June 12

This Day in History

Old West

Jun 12, 1876:

Journalist headed for Little Big Horn files dispatch

Marcus Kellogg, a journalist traveling with Custer's 7th Cavalry, files one of his last dispatches before being killed at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

A native of Ontario, Canada, Kellogg migrated with his family to New York in 1835. As a young man he mastered the art of the telegraph and went to work for the Pacific Telegraphy Company in Wisconsin. Sometime during the Civil War, Kellogg abandoned his career in telegraphy in favor of becoming a newspaperman. In 1873, he moved west to the frontier town of Bismarck in Dakota Territory and became the assistant editor of the Bismarck Tribune.

A chance event in the winter of 1876 began Kellogg's unexpected path toward the Little Big Horn. While returning from a trip to the East, Kellogg was on the same train as George Custer and his wife, Elizabeth. Custer was on his way to Fort Abraham Lincoln, near Bismarck, where he was going to lead the 7th Cavalry in a planned assault on several bands of Indians who had refused to be confined to reservations. After an unusually heavy winter storm, the train became snowbound. Kellogg improvised a crude telegraph key, connected it to the wires running alongside the track, and sent a message ahead to the fort asking for help. Custer's brother, Tom, arrived soon after with a sleigh to rescue them.

Ever since his days as a Civil War hero, Custer had enjoyed being lionized in the nation's newspapers. Now, as he prepared for what he hoped would be his greatest victory ever, Custer wanted to make sure his glorious deeds would be adequately covered in the press. Initially, Custer had planned to take his old friend Clement Lounsberry, who was Kellogg's employer at the Tribune, with him into the field with the 7th Cavalry. At the last minute, Kellogg was picked to go instead-perhaps because Custer had been impressed by his resourcefulness with a telegraph key.

When Custer led his soldiers out of Fort Abraham Lincoln and headed west for Montana on May 31, Kellogg rode with him. During the next few weeks, Kellogg filed three dispatches from the field to the Bismarck Tribune, which in turn passed the stories on to the New York Herald. (Leaving nothing to chance, Custer himself also sent three anonymous reports on his progress to the Herald.)

Kellogg's first dispatches, dated May 31 and June 12, recorded the progress of the expedition westward. His final report, dated June 21, came from the army's camp along the Rosebud River in southern Montana, not far from the Little Big Horn River. "We leave the Rosebud tomorrow," Kellogg wrote, "and by the time this reaches you we will have met and fought the red devils, with what result remains to be seen."

The results, of course, were disastrous. Four days later, Sioux and Cheyenne warriors wiped out Custer and his men along the Little Big Horn River. Kellogg was the only journalist to witness the final moments of Custer's 7th Cavalry. Had he been able to file a story he surely would have become a national celebrity. Unfortunately, Kellogg did not live to tell the tale and died alongside Custer's soldiers.

On July 6, the Bismarck Tribune printed a special extra edition with a top headline reading: "Massacred: Gen. Custer and 261 Men the Victims." Further down in the column, in substantially smaller type, a sub-headline reported: "The Bismarck Tribune's Special Correspondent Slain." The article went on to report, "The body of Kellogg alone remained unstripped of its clothing, and was not mutilated." The reporter speculated that this might have been a result of the Indian's "respect [for] this humble shover of the lead pencil."

That the Sioux and Cheyenne respected Kellogg for his journalistic skills is highly doubtful. However, his spectacular death in one of the most notorious events in the nation's history did make him something of an honored martyr among newspapermen. The New York Herald later erected a monument to the fallen journalist over the supposed site of his grave on the Little Big Horn battlefield.

Fact Check We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!

What Happened on Your Birthday?

Pick a Date

Shop HISTORY