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Mark Kellogg's Prequil to the Battle
THE LETTER FOR PUBLICATION
The following letter for publication was written by Mr. Kellogg four days before the daring charge of Custer, in which the latter and all his followers, including our correspondent, lost their lives:
At Mouth of Rosebud, on
From June 12, the date of my last communication, until June 19, the only occurrences of General Terry's command were the establishment of a supply depot at the mouth of the Powder River and making the steamer Far West a moving base of supplies, having on board thirty days' rations and forage; the movement of the steamer to the mouth of the Tongue River with the headquarters command on board, and the march of General Custer from the mouth of the Powder River to the mouth of the Tongue River, an estimated distance of forty miles, moving up the valley of the Yellowstone River. During the trip no incident occurred except the display of sharp rifle shooting on the part of General Custer who brought down an antelope at 400 yards and nearly shot off the heads of several sage hens. The country north of the Powder River, for a distance of twelve to fifteen miles, is very poor, low and causing hard marching, with a soil producing no grasses, only sage brush and cactus. En route, on the 15th, the column passed through an abandoned Indian camp, apparently less than a year old. It had been a large camp, being two miles or more in length, and must have contained 1,200 or 1,500 lodges. Game was very scarce, and no buffalo at all were seen.
The Yellowstone is looming high, and its current is so swift, eddying and whirling as to create a seething sound like that of a soft wind rustling in the tall grass. Its color resembles yellowish clay at this point. It is cool and pleasant to the taste, and is a larger body of water than that of the Missouri River above its mouth, but very much superior for purposes of steamboat navigation. The waters of the Tongue River are of a deepish red color, running swiftly, and not very palatable to the taste.
On the 19th of June General Custer, with six companies of cavalry, crossed the Tongue River, about three miles from its mouth, by fording, and marching to a point about nine miles from where Major Reno with six companies of the Seventh Cavalry were encamped, having returned from the scout he was ordered upon; but, for some cause unknown to your correspondent, Major Reno was unfortunate enough not only to exceed but to disobey the instructions of General Terry, a copy of which is subjoined, viz:
Headquarters Department of Dakota In the Field,
June 10, 1876
Field Special Order No. 2
2. Major M. A. Reno, Seventh Cavalry, with six companies (right wing) of his regiment and one gun from the Gatling battery, will proceed at the earliest practicable moment to make a reconnaissance of the Powder River from the present camp to the mouth of the Little Powder. From the last named point he will cross to the headwaters of Mizpah Creek, and descend that creek to its junction with the Powder River. Thence he will cross the Pumpkin Creek and Tongue River, and descend the Tongue to its junction with the Yellowstone, where he may expect to meet the remaining companies of the Seventh Cavalry and supplies of subsistence and forage.
Major Reno's command will be supplied with subsistence for twelve days, and with forage for the same period at the rate of two pounds of grain the day for each animal.
The guide Mitch Bouyer and eight Indian scouts, to be detailed by Lieutenant Colonel Custer, will report to Major Reno, for duty with this column.
Acting Assistant Surgeon H. R. Porter is detailed for duty with Major Reno. By command of Brigadier General Terry.
Major Reno made an error in that he crossed, going a due south course, from the forks of the Powder to the Rosebud River, where he found a fresh hostile trail. General Terry had planned to have Major Reno return to the column, marching down the valley of the Tongue River; and after he had formed the junction General Custer was to organize his regiment for a scout up the Tongue, thence across to the Rosebud, striking it near its head; thence down that valley towards General Terry, who in the meantime would move by steamer to the mouth of the Rosebud, join General Gibbon's command, march up that valley until he met and joined General Custer. The plan was an excellent one, and but for the unfortunate movement of Major Reno the main force of the Indians, numbering 1,500, would have been bagged. As it is, a new campaign is organized, and to-morrow, June 22, General Custer with twelve cavalry companies, will scout from its mouth up the valley of the Rosebud until he reaches the fresh trail discovered by Major Reno, and move on that trail with all rapidity possible in order to overhaul the Indians, whom it has been ascertained are hunting buffalo and making daily and leisurely short marches. In the meantime, General Terry will move on the steamer to the mouth of the Bighorn River, scouting Pumpkin Creek en route, with General Gibbon's cavalry as well as infantry, which are marching toward the Bighorn on the north side of the Yellowstone. This part of the command marched up the Bighorn valley in order to intercept the Indians if they should attempt to escape from General Custer down that avenue. The hope is now strong and I believe, well founded, that this band of ugly customers, known as Sitting Bull's band, will be "gobbled" and dealt with as they deserve. General Custer's command made a rapid march from the Tongue River to the Rosebud, over some portion of which the route covered was the mauvaises terres in the ugliest forms; up and down the ascents and descents so abrupt as to appear impassible for locomotion, circuiting and twisting hither and thither -now along a narrow defile, then through a deep, abrupt, canyon, in which the sun's rays created a warm, still atmosphere that caused panting breaths and reeking perspiration. However, the sharp, quick march of the cavalry kept pace with the steamer which was running up the Yellowstone. Frequently by us in the rear, the light colored buckskin on the person of General Custer would be seen, followed closely by the head of the column, as he and they climbed the heights from out the winding, yawning, abysses below.
