace of death. So many young hearts were stilled forever which a few hours ago beat high in the prospect of soon being at home in Missouri.” On April 9, 1865 Lieut. James Kennerly and most his men of Company A were captured at the conclusion of the siege of Fort Blakely, Alabama. He was held at Ship Island, a desolate barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, and at Parish Prison, New Orleans, before being paroled at the end of the war.

Lieut. Lewis Kennerly of Company D served as adjutant for General Bowen. Lewis was severely wounded in the hip and thigh in the Peach Orchard at the battle of Shiloh. Promoted to Captain, he was wounded again a year later during the 1st Missouri Brigade’s action at Grand Gulf, Mississippi. Despite his wounds, Lewis was promoted to Major, appointed Judge Advocate, and ordered to staff duty. He served to the end of the war.

Lieut. Samuel Augustin Kennerly of Company C mustered in to the 1st Missouri Infantry at Memphis on June 22, 1861. He participated in battles of Shiloh, Corinth, and Baker Creek, South Carolina where on May 16, 1863, he was wounded and left for dead until found on the battlefield by his sister, Mary Kennerly Bowen. Captured by Union troops, Major General Ulysses Grant ordered that 445 wounded rebel soldiers be paroled including Sam Kennerly. Sam was promoted to Captain and remained on sick leave from May through October 1863 and spent another six months in and out of military hospitals. Captain Samuel Kennerly rejoined the 1st Missouri and took command of Company A in time for skirmishes at Lovejoy’s Station, Clayton, Georgia during Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. There, on the final day of fighting on September 5th, he was killed and buried on the battlefield close to where he fell.

After John Bowen’s capture at Camp Jackson, his wife Mary Kennerly smuggled his unit’s flag out of camp by wrapping it around her waist as a sash. He then broke parole to secure a commission as a Confederate colonel and raised the 1st Missouri Infantry Regiment. A brigadier general, in March 1862 he was severely wounded at Shiloh. Recovering, Bowen took command of the 1st Missouri Brigade, when he distinguishing himself early in the Vicksburg campaign and was promoted to major general. He fell gravely ill during the siege of Vicksburg, and died nine days after the Confederate fortress surrendered July 4th. Wife Mary endured the long siege at Vicksburg to be with her husband and saved two 1st Missouri battle flags from capture by hiding them in her husband’s ambulance.

In September 1862, Henry Kennerly was elected to the Dakota territorial House of Representatives that met at Yankton on December 12th. After adjournment of the legislature January 9, 1863, Kennerly returned to St. Louis to join his three fighting brothers in the 1st Missouri Infantry of the Confederate Army. Little is known of Henry’s service except for the fact that he served as a staff officer for at least one year and suffered a wound below the knee before accepting a discharge.

In the spring of 1864, Kennerly returned to the Upper Missouri disembarking on the Fort Benton levee where he was engaged as clerk for the American Fur Company until it sold out the next year.

The mid 1860s began the wild and wooly days of Fort Benton, the head of navigation on the Missouri River. Dozens of steamboats with vast quantities of cargo landed at the levee each summer. The rough streets of the town were roamed by the rich and famous, scoundrels and killers, fur and robe traders, merchants and gamblers, Native Indians and soldiers, Irish Fenians and exiled Metis, and, eventually by women and children. Henry Kennerly was in his element.

