Just shy of 19 years old and military enlistment recently expired, Kelly set out for adventures along the Upper Missouri River Valley. While staying at Fort Berthold and then Fort Buford in what is now North Dakota, Kelly’s inquisitive mind lead him to explore and experience not only the local flora and fauna, but also the Native American cultures. He learned about lodge etiquette, smoking rituals, the rejuvenating effects of a sweat bath, and made lasting friendships. One such friend was Chief Sun-of-the-Star, as Kelly states “I was always welcome in his lodge.”

Not all encounters were friendly however. While on a solo volunteer mission to deliver mail to the neighboring Fort Stevenson, Kelly encountered two Sioux warriors. The young Kelly shot and killed the attackers in a shoot-out that inspired many tales and a now famous C.M. Russell sketch. He was wounded and his horse was dead, but he managed to make it back to the camp of Red Mike Welsh. The news spread quickly. The next day, some friendly Gros Ventres, having heard of Kelly’s exploit, rode into camp and christened Kelly “Little-Man-With-The-Strong (Big)-Heart.”

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