The Forgotten Yellowstone Surveying Expeditions of 1871

W.Milnor Roberts and the Northern Pacific Railroad in Montana

by M. John Lubetkin

From Montana The Magazine of Western History, 52 (Winter 2002), 32-47; this article is presented courtesy of the Montana Historical Society.  All rights reserved, © 2002.

By 1870 the Northern Pacific Railroad (NP) had surveyed all of its route across the northern plains except for the stretch between Bismarck and Bozeman. In this area, militant Lakotas, fearing the destruction of their hunting ground, threatened to resist the railroad. From Joseph K. Dixon, The Vanishing Race: The Last Great Indian Council (New York, 1914)m opp. p. 76

To most people interested in western history, mention of an 1871Yellowstone expedition brings to mind that of geologist Ferdinand V. Hayden. Yet, three times during 1871 the Northern Pacific Railroad (NP) sent surveyors into the Yellowstone Valley to determine the feasibility of its planned transcontinental route. Though this route traced its antecedents to the explorations of Isaac I. Stevens and John Mullan in the mid-1850s, the 1871 surveys were the first intensive study of the valley; much rested on the success of the expeditions and on the skill of W. Milnor Roberts, the NP's incorruptible and hardworking chief engineer. A prolific writer, Roberts while in the field penned notes, correspondence, and reports that offer rich and illuminating portraits of the Yellowstone Valley and of the surveyors and soldiers who ventured into it. Surprisingly, the 1871 Yellowstone expeditions, despite their far-reaching implications, today remain unknown to all but a handful of historians.

In 1869 the Northern Pacific board of director's plan to build a second transcontinental railroad through virtually unsettled country made little economic sense. With less than a hundred thousand dollars in capital, the board planned to build a two-thousand-mile railroad that would require filling immense swamps, bridging untamed rivers, and crossing high mountain ranges. Not only was the terrain formidable but the Northern Pacific would have to raise nearly all of its funds from private investors. Unlike the Omaha-to-Sacramento road, built by two companies with the wartime impetus of connecting the country, the NP's transcontinental line seemed unlikely to receive federal funding because sectional rivalry split Congress on matters large and small.
Adding to the NP's difficulties was yet another obstacle: the road would cut directly through the heart of the Lakotas' hunting lands. Indeed, the ink had barely dried on the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, an agreement that some Lakotas interpreted as giving them the land west of the Missouri River, including most of the Yellowstone basin, when in 1869 the Northern Pacific sponsored a reconnaissance from Portland north to Spokane then into Montana in search of a feasible route for a railroad. Realizing that a railroad would destroy their hunting grounds and flood the plains with settlers, the Lakotas under Sitting Bull threatened to resist it. Building through the Lakotas' hunting lands was a surefire prescription for trouble with an Indian nation that was rapidly arming themselves with rifles superior to those used by the barely fifteen hundred soldiers, mostly infantry, scattered among thirteen army forts in Montana and Dakota.1
The task of building the railroad seemed impossible until the one man who could pull it all together-Jay Cooke, whose ironfisted, Old Testament honesty had raised billions for the Union's war effort-stepped forward in spring 1869 as the NP's financier. Cooke knew the Northwest, the railroad industry, Washington politics, and how to raise capital. As historian Robert E. Riegel wrote, "No one doubted but that if Cooke took hold of the project its success was assured."2

By September 1871, twenty months after Cooke began working with the NP, the railroad had spent more than $15 million to construct just over 250 miles of track. With the exception of some twenty-five miles of track north of Portland, Oregon, the NP's entire construction effort focused on Minnesota, with track laid from just west of Duluth to within fifty miles of the Dakota line. Although crews had finished all the surveying from Duluth to Bismarck and most of it from Bozeman to Tacoma, the NP had yet to send a man into the Yellowstone Valley for fear of Lakota hostility. Despite this information and engineering gap of some 585 miles, however, NP engineers aimed to have the preliminary surveying of the entire line completed in 1871, track laid to the Missouri River near Bismarck in 1872, and the line to the Yellowstone River completed in 1873.3
With these goals in mind, the NP board of directors made plans for a preliminary survey of the Yellowstone Valley in May 1871. Although no Indian threat had yet materialized, NP president J. Gregory Smith advised: "It will probably be unsafe to carry on the work between the Missouri River and Bozeman Pass without a proper military escort."4 Army maNPower and supply problems made it impossible for two parties to leave from Fort Ellis and Fort Rice and meet on the Yellowstone, but the board decided to undertake two less ambitious surveys, each with a military escort. If both mapped 150 to 200 miles of the valley, much would be learned and the final surveying work readily completed in 1872.
Throughout summer 1871, army infighting and red tape delayed efforts to organize the necessary military escorts. Finally, on September 9, 1871, the largest of the expeditions, a surveying party led by Thomas L. Rosser accompanied by some 425 infantrymen under Lieutenant Colonel Joseph N. C. Whistler, left Fort Rice on the Missouri River. They reached the mouth of Glendive Creek three weeks later without incident and returned to the Missouri October 16.5 Unfortunately, the other 1871 Yellowstone expeditions did not progress as smoothly.
The man who would direct these surveys was W. Milnor Roberts. Roberts was a lanky, full-bearded man with jet-black hair, a Quaker, and, like so many in his family, a man of exceptional mathematical skills. In 1837 Roberts had married nineteen-year-old Anne Barbara Gibson of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the daughter of the chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. She died in 1857, leaving Roberts the single father of six children. Not until 1868 did Roberts marry again, to Adeline de Beelen, the thirty-one-year-old daughter of an upper-class Pittsburgh family. As his long letters attest, for him this second marriage was very much a love match, and if, at fifty-eight, he was a bit long in the tooth, one must remember that the Civil War had substantially reduced the pool of eligible bachelors.6
Roberts's career was closely linked to nineteenth-century transportation and commerce. He built canals before the first locomotive ran in the United States, and he rode as one of the passengers on the first American "railed" road, the Mauch Chunk Gravity Road in Pennsylvania, in 1827.7 After the Civil War, Roberts became the United States engineer in chief for improvements on the Ohio River, and in 1868 James Eads employed him as his primary assistant in constructing the first railroad bridge to cross the Mississippi River at St. Louis. Roberts also served as an early president of the American Society of Civil Engineers. And not only was Roberts respected in engineering circles, he had also earned the trust, confidence, and friendship of Jay Cooke, a man who by 1871 held national financial and political power second only to President Ulysses S. Grant.
The friendship between Roberts and Cooke developed during the week Roberts spent at Cooke's home following his 1869 reconnaissance to the West. After Roberts made his formal report on the feasibility of the project, Cooke agreed to raise money for the NP by selling bonds, essentially following the same approaches he had used to financially support the Union war effort a few years earlier. Although Roberts had only been a consultant for Cooke on the reconnaissance, when the NP's rapidly aging chief engineer, Edwin Johnson, proved unequal to the task of building a transcontinental line, the railroad hired Roberts to replace him in late 1870. For Roberts, becoming the chief engineer for a transcontinental railroad was a lifetime's dream come true.8
Roberts's exemplary character certainly contributed to his winning that position. Cooke described him as an "honest man," and friend Sam Wilkeson, the secretary of the NP board of directors and its chief publicist, lauded Roberts as the "soul of honor. There was not enough money in the U.S. Treasury to buy him away from his conscience, or make him surrender a deliberatively formed professional opinion. . . . [His] patience and sweetness were inexhaustible, except when in his business he un-covered a thief or a liar." Wilkeson got it nearly right; to the list of people that Roberts would not tolerate, he might have added "alcoholic," a type common among military and railroad personnel of the era.9
Despite his age and slight deafness, Roberts, whose intelligence, fairness, and gentle humor were so rare, enjoyed great popularity among the younger engineers. An assistant, William Shunk, recalled his "hilarious good will [and] laughable, extravagant puns." One evening when the two had to share a bed in a tavern, Shunk asked which side of the bed Roberts preferred. "'Well,' said he, 'I generally take the top side and you can have the other,' and broke into a big smile and laughter at his own wonderful joke."10 Roberts's common sense, patience, and good humor were to serve him in good stead during the frequently difficult process of assessing construction requirements in the Yellowstone Valley.