In November 1865, Acting Governor Thomas Francis Meagher and Gad Upson, Indian agent to the Blackfeet, arranged a peace treaty. Thousands of Blackfeet assembled at Fort Benton for the ceremony, camping out along the Fort Benton bottom. Two decades later the Fort Benton River Press of December 24, 1884 gave this account.
       A large train of the Diamond R transportation company was also camped on the flats. They had transported a four-pound howitzer on the back of a faithful mule from the steamer Shreveport that had unloaded her cargo at Cow Island. The howitzer had been left for the protection of the freight and came with the last of the supplies.
   The men in charge of the ‘little gun’ conceived the idea of showing the immense congregation of Indians its strength by discharging it from the back of a mule. The howitzer, loaded with grapeshot, was securely fastened upon the back of a large, sleepy looking train mule with the muzzle pointed toward the tail, and the patient, unsuspecting animal was led to the bank of the river near the present site of T. C. Power & Bro.’s store, and a target set up across the river. The rear of the mule was aligned with the target, and the train men, officers, curious old timers, and wondering Indians were arranged in a semi-circle around the mule.
   The appointed chief of ceremonies advanced and when all was in readiness inserted a time fuse in the touch-hole of the howitzer and then retired. In a short time the quiet, unruffled mule heard a fizzing just back of his ears, which made him uneasy, and he immediately began to turn his head to investigate. As he did so his body turned and the howitzer began to take in other points of the compass. The mule became more excited as his curiosity became more and more intense, and in a few seconds he either had his four feet in a bunch, making more revolutions a minute than the bystanders dared to count, with the howitzer threatening destruction to everybody within a radius of a quarter of a mile, or he suddenly would try standing on his head with his heels and howitzer at a remarkable angle in the air. The train men and Indians scattered pell mell over the flat toward the bluffs, running as if they thought that in flight lay their only safety, and that, too, at a rate of speed much greater than grapeshot. Judging from the alacrity with which Col. Broadwater, H. A. Kennerly, Joe Healy and Mose Solomon slid over the bank of the river, they were not opposed to immersion; Matt Carroll, George Steell and James Arnoux sprinted toward the store, Hi Upham, John J. Healy and Bill Hamilton began to throw up breastworks with their sheath knives, while I. G. Baker and one or two of the peace commissioners were turning back-springs toward the fort.
   While the mule, with his heels in mid-air, was shaken with the most violent agitation, there was a puff of smoke, a thud, and the mule—oh, where was he? Ask of the winds, for not a soul saw him, and they will tell you a lonely, forlorn mule might have been seen turning over and over until he tumbled over the bank with his howitzer and cast anchor in the river. The shot went toward the fort, striking the figure of a buffalo [weather vane] that was used as an advertisement at the fort, and which hung there until the last two or three years, and which many of the citizens of Fort Benton will remember was well perforated with balls. Further investigation has brought to light the fact that X. Beidler was the commander in chief elected, and that it was his first buffalo. [X. Beidler being the famed vigilante hangman and U.S. Marshall in the new territory.]
   Most other accounts have the Native Indian guests sitting stoically in their circle, wondering about the antics of the white man.

Henry Kennerly began as a clerk and over time became a trader in the Blackfeet trade, the agent for a succession of T. C. Power & Bro.-owned trading post in Blackfeet Country. Tom C. Power and his younger brother John arrived on the Upper Missouri in 1867 to form a powerful trading company. Kennerly operated Power’s Willow Rounds post on the Marias River. In 1872 Kennerly moved to Power’s Fort Maginnis on Badger Creek to capture more of the Canadian Blackfoot trade. About 1874 Kennerly married Mary Successful Kill or Good Killing, a Blackfoot woman, and raised their children Bertia, Perry, Hattie, Agnes, and Jerome, and adopted child Sarah Wright. Kennerly remained at the Maginnis post until 1880.

From his arrival in the new Montana Territory, Henry Kennerly took an active interest in politics and served as a Democrat in the territorial House of Representatives for three terms (1867, 1869, 1880). He continued his political years serving two years as Choteau County treasurer, four years as assessor, and a short tenure as sheriff. While holding county offices, Kennerly lived with his family on a ranch at the mouth of Kennerly Coulee on the Teton River, about thirty-five miles west of Fort Benton.

After his political years, Kennerly ranched on Birch Creek, a tributary of the Two Medicine River on the Blackfeet Reservation. In 1896 he remarried another Piegan woman, Marguerite “Maggie” Gobert., daughter of (Old) Mountain Chief “Neat-A-Sin-Ne.” To this union were born two sons James Otis and Leo Menard.

