Captain Grant Marsh Letters
Sunday, April 18, 2004
This letter was submitted to President Roosevelt, and relatives issued a
copy retained by Captain Marsh to the archives of the North Dakota Historical
Society at Bismarck, along with the President’s response. The microfilm copies are
not legible for copying. These are an exact transcription, including
punctuation and spelling. These documents were omitted from many of the earlier
researchers, and present a new picture of the events occurring on the rivers.
When Captain Grant
Marsh started to operate his riverboats on the Yellowstone River, he asked for
and received permission to do so from the Sioux Indians. This is a copy of that
authorization from Sitting Bull on
May 14, 1873. [Captain Marsh was piloting the Key West, and it was reported
that Yellowstone Kelly was on board as Chief Scout. They reported to have been
within two miles of the Powder River.] In
1873 the Army hired Captain Marsh to explore the Yellowstone River, so as to
assist them in the hunt for Sioux Indians. [This seems almost contradictory to
the Army’s main task for which he was hired.] Marsh chose the Key West [200’ Sternwheeler] for this task.
General Custer and his 7th Cavalry arrived at Yankton via Dakota
Southern Railroad on April 9, 1873. They stayed on-site for about a month,
departing on May 7th for Fort Abraham Lincoln. From there they were
to join with the NPR Survey Party and provide escort. In anticipation of
needing additional supplies General Custer had Captain Grant Marsh make an
exploratory excursion into the survey region, with the intent that later, when
the survey teams were at the Yellowstone River, they could be re-supplied with
needed provisions by steamboat. To assist Captain Marsh, Custer had Yellowstone
Kelley (his chief guide) accompany him on the journey. Unfortunately the
river’s water level was low and Marsh had to frequently use his spars and steam
powered capstans before having to stop near the mouth of the Powder River.
It was here that he happened to encounter Chief Sitting Bull, who was impressed
with the boat, and gave him authorization to travel on the Yellowstone River.
This trek is not notably reported in the records of steamboat journeys into the
as its trek was somewhat secret.
According to the review by John MacDonald, in 1937, The Key West was a
sister ship of the Far West, and Captain Grant Marsh met with General George A.
Forsythe, under orders from General Sherman, to take command of the steamer and
explore the Yellowstone River up to the mouth of the Powder River. Should it
prove successful, steamers could be used to support the NPR survey. To assist
in the mission, Yellowstone Kelly was picked up at a woodchopper’s point after
leaving Fort Lincoln. At Fort Buford two infantry companies were taken aboard.
The Key West entered the Yellowstone on May 6th 1873. They
successfully navigated the river to a point about two miles north of Powder
River, where a large sand bar blocked their further travel. [This was later not
evident on future treks.] General Forsythe later established a supply depot at
Glendive Creek. This was to be used for resupplying the military expeditions supporting
the Corps of Engineering NPR surveys expected to arrive in June. This research
indicated that they encountered no Indians enroute. This is in direct conflict
with the issuance of the permit on the 14th by Sitting Bull. The
steamer returned to Fort Buford on the 15th. [This discrepancy cannot be explained.]
(pilot and clerk on this trip) was in charge of the steamer "Key
West" when that boat made its exploring trip up the Yellowstone River in
April 1873. This boat was sent up the stream by order of General Phil Sheridan
[to General Forsythe] to ascertain whether that river could be navigated as far
as Powder river; a tributary of the Yellowstone, located about 200 miles from
its mouth. The boat entered the river on May 6th, and the captain
made a careful sounding of the channel in many places and completed a
successful trip to its required destination, for which Capt Buesen had the
honor of being rewarded with the first pilot's license issued for that river by
the US government.
This license remarks that Marsh [piloting the Key West] was the first person to
receive a license from the Sioux to operate on the Yellowstone. Captain Buesen
received his license from the Government.
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