09 August 2006

Facing Down Danger: Fort Benton Men in the Nez Perce War--Part 3

By Ken Robison

[This article was published in the Fort Benton River Press 9 August 2006]

This continues the series of frontier sketches by historians at the Joel F. Overholser Historical Research Center in Fort Benton.

This article, the final chapter in our study of the Fort Benton participants in the Nez Perce War, covers the freighters, traders, Scouts, and Home Guards swept up in the violent flight of the Nez Perce along their Trail of Courage.

4. Freighters on the Cow Island Trail. (1 Freighter Killed)

Freighting teams operating on the Cow Island trail encountered the Nez Perce, and one bullwhacker fell victim in the Cow Creek Canyon fight. The wagon trains of Cooper, Farmer, Barker, and Benham were under contract to the Diamond R, transporting military and civilian stores from Cow Island to Forts Benton and Shaw. Each train consisted of six or more teams with trails.

Barker, Fred, a freighter based at Fort Benton, was killed by the Nez Perce September 25 on the Cow Island trail. Fred, born in Kentucky, was a brother of Matilda Barker Senieur, wife of Gus Senieur. Donnelly’s Company found Fred’s body the next day and buried him along the trail. We recently learned that the pistol carried by Barker at the time of his death is in the possession of a descendant.

Benham, Sinclair was a Diamond R freighter.

Cooper, O. G., born in 1846 in Pennsylvania, came to Montana Territory in 1874 to engage in freighting. He was wagon master for the Diamond R wagon train loading at Cow Island Landing and returning to Fort Benton on the Cow Island trail when it was attacked and destroyed by the Nez Perce. Cooper survived and continued freighting on the lower Yellowstone in Gallatin County in 1880. The next year he began ranching and married in 1882.

Farmer, Frank was a freighter for the Diamond R based in Fort Benton. In 1880 Farmer was a 32 year old, unmarried stock tender on Upper Teton River in Choteau County.

Nottingham, Hilda Anderson (H. A.) was a freighter bringing a Murphy Neel train from Fort Benton to Cow Island during the Cow Creek Canyon fight. Coming under attack by the Nez Perce, Nottingham escaped and took his train safely back to Fort Benton. In 1880 he was a 24-year-old native Virginian, unmarried, and a cattle dealer and freighter on Shonkin Creek.

Other Freighters in “The Train Party” in the Nez Perce War from the November 30, 1877 Benton Record Weekly.
(No casualties)

Brinkman, Herman, born in 1836 in Germany, came to Fort Benton in 1868, and worked as a wolfer, trader, and carpenter. In 1877 he owned Brinkman & Lilly’s Saloon with John Lilly. He was married and later became a rancher.

Brown, Jack J., born about 1833 in Missouri, was a freighter operating out of Fort Benton in 1877 and served as interpreter. He was near the head of Cow Creek in June 1877 when the Gros Ventre killed Frank Robinson. Brown’s uncle may have been either Powder Bull or Wolf’s Head. In 1880, Brown served as interpreter for the Army at Fort Assiniboine where he lived with his native Indian wife.

Coatesworth, Thomas, born in Wisconsin in 1846, was a woodchopper on the Missouri River in Dawson County in 1870. He worked as a freighter out of Fort Benton in the 1870s, and married India Bolton in Fort Benton August 17, 1877. Tom later served as jailer and Chief of Police in Fort Benton, and died there in 1925.

Connelly, John was a freighter in 1877. Born in Ireland in 1840, Connelly was married and farming on Shonkin Creek in 1880.

Conway, William T., born 1848 in Virginia, was freighting in 1877 and operated Thompson & Conway’s Bakery and Saloon. His wife, Katie Cross Guns, was a Piegan Blackfeet. In 1880 Conway and his family lived in Fort Benton, and he worked as a miner and saloon owner.

Davis, Joseph came to Fort Benton by steamboat in the 1870s. He later owned a novelty store in Fort Benton.

Healy, Thomas F., born in 1847 in Ireland, served as clerk in his brother John J. Healy’s store at Sun River Crossing in 1870. In 1880 Thomas lived on the Teton River and was unmarried.

Matt, Cyprien. See Donnelly’s Company

Nicholson, Murray. See Donnelly’s Company

O’Hanlon, Thomas. See Donnelly’s Company

Price, Charles W. was born in Missouri in 1844 and came to Fort Benton in 1867, running a wagon train for I. G. Baker & Co. For eight years, Price was a trader among the Milk River Indians, returning to Fort Benton 1875 where he went to work for the Conrads in the cattle business. He married Miss Mollie B. Conrad, daughter of J. H. Conrad, and lived in Fort Benton in 1880.

Rogers, Alfred E., born in 1854 in New York City of Irish parents, worked for I. G. Baker & Co. Al married in 1883 and later served as Choteau County Clerk and Recorder. [Also Rodgers]

Smith, George. See George Smythe in Donnelly’s Company

5. Traders on the Cow Island Trail. (2 Traders Killed and Possibly One Other Killed)

Two trading partners, Charles Steele and James Downey, were traveling the Cow Island trail to Fort Benton from the Bear’s Paw Mountains, when they encountered the Nez Perce and were killed.

Steele, Charles was killed by the Nez Perce rear guard between Eagle and Birch creeks during the evening of September 27. His body was found the next day and buried by Donnelly’s Company. An old Californian about 45 years of age and a native of Augusta County, Virginia, Steele came to Fort Benton from Carroll in 1876. [Incorrectly reported in The Benton Record as Robert Steel]

Downey, James was killed by the Nez Perce the same evening as his partner. Dr. Turner’s party of passengers on the steamer Benton later found Downey’s body, and they buried him near a lake on the north side of the Cow Island trail. Downey came either from Pembina, Dakota Territory or Fort Garry, Manitoba.

Buck, Charles was killed by the Nez Perce according to Warner’s Montana Territory History and Business Directory 1879 (p. 105) and Leeson’s History of Montana 1739-1885 (pp. 180, 496) although no details or confirmation are known about his death.

6. Fort Benton Men Serving the U. S. Army as Freighters or Scouts from October 1-3 and Paid $3 Each. (No Casualties)

Arnoux, James M., born in New York City in 1841, came to Fort Benton in 1862 to work for the American Fur Company. He married half Piegan Josephine, daughter of Augustus Armelle and Pine Woman. In 1870 Arnoux worked as a clerk for Mathew Carroll. He later opened the first farm on the south side of the Missouri river, and in 1877 Arnoux operated a farm and ranch on Highwood Creek working as a part time freighter and forwarding merchant and serving as Choteau County commissioner. [Also Arneaux and Armmell/Armeil]

Devereaux, Elijah Jefferson was involved in the killing of Blood Chief Calf Shirt in the early 1870s and in the Cypress Hills massacre of Assiniboine Indians in 1873. Devereaux, Trevanian Hale, and John Evans were arrested, tried, and acquitted. In 1877 he operated the Extradition Saloon in Fort Benton with John Evans. Devereaux married Mary, a Piegan Indian, daughter of Old Chief and Bird Tail Woman.

Castner, John was mining and hauling coal in 1877 from the Belt area to Fort Benton. Castner came to Montana Territory in 1867 operating as a freighter based in Fort Benton. He married black American Mattie Bell Bost in 1879, and together they founded the town that became Belt. Castner was born in 1841 in Pennsylvania.

Danvale, Charles. See Donnelly’s Company

Delano, Jack. [Possibly Dilno] No information.

Hale, Trevanian. See Donnelly’s Company

Ladd, Charles D., born in New Hampshire in 1848, lived in the Fort Benton area in 1877. By 1880 Ladd had moved on to the Barker Mining District of Meagher County where he was an unmarried silver miner.

O’Brien, John, born in 1848 in Ireland, lived in the Fort Benton area in 1877. Three years later he was a woodchopper on Highwood Creek and married.

Powder Bull. See Donnelly’s Company

Rowe, William. See Donnelly’s Company

7. Fort Benton Men Serving as Scouts and Freighters after October 3. The Benton Record reported that Scouts received $175 to $500 for carrying dispatches from Benton to Gen. Miles and the Cypress Hills. (No Casualties)

Healy, John J. and John Tattan were proprietors of the Overland Hotel in Fort Benton in 1877. From July 1877-82 Healy served as Sheriff of Choteau County. Colorful Irishman Johnny Healy was an early settler, married, and running a trading post at Sun River crossing in 1867. Born in Ireland in 1839, Healy was a leading whiskey trader and founder of Fort Whoop-Up. Sheriff Healy had been in Helena in late September 1877, or he no doubt would have joined Donnelly’s Company. In early October 1877, Healy served as Scout carrying dispatches from General Terry at Benton to Colonel Miles at the Bear’s Paw, departing Fort Benton October 3 with George Croft. Healy brought details of the Snake Creek battle and surrender back from Miles to General Terry at Fort Benton arriving October 8. In addition, Healy acted as correspondent for the Benton Record Weekly in the field, and was responsible for the timely, detailed reporting carried in the Record during this period.