In May 1871 Roberts began preparations to spend the summer in Montana, where, in addition to the Yellowstone survey, he also would direct five technically difficult follow-up surveys west of the Yellowstone Valley in Montana and Idaho. He hired the surveys' key staff, determined the size of the crews, and, most importantly, established the engineering goals and parameters of each effort. While he left the specifics of outfitting the crews to others, Roberts spent considerable time discussing the work to be done with each leader on the assumption that timely communications with the survey parties in the field would be difficult at best. The NP's president J. Gregory Smith entrusted Roberts with another key task. "The passes through the Rocky Mountains being of special importance," Smith wrote, "you will as far as practicable make a personal examination of these, so as to be able to render a full and complete report on the subject." Naturally, little was more important than finding the most cost-effective and direct route over the Rocky Mountains.11
Smith's instructions reflected the inner tensions of the NP board. Thomas H. Canfield, one of Smith's confidants, was a key, though controversial, figure in the railroad's affairs during the 1860s, and he had represented the NP on the 1869 expedition. In Montana Canfield picked up the rumors of a "lost" Marias Pass, and in his 1870 report, he noted, "The Marias pass to the north has never been fully examined." While Roberts appears to have discounted the story, possibly because Canfield was its source, Smith's instructions with the words "full and complete" left no room for misunderstanding; Roberts was directed to search for the pass.12
When Roberts arrived in Helena with his family in July, several hundred residents and a brass band gathered in front of the International Hotel to cheer and serenade him. Roberts responded with a brief speech, but after these festivities he turned to his work.13 The most important of his five Montana surveys would begin at the Three Forks of the Missouri and extend to Fort Ellis, an army post three miles east of Bozeman on the East Gallatin River. At the fort, the survey would pick up a cavalry escort, cross Bozeman Pass, and follow the Yellowstone downstream as long as the Lakotas and the weather permitted. Because the Crow Indian Reservation lay on the south bank of the river, the surveyors would work on the north.
To his personal and professional dismay, however, in late July President Smith ordered Roberts to Utah to meet a party of European investors and show them the economic potential of Oregon and Washington. Unable to take his pregnant wife (she went to live with a sister in Kansas), Roberts traveled to the West Coast, not to return to Montana until midfall and to his wife until December.14 This unexpected development, which occurred when he had been in Helena for less than a month, would cost him three months' time, effective control of the surveys, and the opportunity to complete his investigation of Montana's passes, work he had just begun in the Helena area.15
The surveying party that would carry on in Roberts's absence, like most of Roberts's larger teams, numbered fourteen: a "chief of party," a topographical engineer, a transit or compass man, leveler, and a rodman. The party also included two flagmen, two chainmen, three axemen (to clear brush), a cook, and a teamster to look after two wagons and a pack train of mules.16 Pay ranged from $150 per month for engineers to $40 a month for the least skilled.

Soldiers of the Second Cavalry stationed at Fort Ellis accompanied the Yellowstone Valley survey, though their service was fraught with delays and undermined by post commander Eugene M. Baker's heavy drinking. Fort Ellis officers are pictured above in 1871. Leaning against the porch railing in the center of photograph stands Colonel Baker. To his right on the porch are Captain Edward Ball, Lieutenant Lovell H. Jerome, Captain George L. Tyler, and Lieutenant Edward J. McClernand. MHS Photograph Archives, Helena