As we proceeded further up the valley of the Yellowstone River its attractions became more marked, more defined, and more beautiful. Vegetation increases in size, in the grasses as well as in the timber. Beautiful little islands are frequently seen, covered to their very edges with a thick growth of trees whose vivid green foliage hides the branches that reach far outward over the yellowish waters flowing swiftly beneath. The banks of the river are abrupt, the channel unchanging, the bed of which is composed of gravel and its depth sufficient at its usual low stage to allow light draught steamers to navigate its length from its emptying into the Missouri River to the mouth of the Bighorn, a distance of nearly 500 miles. I write of this stream as I see it, for the purpose of informing the thousands of readers of the Herald of the magnitude and facilities it affords for commercial purposes in the near future, when its beautiful valley shall become populated, of a stream that has the appearance on the maps of being only a mere creek. A valley of your own "away down East" is merely the area of a race track compared with the valleys of the far west. Here they range from 30 to 500 miles in length, ranging in width from one to fifteen. The upper portion of the Yellowstone valley, that is to say, the upper half of the valley, is superior to the balance in all respects -for grass and timber, not only in quantity but in quality; for richness of soil; for health and climate; for its abundance of game, its quantity of fish and other things besides.
Brigadier General Alfred H. Terry, in command of this expedition, I find to be my ideal of a commanding general-large brained, sagacious, far reaching, cool under all circumstances and with rare executive abilities. He is besides genial, courteous, frank and manly. So far as he is concerned, I contend that his planning has been of the finest character, and unless his subordinates frustrate them by overt acts of their own, must be successful. He has won the hearts of all who have come to know him and is highly, regarded by the whole command. Of his staff, while it may seem invidious of me to mention singly, still it is my privilege to say that I find them all kind, courteous, high toned gentlemen, all of whom fill creditably and well the requisites of their various positions. And now a word for the most peculiar genius in the army, a man of strong impulses, of great hearted friendships and bitter enmities, of quick, nervous temperament, undaunted courage, will and determination; a man possessing electrical mental capacity and of iron frame and constitution; a brave, faithful, gallant soldier, who has warm friends and bitter enemies; the hardest rider, the greatest pusher, with the most untiring vigilance, overcoming seeming impossibilities, and with an ambition to succeed in all things he undertakes; a man to do right, as he construes the right, in every case; one respected and beloved by his followers, who would freely follow him into the "jaws of hell." Of Lieutenant Colonel G. A. Custer I am now writing. Do not think I am overdrawing the picture. The pen picture is true to life, and is drawn not only from actual observation, but from an experience that cannot mislead me.
The officers of the several companies of the Seventh Cavalry, so far as my acquaintance extends, are as brave and gallant a lot of men as ever drew a sword in their country's cause. I can say as much for the infantry. Brave and true hearted, every one of them. In my opinion, based on an experience and familiarity with the army and its men for years, I believe I am safe in saying that the present expedition under the command of General Terry is made up from among the best in the American service, the Seventh and the Second cavalry and the Sixth, Seventeenth, Twentieth and Seventh infantry. My acquaintance with General Gibbon and General Brisbin is limited, but I hear them spoken highly of on all hands. Their record in days gone by bear me out in stating that they occupy positions for which they are eminently fitted, and the commands are made up of the same fearless fellows as compose the Seventh Cavalry.
General Gibbon and command departed from Fort Ellis, Montana Territory, on April 1, pursuant to orders, and marched to a point designated on the Yellowstone, where they have been held in check and prevented from crossing by the extreme high water and rapid current of that stream. While lying in camp not far from the mouth of the Rosebud, during the past four weeks they have been frequently annoyed by bravado demonstrations by hostile Indians on the heights opposite them, who would dash up on their ponies, laugh in derision, shout, whoop and cavort around, like so many gymnasts, and then ride off at a gallop with a war whoop. All this had to be submitted to, for it was simply impossible to cross the boiling, seething, roaring stream that intervened without hazarding valuable lives.
The Custer Myth: A Source Book of Custerania, written and compiled by Colonel W.A. Graham, The Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, PA 1953, p 233 - 235
Although it doesn't deal with the Battle of the Little Bighorn per se, this story by New York Herald correspondent Mark Kellogg helps set the scene from the American perspective, as does the pre-battle dispatch by a "Prominent Officer Killed in Custer's Last Charge."
One Bull and Standing Bear's eye-witness accounts of the great Sun Dance on the Rosebud in the middle of June 1876 provide a perspective on the free Sioux and Cheyenne leading up to the battle, as do the eye-witness accounts of Lazy White Bull, Wooden Leg, and others of Crazy Horse's great victory at the Battle of the Rosebud just eight days before the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Kellogg was one of the first men with Custer to be killed by the Sioux and Cheyenne. He died early in the retreat from the Little Bighorn River after Custer's failed attack at Medicine Tail Coulee. See Who Killed Custer -- The Eye-Witness Answer for more info.