Healy, Joseph, born in Ireland in 1841, and a brother of John J. Healy, was a merchant and trader at Sun River Crossing from 1870-80.

Croft, George. See Donnelly’ Company.

8. Other Participants:

Hill, Joseph S., born in Florida in 1848, came to the Upper Missouri in 1863 to set up a trading post. He moved on to Fort Benton in 1875 to take over bookkeeping and became general business manager for T. C. Power & Bro.’s general merchandise house in Benton. In 1878 Hill became Superintendent of Public Schools in Choteau County. Although Hill’s role in the war is unknown, Colonel Thomas H. Ruger, 18th Infantry, awarded him $150 for loss of horses and arms in the Nez Perce War.

Wells, James, born in Pennsylvania in 1835, was Post Trader in charge of Fort Clagett in 1877. Wells came to the Upper Missouri before 1870 and was married to a native American. Wells sent Cyprian Matt to Fort Benton to alert the military of the approaching Nez Perce and to ask for help in defending Fort Clagett.

9. Fort Benton Home Guard:

As most of Company K of the 7th Infantry departed Fort Benton for western Montana, the townspeople became concerned about the defense of their community. An informal meeting was held in early August 1877 to organize an infantry company, known as Company A, Benton Invincibles. The Benton Record of August 3, 1877 reported their organization:

Captain—Smythe, George C. See Donnelly’s Company.

1st Lieutenant—Harwood, Thomas B., born in Kentucky in 1834, came to the Bannack mines in 1862. He spent three years in the Canadian North West trading with native Indians.

2nd Lieutenant—Arnoux, James M. See October Freighters Paragraph 6 above .
1st Sergeant—Hill, Harry, in 1880 with Jere Sullivan opened the former Thwing House as the Choteau House.

1st Duty Sergeant—Buckland, Rowland W. “Red,” born in 1840 in Massachusetts, early miner around the West lived at Fort Whoop-Up as an Indian trader from 1870-74. In 1874, Buckland began ranching on Highwood Creek.

1st Corporal—Thompson, William A., born in 1842 in Ohio, was a saloonkeeper in Dawson County in 1870. The next year he was involved in the hide and fur trade at Musselshell. In 1874 Thompson was elected county commissioner in Choteau County, and in 1880 he operated a saloon in Fort Benton.

2nd Corporal—Rowe, Charles, born in Cornwall, England in 1842, came to Fort Benton in 1867. He drove stage for Wells, Fargo & Co. and operated a saloon and billiard hall. In 1870 Rowe bought the Overland Hotel and operated it until 1877 when he leased it to Tattan & Healy. Ranching on the Missouri for two years, in 1880, Rowe returned to Fort Benton. He married Miss Emma Brinkman, daughter of Herman in 1876.

Bugler—Hill, Joseph S. See October Other Participants Paragraph 8 above.

Fifer—Welsh, Nicholas “Nick,” opened the occidental Saloon in Fort Benton in 1876. He died in Fort Benton of consumption in 1882.

Drummer—Wright, William H., born in Iowa in 1859, came to Fort Benton from the Black Hills, freighting cut wood for a living. In 1880, Wright became part owner with McDevitt in the Benton stable.

Company Surgeon—Power, Dr. John W., born in Iowa in 1844 of Irish ancestry, arrived in Montana territory in 1867 and became a partner with his brother T. C. Power. After Tom Power moved to Helena in 1878, John ran the company operations in Fort Benton. John Power was not a medical doctor—Dr. Will E. Turner was the only doctor in Fort Benton in 1877.

Company Quartermaster—O’Hanlon, Capt. Thomas. See Donnelly’s Company.

Company Commissary—Conrad, Col. Joseph Howard, was a clerk in Fort Benton in 1880. He died in Los Angeles in 1884.

Adjutant General & Chief of Staff—Dunn, Major Edward, a long time resident of Fort Benton, in 1878 was the head of the retail department of T. C. Power & Bro.

Chief Signal Officer—Todd, Major Thomas Jefferson, born in Virginia in 1854, arrived at Fort Benton in 1874 while serving as clerk on the steamboat Nellie Peck. He accepted a clerkship in the firm of W. S. Wetzel for the season. In 1885 Todd began working for T. C. Power & Co. and later for I. G. Baker. He married Miss Martha E. Conrad, daughter of Col. James W. Conrad, in 1880. Tom Todd owned the Grand Union hotel in the 1880-90’s.

Chief of Artillery—Baker, Col. Joseph A., the son of Isaac G. Baker, was a cattle rancher in the Highwoods.

Company Chaplain—Kanouse, Jacob A., born in New Jersey in 1814, came to Fort Benton about 1870 and practiced law. He was married to Miss Sarah A. Horner of Illinois. Kanouse held numerous public offices in Fort Benton.

Company Cook—Taylor, Mister John. No information

Company Barber—Sowers, Sam, born in Pennsylvania, came to Montana in the late 1860s with the 13th Infantry Regiment. Sowers operated a barbershop in Fort Benton from 1875-78. In 1879 Sowers was shot and killed in his own saloon. He was married to a mixed race black American Ellen E. Sowers.

The Benton Invincibles appear not to have been very active, and the formation of Donnelly’s Company on September 21 was a quickly executed, ad hoc affair. The subsequent engagements with the Nez Perce, the escape of many of the Nez Perce, and the perceived “threat” of Sitting Bull and his Sioux spurred Fort Benton into action.

On October 4 the citizens of the Fort Benton met at the Centennial Hotel “to provide for the defense of the town against the ravishes of hostile Indians.” Col. John J. Donnelly was elected chairman and Joseph A. Baker, secretary. John H. Evans moved and the meeting approved organization of a company of volunteers to be called the ‘Benton Home Guards,’ and names were enrolled. A resolution was adopted and a committee appointed to solicit funds for engaging I. N. Clarke and one other person to act as mounted patrols during the night. Evans was unanimously elected Captain of the Home Guards, Trevanion Hale was elected 1st Lieutenant and R. W. Cummings 2nd Lieutenant. The meeting approved the employment of mounted patrols, and for the next several months mounted patrols continued at night.

The Benton Record of December 7 carried an “Important Order. Headquarters, Benton Home Guards, Fort Benton, M. T., Dec 7, 1877. General Order No. 1.

Authentic information having been received at these Headquarters that large bands of Sioux and Nez Perce Indians have crossed the boundary line and are now prowling in the vicinity of Benton, the officer commanding deems it his duty to request the Home Guards to retain their organization, have their arms and horses ready, and be otherwise prepared to march at a moment’s notice to the assistance of the outlying settlements. The regular military force of Benton is inadequate to the proper protection of the town, and in case of attack, Major Ilges will probably require the assistance of every person capable of bearing arms. By order of John H. Evans, Captain Commanding Home Guards.”

The final action of the Fort Benton men in the Nez Perce War occurred in December 1877 when the body of young black American Edmund Bradley was recovered from Cow Creek and buried in Fort Benton. The funeral of Edmund Bradley on December 8 proved to be a remarkable interracial event, reported in the Benton Record:

"The funeral of the lamented volunteer, killed in the Cow Creek fight on the 24th of September last, took place on Saturday, the 8th inst. The remains were followed to the grave by nearly all the residents of the town, including the Home Guards, commanded by Captain John Evans, the [Donnelly Company] volunteers who participated in the gallant fight at Cow Creek, and the soldiers from the military post. A number of ladies were also present at the grave. The coffin was covered with black velvet and tastefully trimmed with black fringe and silver mountings. The procession, commanded by Major Guido Ilges, 7th Infantry, fell into line at fifteen minutes past 1 o'clock, p. m. There was no confusion, loud talking or other disturbance, but all present seemed deeply impressed with the solemnity of the occasion. When the command, 'Forward, march,' was given, the line moved off in the following order, to the sound of a muffled drum: Fife and drum. Firing party consisting of eight soldiers from the military post. Hearse, bearing coffin covered with United States flag. Party of fifty citizens on foot. Volunteers and Home Guards, mounted, about forty in number. Six wagons, containing county officials and other invited guests.

On arriving at the cemetery, the coffin was first placed beside and afterwards lowered into the grave. The funeral service was read in a very impressive manner by Mr. J. A. Kanouse, while all present stood with uncovered heads. After the service, the firing party discharged three volleys over the grave, which completed the funeral ceremony and the honors to the dead. It was a well-managed affair throughout, creditable alike to the participants, and the town of Fort Benton."