With Roberts gone, what the Yellowstone survey lacked, however, was good leadership. The engineer in charge was Edward D. Muhlenberg, an artillery officer during the war, whose qualifications appear to have been that he enjoyed the support of one of Pennsylvania's United States senators, Simon Cameron, a former Lincoln cabinet member who retained enormous political clout. What is also known is that Muhlenberg drank heavily.
Beginning in late July Muhlenberg spent almost three weeks surveying the thirty-one miles between the Three Forks and Fort Ellis. Further delays followed once he reached the fort. Finally, without waiting for an army escort, Muhlenberg surveyed over Bozeman Pass, past present-day Livingston, and stopped at Crow Agency some four miles east of where the Shields River entered the Yellowstone to wait for his escort.
His escort, however, found itself ensnared by army bureaucracy. In summer 1871 one of Fort Ellis's three cavalry companies was escorting the Hayden Expedition through what would become Yellowstone National Park, a waste of men considering the lack of hostile Indians, and another was futilely chasing Indians who had killed two settlers near Bozeman.17 Equally frustrating, in St. Paul, Minnesota, General Winfield Scott Hancock, commander of the Department of Dakota, had not written the orders concerning the surveyors' protection until August 5. Ultimately, Captain Edward Ball and ninety-one men and five officers from companies H and L, Second Cavalry did not leave Fort Ellis until September 16.18
Ball, a career soldier, had enlisted in the First Dragoons before the Mexican-American War and slowly risen through the ranks. He was well respected, able, and honest-too much for his own good as it would turn out in the mid-1870s when he apparently would not take a bribe from Montana pioneer Nelson Story. Without money or influence, however, Ball, seems to have often drawn the longest or most difficult assignments, such as escorting the 1871 Yellowstone survey.19
Despite his capabilities, what Ball could not do, of course, was speed up Muhlenberg's work. From the time the surveyors left Fort Ellis until they turned back in November, they averaged only two and a half miles a day. Even though Ball joined Muhlenberg no later than midday on September 17, not until September 22 did the expedition leave Crow Agency. Part of the problem was Muhlenberg's drinking, but the other part was that he had orders to survey the Yellowstone's difficult north bank and, with the inflexibility typical of alcoholics, would not survey the other side. In fact, the north bank of the river was so rugged that, as Ball wrote, "a greater portion of the time the camps had unnecessarily to be pitched on the opposite side of the river to which the parties were at work, which made it necessary for the guards to cross twice a day and many of the crossings [were] quite deep and rocky, and the water [grew] colder every day." Had Roberts been in Montana he could have quickly resolved the problem. Instead, Muhlenberg continued to flounder.20
In late October Roberts returned to Montana and likely learned for the first time of the full extent of Muhlenberg's problems. On October 29 Roberts attended a banquet in Helena as the guest of honor then left for Fort Ellis the next morning, arriving there thirty-six hours later, on October 31. Joining Roberts were G. D. Chenoweth, an NP engineer who would assist Muhlenberg with mapping; Charles A. Broadwater, active in Montana freighting; and the respected, recently appointed Crow Indian agent, "Major" Fellows D. Pease, a Montana trapper, scout, prospector and trader since 1856.21
At Fort Ellis, RobErts met Eugene M. Baker, the post's commandant and the man who was to lead the military escort for Roberts's party. Described by a classmate as having "a very strong and vigorous mind, as well as a marvelously powerful and perfect physique," "Tim" Baker graduated from West Point in 1859. He did well his plebe year but something (perhaps alcohol or West Point's switching to a five-year curriculum) "caused him to neglect study and depend on his natural ability to keep him up in his class the following years," and he wound up twelfth out of twenty-two cadets. During the war, Baker earned a solid record and had attained the rank of major in the regular army when given command of Fort Ellis on December 1, 1869.22
On his way to Fort Ellis to assume this position, Baker met with General Philip H. Sheridan, who gave him his first order, to attack a village of hostile Piegans in north-central Montana. On January 23, 1870, Baker attacked a friendly Piegan village, one riddled with smallpox, killing some 173 Piegans, mostly the old and sick, women and children. Baker's report implied heavy fighting, but the massacre became public knowledge when the Blackfeet agent released details of the casualties. Although Sheridan as well as many other military personnel and most frontier settlers, especially those from Montana, defended Baker in the national outcry that followed, he became a symbol all that was wrong with the army's treatment of Indians.23

Fort Ellis, photographed by William Henry Jackson, July 1871 MHS Photograph Archives, Helena

Though little is known about Baker's personality, an enlisted man serving under him, William H. White, remembered that "Baker was known as a hardhearted man . . . [and] was a heavy drinker." His drinking was so widely known that even his obituary in an annual West Point alumni publication chided "like so many officers of fine physique, believing that nothing could injure his constitution, [Baker] neglected such precautions as he might have taken and broke down sooner than he had the slightest idea he could." These facts notwithstanding, Baker was a popular officer; "[He] carried his strong body in [an] erect, soldierly manner . . . [and] his familiar mingling with all subordinates did much toward bringing them into forgetfulness [concerning] some of the reprehensible traits of his character."24
Given Roberts's importance, General Hancock likely ordered Baker to accompany him down the Yellowstone. Thus the two, opposite in so many respects, found themselves companions for the next two and a half weeks. As Roberts revealed, it was a bad mix indeed.
At 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, November 2, Roberts, his companions, Baker, and some twenty-five cavalry left Fort Ellis with a half-dozen wagons and an ambulance. A compulsive note taker, correspondent, and letter and report writer, Roberts took with him on his survey maps, books, and reports about the Yellowstone Valley as well as a barometer, thermometer, compass, and odometer. Sam Wilkeson, whom Roberts had traveled with in 1869, remembered: "[He] was the only man I ever saw write continuously in the saddle." Roberts's field notes offer continual scientific readings, engineering and construction calculations, and topographic information as well as numerous other travel-related comments and observations, even the length of the stops.25

From Fort Ellis, Roberts's party traveled east across Bozeman Pass and visited Crow Agency at Fort Parker, east of present-day Livingston. The pass is pictured above looking east from the Bozeman Tunnel after the railroad's completion. On an 1869-1871 trip William Henry Jackson photographed Fort Parker, right. Both photographs, MHS Photograph Archives, Helena

