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February is Heritage Month

Cecilia Nasmith

By Cecilia Nasmith, Northumberland Today


February is Heritage Month, and history records that a man from Brighton played an important role in American journalism.

If you've heard of Custer's Last Stand and thought of it as strictly an American story, you should know that it comes to us from a Canadian.

Much of what we know about the ill-starred military mission came from the pen of an embedded journalist with General George Armstrong Custer's Seventh Cavalry — a man named Mark Kellogg, who was born just down the road in Brighton.

The story of Custer's Last Stand dates to 1876, when Custer got orders to force Sioux Indians back to their reservations and ensure the safety of white miners who went looking for gold that had reputedly been discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota — on land that had been given to the Sioux in a previous treaty with the US government.

The mission did not end well for Custer. At the June 25, 1876, Battle of Little Big Horn, he and more than 230 of his soldiers were surrounded and killed in less than an hour.

The US government soon negated the Native Americans' victory by pouring troops into the Black Hills. Many Native Americans were forced to surrender, and Chief Sitting Bull escaped to Canada.

Evidence suggests one of the first casualties at the Battle of Little Big Horn was Kellogg, whose dispatches were the only press coverage of Custer and his men leading up to the battle.

Mary Thomas' 2012 book Canadians With Custer has an entire chapter dedicated to Kellogg.

Born in Brighton, Ontario, on March 31, 1831, Kellogg moved with his family when they resettled in Wisconsin.

He grew up to be a journalist and, in the early 1870s, moved to Bismarck, North Dakota. There, in 1873, he helped editor Clement A. Lounsberry found the Bismarck Tribune, which is still in publication.

As Custer set out on his last mission, his troops were accompanied by Mark Kellogg.

Custer had a journalist with him against orders from Washington, and the original invitation to accompany him had been issued to Lounsberry (who had served under him during the Civil War).

Unfortunately Mrs. Lounsberry fell ill, so the editor asked Kellogg to go in his stead. Lounsberry gave Kellogg his belt to take with him, which still bore the bloodstains from his Civil War days.

The troopers were somewhat amused by the 45-year-old writer, whom the Indian scouts dubbed The Man Who Makes Paper Talk. Armed with only his writing materials, tobacco and pipe, Kellogg rode along on a grey mule so short that he could drag his toes along the ground.

Reading more like travelogue entries than war-time dispatches, Kellogg's story was recorded in a journal that was entitled Notes of the Little Big Horn Expedition under General Custer, 1876. These newspaper reports were picked up around the country.

After the battle, when it was learned Kellogg was one of the few casualties not mutilated by the Indians, Lounsberry suggested in an editorial that it was out of respect for his role as a noncombatant who was just doing his job in seeking out the truth. How much of that suggestion was motivated by guilt is unclear.

It is known that Indian fighting was considered a fearsome duty because of the white soldiers' belief that being captured and tortured by Indians was worse than death. Thomas Bailey Marquis's 1976 book Keep The Last Bullet For Yourself was based on old interviews with Indian veterans of the Battle of Little Big Horn who reported that, as the outcome of the struggle became clear, they saw soldiers turning their guns on themselves and each other.

"Keep the last bullet for yourself" was apparently a watchword for Indian fighters.

According to Thomas's more recent book, Custer had even designated certain of his men for a dreadful duty. He liked to have his wife with him when he travelled on military campaigns but, in case the tide of an Indian battle took a wrong turn, these men were ordered to kill Mrs. Custer to keep her from being taken prisoner or hostage.

Unlike Mark Kellogg, Elizabeth Bacon Custer was not along for the Battle of Little Big Horn.

According to Wikipedia, Kellogg is considered the first Associated Press correspondent to die in the line of duty.


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