The exceptional funeral of black American Edmund Bradley reflects both the depth of involvement of Fort Benton in the Nez Perce War and the complex interracial environment in the area at the time. The dedication of Fort Benton on June 25, 2006, as a contributing site on the Trail of Courage, the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, serves as a fitting tribute to the many Fort Benton participants in the Nez Perce War.

[Sources: Leeson History of Montana, pp. 149-50; various U.S. Census; BRW 5 Oct 1877; BRW 30 Nov 1877; BRW 7 Dec 1877]

Photos: [Credit all to Overholser Historical Research Center]

(1) Wagon Trains on the Whoop-Up Trail were similar to the trains on the Cow Island Trail.

(2) Thomas J. Todd, Chief Signal Officer in Company A of the Benton Invincibles.

(3) John J. Healy, Irishman, Whiskey Trader, Sheriff, and Storyteller

25 July 2006

Facing Down Danger: Fort Benton Men In the Nez Perce War—Part 2

By Ken Robison

[This article was published in the Fort Benton River Press 2 August 2006]

This continues the series of frontier sketches by historians at the Joel F. Overholser Historical Research Center in Fort Benton. This article continues our study of the Fort Benton participants in the Nez Perce War.

On September 25, 1877, Major Guido Ilges, Private Thomas Bundy, and the Fort Benton volunteers of Donnelly’s Company saw combat along Cow Island trail at Cow Creek Canyon as they tried to rescue Diamond R freight trains under attack by the Nez Perce about ten miles north of Cow Island.

The men of Donnelly’s Company were tough men, experienced in the hard and dangerous life of frontier Montana. During the 1860s and early 1870s, Fort Benton was a wild and wooly steamboat river port and overland freighting town, featuring the “toughest block in the West.” At least four, and likely more, of Donnelly’s men had extensive Civil War service, and three had recent service in the Seventh Infantry. At least three were Army scouts. Five of them had service as Sheriffs, Deputies, U.S. Marshals, or North West Mounted Police. Eight lived the dangerous lives of freighter, wood hawk, or wolfer. Six were ranchers or farmers. At least six were of Irish descent, while two and possibly three were black Americans. At least four men were married to native Indian wives, and two Indian fathers joined their sons-in-law.

The following roster of the 50 Donnelly’s volunteers is compiled from two sources: the Benton Record Weekly of 30 November 1877 listed 37 men (indicated with a + mark below); and, Colonel John Gibbons’ Court of Claims at Helena in 1881 certified 44 men of Donnelly’s Company for compensation for service September 20-27, 1877 (indicated with an * below). Each volunteer was paid from $6 to $10, for an aggregating total $431. The Court of Claims list does not include men who had left the territory between 1877 and 1881 or one of the men who had died before 1881.

3. Donnelly’s Company Fort Benton Mounted Volunteers: (One killed)

+*Donnelly, John J. served as Captain and later Lieutenant-Colonel in the 14th Michigan Regiment throughout the Civil War. Born in 1838 in Rhode Island of Irish parents, Donnelly was active in the anti-English Fenian movement and commanded troops in two Fenian invasions of Canada. Moving West to Fort Benton in 1872, Donnelly was a lawyer, community leader, and later a probate judge and Speaker of the Montana House of Representatives.

+*Baker, Hiram farmed on the Marias River in 1877. He was born in Missouri in 1834. In 1880 Baker remained on Marias River with his native Indian wife.

+*Bradley, Edmund, a young black American, was a skilled carpenter and house builder. In 1877 he lived in Fort Benton with his Gros Ventre wife and young daughter. Bradley was killed in the Cow Creek Canyon fight on September 25. [Aka E. B. Richardson]

+*Bucknam, Charles B. served as a scout for the Army in territorial Montana. During the Nez Perce War, he carried dispatches and scouted for Major Ilges and other Army commanders. Born in Indiana in 1854, Bucknam was unmarried and lived in Fort Benton in 1880, still working as a U. S. Scout. [Also Bucknum/Buckram/Buckman]

+Cavanaugh, John, born in Ireland in 1853, was a laborer in Fort Benton. In 1880 he was a farm laborer on the Teton River. [Also *Kavanaugh]

*Clarke, Isaac N. served three years in the Civil War. In 1877 he worked as a wood hawk along the Missouri River. In October 1877, the City of Fort Benton hired Clarke to act as a mounted patrol guarding the town at night. Born in 1844 in Ohio with Irish parents, in 1880 Clarke was married and worked as a laborer in Fort Benton.

+Clark, Jake served with the 7th Infantry Regiment at Fort Shaw in1870. Born in Ohio in 1846, Clark remained in Montana after his discharge from the Army.

+*Cobell, Louis was born in the Fort Benton area in 1856, the son of fur trader Joe Cobell. Louis worked as a guide for the North West Mounted Police and later farmed on Shonkin Creek with his native Indian wife.

*Croft, George A. was Sheriff of Choteau County in 1867 at age 24. By 1870 Croft, born in Missouri in 1846, worked as a laborer in Fort Benton with his native Indian wife. In 1877 he operated a wood yard at Eagle Creek. In October 1877 Croft carried dispatches with Johnny Healy from Fort Benton to Col. Miles. By 1880 he was farming on the Missouri River with his family. [Also Croff]

*Davis, C. S. was possibly Charles Davis at Fort Benton in 1880. He was a black American born in Tennessee in 1853, unmarried and working as a river man.

*Davis, George R. "Crow."

+Davis, T. C. No information.

*Dear, James was born in 1847 in New York of Irish parents. In 1880 he worked as a laborer on the Missouri River and was unmarried. [Also Dare/ Deer]

Duvall, Charles E. arrived at Fort Benton before 1870. Born in Georgia in 1843, he worked as a laborer and lived with his native Indian wife in Fort Benton through the 1870s. [Also *Deanville, +Duvale, Deauville, Danville]

+*Egan, John served with the 7th Infantry Regiment at Fort Shaw in 1870. He remained in the area, living in Fort Benton through the 1870s. He married Kate Connolly at Fort Benton December 31, 1877. Born in Ireland about 1851, Egan work as a laborer and lived in Fort Benton with his wife in 1880.

*Estes, P. H. was probably Hank Estes, who worked as a miner and lived near Boulder, Jefferson County, in 1880. He was born in Maine in 1843 and was unmarried. Colonel Thomas H. Ruger, 18th Infantry, awarded Estes $125 for loss of horse or arms. [Also +Esthes, James]

+*Evans, John H., born in Ohio in 1846, served in the Civil War as Scout for General Sully in Minnesota and with the 2nd Iowa Cavalry. He came to Fort Benton in the 1871 and became a community leader. He worked as a wolfer, whiskey trader, and leader in the Cypress Hills massacre. In 1875 Evans successfully fought extradition to Canada for the massacre, and on his return to Fort Benton, defiantly named his saloon, The Extradition. In 1877, Evans owned the saloon with Jeff Devereaux and the Benton Brewery. In October 1877, Evans was elected Captain of the Fort Benton Home Guards. Three years later he was a rancher living in Fort Benton with his family.

*Evans, Winfield S., a brother of John H. Evans, arrived with his mother and other family members at Fort Benton by steamboat in May 1877. By 1880 Winfield was living with his family and farming in the Missouri River valley near Fort Benton.

*Farmer, George H., born in New York in 1831, operated the Jungle saloon in Fort Benton in 1877. By 1880 he had moved on to the Callatta Mining District in Meagher County where he worked as a laborer.

*Foster, William, a black American, arrived in Fort Benton in 1876. He owned and operated the fancy Palace Barber Shop. He married in 1878 and moved on from Fort Benton in 1883. One year later, Foster was murdered in western Canada at the end of track of the Canadian Pacific Railroad.

Fullwood, James H., a bullwhacker and muleskinner operating out of Fort Benton from 1876 to 1883, worked for T. C. Power & Bro. Earlier Fullwood had served with the North West Mounted Police at Fort Walsh. He left Montana Territory after 1883 and later lived in England. [Also +Fallwood, James.)

Ganty, Joseph was a trader and freighter operating between Fort Clagett and Fort Benton. [Also *Gauty, +Gaulee)

*Hale, Trevanian served as Choteau County Sheriff in 1875. Born in Iowa in 1839, Hale worked as a wolfer and rancher. In October 1877 he was elected 1st Lieutenant in the Benton Home Guards. By 1880 Hale was farming on Shonkin Creek with his family. Later he served as an officer in Yellowstone National Park. Colonel Thomas H. Ruger, 18th Infantry, awarded Hale $275 for loss of horse and arms in the Nez Perce War.

+*Hammond, George was a freighter based at Fort Benton in 1877. In 1870 he worked as a wood hawk on the Missouri River below Fort Benton. Born in Maine in 1841 of Canadian parents, Hammond remained a freighter in Fort Benton with his family in 1880.

