24 February 2008

Gallant Lieutenant James H. Bradley: “If his books could only talk!”

By Ken Robison

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


[This article was published in the Fort Benton River Press 27 Jan 2007.]

If the books of young Lieutenant James H. Bradley could talk, what a story they could tell. Lieutenant Bradley, a brave soldier, was Montana’s finest early historian before his tragic death in 1877 at the Battle of the Big Hole during the Nez Perce War. This is the fascinating story of Lieutenant Bradley and two of the books from his library.


Lieutenant James H. Bradley, Fort Benton’s gallant soldier and first historian. [Overholser Historical Research Center]

In August 1870 the 7th Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel John Gibbon, arrived at Fort Shaw in Montana Territory. Captain Thaddeus S. Kirtland commanded Company B with three officers and 90 soldiers. In March the following year, 26-year-old 1st Lieutenant James H. Bradley joined Company B as second in command. One year later, in April 1872 Company B took over the Military Post at Fort Benton, setting the stage for Lieut. Bradley’s monumental contributions to Montana history.

This was a critical stage in the evolution of Fort Benton as it emerged from the fur trade era into a wild and wooly frontier merchant town. At this time just a handful of white women lived in Fort Benton, among them Mrs. Mary Beach Bradley, or in Army terms, Mrs. Lieutenant James Bradley. The great fur traders of the Upper Missouri, Alexander Culbertson, James Kipp, and other traders from Pierre Chouteau & Company, who had married Blackfeet wives, still lived in or around Fort Benton. Pioneers merchants like T. C. Power and I. G. Baker and others found Lieut. Bradley an inquiring and thorough chronicler of their experiences. The many encounters between Native Americans and newly arriving miners and settlers of the past decade were still fresh in the memory of the town’s inhabitants.

Lieutenant Bradley was a man of many talents. Born in Ohio in 1844, he enlisted before his seventeenth birthday in the 14th Ohio Volunteers in April 1861 at the outbreak of the Civil War. Serving throughout the War during which he had seen heavy fighting and been held as a prisoner of war, Bradley was mustered out as a sergeant in July 1865. Commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in February 1866, Bradley received unusually rapid promotion to 1st Lieutenant. At the Fort Benton Military Post, Lieut. Bradley handled his military duties in Company B with ease and often served as Post Commander. In the words of Edgar I. Stewart, Lieut. Bradley had “definite scientific and historical interests, a man of infinite curiosity, who was interested in almost every item that came under his observation. As he talked to the old timers in Fort Benton, he assembled their stories as a labor of love and with the skill of an experienced historian. In the span of just five years, Lieut. Bradley assembled a remarkable record of diaries, journals, and letters from his historical research.

Company B remained at Fort Benton until September 1, 1875, when they were relieved and returned to Fort Shaw. With Montana’s most violent Indian Wars breaking out, tension and separation filled life at Fort Shaw. On the 17th of March 1876, a Battalion of the 7th Infantry, known as the Montana Column, with Company B and Lieut. Bradley commanding a Mounted Detachment left Fort Shaw for Fort Ellis to join the Yellowstone Expedition against the Sioux Indians. In one of the ironies of this campaign, at the very time Custer’s men were being overwhelmed, the Montana Column could find very little action. Lieut. Bradley’s Mounted Troops were first to discover the dead of Custer’s command on the Little Big Horn in late June 1876. Bradley chronicled this campaign in a journal that proved his skill as an observer and writer. His journal was first published in 1896 in Volume 2 of the Contributions to the Historical Society of Montana, and later in book form, The March of the Montana Column A Prelude to the Custer Disaster. The Montana Column returned to Fort Shaw October 6, 1876, and remained in garrison over the winter.

In late July 1877, Col. Gibbons and most of the 7th Infantry departed Fort Shaw to intercept the Nez Perce in western Montana. On August 9th at the Battle of the Big Hole, valiant Lieut. James H. Bradley was killed in action leading an assault by his Mounted Detachment of 7th Infantry on the Nez Perce camp.

With his death, his widow Mrs. Mary Bradley, who was expecting their second child, and small daughter, Mary, went by private coach to Fort Benton, boarded the steamboat Benton, and on August 17 departed down the Missouri River to return to her family home in Atlanta. Several months after arriving in Atlanta, Mary gave birth to Pauline, her second daughter. Two years later she remarried. Through the efforts of (later) General John Gibbon, Mrs. Bradley graciously presented her husband’s priceless manuscripts and historical research to the Montana Historical Society.

But what about Lieut. Bradley’s personal library? What was in it, and where did it go? We know two of the important books in this library: Oregon Missions of Father De Smet; and Volume One of the Contributions to the Historical Society of Montana. Here is what we know.

