26 October 2014
John Mason Brown: From Adventures on the Upper Missouri to Combat
in Civil War Kentucky
By Ken Robison
For The River Press
October 29, 2014
This is the thirty-first installment of a monthly series commemorating Union and Confederate veterans of the Civil War who came to Montana during or after the war. This month features dashing young John Mason Brown who journeyed twice to the Upper Missouri before leading Union Kentucky Cavalry forces in combat against famed Gen. John Hunt Morgan. Descendants of Montana Civil War veterans are encouraged to send their stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Young John Mason Brown made two exciting trips to the Upper Missouri during 1861-1862 before becoming embroiled in the Civil War in his native Kentucky. On his first trip up the Missouri River on the steamboats Chippewa and Spread Eagle in 1861, he became friends with Andrew Dawson, Chief Factor of the Upper Missouri Outfit of Pierre Chouteau, Jr. & Company, the famed American Fur Company. Dawson, with other illustrious travelers during that two-month river trip including Charles P. Chouteau, head of company operations, and colorful Malcolm Clarke, fueled Brown’s quest for knowledge and adventure.
John Mason Brown was born in Frankfort, capital of Kentucky, on April 26, 1837, in imposing Liberty Hall, built for his grandfather, John Brown, a leading lawyer and one of Kentucky’s first two senators. John Mason Brown's father, Mason was a substantial landowner and slaveholder, holding fifty-one slaves in 1860 and wielding considerable political influence. Young John Mason graduated from Yale College in 1856, returned to Frankfort where he taught school and studied law. In April 1860, he opened a law practice in St. Louis, Missouri.
During Brown’s first trip up the Missouri on the American Fur Company’s Spread Eagle steamboat in the spring of 1861, he had long conversations with a new friend, Andrew Dawson, as well as other frontiersmen. During this trip Dawson wrote, “In St. Louis there was not a pistol to be had for love or money. Nothing is talked of but soldiering and even here on the S[teamboat] Boat the passengers have formed themselves into a Company and go through daily drill” organized by John Mason Brown. The fifteen “Spread Eagle Guards” were armed with government annuity rifles provided by Charles Chouteau—arms being taken up river for distribution under treaty obligation to the various native nations.
Throughout this trip, Brown kept a remarkable diary that contained daily entries describing the many hazards of the trip up the Missouri River, his travels throughout what later became western Montana Territory as well as geographical features of the Rocky Mountains.
Boarding the steamer Chippewa at Fort Union, the travelers soon encountered tragedy. A careless crewman ignited 200 kegs of gunpowder in the hold of the steamer, and the boat blew up. Brown and the other passengers survived but suffered a long delay until wagons and horses could be sent from Fort Benton. Brown’s diary provides excellent insight into the trip from Fort Union to Fort Benton. After arriving at Fort Benton, adventurous Brown traveled along the Mullan Military Wagon Road via the Government Blackfoot Farm at Sun River, observing the Indians, the violence, the quest for gold, and the deeply divided loyalties of white residents. Brown wrote extensively of his travels along the Mullan Road to Fort Walla Walla, and on to San Francisco and home via the California overland route.
On his second trip up the Missouri, he left St. Louis May 10, 1862 on the company steamer Spread Eagle, renewed his friendship with Dawson and Clarke, and met the legendary trader Alexander Culbertson and his Blackfoot wife Natawista. Again Brown kept a diary with daily entries describing the trip up the Missouri River from St. Joseph, Missouri to Fort Benton, his encounters with traders, miners and hunters, as well as various Indian tribes in the Northern Plains, Rocky Mountains and Alberta, then British America, and the return trip down the Missouri.
A highlight of Brown’s second trip occurred when he joined a prospecting expedition made by a party of Bentonites consisting of Matt Carroll, James M. Arnoux, Dr. Atkinson, Paul Longleine, Henry Bostwick, Edward Williamson, David Carafel, George Magnum, and John Munroe. They proceeded north of Chief Mountain in July 1862, searching for gold that they had learned about from a man named La Rue. La Rue, who had lived among the Blackfoot for several years as a self-appointed priest, had sent a package to Dawson with word that it was gold bearing sand. The sand was washed and found to contain an exceptional amount of gold. The party formed quickly at Fort Benton and prospected along every stream from the Marias River to the Willows, a point about twenty-five miles south of the Hudson Bay Company’s Fort Edmonton.
The prospectors found light gold colors along the way, but nothing to warrant working. La Rue could not be found and the frustrated prospectors concluded that he had deceived them so in September they returned to Fort Benton. His sense of adventure satisfied, John Mason Brown likely joined a party of miners returning down river to St. Louis by mackinaw boat.