*Hanna, Joseph W., age 27 and born in Indiana, lived in Fort Benton in 1877. By 1880 Hanna, known as “Toe String Joe,” was gold mining in Meagher County. In 1884 he shot and killed George Nelson and was tried and convicted of murder. Hanna escaped jail in White Sulphur Springs and was never executed for the murder. [Also Hannah]

+*Lilly, John C., born in Prussia in 1844, saw extensive service under Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest for the Confederacy in Civil War. In 1870 he was a laborer in the Sun River Valley. In 1877 Lilly operated Brinkman & Lilly’s Billiard Saloon in Fort Benton. Three years later he remained in Fort Benton owner of the saloon.

*Maloney, Richard. No information. [Also +Henry Maloney]

+Matt, Cyprien kept a road house in the Teton valley in 1877 and
worked as a Scout and Government interpreter for the Gros Ventre. He was a veteran stampeder as new mining areas opened up. In 1880 Matt lived in Fort Benton working as a miner. Matt was born in Canada in 1832.

*Moran, Martin. No information. [Also +Moran, Patrick]

+*Morrison, Joseph possibly was the Joseph Morrison living in White Sulphur Springs in 1880 where he tended a stable. Morrison was born in 1844 in Maine.

+*Murphy, William M. was a carpenter living in Fort Benton in 1877. In 1870 he worked as a wood hawk in Benton. Murphy was born in Maine in 1847 and in 1880 worked as a carpenter at Fort Benton.

*Neel, Samuel probably is the prominent Helena merchant who spent time in Fort Benton where his business, Murphy & Neel had a large trading operation. Neel, born in Virginia in 1846, lived in Helena in 1870 and remained there in 1880 with his family. [Also +Neile, Neall, Neile]

+*Nicholson, Murray was a rancher on the Teton in 1877. He also served as Scout for the Army. Nicholson, born in Ohio in 1837, was an Indian trader living with his Gros Ventre wife in Fort Benton in 1870. Nicholson and his wife lived at Fort Assiniboine in 1880 where he worked for the Army as a Scout.

*O’Hanlon, Thomas was a trader among the Assiniboine Indians. In1880 he was an Indian trader and ran the trading post at Fort Belknap, 32 years of age and born in Ireland. From 1879 to 1898, O’Hanlon was connected with T. C. Power. [Also +O’Hanlin]

+Palmer, George arrived Fort Benton by mackinaw in 1871.

*Powder Bull was probably a native Indian father-in-law to one of the four men married to Indian wives.

+*Preston, William, born in Ohio in 1838, was wolfer, who in 1877 owned the Overland “Billiard Parlor” with Sam Sowers. By 1880 Preston was a saloonkeeper in Fort Benton. Colonel Thomas H. Ruger, 18th Infantry, awarded Preston $75 for loss of horse or arms
+Reynolds, Henry may be the laborer in the Judith Basin of Meagher County in the 1880 Census, born in Iowa in 1848 and a widower.

+*Rowe, William, born in England in 1842, came to Fort Benton in 1867 and had many occupations: stage driver; saloon owner; whiskey trader; proprietor of the Overland Hotel 1869-76; Choteau County Sheriff 1876-77; farmer in 1877; appointed U. S. Deputy Marshall in July 1877; livery stable operator. In 1880, Rowe was a mail contractor and lived in Fort Benton with his family.

*Samples, John probably was a younger brother of Kentucky-born Asa and Daniel Sample living in early Choteau County. Asa was the first elected Sheriff in 1867 and moonlighted in the whiskey trade. Both Asa and Daniel Sample later became ranchmen. In 1880 a John Sample, born in Kentucky in 1852, lived in Miles City. [Also Sample]

*Smith, Edward L. operated a ferry on the Missouri River at FortBenton in 1877. Born in Pennsylvania in 1852, he was an experienced freighter. In 1880 he lived with his wife in Fort Benton and operated a large ferry.

*Smith, William B. was a rancher in 1877. In 1880 he was a teamster living in Fort Benton, born in 1820 in Pennsylvania and a widower.

+*Smythe, George C. worked in MacKnight’s sutler’s store at Fort Shaw before moving to Fort Benton. In 1877 he was a shipping clerk living in Fort Benton. His wife, Maggie, died two weeks after Smythe returned to Fort Benton with Donnelly’s Company. Smythe died before 1881.

+*Tattan, John W. was shot in the abdomen and knocked down during the Cow Creek Canyon fight, but the bullet was spent on his oval U.S. Army belt buckle. Colorful John Tattan was born in Ireland in 1847 and served as a Sergeant in the 7th Infantry Regiment. Discharged, he remained in Montana territory, married, and became a lawyer and later a District Court Judge. In 1877 Tattan and John J. Healy were proprietors of the Overland Hotel.

*Tingle, Edward was a wolfer who by 1880 was farming on the Marias River. He was born in Iowa in 1846 and unmarried.

+Tolbert, Jefferson served as Deputy Sheriff under John J. Healy. In 1877 Tolbert owned the Jungle Bar. In 1880 Tolbert was a saloonkeeper in Fort Benton. He was born in Ohio in 1850 and was unmarried.

+Welsh, Nicholas was proprietor of the Occident Saloon in 1877 after working as a stage driver. By 1882 he remained in Fort Benton but was forced by ailing health to lease the Occident. [Also *Walsh]

*Wolf’s Head was probably a native Indian father-in-law to one of the four men married to Indian wives.

+*Woolsey, Ephram, known as “Bishop,” was freighting and living on Eagle Creek in 1877. In 1880 Evan T. Woolsey, age 28 and born in Illinois, was farming in Choteau County.

+Yantes, Joe. is probably Arthur Yontis in the 1880 census, born in Pennsylvania in 1852 and working as a wood hawk on the Missouri River below Fort Benton. [Also Sol A. *Jantis, Arthur Yontis/Yanrig]

The day Donnelly’s Company returned to Fort Benton, Major Ilges paid tribute to the efforts of these civilian volunteers. His commendation read:
“Thanks to The Volunteers. Headquarters, Fort Benton, M. T. September 29, 1877. Messrs. J. J. Donnelly, John H. Evans,
Eph. Woolsey, and others of the Benton Volunteers.
Gentlemen:--Allow me, on behalf of the Government of the United States, to thank each and every one of you for the
important services you have rendered the same during the operations against the Nez Perces, commencing on the 21th
inst. When the call for help from the imperiled points below reached me, helpless to assist with United States Soldiers, you
promptly came to my aid, willingly faced hardship and danger and did you duty cheerfully and effectually. With your brave
help I have been able to relieve those in distress, to bury the murdered victims, and to strike a parting though ineffectual
blow at the retreating foe.
Your operations have developed the line of march, the strength and condition of the enemy, and your close presence
upon his trail and along the line of travel between Cow Island and the settlements has no doubt saved the lives of many of
our citizens.
I am, Gentlemen, very respectfully, your obedient servant, Guido Ilges, Major 7th Infantry, Commanding Post.”

Major Ilges proved a capable leader on the military field. In addition, The Benton Record credited Major Ilges in great measure with convincing the Gros Ventre and Assinaboins later to attack Nez Perce stragglers.

Fort Benton’s participation in the Nez Perce War extended well beyond the military and civilian volunteers discussed in parts 1 and 2. The war involved many additional freighters, traders, and Scouts based at Fort Benton, and a third and final part will cover these men.

[Key Sources: Leeson’s History of Montana, pp. 149-50; various U.S. Census; BRW 12 Oct 1877, p. 3; BRW 26 Oct 1877, p. 3 BRW 30 Nov 1877]

Photos: [Credit all to Overholser Historical Research Center]

(1) The Fort Benton volunteers of Donnelly’s Company named in the Benton Record Weekly of November 30, 1877.

(2) John J. Donnelly, fiery Irishman and commander of Donnelly’s Company at the Cow Creek Canyon fight.

(3) John C. Lilly, Prussian-born, Confederate veteran and member of Donnelly’s Company.

(4) John W. Tattan survived a Nez Perce bullet in the abdomen and later received the Chief Joseph surrender rifle from Colonel Miles.

22 July 2006

Facing Down Danger: Fort Benton Men In the Nez Perce War—Part 1

by Ken Robison

[This article was published in the Fort Benton River Press 26 July 2006]

This continues the series of frontier sketches by historians at the Joel F. Overholser Historical Research Center in Fort Benton.

The Nez Perce War in 1877 involved both military and civilians with close ties to Fort Benton. As the Nez Perce rapidly moved northward from the Judith Basin toward the Canadian border, they encountered elements from Companies B and F of the 7th Infantry Regiment, a mounted civilian volunteer company led by the Fort Benton Military Post Commander, Major Guido Ilges, and freighters and traders on the Cow Island trail. These Fort Benton men constituted small, dispersed defensive forces, and historians have largely ignored or disparaged their actions. Yet, the encounters at Cow Island and Cow Creek Canyon on the Cow Island trail, coupled with a decision by the Nez Perce to slow their pace of advance, enabled pursuing U. S. Army cavalry and mounted infantry to catch and capture most of the Nez Perce at the Bear’s Paw Mountains. Without these delays, the Nez Perce likely would have found sanctuary across the Canadian border.