Kennerly keenly felt the responsibility to educate his children. In March 1890 he arrived in Great Falls with 39 multiracial children from the Piegan Agency including his two oldest sons. He put the children on the eastbound train destined for Carlisle Indian Industrial School, the first native children to attend Carlisle from this region. Kennerly then placed his younger children at Holy Family Mission on the Two Medicine River on the reservation. To finance the education of his children, Kennerly secured a position (1890-1891) as Issue Agent on the Blackfeet Reservation, serving from the office at Piegan. From 1894 on he served as deputy U.S. Customs Officer, stationed at the Blackfeet Agency, then just east of Browning, where he also operated a trading post.

By 1899 Kennerly had lost his eyesight forcing his retirement. A letter of April 22, 1899 reported to the Great Falls Tribune:
   “Henry A. Kennerly, well known throughout the state, now resides at Blackfoot station; he is totally blind but is enjoying good health. Mr. Kennerly is an old confederate soldier who participated in several battles and was on the staff of one of the southern generals at the capture of Vicksburg, where General [Ulysses] Grant, upon seeing him, shook hands very cordially, as they were intimate friends before the war, the general having met his wife at the home of Mr. Kennerly’s sister.” [Henry Kennerly’s oldest sister Eliza Clark Kennerly Stevenson was one year younger than Julia Dent Grant and the two were prominent in St. Louis society.]

The aging Henry Kennerly moved to the home of adopted daughter, Mrs. Sarah Wright Allison, in Cut Bank. The Allisons cared for Kennerly for more than a decade, and during the winter of 1912-1913 they assisted him in recording his recollections of life on the Upper Missouri. Tragically, most of this manuscript later was destroyed by fire, with only his account of the Blackfeet Council of 1855 surviving.

On Tuesday, July 8, 1913, the old Confederate soldier, fur trader, legislator, and pioneer on the Upper Missouri, Henry Atkinson Kennerly died at the Allison home, at the age of seventy-three.

Ken Robison is a local historian and author of Montana Territory and the Civil War: A Frontier Forged on the Battlefield.

Photo: 1. A scene at the Blackfeet Treaty Council of 1855 where Kennerly served as secretary for Commissioner Cumming.

Photo: 2.  Kennerly with other Fort Benton traders at Sioux City in 1866. Back row left to right: Mose Solomon; African American Bob Mills; John Largent. Seated left is Joe Kipp; right is Henry Kennerly.

27 March 2014

William H. Buck: From the Cellars at Vicksburg to the Montana Supreme Court

Remembering Our Civil War Heritage and Heroes:

William H. Buck: From the Cellars at Vicksburg to the Montana Supreme Court

By Ken Robison
For The River Press
March 26, 2014

This continues a monthly series commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War and the veterans that came to Montana after the war. This issue features young William Buck, a boy caught in the siege and surrender of Vicksburg before coming to Montana Territory where he became a political force. Descendants of Montana Civil War veterans are encouraged to send their stories and photos to mtcivilwar@yahoo.com.

The devastating blows of Gettysburg in the East and Vicksburg in the West in early July 1863 sealed the fate of the Confederacy. Although the war would continue for almost two more years, the South had effectively lost the Civil War.

Both Gettysburg and Vicksburg were battles that affected more than Yankee and Rebel combatants—both directly impacted the civilian residents of the two towns. Fifteen-year-old Will Van Orsdel roamed the battlefield at Gettysburg dodging gunfire while carrying water to the wounded. Nine-year-old Horace Buck dodged artillery shells and lived underground during the long siege at Vicksburg. Both boys carried the mental scars of warfare for the rest of their lives. This is young Horace Buck’s story.