Brown's return to Missouri and Kentucky and the reality of the Civil War must have presented a dilemma to the young man. The Border States were deeply polarization into Union and Confederate camps, largely over the issue of slavery. In the war, nowhere were the divisions more acute than in the Kentucky and Tennessee since slaves made up about 20 percent of the population in the former and 25 percent in the latter. Tennessee seceded while Kentucky did not. By comparison slaves in Missouri formed 10 percent of the total population. Despite the slave owning background of the Brown family, John Mason never waivered, no doubt influenced by his years at Yale College and St. Louis as well as the summers on the Upper Missouri.
Within five days of his return from the second trip to the Upper Missouri in October 1862, Brown was commissioned Major in the 10th Kentucky Cavalry Regiment. He wrote to Andrew Dawson, known to friends as “Sorrell Top,” from the Camp of 10th Kentucky Cavalry” on March 15th 1863:
“My very esteemed old friend ‘Sorrell Top.’
I have this day caused to be shipped to ‘Andy Dawson, care of P Chouteau Jr & Co St. Louis’ by Adams Express, in a sea-worthy keg, a small portion of good whiskey which I hope you will find awaiting you on your arrival from Ft Benton- And in case it arrive all right I hope that you will condescend to touch it to the good luck of your young Ky. friend, who owes so much of the pleasant life he led in the Far North West to your kindness and friendship- If [Malcolm] Clarke ever departs from his ascetic rule of cider and ale I trust he will join you in the glass-
I wrote you, via Walla Walla, in [Frank L.] Worden’s care, immediately after reaching St. Louis- Even if that letter miscarried you heard I presume of our progress from Hotchkiss and Gerard [likely William D. Hodgkiss of Fort Union and J. J. Gerard of Fort Berthold]- Suffice it to say now that we got down safe, and in 5 days after my return to Kentucky I found myself Major of the 10th Regiment of Kentucky cavalry, busily engaged in drilling my men- This position I have held ever since but am now (I am informed by the Genl. Comdy [general commanding]) to be put in command of a regiment of my own- the immediate cause being the fact that I got my clothes badly torn in some recent fights- The Lord in his mercy Grant that the promotion may come!
Gerard commissioned me as I passed Fort Berthold to buy a horse for him to be sent up this Spring by the Company’s boat. He directed me to write to [D. A.] Constable on the subject which I did but received no answer- I found it impossible to get the kind of horse he desired for the sum he specified and in the absence of instructions from Constable I thought it best not to invest for him.
I feel very much annoyed to hear that Dr Atkinson and that Carpenter Neill had industriously circulated lying accounts of our trip up to Chief Mountain, to my prejudice- Not that I imagined it at all likely that you or Clarke or George Steele would ever believe that I would sell 10 or 15 pounds of meat to a man out of provisions for a dozen bullets or demean myself even towards those characters otherwise than as a gentleman should- But I had really done a good deal for Neil, fed him and lent him a horse for two days, and had supposed Atkinson to be a friend of mine- Carroll had done a great deal for both of them. Neil even to this day owes the undersigned for money paid out for him after we left Fort Union. Enough of the damned rascals- I only regret that I can’t have half an hours talk with them.
I most sincerely hope that your health is greatly improved and that your legs are again fully up to their duty- [Dawson had been badly crippled in an earlier fall at Fort Benton.] Let me have a short letter from you, if you can find the time, directed to Frankfort Kentucky- whence it will be forwarded to me.
Please do not fail to remember me most sincerely to Clarke, Carroll and Geo Steele—friends whom, with yourself I can never forget—and whose numerous kindnesses make Fort Benton seem a home to me- If it were possible that I could be in Frankfort, at my own home I would insist on you and Clarke spending a day or two with me if the time could possibly be squeezed out of your short allowances, but I am as I told you a cavalry officer and one day in Kentucky, the next probably in Tennessee—uncertain as to times and places- Please try and let Atkinson know my exact opinion of him which is that he is a damned double-faced lying scoundrel—by doing which you will peculiarly oblige.
Most truly & sincerely yr friend
Jno Mason Brown
Do me the favor to express to me at Frankfort a couple dozen buffalo tongues if any have come down—and send bill collectable on deliver of freight.”
The 10th Kentucky Cavalry had been raised by Col. Joshua Tevis, a veteran of the Mexican War, and organized at Maysville in northeastern Kentucky during the summer of 1862. During July-September Confederate generals Braxton Bragg, Kirby Smith, and Humphrey Marshall invaded Kentucky, and the 10th encounter the enemy at the battle of Perryville. After that battle on October 8th, the Confederates retreated from Kentucky, and the 10th participated in the pursuit, following Gen. Humphrey Marshall's men through the mountains, capturing prisoners, horses and arms. The 10th remained on duty in Kentucky during the principal part of its service with excursions into Tennessee and [West] Virginia.
Major John Mason Brown joined the 10th on October 27th, and assumed command of two companies forming a battalion for a two-month scouting expedition. On December 25, Maj. John Mason Brown’s battalion moved through London and Barboursville to Big Creek Gap, and engaged in numerous skirmishes along the way.