My previous article, “Fort Benton and The End of The Trail of Courage,” looked at the actions of the Fort Benton men and the reactions of the Nez Perce to them. Now, let’s look at the men themselves, the 145 soldiers and civilians involved in the Cow Island and the Cow Creek Canyon fights and incidents along the Cow Island trail. Who were these men and what can we find out about their lives in frontier Fort Benton?

Captain Thaddeus S. Kirtland and 1st Lieutenant James H. Bradley were garrisoned at the Fort Benton Military Post from 1872-75 with Company B of the 7th Infantry Regiment. During his years in Fort Benton, Capt. Kirtland, a Civil War veteran, served as both Company Commander and Post Commander. His wife was one of the few white women living in the rough and tumble frontier town where life revolved around arriving steamboats and departing freight wagons. In Fort Benton in 1874, Mrs. Kirtland gave birth to a son, Roy Carrington Kirtland, who went on to an illustrious career in early Army Aviation and today is the namesake for Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.

During his years in Fort Benton, young, dynamic Lieutenant Bradley listened to the stories of fur trade era from traders still living in the town. He wrote their stories and the history of the founding of Fort Benton and left a valuable record that otherwise would have been lost. His intention to publish his writings was never realized. Tragically, while leading a charge of his Mounted Infantry, Lieutenant Bradley was killed August 9th at the Battle of the Big Hole in western Montana. His widow sadly took passage on the steamer Benton on August 17 from Fort Benton down the Missouri River for her home in Atlanta, Ga.

Company F, 7th Infantry relieved Company B and manned the garrison at Fort Benton at the time of the Nez Perce War in 1877. Captain Constant Williams commanded Company F, and 2nd Lieutenant Edward E. Hardin was his deputy. Captain Williams served in the Civil War with Pennsylvania regiments. In July 1877, Captain Williams and Lieutenant Hardin departed Fort Benton with about 34 men of Company F to join the rest of the 7th Infantry at Fort Shaw to reinforce military forces in western Montana. Company F suffered heavy casualties at the bloody Battle of the Big Hole August 9-10, with three enlisted men killed and Captain Williams and five men wounded.

Remaining at the Fort Benton Military Post were Post Commander Major Guido Ilges and a reduced Company F with about fourteen men. Major Ilges was an experienced combat veteran from service in the Civil War and against the Apaches in the southwest. Born in Prussia in 1835, he immigrated to the U.S. at age 20. He served throughout the Civil War and was brevetted to lieutenant colonel for gallantry with the Army of the Potomac.

On September 18, Captain Williams, scarred and limping from his wounds, and Lieutenant Hardin returned to Fort Benton with 29 enlisted men of Company F including the wounded. In the early morning of September 21, Scout Cyprien Matt rode into Fort Benton carrying news from James Wells at Fort Clagett that the Nez Perce were heading north from the Judith Basin to the Missouri River. Major Ilges dispatched Lieutenant Hardin with thirteen men and two volunteer boatmen to set off down the river by mackinaw to Fort Clagett at the Judith. We do not know the names of either the soldiers or the boatmen with Lieutenant Hardin.

By early evening of September 21, Major Ilges departed with one soldier, Private Thomas Bundy, an experienced teamster of Company F, a supply wagon, and a hastily assembled civilian volunteer force that would eventually reach a total of 50 men. These men constituted the Fort Benton Mounted Volunteers, known as Donnelly’s Company for its fiery Irish leader John J. Donnelly. Major Ilges and Donnelly’s Company would see combat along the Cow Island trail at Cow Creek Canyon on September 25.

The first fighting occurred at Cow Island Landing on September 23-24 when the small Guard Force came under attack by the Nez Perce as they forded the Missouri River. Sixteen defenders withstood sniping from the bluffs and seven charges of their rifle pits in the Cow Island fight. According to The Benton Record, the Nez Perce acknowledged two warriors were killed in the Cow Island fight, termed by The Record “the bravest little fight.” The following soldiers and civilians participated in this engagement.

1. Soldiers Company B, 7th Infantry at Cow Island: (1 killed)

Molchert, First Sergeant Michael commanded the Guard Force. Sgt. Molchert served in the Civil War and later lived in Ohio.

Briggs, Sergeant.

Cookley, Corporal.

Clark, Denver, Ford, Keefer, Malvihill, Reap, Rice, Watson, and Williams, Privates

Martin, Private Byron was killed by the Nez Perce on September 23 one mile above Cow Island Landing while bringing Capt.
Kirtland’s horse from Dauphin’s Rapids to Cow Island.

2. Civilians in the Guard Force at Cow Island: (2 wounded) (2 of the 4 were discharged soldiers from Company B)

Troutman, George, possibly one of the discharged soldiers, was wounded in the right shoulder September 23.

Buckwalter, Ed. W. was wounded in the hand and side September 23. In 1880 Ed Buckwalter was a printer working for John
Lamott and living on Shonkin Creek. He was born in 1830 in Pennsylvania and was unmarried in 1880.

Foley, Michael served as Coulson Line agent in charge of Coulson freight at Cow Island in 1877. In 1880 Michael Foley was
a teamster at Fort Benton. He was born in 1850 in Ireland and was unmarried. Foley served as Army scout at various times.

Higgins, Hugh is likely one of the discharged soldiers.

[To be continued.]

Photos: [Credit all to Overholser Historical Research Center]

(1) Lieutenant James H. Bradley, Fort Benton’s first great historian.

(2) The Cow Island Landing fight site. Unidentified photographer.

26 June 2006

Fort Benton & The End of The Trail of Courage 1877

by Ken Robison

[This article was published in the Fort Benton River Press 5 July 2006]

This continues the series of frontier sketches by historians at the Joel F. Overholser Historical Research Center in Fort Benton.

On the 25th of June this year, Fort Benton will join the Nez Perce (Nee- Me-Poo) National Historic Trail as a contributing site. The Trail commemorates the 1,170-mile flight of the Nez Perce from their tribal homelands in eastern Oregon, Washington and Idaho in a bold quest for freedom in buffalo country along the Canadian border during the summer of 1877. The Trail might well be known as “The Trail of Courage” for the skill, bravery, and endurance of the 750 Nez Perce men, women, and children as their quest fell short just forty miles from the border.

Fort Benton’s role in the Nez Perce War is not well understood. After all, the Trail comes no closer than 130 miles from Fort Benton, at Cow Island where the Nez Perce forded the Missouri River as they moved northward from the Judith Basin. Yet, through a series of circumstances, Fort Benton, the head of navigation, played an important role in the end of The Trail of Courage.

On June 18, 1877, Captain Thaddeus S. Kirtland with 28 enlisted soldiers of Company B, 7th Infantry Regiment, departed Fort Shaw via Fort Benton for Dauphin’s Rapids on the Missouri River. Capt. Kirtland and the men of his Company B were well known in Fort Benton, where they were stationed from 1872-75. During the summer of 1877, they guarded engineers engaged in improving navigation on the Upper Missouri River. On August 18, Capt. Kirtland sent eight men from Company B down river to Cow Island to guard Government Stores landed there by steamboats still active on the Upper Missouri. Four more men from Company B soon joined this guard force together with four civilians from Fort Benton, two being discharged soldiers from Company B.

The summer of 1877 had seen a tremendous upswing in steamboat traffic at the head of navigation on the Missouri, and the resurgent activity brought a building boom to Fort Benton. Residents had followed closely the saga of the Nez Perce, and took keen personal interest when elements of the 7th Infantry including mounted infantry under First Lieutenant James H. Bradley departed Fort Shaw to engage the Nez Perce in western Montana. All residents of Fort Benton knew Lieut. Bradley, the deputy commander of Company B, for during his time in Benton he had chronicled much of the early history of the old fur trade post. News of Lieut. Bradley’s tragic death on August 9th at the bloody Big Hole battle brought the war home to the town.

After the Canyon Creek skirmish along the Yellowstone River on September 13, the Nez Perce moved steadily northward across the Musselshell toward the Missouri River. The movement of their camp outpaced exhausted cavalry and mounted infantry pursuers under General O. O. Howard and Colonel Samuel Sturgis. By September 18, Colonel Miles, with more cavalry and mounted infantry, departed the Tongue River moving northwest to intercept the Nez Perce.

The steamboat Peninah tied up at Cow island Landing on the morning of September 19 and unloaded 85 tons of freight. That afternoon a wagon train of Cooper & Farmer arrived at the landing and began loading freight into their fifteen wagons. By the morning of September 21, half the bull train was loaded and started the long haul over thirty-two crossings of Cow Creek along the trail leading to Fort Benton. That same day the steamer Fontenelle brought another 70 tons and eleven passengers to the landing.