The day was ideal for travel. Despite six inches of snow, the weather stayed warm. "As soon as we passed the divide, lo! The scene changed-there was no snow left and the road was dry, looking almost as it did [in 1869]," Roberts wrote. Reaching the Yellowstone, Roberts, ever inquisitive, measured its flow, estimating it as "more than double the low water flow of the Ohio at Pittsburgh." Just before sunset, after crossing to the south side of the river, the party arrived at Crow Agency. The next day Roberts visited the agency farm with Pease, where they admired "a good crop of potatoes, very good turnips and cabbages, and . . . about two acres of sweet corn." At Pease's suggestion, the expedition hired two Métis guides, Pierre Shane and Mitch Bouyer (who later died with Custer at the Little Bighorn), and three Crows, Blackfoot, Wolfbow, and Pretty Lodge.26
After two nights' stay at the agency, the party headed downriver on November 4, crossing back to the north bank to inspect Muhlenberg's route. Roberts hoped to determine whether the railroad could be constructed on the north bank to avoid the Crow reservation on the south, but he quickly realized it would have to cross the reservation. East of Livingston, he concluded, "The reservation side is obviously the better." Some bridges would be necessary, but Roberts saw few problems: "The Yellowstone, although it has a strong current, does not rise high[. C]heap piers and short spans will answer."27
On November 4 and 5 the party camped at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Boulder rivers, just west of the present-day town of Big Timber. The reason for spending two nights, Roberts noted, was that "Colonel Baker, not feeling well, concluded not to start till we should see what kind of weather we are to have." One might safely hazard a guess that Baker, who arose late, was hungover. Nevertheless, the weather did look raw, the temperature remained in the low forties, and a heavy snow began to fall in midafternoon.28
In spite of the weather, the camp pleased Roberts. The large stands of cottonwoods north of the Yellowstone and the many prairie dog towns impressed him. The scouts and Crows provided fresh game, and Roberts, with a mattress and "plenty of blankets," slept well in a tent he shared with Chenoweth. Baker, Pease, Broadwater, and Lieutenant Charles B. Schofield bunked together in another tent. The scouts shared an "improvised wigwam" while the enlisted men and teamsters likely slept in two-man pup tents.29
By November 6, as rich bottomlands and meadows appeared, Roberts observed large herds of antelope, some deer, elk, coyotes, and other wildlife. The lush grass; meandering, "clear as crystal" Yellowstone; and the box elder, cottonwood, and pine along its banks and on the hills dazzled him. "This is a beautiful place," he wrote, also noting that, whenever possible during breaks, the teamsters rushed to the streams feeding into the Yellowstone and enthusiastically, if unsuccessfully, panned for gold. Roberts also delighted at the likely low cost of building. "Thus far down the Yellowstone . . . it will be a cheap line to construct," he wrote.30
On the seventh, the group spent the evening at a particularly lovely location, and Roberts's sketch of it gives the feeling of a typical encampment. The next day Roberts, up at five o'clock to take astronomical observations of the planet Venus, wrote: "The white light in the east contrasts charmingly with the clear blue almost black of the west, and the atmosphere is as pure as a virgin." That night the temperature fell more than forty degrees, standing at twenty-three degrees at 5:30 a.m. The resulting frost hardened the ground, resulting in better time for the wagons. By 11:00 a.m. Roberts reached the Muhlenberg-Ball camp, "a splendid situation [view]," at what Roberts called the Gate of the Valley, four or five miles west of present-day Park City.31
With no sign of Lakotas, Roberts and Baker decided to "borrow" some sixty of Ball's cavalry and travel to the confluence of the Bighorn River, an estimated 115 miles east. They took no tents, only pack horses with five days of rations, because they assumed, incorrectly as it turned out, that there would be ample grass for the horses. One of the accompanying officers was the charming, hard-partying, politically well-placed Lovell H. Jerome. An 1870 West Point graduate, he was the ne'er-do-well son of a wealthy playboy, Lawrence Jerome, and the nephew of Leonard Jerome (the future grandfather of Winston Churchill).32 Others in the party included Captain George L. Tyler, able Civil War veteran Lieutenant James G. MacAdams, and Dr. R. M. Whitefoot.
On November 9 the group left Ball and Muhlenberg. Roberts bubbled with enthusiasm: "[W]e have all been charmed with the beauty of the valley and its surroundings, while our animals have been reveling in splendid grass.... For sheep, cattle and horses, this region ... surpasses any that I have ever seen in North or South America."33
Friday saw a temperature of thirty-seven degrees with light rain and snow. Game, including buffalo and "several hundred" antelope, became more abundant. As they rode toward the site of present-day Billings, Roberts observed: "We have passed through the finest valley by far that I have seen in Montana ... 175 sq. miles of very superior land."34 They dined on buffalo and wild geese. Roberts also spotted the first veins of lignite coal that stretch east for three hundred miles.
At midmorning Saturday, Roberts wrote from atop a "100 foot high flat [plateau], Pryor's Creek opposite." Around 11 a.m.. they found a ford, likely close to the current Huntley bridge. Only a few minutes later a horse slipped in the "deep, swift" current, and Roberts excitedly wrote, "Man overboard [!]" In fact, the horse rolled over on a trooper named Shavers, pinning him underwater "long enough to make me feel very uneasy about him," Roberts later wrote his wife. "Captain Tyler and several soldiers got to [Shavers] after awhile with a rope and got him back to [a] gravel bar. . . . He was chilled, frightened nearly to death; but they soon stripped him and gave him different articles of dry clothing."35
By noon the entire party had crossed to the right bank of the Yellowstone, and Roberts rode to a bluff overlooking the river, where he recorded being "about 170 miles from Fort Ellis, whence we had a good view of the valley for twenty miles farther, to Pompey's Pillar." (He likely stood seven or eight miles east of the present-day junction of Interstates 90 and 94.) Shortly after, with Roberts and Pease riding in front, they began sighting small herds of buffalo, which generated some unease because they feared encountering a Lakota hunting party. Roberts's keen eye brought the men to a halt: "I was the first to suggest that they did not move like buffalo and after awhile Major Pease took out his [binoculars.] ... [A]s I had said one of them was a man and a horse." The party prudently retreated. This was as far downriver as Roberts would reconnoiter.36

Pompey's Pillar from the west. MHS Photograph Archives, Helena

In fact, Roberts had spotted a group of Crows. They also saw Roberts's party and feared that pursuing Lakotas had encircled them. Apparently, a raiding party had stolen a number of horses from a large Lakota camp near the Bighorn River, and while some of the men took the horses "to the Musselshell where there is a large Crow camp," the group Roberts spotted had ridden up the Yellowstone. The Crows "had ridden all night they said. They were young, good looking, and had on their war paint! Without any invitation they retraced their steps and followed us into camp," where they clearly enjoyed the survey's food and protection.37
That evening, after unromantically describing to his wife all the lignite he had seen, Roberts reported the "immense quantities of game, antelope and deer, wild geese, rabbits and some buffalo; this being near the upper boundary of their range this season." Such abundance only added to the pleasure of camp life. The officers enjoyed the meals of fresh game (scouts killed a buffalo cow on the eleventh), the cool evenings, and plenty of sleep. "The Doctor has a sinecure," Roberts wrote. "Nobody gets sick; rather, they are fattening. Lieutenant Jerome thinks he has gained thirty pounds. He looks as if he weighed two hundred. Such days! Such nights! Such game! Such appetites!" Roberts also appreciated the horse that Captain Ball loaned him. "[T]he best horse I have ridden for years," he wrote, "so that five minutes after dismounting, after riding thirty miles, with scarcely a pause, I felt no fatigue, and my appetite was, as you may believe, good."38