Horace R. Buck was born in Yazoo County, Mississippi, September 17, 1853, to Charles L. and Maria I. Barnett Buck, both of Huguenot descent. His father, a prominent lawyer, was one of the few members of the Mississippi convention to speak and vote against the resolution of secession from the United States. The ravages of the Civil War deprived the family of everything, and with the death of Charles Buck in 1862 the family struggled to survive. During the 47-day siege of Vicksburg from May 18 to July 4, the family remained in that beleaguered city. Young Horace later related how the shells ranged so close to the house his family occupied that they often were forced to take refuge in a neighbor’s cellar at night. Civilians as well as soldiers suffered from a lack of food and good drinking water.

As Grant closed in on Vicksburg in the spring of 1863, he knew the critical important of that fortress on the Mississippi. President Lincoln set the tone with these words, “Vicksburg is the key! The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket. . . .We can take all the northern ports of the Confederacy, and they can defy us from Vicksburg.”

In addition, Vicksburg was strategically vital to the Confederates. President Jefferson Davis proclaimed, "Vicksburg is the nail head that holds the South's two halves together." While held by the Confederacy, it blocked Union navigation down the Mississippi. Together with control of the mouth of the Red River and Port Hudson to the south, Vicksburg allowed communication with the states west of the river, upon which the Confederates depended extensively for horses, cattle, other food, and reinforcements.
With its natural defenses, Vicksburg earned the nickname "The Gibraltar of the Confederacy." It was located on a high bluff overlooking a horseshoe-shaped bend in the river, De Soto Peninsula, making it almost impossible to approach by ship. North and east of Vicksburg was the Mississippi or Yazoo Delta, described by geographer Warren E. Grabau as an "astonishingly complex network of intersecting waterways", some navigable by small steamboats.

Since May 18, Grant’s army had formed a tightening ring around Vicksburg, sealing it from the outside world. The city was under siege as the noose ever tightened. To hasten Vicksburg’s surrender, Grant ordered his artillery to shell it around the clock. With some 220 Union cannon firing at Confederate targets in and around the city, life was dangerous for both the military and civilians including their slaves throughout the city. Admiral David Porter’s navy joined in with another thirteen big guns firing from the Mississippi River. Militarily, the Vicksburg Campaign was a joint operation with both the Army and the Navy playing important roles. The campaign is still studied today for the bold and innovative joint serve tactics that Grant and Porter employed.
Life in besieged Vicksburg was not pleasant. In the words of historian Andrea Warren:
   “Shells flew fast and furious, sometimes crisscrossing in the air as they rained down death and destruction on the city and the Rebel soldiers. Cannonballs weighing as much as 250 pounds crashed through walls, tore up streets and yards, and exploded in the Confederate trenches. . . Civilian homes could not protect the families. Many families moved into large communal caves that had been dug into the hills.”

Other families, like the Bucks lived in deep cellars. House slaves either slept in their family’s quarters or near cave entrances as did wounded, recuperating soldiers. Children, like young Horace Buck played on the dangerous streets or underground while their mothers sought food, sewed, and gossiped by candlelight. Slaves tended fires and cooking stoves preparing meals for their masters while soldiers brought news to civilians in the trapped, troubled city.

All this time Mr. and Mrs. Barnett, Horace’s mother’s parents, supported the family, although it was all that they could do. When peace was declared, the Buck family removed to Bayou Teche in St. Mary’s Parish, Louisiana, to the heart of the region that Longfellow so beautifully portrayed in “Evangeline.” In 1869 the Louisiana plantation had to be sold, and Mrs. Buck took her children to the farm of John Barrett, a relative of hers, near Sedalia, Missouri. While there Horace attended the public schools for several years, and then by the generosity of his uncle Horace was sent to the Hopkins Grammar school in New Haven, Connecticut, to prepare for Yale College. Graduating from the grammar school in the class of 1872, he entered Yale’s class of 1876.

At Yale College Horace Buck flourished, and in the words of classmate and lifelong friend William R. Hunt, Horace had “great breadth of mind, mature judgment and conspicuously quick perception . . . No member of his class was more beloved.” After graduation in 1876 his uncle was no longer able to assist him financially, so he moved on to St. Louis where he taught night school to earn a living. There he studied law at St. Louis Law School and in the office of John W. Noble of St. Louis, a brevet general in the Union army. General Noble regarded him as “the best student he had ever known.”