Early in the morning on Friday September 21, interpreter Cyprien Matt rode into Fort Benton with news from James Wells of Fort Clagett that the Nez Perce were traveling up the Judith Basin headed for Canada. Wells asked for help to protect the fort, a trading post at the mouth of the Judith 65 miles above Cow Island. Major Guido Ilges, commander of the Fort Benton Military Post with a depleted Company F, 7th Infantry garrison, directed Lieutenant Edward E. Hardin with thirteen men, plus two volunteer boatmen, to load a 12-pound mountain howitzer onto a mackinaw boat and set off down river to Fort Clagett.

Major Ilges, with Private Thomas Bundy of Company F, and 24 citizen volunteers, known as Donnelly’s Company for their fiery Irish Fenian leader John J. Donnelly, departed Fort Benton at 7 p. m. Friday evening on horseback. The Ilges force traveled 24 miles to the springs beyond the Marias River, where they encamped at 1 o’clock Saturday morning. The Benton Record newspaper reported the movements and warned that “It is hardly possible that a handful of men sent to protect Fort Clagett and Cow Island can give them [the Nez Perce] a very serious check.”

Major Ilges and Donnelly’s Company broke camp at daylight Saturday September 22, rode all day, and arrived at Clagett at 5:30 p. m. after covering 56 miles. Lieut. Hardin with his detachment arrived at Fort Clagett via mackinaw in the forenoon about six hours earlier. Two scouts were sent out toward the Moccasin Mountains to find the direction that the Nez Perce were taking.

At Cow Island on Saturday, Cooper & Farmer’s remaining ox-train departed for Fort Benton. There were eight bullwhackers with this train, and a light wagon with four ladies, accompanied by Dr. Brown, Surgeon, U.S. Army, Captain Frechette, North West Mounted Police, and an escort of five soldiers (the Fontenelle passengers).

On Sunday September 23, both the Ilges and Hardin forces remained at Clagett, awaiting the return of their scouts. Toward evening the command was strengthened by the arrival of six more volunteers from Fort Benton.

At noon Sunday, Sergeant William Molchert with three soldiers from Capt. Kirtland’s Company B, arrived at Cow Island by a borrowed woodhawk’s boat from Dauphin’s Rapids. The Nez Perce killed a fourth soldier, Pvt. Byron Martin, who was sent overland from Dauphin’s Rapids with Capt. Kirtland’s horse. The 12-man detachment from Company B and four citizens constituted the Cow Island guard force.

After a remarkable 36-hour movement covering 78 miles, early Sunday afternoon the Nez Perce camp approached Cow Island to use the shallow-water crossing. Although tired and hungry, led by twenty warriors the Nez Perce camp of almost 700 men, women, and children crossed the ford at Cow Island. The main column continued up Cow Creek about three miles where they camped for the night. Sgt. Molchert’s small guard force watched the movements from defensive rifle pits.

About twenty warriors approached the guard force under flag of truce to ask for food, offering to pay. Determined to try to protect the freight, Sgt. Molchert refused but finally provided a token amount of supplies. The Nez Perce went away to consider their options. During the afternoon a rifle shot was heard, indicating the death of Pvt. Martin as he approached with Capt. Kirtland’s horse. In the late afternoon, the Nez Perce began shooting from the bluffs above Cow Creek, pinning the guard force in their defensive rifle pits. Other Nez Perce came up around the corner of the bank of the creek and took supplies including whiskey from the freight depot and set fire to the rest. Some 30 tons of government freight and 20 tons of private freight were either taken or destroyed.

The skirmish continued for more than ten hours through Sunday night and into Monday morning with some seven Nez Perce charges of the rifle pits, each time repulsed. Two of the civilian defenders were wounded in the first skirmish: George Troutman, wounded in the right shoulder, and E. W. Buckwalter, wounded in the hand and side. After a long night under fire, the guard force found by 10 o’clock Monday morning the Nez Perce had departed up Cow Creek less than 100 miles from the Canadian border.

Among the folklore from the Cow Island fight, is a dispatch sent by freight agent and defender, Michael Foley, to his boss Colonel George Clendenin, who was down river trying to locate steamboats. The dispatch read:

“Rifle Pit at Cow Island,
September 23, 1877, 10 A.M. [probably 10 P.M.]
Col:--Chief Joseph is here, and says he will surrender for two hundred bags of sugar. I told him to surrender without the sugar. He took the sugar and will not surrender. What shall I do.
Michael Foley.”

Back at Fort Clagett, at 2 a.m. Monday morning the scouts finally returned to report to Major Ilges that the Nez Perce were heading toward Cow Island. Ilges’ command left at daylight, traveled all day down river, reaching the banks of the Missouri opposite Cow Island by evening. Soon after going into camp Lieut. Hardin’s force arrived by mackinaw, bringing the mountain howitzer and Sgt. Molchert’s guard force that had left the depot after the fight.

Tuesday daylight, the Ilges command crossed the Missouri by mackinaw to the north side. At the landing they found the burned depot with supplies strewn over the surrounding hills. The rifles pits showed signs of a fierce struggle with Sgt. Molchert providing the details. Major Ilges dispatched a courier to Col. Miles and started on the trail leading up Cow Creek. His objective was not to intercept the overwhelming Nez Perce main force, but to locate and protect the slow moving ox-trains and the light wagon with the passengers of the Fontenelle.

While Ilges’ command had been enroute Cow Island, the Nez Perce broke camp and moved up Cow Creek by noon Monday overtaking the Farmer & Cooper wagon train, slowed by a muddy trail, numerous crossings, and a herd of cattle. The Nez Perce went into camp near the train ten miles up Cow Creek.

Early Tuesday morning, Major Ilges moved with Donnelly’s Company up Cow Creek, leaving Lieut. Hardin, 25 men, and the howitzer at Cow Island. Scout Murray Nicholson spotted the Nez Perce camp, and apparently as the Ilges command approached the Nez Perce took action to a perceived threat to their camp. Warriors shot and killed teamster Fred Barker, and the seven other teamsters fled into willows. The warriors ransacked the train and set fire to the wagons. Major Ilges halted his command as he observed the Nez Perce camp readying to depart. By noon the Cow Creek Canyon fight was underway. As the Nez Perce main camp moved away, warriors began firing on the Ilges command from the bluffs above. Ilges deployed his force into defensive positions. For over two hours, firing continued. Edmund Bradley, a black American volunteer, was killed by a Nez Perce sharpshooter. John Tattan, another volunteer, was almost killed when he was knocked down by a bullet strike to his abdomen, stopped by his belt plate.

As soon as Major Ilges decided to stand and fight, he sent Pvt. Bundy back, with orders for Lieut. Hardin to bring up his men and the howitzer. Bundy safely covered the dangerous ten miles in less than two hours. After firing ceased about 2 p.m. and the Nez Perce warriors moved north, Major Ilges withdrew down Cow Creek, meeting Lieut. Hardin’s detachment. The small combined force continued back to the Cow Island rifle pits to defend if further Nez Perce attacks came, to guard newly arriving steamboat freight, and to await arrival of Col. Miles.

Wednesday, September 26, most of the volunteers returned to the Cow Creek Canyon battlefield to bury Ed. Bradley and Fred Barker. The remainder worked to strengthen and enlarge the rifle pits at Cow Island. In the evening the steamer Benton arrived and commenced unloading about 60 tons of freight.

During the night Cooper & Farmer with the surviving portion of their oxen arrived, and were fired upon by vigilant sentinel, volunteer Joe Hanna. Thursday morning five more train men came into camp. The steamer Benton hauled logs for a blockhouse from the south bank, and after unloading got ready to leave. At noon the Benton got underway, and Major Ilges with Donnelly’s Company departed Cow Island to return to Fort Benton. They passed the burned train, and found the wagons and their contents entirely destroyed. The Ilges command made a night march reaching Bear Paw springs about 11 p. m. After the volunteers left the canyons, the Nez Perce rear guard attacked H. A. Nottingham’s train enroute Cow Island from Fort Benton. He managed to escape and turned the train back to Benton.

On Friday September 28, the Ilges command marched until midnight, reaching 24 Mile springs. They found the remains of Charles Steele and buried him between Birch and Eagle creeks. Steele and his trading partner James Downey had been murdered the previous night while trying to escape to Benton from the Bear’s Paw Mountains.