What Roberts did not know was that somewhere along the river a group of Lakotas had seen them. Although Sitting Bull and more than a thousand warriors were camped hundreds of miles away at the Milk River Indian Agency near the Missouri, the presence of the surveyors so far down the Yellowstone sparked concern. However, Sitting Bull made no effort to intercept them, reassured by the agency's personnel that the surveying expedition would soon turn back, and undoubtedly aware when it did so.39
Heeding the Crows' report that there were Lakotas hunting on the Bighorn and short on grass for the horses, Baker and Roberts turned back early on Sunday, November 12. By late afternoon they rejoined Ball and Muhlenberg camped near the "Place of Skulls," now Billings's Rimrock area.40 Thus, his reconnaissance all but completed, Roberts focused on returning to Fort Ellis. The Crows, safe and with full stomachs, departed for the Musselshell.
On the twelfth Roberts noted cryptically, "Colonel Baker had last night a chill fever." This, the earlier mention, and obligatory thank-yous at the survey's end were Roberts's only comments about Baker in all his formal reports and letters. Indeed, nowhere do his notes mention the two of them riding or eating together in the eleven days they spent alongside the Yellowstone. This appears to be no accident, for, apparently, Baker had come to dislike Roberts intensely.41
Before leaving for Fort Ellis with his original escort, Roberts ate "an excellent breakfast in Captain Ball's tent" and approvingly noted that "Ball thinks this part of the Yellowstone Valley, say for 25 to 30 miles, is worth as much as all of the Gallatin Valley for farming." The weather seemed more winterlike. "It snowed a little last night.... [I]ce is running in the river today and stands along the edges, and [is] 1/4 inch thick in our tent." With growing concern about the conditions, the party's leaders agreed that Ball would determine the surveying party's date for the return. Other than being slowed down by again crossing the Yellowstone and losing a linchpin from a wagon wheel, the remainder of the thirteenth passed uneventfully for Roberts's party, although the weather grew colder.42
The next morning, Tuesday, November 14, the men made a 6:45 a.m. start. Roberts kept taking notes. "Some thousands of Pine," he wrote at 2:12 p.m., "cross-ties can be had in this vicinity on both sides of the river." Just after three o'clock, the party camped for the evening near a ford. Then, an hour later, an event occurred that was so bizarre that Roberts told it only to his wife, never mentioning it to another person or even in his field notes. To his wife he wrote:
Directly opposite the camp, on the same side of the river, is a pretty Mount . . . and soon after we stopped I took my pistol, barometer and thermometer and started across the beautiful natural meadow to its foot, and ascended to the top, which I figured to be 400´ above the plain. . . . I had a fine view of the valley for many miles up and like distance down-the windings of the river and its islands opened out like a map before me. As soon as I reached [the top] I fired my pistol, while standing on the highest peak of rock. Soon after I heard a ball whiz and strike the rock about 20 feet below me, and a little while after another ball whizzed and struck the rocks not far below me. I called out to the party to stop firing at me. It was, as I learned when I returned, [they thought] their rifles would not carry that far; while it is very clear to me that they did [know]. Colonel Baker had fired the first shot, but none of them had believed that the balls had struck so high up.43
Why did Baker fire at Roberts? No one can know the reasons for Baker's animosity, but perhaps it reflected Roberts's compulsive work habits or Baker's resentment at having to drink furtively. Possibly, no matter how hard he tried, the normally civil Roberts could not hide the fact that he found Baker abhorrent. Nevertheless, shooting at the NP's chief engineer speaks volumes about Baker's state of mind. Having described the incident to his wife, Roberts clearly wanted to put it behind him and quickly changed the subject: "We had an elegant supper this evening; oyster stew, buffalo meat, antelope and breakfast bacon, with excellent potatoes, grown [at the Crow] Valley Agency, and canned tomatoes."44
On the fifteenth the men started before 7:00 a.m. and made good time. Just after nine o'clock, Roberts passed the place where "Rev. Thomas and his son were killed by the Indians." A part of Bozeman Trail lore, the incident occurred in 1866 when Thomas, a man of great faith, decided to place his safety in the hands of the Almighty. Roberts failed to mention that Thomas hailed from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and that he may have known the family. Just before 3:00 p.m. the ambulance turned over, possibly from a gust of wind, but fortunately the upset occurred in a flat, grassy area. Shortly after passing the Boulder River, the party made camp "on a small island in the Yellowstone."45
Meanwhile, the weather grew progressively colder. The next morning Roberts recorded a temperature of only sixteen degrees. Despite four inches of snow, the party made good time, reaching the Crow agency by 1:00 p.m. and spent the night there. The next morning they slept late, crested Bozeman Pass by 3:30 p.m., and, notwithstanding darkness and a foot of snow on the western slope, arrived at Fort Ellis three hours later.

Montana Blizzard, by Frederic Remington, from Personal Recollections of General Nelson A. Miles (Chicago, 1897), p. 231

Three days later Roberts headed back to Helena, scribbling notes until he arrived at the International Hotel at 5:45 p.m. During the next two weeks he caught up on his mail, wrote reports, thank-you notes (including one publicly via the Helena Daily Herald), met with other survey team leaders, and made arrangements to meet his wife and new child in Kansas. Finally, on December 5 he began the 450-mile stage ride to Corrine, the Union Pacific, and home.
For those still in the Yellowstone Valley, the "summer's work" was not quite over. While the surveying continued for a few days after Roberts left, on November 15 Ball, concerned about the weather, determined to begin the return to Fort Ellis the following morning. However, that same evening a "severe snow storm" developed and it lasted until Friday morning, when Ball was finally able to break camp. For the next nine days, until they reached Crow Agency 110 miles away, the men would travel uphill through snow, usually with a biting wind from the west and a wind chill factor seldom above freezing. Making matters worse, the six to ten inches of snow on the ground made it difficult for the animals to forage for grass and impossible for the men to cut hay. As the horses began to give out, more and more men had to walk, delaying the column further. A shortage of blankets and tents, never fully replaced after a fire on October 10, added to the men's hardships.46
By November 20 Ball felt nervous about the condition of the horses and determined that a large number would be lost unless he could obtain grain. "I accordingly turned the command over to Captain Tyler," Ball wrote, "and with a detachment of seven men started for Fort Ellis." The men marched through the night and reached the Crow agency at 8 p.m. Tuesday. The next morning, with little sleep, horrible weather, and two to four feet of snow on Bozeman Pass, Ball left for Fort Ellis, finally reaching the post at three o'clock Thursday afternoon. A rescue party was hurriedly assembled at Fort Ellis and prepared to leave Friday morning, but another blizzard blew in from the west and paralyzed all movement.47

A blinding snowstorm overtook the Yellowstone surveyors during their return to Fort Ellis in mid-November. In the spirit of Frederic Remington's bugler at right, trumpeter Sergeant Edward Page sounded "Rally" again and again to lead the men to the shelter provided by stands of willows and cottonwoods.
From Century Magazine, 43 (January 1892), p. 384

