Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Days before Custer’s Last Stand

Mark Kellogg, a roving reporter considered the first Associated Press correspondent to die in the line of duty, was born 190 years ago today. He died young, along with General Custer and over 200 US soldiers at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Remarkably, though, a short diary he had been keeping while travelling with Custer survived, and is now considered a primary historical source for details of the days preceding the infamous battle - known by some as Custer’s Last Stand.

Kellogg was born in Brighton, Ontario, Canada, on 31 March 1831. He was one of ten children, and his family moved several times before settling in La Crosse, Wisconsin. There, Kellogg learned to operate a telegraph and worked for both the Northwestern Telegraph Company and the Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company. He married Martha Robinson in 1861 and they had two daughters. During the American Civil War, he was assistant editor for the La Crosse Democrat newspaper. After Martha died, in 1867, he left his daughters with an aunt, and began drifting around the Midwest, taking up local newspaper reporting jobs. In the early 1870s, he moved to Bismarck, North Dakota, where he helped editor Clement A. Lounsberry found The Bismarck Tribune.

In 1876, when Lounsberry learned that a military column - including the 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment commanded by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer - would soon leave Fort Abraham Lincoln for the Montana Territory, he agreed to accompany Custer and provide news coverage. However, at the last minute his wife fell ill, so Kellogg took his place. Kellogg sent several dispatches back to The Bismarck Tribune before, on 25 June, being killed along with Custer and over 200 soldiers at the (now infamous) Battle of Little Bighorn. When Lounsberry learned of these events, he worked through the night to produce a special edition of the Tribune which would prove to be the first full account of the battle. As a newspaper stringer whose reports on route with Custer were picked up around the country, Kellogg is considered the first Associated Press correspondent to die in the line of duty. Further information is available at Wikipedia, HistoryNet and The Duluth News Tribune.

Some of Kellogg’s diary (37 sheets dated up to 9 June) survived, and are held today by the State Historical Society of North Dakota. They are considered one of the primary historical sources for information on the days preceding the battle. Images of every page can be viewed online at Digital Horizons along with a full transcription (which, however, is not always accurate when compared to the text in the images). Here are several extracts (with one or two minor corrections/edits to the transcription provided online).

26 May 1876
‘Broke camp 5:30 A.M. crossed run on bridge. Marched 4.2 miles to another feeder of Big Heart, put in bridge, thence to another feeder of Big Heart, going into camp at 2:30 P.M. marching 12 4/10 miles. Scouts from Lincoln on road at 3 A.M. with a mail. Weather hot and dry, first day of real heat yet experienced. Good grass, and water, no wood. Marched over considerable cactus growth today & some red gravel beds seen, first indications of approach to Bad Lands. Gen Custer, pioneering at front all day. Lays all the camps, & attends in person to much of detail of march. [. . .] 

Antelope plenty, no signs of other game - No Indian signs for past three days. Mail brought news by telegraph to Gen Terry, of Cabinet changes. Some astonishment expressed because of appointment of Don. Cameron, as Secy of War. Hardly expected in military circles. Past 2 days we have marched between the Stanley trail west of 73. It is an excellent route thus far. Sent. Should properly be called Terrys Trail’

1 June 1876
‘Reveille at 3 A.M., looked out found 2 inches on ground & snowing hard. Has snowed nearly all day. Have not moved. 7 P.M. snowing harder than ever wind blowing fr N.W. growing colder. Stock feeling the storm

Very dull in camp, some card playing, no incident wood plenty, & fires kept burning all around, but few Sibley stoves, at HD Qrs & 3 or 4 officers tent. Yesterday 8 miles W.L. Mo. camp. Saw a coal strata on fire, looked like whole side mountain on fire vein about 4 ft thick. Lignite cropping out all along.’

5 June 1876
‘Broke camp usual time Marched mostly a South Course 10.4 miles, struck Stanleys return 72 trail again descended into Bad Lands crossed Cabine Creek at 11 AM, Marched 20.2 miles & camped, grass fair, water ditto, no wood, used dried sagebrush for cooking. Worse road have had & worst country. Chief products sagebrush, cactus & rattlesnakes. Antelope very plenty. No Indian signs today. Been ahead with Reynolds. Killed 2 Black tailed deer & 2 Antelope. Tonights camp on open plains. Hd Qrs on hill top, handsome and convenient camp, but for lack of wood. 2 mules died last night. Saw 1st Buf. signs today, tracks fresh, since snow.’

6 June 1876
‘Broke camp and under march at 4.30 A.M. Weather clear, cool, breezy. March 10.4 miles to near head O. Fallons Creek crossed and marched 22.3 miles where we crossed fork again and went into camp at 4.45 P.M. having marched miles. Had some difficulty in finding crossing Country along creek flat, very broken, and soil soft. Are making new trail entirely. Marching been generally excellent today. Reynolds guiding discretionanly [sic] Timber heavy all cottonwood, plenty fair water, grazing not good. Sage brush & cactus principal growth today.

First Buffalo Killed today. Two privates Troop H, out hunting yesterday not returning last night, fears they had been captured by hostiles; but they reached column about 10 A.M. all night got lost, & belated in bad land region, which we are yet in. Priv. McWilliams Troop H, accidentally shot himself with a revolver today; ball took effect calf leg ran down tendon, and lodged just under skin top of foot, flesh wound lay him up a month. Marched through Prairie dog village containing 700 or 800 acres. Little fellows surprised & barked top of voices. Saw while with advance today deserted wood hovel, evidently put together without use of axe, Rough, dry logs piled together with broken limbs and stick placed in then mudded. A mere hovel. Some white men wintered there evidences of horse, & well beaten path in front extending some distance each side of structure. Saw 1st wind puff today.’

7 June 1876
‘Under March 4:45 A.M. Weather misty, clouds heavy threatening rain. Marched today 32 miles & camped on Powder River. Cavalry Gen Custer, at 3.30. Gen T. and head of column 5 P.M. & the rear of Col. at 8 P.M. Terribly rough country. Gen C- with Col Weirs troops, used as videttes, scouted ahead & succeeded finding a passable trav route over a country would seem impractical, up, up, down, down, zig zag, twisting turning &c Gen C. rode 50 miles, fresh when arrived. Told Terry last eve, would succeed finding trail & water horse in P. River. 3.0 P.M. today, succeeded at 3.30 P.M. Most attractive scenery yet. Spruce & Cedar on Buttes, marched on “hogs back” highest Buttes in country for mile or two, if teams went either side roll down hundreds feet. Only route could be found in this direction. Saw, what seemed like Ancient ruins. Buffalo seen today, none taken, order no firing. This camp excellent, wood, water, grass plenty. Timber all Cottonwood of smallish or medium size. Every one tired out, & stock completely so. Several mules & few horses played dropped out of teams today. Some breakage to wagons slight damages. Remarkable march. We are 26 miles in direct line from camp on. OFallon Creek last night. Have marched thus far 32.3 miles. Its 20 miles from here to mouth P. River. Fish’

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