Major Brown’s battalion rejoined the regiment in central Kentucky and remained on active service through the winter and spring of 1863, operating from the borders of Virginia to Somerset. During this time Col. Charles J. Walker and LtCol. Maltby commanded the 10th.
In the spring of 1863, Confederate Cavalry returned to raid Kentucky. On March 5th, confederate Col. R. S. Cluke's 8th Kentucky Cavalry crossed the Cumberland river at Stigall's Ferry below Somerset, and made its way to Richmond, Winchester, Mount Sterling, and other points. The 10th Cavalry opposed Col. Cluke, advanced from Crab Orchard, and skirmished at Lancaster. Pushing on, it encountered Cluke's men at many points. Among them was a fight about half way from Winchester to Mount Sterling where, as reports indicate, Maj. Brown checked a fierce attack, and with the 44th Ohio coming up, the enemy fled. In this pursuit of Cluke the 10th Kentucky marched 135 miles.
At one time Col. Cluke’s force of eight hundred men at Winchester, was charged and driven out; then by feigning to go to Paris he drew the Federal forces in that direction, and returned to Mount Sterling where he fell upon a portion of the 10th under Capt. Ratcliffe, who defended his men from homes in the town. Cluke resorted to the torch, and after burning the place captured Ratcliffe and paroled him and his men. On March 28th the 10th, cooperating with the 5th Kentucky Cavalry, succeeded in driving Col. Cluke out of Kentucky and into Virginia.
On June 30, 1863, Maj. John Mason Brown assumed command of the 10th for a month. In July a portion of the 10th under Maj. Brown captured Confederate Gen. Humphrey Marshall's "artillery." A report of Col. Cluke described the action, "Gen. Marshall is in forty miles of this place moving on with sixteen hundred cavalry. He lost his artillery the other night. The guard placed over it went to sleep, and some 'Home Guards' slipped in on him, and carried off the gun, leaving the carriage and caisson."
Throughout this period the 10th Cavalry protected Eastern Kentucky, and had numerous engagements with the enemy in which it suffered loss. Among their battles were Elk Fork, Tenn., Glasdesville, Va., Mount Sterling, Triplet's Bridge, and Lancaster, Ky. It participated in the pursuit and rout of Pegram and Scott; in the course of its service it was rarely at rest, being on active duty all over Eastern Kentucky, and into East Tennessee and West Virginia. The depleted 10th was mustered out of service September 17, 1863, at Maysville.
In the fall of 1863 Brown was promoted to Colonel to recruit and assume command of the 45th Kentucky Mounted Rifles. Mustered in on October 10th, the 45th served at Mount Sterling, and covered the front from Cumberland Gap to Louisa until March 1864. At that time, Col Brown was appointed commander of the 4th Brigade, 1st Division, District of Kentucky.
In May 1864, confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan rode into Kentucky through Pound Gap on his last cavalry raid into the state. Federal cavalry under Col. Brown, Col. Wickliffe Cooper, and others attacked Morgan at Cynthiana, Mount Sterling, and Augusta. At Mount Sterling, Morgan dismounted his men to burn enemy supplies and scour the countryside for horses. Morgan left his dismounted element and his maneuvering with his mounted force succeeded in confusing Union commanders. Col. Brown, commanding the 2nd Brigade, gained sufficient intelligence to convince his commander, General Burbridge, to change direction and descend on Mount Sterling to attack Morgan’s men. In this attack Col. Brown’s soldiers smashed through the outposts and into the unsuspecting Confederate camp. This attack decimated Morgan’s men, killing or capturing about 314 officers and men.
Overall, during his raid into Kentucky, Gen. Morgan lost over half of his men and finally was driven into east Tennessee, where he was killed at Greenville on September 4th. Col. Brown’s earlier command of the 10th and 45th together with his leadership in the engagements that drove notorious Col. John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate cavalry from Kentucky, earned him a reputation as an exceptional soldier. One official report stated, “There was no more gallant and efficient officer than Col. John Mason Brown . . . [who is] young, ardent, intelligent, and peculiarly acquainted with Kentucky.”
Leaving service in December 1864, Brown resumed his law practice at Frankfort. There he married Mary O. Preston, eldest daughter of confederate Brig. Gen. William Preston, and raised a family. Later moving to Louisville, he became one of the leading citizens, standing at the head of the bar and business enterprises and becoming a founder of the famed Filson Club. Upper Missouri adventurer and exceptional Civil War leader Colonel John Mason Brown practiced law until his death on January 29, 1890 and is interred in Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville.
Ken Robison is a local historian and author of Confederates in Montana Territory: In the Shadow of Price’s Army and Montana Territory and the Civil War: A Frontier Forged on the Battlefield.
1. Major Brown served with distinction during the Civil War.
2. Col. John Mason Brown’s grave in Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, Ky.
04 September 2014
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 email@example.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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
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 email@example.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.