The same storm engulfed Tyler and Muhlenberg's men as they marched alongside the now-frozen Yellowstone. Visibility fell to a few feet, the "blinding snow coming in [like] a hurricane, drifting to the depth of many feet in the line of march." Officers took turns leading, often on foot, only to discover that they marched in a circle. The temperature dropped and, as the light faded, men moaned to be allowed to go to sleep. The Bozeman Avant Courier later reported that the soldiers "would tumble off of their horses perfectly benumbed, and it required the greatest exertion of those not so badly affected to arouse them from the stupor that was fast coming on." Pack animals began stumbling under the weight of accumulating snow and ice. The men gave up on the animals but kicked and pushed fellow soldiers forward. Hours after the storm hit, the first men reached a clump of willows and cottonwoods that offered fuel and some shelter. Trumpeter Sergeant Edward Page, his lips sticking to his brass trumpet, sounded "Rally" again and again, leading the men to the woods. One surveyor who became lost survived the night by himself, although his feet were frozen badly.48
On Saturday the Fort Ellis rescue party, joined by virtually every able-bodied soldier, began to clear a path though the snow. Although their efforts made nine miles passable, the men did not reach the summit of Bozeman Pass, and they returned to the fort rather than spend the night in the open at 5,800 feet. On Sunday Ball, likely with the large force that had assisted him the day before, finished cutting a path across the pass, and Ball's rescue party continued on, probably stopping just west of Livingston.49

The next day the soldiers and survey crew staggered into Crow Agency where Major Fellows Pease (left) gave them what supplies he could spare. Pushing on again on foot, the men soon met a rescue party from Fort Ellis.Sarony's Imperial Portraits, photographer, MHS Photograph Archives, Helena

What the rescuers did not know was that two days before Tyler and Muhlenberg's bedraggled men had staggered into Crow Agency. Major Pease gave them as much as his limited supplies permitted. On Monday, November 27, with Pease's grain all but used up, Tyler left wagons, mules, and equipment at the agency, and the men marched west as best they could but made little ground. At dusk Ball and Tyler spotted each other near the Shields River, where the rescuers and rescued camped for the night. On Tuesday they climbed the steeper, eastern side of the Bozeman Pass and arrived at Fort Ellis by 3:00 p.m.50

Ball reported that fifty-seven soldiers-he made no mention of the surveyors-"had their faces, hands, feet, ears and noses painfully frozen," though they required no amputations. A hundred miles north the same storm caught a company of sixty-five men from the Seventh Infantry in the open, resulting in twenty-two amputations.51
"All of the party highly commend the action of the commanding officer, Captain Ball," the Bozeman Avant Courier reported, "for his humanity, courage and foresight, under circumstances of the most trying nature." Unfortunately the officers felt less positive about Muhlenberg; during the return the surveyors discarded over a dozen borrowed carbines and revolvers, and when Muhlenberg refused to take any responsibility, the officers paid their cost.52

The "forgotten" 1871 Yellowstone surveying expeditions might best be remembered not for what was accomplished, but for historically tantalizing "what ifs" in Montana and Northern Pacific Railroad history.
Roberts never explored the Rocky Mountain passes, and no one "discovered" Marias Pass until December 1889. The pass led to a shorter, easier route from the Great Lakes to Puget Sound, but the Great Northern Railroad, not the NP, benefitted. Whether or not Roberts might have discovered it in 1871 and, if he had, what the railroad would have done with the information is, of course, speculative.53
Roberts apparently did not tell Cooke that Baker shot at him. Although they evidently discussed Baker's drinking, Cooke, who had the clout to remove Baker from future expeditions, never asked this favor from President Grant. Within a year Roberts's reticence came back to haunt the railroad. In 1872 Baker and "chief of party" John A. Haydon led a surveying expedition that planned to meet another army-NP column (under Colonel David S. Stanley and Thomas L. Rosser) at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Powder rivers. However, on August 14 at Pryor's Creek, hundreds of Lakotas attacked Baker's camp. While the fighting proved inconclusive, Baker was dead drunk during much of it. A few days later the "battle" became a strategic defeat: Baker left the Yellowstone and never linked up with the second surveying party. (He blamed the decision to leave on the surveyors.) The publicity generated by Pryor's Creek resulted in loss of investor confidence in the NP, which made it far more difficult for Cooke to sell NP bonds and materially contributed to the financial collapse of Jay Cooke & Co. in 1873.
The 1871 surveying expeditions represented, in themselves, neither successes nor failures. Even if Roberts or Muhlenberg had reached the Bighorn River, two other surveys would have been required in 1872. Like any initial survey, 1871's represented a first step; it established the feasibility of construction through the valley while also determining that the railroad had to be constructed on both sides of the Yellowstone, which meant cutting through the Crow reservation. However, the financial failure of the NP and Jay Cooke in 1873 made most of the survey party's work useless and their physical sacrifices unnecessary.
Roberts continued to work for the NP, but he lost most of his assets, held by Cooke's firm, in the Panic of 1873.54 In 1876 his son-in-law, Captain George W. Yates, died with Custer, and Roberts shouldered the financial responsibility for his daughter and her three children.55 Short of cash, he accepted a lucrative consultancy in Brazil in 1879 and two years later died of typhoid on the Amazon River.

Despite their limited scope, the 1871 surveying expeditions established the feasibility of railroad construction through the Yellowstone Valley. However, the NP's financial collapse in 1873 made most of the work useless and the men's physical sacrifices unnecessary. Thirty-nine years later L. A. Huffman photographed the Yellowstone River from the top of Pompey's Pillar looking west. MHS Photograph Archives, Helena

Muhlenberg, the hard-drinking surveyor with good political connections continued to work for the NP until at least 1876, but nothing else is known other than that he died in 1883. The army promoted the able Ball to major in the Seventh Cavalry in 1880, but he resigned from the army, for disability, shortly before his death in October 1884. Baker's career was badly damaged by the Pryor's Creek incident, with drinking causing his death in December 1884. Pease stayed in Montana, lived until 1920, and is buried near the Yellowstone. Jerome managed to be captured by Chief Joseph's men in 1877 and the army all but cashiered him, but he lived long and well on his inheritance, likely meeting his grandnephew Winston Churchill before his 1935 death.
The Northern Pacific Railroad, under the leadership of Frederick Billings, followed Roberts's general plans for construction along the upper Yellowstone Valley.56 On September 8, 1883, Henry Villard, who had seized control of the Northern Pacific from Billings in June 1881, oversaw the driving of the "last" spike.


M. JOHN LUBETKIN is a retired cable television executive residing in McLean, Virginia. He is currently writing a book about the Yellowstone surveying expeditions with the working title, "Surveyor, Sioux and Soldier: The Yellowstone Expeditions of 1871-72-73, the Northern Pacific Railroad, and George Armstrong Custer."

