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