I recently purchased a well-worn first edition of the 1847 Oregon Missions and Travels Over the Rocky Mountains in 1845-46 by Father Pierre-Jean De Smet, S. J., a rare book in its own right. I found inscribed on the first page, “James H. Bradley U. S. Army. Fort Benton, M. T. July 1875.” Beneath Lieut. Bradley’s signature is that of “J. H. McKnight Fort Shaw Nov 1877.” J. H. McKnight served as post trader at Fort Shaw during the 1870s. From these clues, we can conclude that Lieut. Bradley got Father De Smet’s book either from an old timer in Fort Benton while he was at the Military Post or had it sent up the Missouri River on a steamboat. After Bradley’s death in August 1877, Mrs. Bradley either sold or gave the book to Post Trader McKnight before departing Fort Shaw for “the States.” My wife and I believe Lieut. Bradley’s historic treasure belongs permanently in Fort Benton, and are presenting it to the River and Plains Society for the Overholser Historical Research Center.


Inscriptions by Lieutenant Bradley and Post Trader J. H. McKnight in Father De Smet’s Oregon Missions. [OHRC]

The second book from Lieut. Bradley’s library has an amazing story to tell. This book, a battered copy of the 1876 Volume One of the Contributions to the Historical Society of Montana, bears the inscription, “To J. H. Bradley U S A Compliments W. F. Sanders Apr 19, 1877.” So, here we have Montana’s legendary Vigilante prosecutor and future Senator, Wilbur Fisk Sanders, presenting to Lieut. Bradley the inaugural volume of the Montana Historical Society series that would later carry much of Bradley’s valuable historic research.


Inscription by W. F. Sanders to Lieutenant Bradley [Montana Historical Society. [MHS]

The book has a further inscription reading, “On Aug 2, 1902, I found this book in a second hand store in Butte, but could not learn its history since the death of Lieut. Bradley, who was killed in the battle of Big Hole, Aug 9, 1877. It looks as though the book itself had been in an engagement judging from the bullet hole in the cover. Granville Stuart.” So, Bradley’s book had been “rescued” by Granville Stuart, one of Montana’s earliest and most famous pioneers. Stuart then presented the book to the Montana Historical Society where it resides today.


Inscription by Granville Stuart when he “rescued” Lieut. Bradley’s book in 1902. [MHS]

Pasted to the inside of the back cover of this book is an undated newspaper article:
“Bullet Punctured Volume. Recovered Copy of First Edition of the State Historical Society’s Work Turns Up in Butte.
Found in Second Hand Store by Mr. Stuart. The Book Had Been Presented to Lieutenant Bradley by Colonel Wilbur F. Sanders Four Months Before the Battle of Big Hole.
If books could speak, aside from the message they carry to readers through the medium of the types, then there is among the recent arrivals at the state historical library a volume that could relate a tale of absorbing interest.
The book in question is a copy of the first volume of Montana’s historical society, which was issued in 1876. For several years the edition has been out of print, and the society found it extremely difficult to locate one of the volumes. Last Saturday, while Granville Stuart, one of the trustees of the society, was delving among the articles in a second hand shop in Butte his gaze wandered to a copy of the edition. It required only a moment for him to close a trade with the dealer for the volume, and his next step was to send it to Mrs. Laura E. Howey, the librarian of the state library.
But interest does not attach to the book so much on account of the fact that it is one of the original edition as because of the history of the volume. The complete history of the book may never be known, but there is enough evidence to show that could it talk there would be an exciting chapter added to the state’s early day history.
The volume was presented to Lieutenant J. H. Bradley, of the United States army, by Colonel Wilbur F. Sanders, April 19, 1877, as is shown by an inscription in the book . . .
There is in the upper left hand corner of the volume a jagged bullet hole, but the shot was a glancing one as is shown by the fact that the leaves of the work are not mutilated. It is not regarded as likely that the book was carried on the field of battle by Lieutenant Bradley, but it is not impossible that it might have been among the officer’s effects near the scene of the engagement, where it was struck by some stray shot fired during the battle in which its owner lost his life. The date of the presentation and the date of the battle show that the book was in the lieutenant’s possession less than four months. The story of the volume from the day of the owner’s death to the time when Mr. Stuart found it in Butte is one that the historical society would be very glad to secure, and they may yet be done.



Bullet hole in cover of Lieut. Bradley’s book. [MHS]

The book is fairly preserved, with the exception of the binding and the many pencil marks that have been made by some thoughtless scribbler.”

We now know of two books from the library of Lieutenant James H. Bradley, Fort Benton’s first and finest historian. How many more are on the shelves of libraries around the country? Oh, to know their stories!