1. Robert M. Utley, The Lance and the Shield: The Life and Times of Sitting Bull (New York, 1993), 106; report of Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, October 20, 1869, in the Annual Report of the Secretary of War for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1869 (Washington, D.C., 1869), 56.
2. Robert E. Riegel, The Story of Western Railroads (1926; reprint, Lincoln, 1964), 122.
3. The Great Northwest, A Guidebook and Itinerary for the Use of Tourists and Travelers over the Lines of the Northern Pacific Railroad (St. Paul, Minn., 1886), 150, 248.
4. J. Gregory Smith to W. Milnor Roberts, June 20, 1871, microfilm M459, Secretary's Department: Unregistered Letters Received and Related Records, 1864-1876 (hereafter Unregistered Letters, 1864-1876), Northern Pacific Railway Company Records, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul (hereafter Minnesota HS).
5. See Joseph N. G. Whistler, Report of the Expedition Accompanying the Engineers of the [NPRR] from Fort Rice, D.T. to the Yellowstone River and Return during . . . September and October, 1871, microfilm 751 MDM, 1871, Record Group 98, Records of the United States Army Commands, National Archives and Record Administration, Washington, D.C. (hereafter NARA).
6. The Dictionary of American Biography, 22 vols. (New York, 1928-1958), vol. 8, pt. 2:18; and the National Cyclopedia of American Biography, vol. 29 (Clifton, N.J., 1926), 182, contain profiles of Roberts, as well as family members, including Roberts's military in-laws Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson, Colonel George Gibson, and Brigadier General James Oakes. See also Thomas P. Roberts's biography of his grandfather, Memoirs of John Bannister Gibson, Late Chief Justice of Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh, 1890), 92-124; and Gibson's profile, in Dictionary of American Biography, 4:254.
7. Roberts, then in his teens, was likely an apprentice engineer on the 1826-1827 project, which is described in Roberts's obituary, in Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of [British] Civil Engineers, vol. 1xviii [sic] (London, 1881-1882), pt. 2:2, copy in box 10, series 6, Collection 783, William Milnor Roberts Papers, 1828-1959, Merrill G. Burlingame Special Collections, Montana State University Libraries, Bozeman (hereafter Roberts Papers, MSU).
8. In late June 1871 Roberts attended the wedding of one of Cooke's nephews in Sandusky, Ohio, and then was Cooke's guest on Gibraltar, a small island in Lake Erie owned by Cooke. James E. Pollard, The Journal of Jay Cooke or the Gibraltar Records (Columbus, Ohio, 1935), 237.
9. Jay Cooke to Milnor Roberts, October 13, 1870, file 4, box 2, series 2, Roberts Papers, MSU; "William Milnor Roberts," Northwest Magazine, January 1884.
10. William F. Shunk, "William Milnor Roberts, Civil Engineer," Engineering News, July 30, 1881, 301, copy in box 9, series 6, Roberts Papers, MSU.
11. J. Gregory Smith to W. Milnor Roberts, June 20, 1871, Unregistered Letters, 1864-1876, Minnesota HS.
12. M. John Lubetkin, letter to the editor, North Dakota History, 69, no. 1 (2002), 25-28; Thomas H. Canfield, Partial Report to the Board of Directors of a Portion of a Reconnaissance Made in the Summer of 1869. . . . (n.p. 1870), 5, copy in Montana Historical Society Library, Helena (hereafter MHS).
13. Helena (Mont.) Daily Herald, July 22, 1871. Roberts's wife and his grown son, Thomas (an engineer in charge of one of the surveys), and Thomas's family accompanied Roberts to Helena.
14. Milnora de Beelen Roberts (1871-1959) was born in Kansas.
15. There are two sources that describe this trip: the second draft of Roberts's autobiography, written in summer 1874, in file 415, box 1, series 1, Roberts Papers, MSU; and W. Milnor Roberts, Preliminary Report of Engineer-in-Chief on Montana Surveys, Made in December, 1871 (n.p., 1871-1872), copy in box 10, series 6, Roberts Papers, MSU. Roberts's 1871 orders to accompany the European bankers proved to be a total waste of time. Having spent $25,000 of the NP's money visiting the Northwest, the bankers returned to Europe and wrote a report firmly recommending against investment.
16. Helena (Mont.) Daily Herald, August 1, 1871. See also Roberts to [J. W. Flenniken?], July 20, 1871, Unregistered Letters, 1864-1876, Minnesota HS.
17. Some accounts indicate that there were four companies of cavalry stationed at Fort Ellis, but there were only three, F, G, and H, as well as an infantry company, A of the Seventh Regiment. Army and Navy Journal, December 16, 1871.
18. This paragraph is drawn from Captain Edward Ball's untitled elevenpage handwritten report of the expedition dated December 10, 1871. Reel 1, microfilm MF339, Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, NARA, copy in MHS (hereafter Ball report). Major Baker approved the report and forwarded it to Department of Dakota headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota. Ten six-mule wagons, two four-horse wagons, and a two-horse wagon carried the escort's food, tents, clothing, ammunition, grain, and scythes (to cut the anticipated high grass). Ibid.
19. For Ball's dispute with Story, see Mark H. Brown, The Plainsmen of the Yellowstone (New York, 1961), 436-38.
20. Ball report.
21. Sioux City (Iowa) Daily Journal, November 17, 1871; Jim Annin, They Gazed on the Beartooths, vol. 2 (Columbus, Mont., 1964), 66-68.
22. Baker's obituary, in Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the U. S. Military Academy, June 12, 1885, 58-63.
23. The reason Baker attacked the camp will never be known. Baker's defenders a century ago blamed his scout, Joe Kipp. Today, the general feeling is that Baker was exhausted and/or drunk and attacked the first village he saw.
24. William H. White, Custer, Cavalry and Crows: The Story of William White as told to Thomas Marquis (Bellevue, Nebr., 1975), 32. See also Annin, They Gazed on the Beartooths, 2:63-65, 116; Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates, 62-63; White, Custer, Cavalry and Crows, 32.
25. W. Milnor Roberts, Down the Valley of the Yellowstone: Extracts from the Letters of Chief Engineer W. Milnor Roberts . . . (New York, 1871-1872), 2, 4, copy in box 10, series 6, Roberts Papers, MSU. Roberts's field notes are "Reconnaissance from Helena to near Pompey's Pillar in the Yellowstone Valley and Return, Oct. 30th to Nov. 20th, 1871," 1871, files 1-4, box 4, series 3, Roberts Papers, MSU (hereafter
"Reconnaissance"). Ambulances were light wagons and not necessarily used for medical purposes.