Early Saturday afternoon about 1 p.m., Major Ilges and Donnelly’s Mounted Company reached Fort Benton “tired, worn, but cheerful, and ready to start again if their services are needed.” In the words of The Benton Record, the “Bold Volunteers . . . fully deserve the gratitude of this community and the General Government. They have not annihilated Joseph and his band, but they have accomplished a great deal of good. They relieved Fort Clagett, they relieved and strengthened the party at Cow Island. They have by their action saved two steamboats and 100 tons of government freight. They have fought the Indians on their own ground and harassed them in their movements. They have developed the enemy’s position and strength, they have saved the lives of the trainmen by their prompt advance, they have buried the dead, they have demonstrated to the Indians the fact of our strength should mischief be intended in this direction, and by their return they have gladdened the hearts of our people beyond expression.”

The major contribution of the small 7th Infantry Regiment force and Donnelly’s Mounted Company at Cow Island and Cow Creek Canyon is the critical delay they caused the movement of the Nez Perce camp. The twenty hours delay at the Cow Island fight and the four hours delay at the Cow Creek fight cost the Nez Perce dearly. These delays, coupled with the slowed pace of movement of the Nez Perce camp, enabled Col. Miles to close ground and move into position for the decisive Battle of the Bear’s Paw and the surrender of the Nez Perce on October 5, less than forty miles from sanctuary in Canada.

Fort Benton has two significant artifacts from the Nez Perce War: a mountain howitzer and a Winchester carbine. The mountain howitzer is the one taken by Lieut. Hardin by mackinaw to Fort Clagett on September 21. This 12-pound brass mountain howitzer was built in 1863 for use in the Civil War and came to Fort Benton from Camp Cooke in 1869. It will be on display later this summer at the new Upper Missouri River Breaks Monument Interpretive Center.

Most significantly, also at the Interpretive Center will be displayed the symbol of the end of the Trail of Courage--the Winchester Model 66 lever-action carbine surrendered dramatically by Chief Joseph to Col. Nelson A. Miles on October 5, 1877. Col. Miles presented the rifle to Gen. O. O. Howard. Later, Gen. Howard gave the rifle to John W. Tattan, Mounted Volunteer of Fort Benton, saying that the rifle should never leave Montana, and it has not. Upon the death of Judge Tattan, the rifle went to his grandson, William T. Morrison who presented Chief Joseph’s surrender rifle to the Museum of the Upper Missouri upon its opening in 1958.


(1) Major Guido Ilges, commanding the Fort Benton Military Post

(2) Map of Cow Island and Cow Creek area

(3) Photo of Cow Island taken in 1880 by F. Jay Haynes

09 June 2006

Shooting Fort Benton: The Early Photographers

Shooting Fort Benton: The Early Photographers
By Ken Robison

This article was published in the Fort Benton River Press 31 May 2006

This continues the series of frontier sketches by historians at the Joel F. Overholser Historical Research Center in Fort Benton.

The magical setting of Fort Benton begs to be photographed—the grandeur of the mighty Missouri River, the broad river bottom, the rising bluffs. Yet we’ve never seen the first photograph taken of Fort Benton.

Almost certainly, that first photo was a daguerreotype taken by John Mix Stanley in 1853. Stanley brought a camera when he accompanied the Isaac Stevens Railway Survey Expedition to Fort Benton in 1853, and he took the first photographs of the Rocky Mountains. Stanley left photographs, lithographic illustrations, and paintings from that pathbreaking trip. Regrettably, Stanley’s photographs no longer exist, probably burned in the same Smithsonian fire that destroyed many of his oil paintings. John Mix Stanley’s lithograph is the first visual image we have of Fort Benton. That illustration of old Fort Benton and Stanley’s grand oil painting of Fort Benton founder, Alexander Culbertson, are now on display in the Hornaday Room at the Museum of the Northern Plains in Fort Benton.

Other early traveling artists came to the Upper Missouri bringing along cameras. Talented artist Karl Wimar brought a camera on his trips in 1858-59, although none of his photos are known to exist. In 1860, J. D. Hutton accompanied Captain William F. Raynolds on a topographic exploration of the Upper Missouri. Hutton’s amazing photograph of Fort Benton from across the river in July 1860 is the earliest known surviving photograph of the old American Fur Company post. This important photograph is on display this summer at the entrance to the Museum of the Northern Plains as part of a new photographic display from the archives of the Overholser Historical Research Center. This exhibition focuses mostly on early professional photographers who resided in Fort Benton rather than the travelers.

Charles Bucknum, an army man with a camera, spent the summer of 1868 at Fort Benton, apparently with a detachment of the 13th Infantry Regiment. A Bucknum photograph of the old Fort is on display this summer. Charles R. Savage, the famed Mormon photographer based at Salt Lake City, came north to Montana Territory in the summer of 1868. In early August 1868, Savage visited Fort Benton and two of his exceptional carte-de-viste are on display. His photograph of the steamboat Success is the first close-up photo of a steamboat at the Fort Benton levee. An earlier photo from July 1867 taken by an unknown photographer from across the Missouri River shows the steamboats Luella and Tom Stevens at the Fort Benton levee.

The earliest known “resident” photographer in Fort Benton was Washington W. Parker who spent the summer of 1877 in Fort Benton. Through his photographic advertisement in the Benton Record, we know of his presence, although we have no photos taken by him. In August 1877, Parker moved north to Fort Macleod. He returned to Fort Benton briefly in August 1880, but by October had moved on. Traveling photographers came up the Missouri by steamboat to Fort Benton in the 1870s including Stanley J. Morrow in 1873 and W. E. Hook in 1878 and 1879.

Two photographers arrived at Fort Benton in the spring of 1880 and spent the summer here. William Culver, who later gained fame as the premier photographer of Lewistown, came to Fort Benton. While his photographic equipment was being shipped up the Missouri River, Culver became partners with George Anderton in a photographic tent studio in Fort Benton. By the fall of 1880, Culver moved on to the new army post at Fort Assiniboine. We know of no Culver photos of Fort Benton during 1880, although he took an early scene of great falls of the Missouri.

George Anderton, formerly of the North West Mounted Police and the founding father of photography in western Canada, came to Fort Benton in May 1880 from Fort Macleod. He took important photographs of the buildings and people in Fort Benton during the boom period of steamboat navigation. One exceptional Anderton photo in our collection shows the Front Street levee in 1880. The backstamp on this image reads: “Geo. Anderton, Photographer, Fort MacLeod, N. W. Ter. Canada.”

The late summer of 1880 also brought Fargo photographer F. Jay Haynes to Fort Benton. Haynes had come up the Missouri from Bismarck on the crowded steamboat Helena with reporter M. H. Jewell of the Bismarck Tribune and 261 civilian contract workers enroute to Fort Assiniboine. At Coal Banks, Haynes, the reporter, and the workers, left the Helena to go overland to Fort Assiniboine. Over the next several weeks, Haynes took photography of the construction of the fort and the falls of the Missouri before arriving in Fort Benton. Inexplicably, Haynes took only four known photos at Fort Benton, before departing by mackinaw to return to Dakota. On the way down the Missouri, he took dozens of photos of the white cliff features, the river, and cloud formations.

Justus Fey, a German immigrant, came to Fort Benton in October 1881 from Deadwood City, Dakota Territory. Opening the City Gallery on Main Street, Fey immediately began recording the building boon that was underway. Don and Kathy Lutke used Fey’s photograph of the Pacific Hotel, taken in late 1882, as a guide in their restoration of the famed hotel. Among many other important photos, Justus Fey took an exceptional photograph of the steamboat Josephine on its arrival at the Fort Benton levee on 3 May 1882. Fey was a wandering man, and by 1883, he had equipped a wagon to use as a traveling photographic gallery. Over the next five years, until his death in Helena in 1888, Fey roamed moved through the Sun River valley, Great Falls, Butte, Marysville and Helena taking photographs of people and places.

In July 1882, Sol Duffin and his wife arrived in Fort Benton from Winnipeg. By December, Duffin had opened a photographic gallery on Main Street opposite the I. G. Baker store. He gave half of his building to the city for a library. The Duffins remained in Fort Benton just one year, departing in the fall of 1883 for the States and eventual return to Winnipeg. Only a handful of Duffin photos are in our collection, and all of them are portraits.

In November 1883, Civil War veteran and wandering miner Dan Dutro bought Duffin’s gallery. Dutro had served as a drummer boy in the 150th Illinois Volunteers in the war. His health suffered from the war years, and in June 1868 he came up the Missouri River on the steamboat Andrew Ackley to the Montana frontier. Over the next decade he worked as a miner and stonecutter, until his health forced him to seek less demanding work. By the early 1880s, Dan Dutro and his family settled in Fort Benton. Over the next two decades, Dutro remained in Fort Benton, compiling an exceptional photographic record. He photographed a wide span of Fort Benton history, the river, the people, the buildings, the scenes, the Native Americans, the ranches, and mines in the area. Among our collection of Dutro photos are two “hanging” photos taken of convicted murderers before their execution. The hangings were public events, and the photos posed the doomed man with various law enforcement and legal community officials.