Sources: [Benton Weekly Record 29 Jun 1877, 17 Aug 1877; The March of the Montana Column A Prelude to the Custer Disaster by Lieutenant James H. Bradley; Volumes 1, 2, 3, 8 & 9, Contributions to the historical Society of Montana]

Photos:

(1) Lieutenant James H. Bradley, Fort Benton’s gallant soldier and first historian. [Overholser Historical Research Center]
(2) Inscriptions by Lieutenant Bradley and Post Trader J. H. McKnight in Father De Smet’s Oregon Missions. [OHRC]
(3) Inscription by W. F. Sanders to Lieutenant Bradley [Montana Historical Society. [MHS]
(4) Inscription by Granville Stuart when he “rescued” Lieut. Bradley’s book in 1902. [MHS]
(5) Bullet hole in cover of Lieut. Bradley’s book. [MHS]

9 comments:

Yokora said...
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Merr said...
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Dinos said...
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Dave Gorski said...

Thanks for the info on James Bradley. While touring the burial sites of Andrews Raiders I came upon a stone in the cemetery that noted that James Bradley was killed at "The Battle of Big Hale Montana" A little searching led to Big Hole and then to your site. Bradley made quite a contribution it seems. One question though, on that same stone is the name "Catherine Bradley 1824-1914". IIRC you mention his wife's name as Mary ? Did she go by a middle name? or who is Catherine?

Fort Benton Historian said...

Dave, Lieut. Bradley's wife was Mary. It is possible that the stone you saw had his step mother, Kate Russell, the third and last wife of his father Colonel Edwin D. Bradley. Did you take a photo of the gravestone? I would enjoy seeing a photo of his grave. Is it around Atlanta? [you can use my email at riverplains@mtintouch.net]

Anonymous said...

Fascinating stories. Mary Isabella (Beach) Bradley married Lt. Bradley in Atlanta, GA. She next married Bartow Frederick Allen in Atlanta (Fulton Co), Georgia. Both are buried in Hollywood Cemetary in Atlanta, GA. I have letters (copies) from the early 1950's from her daughter, May, written to an aunt. At that point in time, May was living in war-poverished France and married to Paul Grenet. Pauline had already died, presumably elsewhere in Europe... In case it has not been mentioned elsewhere, Mary Isabella Beach's mother was Paulina (LaChapelle) Beach of Indian descent. (More can be learned from the Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin historical records.) She appears to be descended from one of the Chief Wabashas. Andrea Allen

Anonymous said...

Fascinating stories. Mary Isabella (Beach) Bradley married Lt. Bradley in Atlanta, GA. She next married Bartow Frederick Allen in Atlanta (Fulton Co), Georgia. Both are buried in Hollywood Cemetary in Atlanta, GA. I have letters (copies) from the early 1950's from her daughter, May, written to an aunt. At that point in time, May was living in war-poverished France and married to Paul Grenet. Pauline had already died, presumably elsewhere in Europe... In case it has not been mentioned elsewhere, Mary Isabella Beach's mother was Paulina (LaChapelle) Beach of Indian descent. (More can be learned from the Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin historical records.) She appears to be descended from one of the Chief Wabashas. Andrea Allen

Anonymous said...

For clarification, let me add that Lt. Bradley's daughters were named May (not Mary) and Pauline. (In the letters from Aunt May, she clearly signs her name, "May". When Mrs. Bradley married Mr. Allen, she then named a new daughter, Mary (who married a Lambert). It is Mrs. Bradley and her Allen husband who are buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Atlanta near her Allen son (Charles) who died in WWI in France. Sadly, I'm not sure if there are any living descendents of Lt. Bradley. Pauline married a Brady and later someone else that we called, "the Russian". The Brady children were a son, Vivian Herbert Brady, Sr, a grandson, Vivian Herbert Brady, Jr and possibly a granddaughter, Vera. (still working on these). I do not believe that May ever had children. In the early 1990's I spoke with Vivian Jr (now deceased) and Vera, both living in Atlanta. Neither spoke of such a story as the one above about Lt. Bradley... To add some more. Mrs. Bradley's mother was educated at the Jesuit Mission school on Mackinac Island, Michigan. Mrs. Bradley's father (my great great grandfather) was Dr. Solomon S. Beach, a public health official born probably in Ohio, but having served in California, Louisiana and elsewhere. It is documented in the US Government survey of the remaining structures standing in Atlanta after General Sherman's rampage through here that Dr. Beach's home was still standing. His family had refugeed to either the the northeast coast or to New Orleans. He was also a Civil War surgeon. So, this is one family strongly affected by wars and closely associated with Native Americans before ever arriving in Montana Territory. You have no idea how surprising it is to find a connection to Montana history.

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