Tales paraphrased from “The Life of Yellowstone Kelly”, by Jerry Keenan.

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The procession left the Commercial Club at 2:30 that afternoon, moving slowly on foot to the soulful dirge and steady thump of muffled drums from the Rotary Club’s Boy’s Band. The impressive group of city officials, Boy Scouts, firing squad, veterans from World War I and the Spanish and Indian Wars, and a solitary horse with boots reversed in the stirrups and a saber hanging from the saddle led the flower bedecked wagon carrying the casket. The procession was bound for the crest of the rims. This day, the 26th ...


Little Man with the Big Heart

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, a...



By 1865, the Civil War was winding down and Kelly, who would turn 16 in July, could resist the lure of battle no longer. Kelly,now the eldest of four surviving children; Luther Sage (1849), William Dunham (1852), Anna Jeannette (1855) and Albert Frederick (1857); received his mother’s reluctant permission and approval by a local board to join the army. His first attempt to enlist was denied due to his age. We can imagine him explaining that, while he was officially too young to enlist, he had his mother’s permi...


Bear Paw

In the aftermath of the Battle of Little Big Horn in the Sioux War of 1876-1877, the Yellowstone River valley was bustling with activity. Gold had been found in the Black Hills, and there were multiple detachments of troops moving in both directions. One of the men Kelly met was Col. Nelson A. Miles, one of the most ambitious soldiers to ever wear the U.S. Army uniform. Kelly was, by now, an accomplished trapper and hunter with a rich knowledge of the area and the local Indians. When a Lieutenant in Miles’s charg...


Reed and Bowles Trading Post

In the mid-1870s, paddle boats could not always reach Fort Benton in the summer months after the level of the Missouri dropped. As a consequence, the trading post of Carroll was established 50+ miles downstream and became the starting point of the famous “Carroll Trail.” Freight unloaded at Carroll was then carried by wagon along the Carroll Trail to Helena and the western goldfields. One of the most famous stops along the trail was the Reed and Bowles Trading Post near modern day Lewistown, one of Yellowstone ...


Yellowstone Kelly and Nelson Miles

When Luther Sage “Yellowstone” Kelly met Col. Nelson Miles for the first time, neither man had any idea that it would mark the birth of a life-long friendship. The twenty-seven-year-old Kelly, free spirit of the Trans-Missouri River frontier, had wended his way down from the Judith Basin–probably his favorite spot in all of Montana– to offer his services to Miles, whose 5th U.S. Infantry was then in bivouac along the Yellowstone, near that river’s confluence with the Tongue River. Time...


Yellowstone Kelly and Theodore Roosevelt

Unlike Luther Kelly’s initial meeting with Nelson Miles, we don’t know the time and place of Kelly’s first meeting with Theodore Roosevelt, though it would in all likelihood have to have been between 1884, which marked the first time TR came West, and Kelly’s departure from Colorado in 1890. In 1880 Luther Kelly moved into western Colorado where he took up ranching and farming along the then Grand River (today’s Colorado River) In 1885,Kelly married one Alice May Morrison (called May),...

Jerry Keenan is an independent writer/historian and the author of numerous articles and books, including The Great Sioux Uprising, The Wagon Box Fight, Encyclopedia of American Indian Wars 1492-1890, and Encyclopedia of the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars. He resides in Longmont, Colorado.

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