26. Roberts, Down the Valley, 1-2; Roberts, "Reconnaissance," November 5, 1871; Roberts to his wife, November 11-15, 1871, p. 1, file 5, box 2, series 1, Roberts Papers, MSU.
27. Roberts, Down the Valley, 2.
28. Roberts, "Reconnaissance," November 4, 5, 1871.
29. Ibid. A symptom of Baker's heavy drinking was his inability to be easily wakened, illustrated during the 1872 battle at Pryor's Creek and by his sleeping late.
30. Roberts, "Reconnaissance," November 6, 4, 1871.
31. Ibid., November 8, 9, 1871; Roberts, Down the Valley, 4-6. Officers in the military detachment accompanying the survey party lied to Roberts, telling him that "since they left Ellis [Muhlenberg] has been entirely abstinent." On this recommendation, Roberts assured the NP board that "Mr. Muhlenberg has worked most industrially and faithfully since leaving the fort." In March 1872, upon discovering the lie, Roberts was livid and adamantly refused to rehire Muhlenberg "nor any man or boy who is in the habit of drinking. . . . I will not [be used as] a school for the care of inebriates; they can't go." Roberts to his wife, November 11-15, 1871, p. 7; Roberts, Down the Valley, 8; W. Milnor Roberts to [J. W. Flenniken?], March 19, 1872, Unregistered Letters, 1864-1876 Minnesota HS.
32. Dan L. Thrapp, Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography, 3 vols. (1988; reprint, Lincoln, 1991), 2:725; and Jerome's New York Times obituary, January 18, 1935. For his role in the 1877 Nez Perce campaign, see Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest (1965; reprint, Boston, Mass., 1997), 623-25.
33. Roberts, Down the Valley, 5.
34. Ibid.
35. Roberts, "Reconnaissance," November 11, 1871; Roberts to his wife, November 11-15, 1871, p. 5.
36. Roberts, Down the Valley, 7.
37. Ibid.
38. Roberts to his wife, November 11-15, 1871, p. 2; Roberts, Down the Valley, 6.
39. A. J. Simmons to J. A. Vialle, December 5, 1871, roll 492, microfilm M234, Letters Received by Office of Indian Affairs, 1824-1880, Record Group 75, Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, NARA, copy provided by Dave Eckroth, Billings, Montana.
40. James H. Bradley, The March of the Montana Column: A Prelude to the Custer Disaster (1896; reprint, Norman, 1991), 57; An Illustrated History of the Yellowstone Valley (Spokane, Wash., [ca. 1907?]), 256.
41. Roberts to his wife, November 11-15, p. 5.
42. Roberts, "Reconnaissance," November 13, 1871; Roberts to his wife, November 11-15, 1871, p. 10.
43. Roberts, "Reconnaissance," November 14, 1871; Roberts to his wife, November 11-15, 1871, p. 10. Although he had his notebook with him on the climb, he did not include the incident in it.
44. Roberts to his wife, November 11-15, 1871, p. 10.
45. Roberts, "Reconnaissance," November 15, 1871. Roberts lived in Chambersburg in the late 1830s, and he and his first wife possibly lived there when first married. For Thomas's story, see Dorothy M. Johnson, The Bloody Bozeman (1971; reprint, Missoula, Mont., 1992), 209-12.
46. Ball's report; Bozeman (Mont.) Avant Courier, November 30, 1871. On October 10 a fire raged through camp, destroying "the entire line of Company H's tents, burning up clothing, bedding, arms, camp equipage, rations and ammunition." Attempts to extinguish the fire failed when some eight hundred rounds of carbine and pistol ammunition began exploding. Happily, there were no injuries nor was surveying time lost. Ibid.
47. Ibid.
48. Edward J. McClernand, On Time for Disaster: The Rescue of Custer's Command (1969; reprint, Lincoln, 1989), 25; Bozeman (Mont.) Avant Courier, November 30, 1870.
49. Some fifty years later, with nearly all the participants long dead, Lieutenant Edward J. McClernand, who in 1871 had been a lieutenant under Ball's command during the latter phase of the rescue operations, described the same series of events in his memoirs, but his account stands in dramatic contrast, as he names himself, not Ball, as the leader of the rescue party. According to his account, McClernand led a rescue force that left on Thursday, spent a freezing night atop Bozeman Pass, rode some thirty miles, and reached Tyler in the Yellowstone Valley early Friday afternoon, just before the blizzard arrived. McClernand's
chronology (and other parts of his story) do not ring true. If the storm was sufficiently obvious early Friday morning that Ball was unable to leave Fort Ellis, it could not have slowed enough for McClernand to ride through thirty miles of snow to reach Tyler and Muhlenberg, who were at least fifteen miles east of the Crow agency. Edward J. McClernand, "With the Indian and Buffalo in Montana," The Cavalry Journal, 35 (October 1926), 500-11. McClernand's memoir was published as On Time for Disaster: The Rescue of Custer's Command (1969; reprint, Lincoln, 1989), and the description of this event occur on pp. 24-26. It should be noted that the description in Merrill G. Burlingame's The Montana Frontier (1942; reprint, Bozeman Mont., 1980), 210, closely follows McClernand's account.
50. Ball report; Bozeman (Mont.) Avant Courier, November 30, 1870.
51. Ball report; McClernand, On Time for Disaster, 26.
52. Bozeman (Mont.) Avant Courier, November 30, 1870; George L. Tyler to [J. W. Flenniken?], December 5, 1871, Unregistered Letters, 1864-1876, Minnesota HS.
53. A strong case can be made that if had Roberts had discovered the Marias Pass, the NP would have been built roughly following the Missouri River in Montana. This would have minimized problems with the Lakotas, perhaps made it possible for Cooke to fully finance the NP, and certainly have altered the Custer story.
54. Roberts never held Cooke responsible for his financial losses. The two continued a sporadic, though friendly correspondence until just before Roberts's death.
55. Roberts's daughter lived in Carlisle for a number of years, taught music at the Indian school, and moved to New York in the late 1890s. On December 10, 1914, a front-page New York Times story headlined: "Colonel Yates' Widow Killed in Subway: Elderly Woman Whose Husband Fought with Custer Crushed at 14th Street Station."
56. In 1881 the Crows received $25,000 for the "right of way through their reservation, fronting on the Yellowstone River, for a distance of over 200 miles." Eugene V. Smalley, History of the Northern Pacific Railroad (1883; reprint, New York, 1975), 244.

 

From Montana The Magazine of Western History, 52 (Winter 2002), 32-47; this article is presented courtesy of the Montana Historical Society.  All rights reserved, © 2002.