Toward the end of Dutro’s photographic career, young Roland Reed came to Fort Benton. He apprenticed at the Dutro studios in Fort Benton and Havre during 1896-97. In 1897, Reed went north to photograph the Alaska Gold Rush. He then went to national prominence during a long career photographing Native Americans, especially the Blackfoot Indians. Many of his photographs were published in association with the Great Northern Railroad.

John G. Showell, another wandering man, spent time in Deer Lodge and Great Falls before opening a photographic studio in Fort Benton in 1899. We first learned of his presence in Fort Benton from an ad in the 1900 Montana Brand Book. Within two years, Showell was on the move again to Hamilton, Missoula and Stevensville. We have but a single portrait photograph from Showell’s time in Fort Benton.

A final photographer among the early residents of Fort Benton was young Walter Dean. In July 1903, Dean arrived in Fort Benton to work in D. G. Lockwood’s jewelry store as an apprentice optician. Over the next year, Dean displayed exceptional talent as a photographer. His most famous photograph was taken in September 1904 when Charles M. Russell came to Fort Benton in company with the Third Cavalry on an overland march from Fort Assiniboine to Great Falls. Walter Dean and his camera were waiting as Charlie and two Cavalry officers posed outside Joe Sullivan’s Saddlery. Our photo of Charlie and the Cavalry is hand tinted, reportedly by Dean’s friend L. A. Huffman. Thanks to the generosity of Dean’s grandson, Gordon Dean, our Research Center has a strong collection of Walter Dean’s photographs from his year in Fort Benton including many views of the Third Cavalry in encampment on the grounds of the old fort. By 1905, Dean moved on to the new eastern Montana town of Forsyth where he became a prominent booster and photographer.

Samples of the amazing work of Fort Benton’s early photographers will be on display throughout this summer at the entrance to the Museum of the Northern Plains. The exhibition is built from the broad collection of imagery and memorabilia held at the Overholser Historical Research Center. This community collection of photography belongs to the people of Fort Benton, and it will continue to grow through your generosity. If you have photographs of the town, ranches, farms, river, and people stop by the Center. If you can part with them, we will add them to the collection. If you can’t part with them, but are willing to share them with the community, we’ll scan them into our new digital photographic archives. Meanwhile enjoy the exhibition this summer when you visit the museums.


(1) First known photograph of Fort Benton taken in 1860 by H. D. Hutton. [Overholser Historical Research Center]

(2) Charles R. Savage photographed the steamboat Success at the Fort Benton levee in August 1868. [Overholser Historical Research Center]

(3) Army Scout Charles Bucknum photographed the old fur fort in 1868. [From Overholser Historical Research Center]

(4) Talented Canadian photographer, George Anderton, spent the summer of 1880 in Fort Benton. [Overholser Historical Research Center]

(5) Justus Fey photographed the steamboat Josephine at the levee in 1882. [Overholser Historical Research Center]

(6) Dan Dutro’s “hanging” photo of murderer John Osness in 1894. [Overholser Historical Research Center]

(7) Young Walter Dean’s photo of Third Cavalry Encampment at Fort Benton in 1904. [Overholser Historical Research Center]

15 March 2006

Black American Steamboatmen on the Upper Missouri

In Honor of Black History Month
Black American Steamboatmen on the Upper Missouri
By Ken Robison

Published in the Fort Benton River Press 15 Feb 2006

This continues the series of frontier sketches by historians at the Joel F. Overholser Historical Research Center at the Schwinden Library & Archives in Fort Benton.

We don’t know the first black American to come up the Missouri River to Fort Benton by steamboat, though he no doubt came not as a passenger but rather as a crewman. We do now that many blacks worked as steamboatmen on the Upper Missouri, while some came as passengers, and some remained to become Montana pioneers. Little has been written about their experiences.

Black Americans, both slave and free, had long served on riverboats in the ante-bellum years. Steamboat owners employed their slaves as roustabouts, or “roosters,” as well as immigrant Irish and Germans, other foreign-born, and young Americans. Free blacks often served as stewards, cooks, cabin boys and chambermaids.

With black emancipation and the end of the Civil War, the composition of steamboat crews changed. For freed blacks, working on the river offered jobs and some opportunity for advancement and relocation. Mixed race crews became common on the western rivers including the Missouri.

Some insight into the crew situation on the Upper Missouri is provided by the 1880 census. Taken in Fort Benton in early June, this census shows two steamboats were located at the levee with their crews recorded in the census records. The steamboat Key West under Captain Frank Maratta brought about 270 passengers to Fort Benton from Bismarck including 200 North West Mounted Police. Among the crew of 41 were seventeen Scandinavians and three blacks. The black Americans were young Kate Murphy, age 20 from Kentucky, working as laundress; Frank Thomas, age 24 from Virginia, a rooster; and David Homes, age 33 from New York, a rooster.

The second steamboat in the census, the Nellie Peck, under Captain Martin Coulson, was manned by a crew of 39 with eleven foreign born and four blacks. The black Americans were Lucy Chapman, age 30 from Missouri, a servant; Bush Glenn, age 18 from Kentucky, a waiter; Henry Randoff, age 20 from Tennessee, a cook; and George Stockwell, age 25 from Virginia, a waiter.

A reminder of the dangers of travel on the Upper Missouri comes from the experience of Wesley McClellan, a young black deckhand age about 20 from Nashville who fell overboard off the Helena enroute Fort Benton in June 1882 and was presumed drowned.

The best knowledge we have of a black crewman who remained on the Upper Missouri comes from remarkable young Edward D. Simms. Ed Simms was just nineteen years old when he made his first trip by steamboat to Fort Benton in 1873. Simms, had been born into the slave society of Arkansas in 1853, and after emancipation worked for a time in Texas. On the steamer he worked as assistant steward on that first trip, and in his words, “The people and the country looked good to me from the first, and I determined to live here.”


(1) Steamboat crewman Ed Simms [Photo from Great Falls Tribune 1911]

(2) Ed Simms worked on Steamboat Red Cloud 1878-1880 [From Overholser Historical Research Center]

Simms continued his account, “After a time I got employment on another boat, the Red Cloud, on which I worked from 1878 to 1880. It was owned by Howard Conrad and later by the firm of Conrad & Baker. I quit the boat on August 15, 1880, and went to work for Joseph A. Baker and after that I worked for Charles Price, both of them living in Fort Benton. I served them as cook and general handy man about the home. One of the colored people in Fort Benton then was Henrietta Johnson, now living in this city.” [Mrs. Henrietta Johnson was one of 76 blacks living in Fort Benton in 1880, and she worked as chambermaid at the Grand Union on its opening November 2, 1882.]

Ed Simms went on, “Then I worked in the dining room of the Choteau house at Fort Benton for Jerry Sullivan and then I went to Fort Shaw to work for Mr. McKnight [the post trader at Fort Shaw]. That was 1882, and I stayed there till 1886, when I came to Great Falls.” Ed Simms became the first black resident of Great Falls, and in the summer of 1886, he returned to St. Louis to marry Elizabeth Miller. Their daughter Gertrude, born in Great Falls in 1887, was the first black child born in the growing town. Simms worked as chef at the Cascade Hotel and later as steward for the exclusive Rainbow Club. Ed and Elizabeth Simms became social, religious, and civic leaders in the black community of Great Falls.

Few black passengers are known to have come by steamboat up the Missouri River since the trip was relatively expensive and an adventure into the unknown. The first recorded in our Upper Missouri River Passenger file came to Fort Benton on the steamboat Emilie in June 1862, either as the slave or servant of William Hurlbert. In June 1876, adventurous Mattie Bell Bost, who was born a slave in North Carolina and freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, brought two white children to Fort Benton to join their mother Mrs. Sire. Within a year of arriving in Fort Benton, Mattie owned her own laundry. In 1879 she married John K. Castner, and this dynamic couple together founded the town of Belt.

By 1878 the boom building period of Fort Benton had begun, and the word had spread downriver that there were jobs and good times at the head of navigation. In that year, Henry and Henrietta Johnson came up the Missouri by steamboat. The Adams sisters, Mary and Maria, were mixed race young ladies who had worked at Fort Abraham Lincoln for General and Mrs. Custer, until the general’s death. Mary and Maria heard about the good times in Fort Benton and took passage on the steamboat Nellie Peck. Mary died at Fort Shaw within a year of arrival in Montana territory. Maria prospered as a businesswoman and in 1880 married Duke Dutriueille. Until her death in 1939, Maria was a leader in the black social and religious community in Fort Benton, Helena, Marysville, Belt, and Great Falls.

We can all learn from the steamboat adventures of black Americans on the Upper Missouri. Blacks shared with native and foreign-born adventurers of all races that frontier Montana offered challenges and opportunities for all.