Admitted to the bar of Missouri in 1878, Buck joined Hunt in Dakota Territory the following year in search of a place to settle. Being out of money he found employment as a harvest hand on a large wheat farm. He earned the usual harvest hand’s wages, but found the work on a threshing crew very hard. In the fall of 1879 he became principal of the public school in Shakopee, Minn., and remained there until just before Christmas, when he started for Fort Benton to join Hunt, who had already opened up a law office there, and established the firm of Buck & Hunt. He made the trip from Shakopee to Helena as an emigrant, and “reached Fort Benton hanging to a pile of mail sacks on the coach one bitterly cold night about the holidays, with a capital of $7.00.” [p. 41 in Justices of the Supreme Court]

Buck immediately showed his talent and ambition taking part in political as well as legal affairs. During 1881-1882 Buck edited the Fort Benton Record, a staunchly Democratic newspaper, and he married Mary Jewett, of New Haven.

Buck as managing editor of the Record had Hunt as an associate editor, and, as the Anaconda Standard later recalled, “the ‘boys’ made the Record ‘howl’ during the boom days of Benton . . . Buck devoted his talents in those days to grinding out long and dignified editorials, on intricate financial and social problems of a national character, while Mr. Hunt roamed the streets . . . startled the good people of the town by [uncovering local stories] . . . and other sensational facts of a like nature that always interested patrons of ‘the largest newspaper published in the territory’—a nine-column folio.”

In November 1884, Buck was elected to the 14th Territorial Legislative Council, defeating popular pioneer Robert Vaughn. In the Council he became one of the leading members. Buck was elected Fort Benton city attorney in 1885, serving two years, and he led the effort to draw the town’s first charter and organize city government.

While Buck & Hunt built a successful business in Fort Benton, the limits of the old river port town were too restrictive for the ambitious young lawyers so they moved their firm to Helena in 1887. There they joined former territorial governor B. P. Carpenter, forming Carpenter, Buck & Hunt. Buck also reported decisions of the Montana Supreme Court, while Hunt was made a District Judge. Four years later, Governor Joseph K. Toole appointed Buck as judge for the First Judicial District in Lewis and Clark County. For the next decade Buck served as district court judge until he was elected to the Montana Supreme Court in 1896, joining Hunt on Montana’s highest court.

On December 6, 1901, newspaper headlines in Helena read, “Judge Buck Is Dead! Last Night He Sent a Bullet Crashing Through His Brain.” A hastily assembled coroner’s jury heard testimony and reported a verdict, “He came to his death by his own hand, namely by shooting himself in the head with a 38-calibre revolver, but whether the same was accidental or intentional we have no means of knowing.”

In a tribute to his friend W. H. Hunt wrote, “The inexpressibly sad death of Justice Buck, occurring as it did when he seemed in ordinary health and vigorous mind, bids us to remember ‘what shadow we pursue.’ In his death the state has lost one whose pleasing presence was long familiar to those who have had to do with lawyers and courts, for he was in active practice and judicial service since 1879 . . .”

The long and close friendship between Judges Hunt and Buck was remarkable considering the fact that the one had always been a republican and the other a democrat. They were at school and college together, were law partners for years, were associated as district judges for a long time and were together again as associate justices of the Supreme Court.

Another tribute to Horace Buck came from a committee of six of Montana’s leading lawyers:
   “To the discharge of the duties of this office (associate justice) he brought legal learning, broad general culture, judicial experience and unswerving impartiality . . .”

Judge Buck was a conspicuous figure in the jurisprudence of the state. The boy from the cellars at Vicksburg was no more, yet he left a lasting legacy in Montana. Today, Horace R. Buck rests in Forestvale Cemetery in Helena.

Ken Robison is a local historian and author of Montana Territory and the Civil War: A Frontier Forged on the Battlefield.

Photo: 1. The Siege of Gettysburg (Courtesy of Library of Congress)