Category Archives: Historic Photos of Montana

Selections from the book Historic Photos of Montana by Gary Glynn

Captain Charles Rawn and the Frontier Infantry in Montana

My friend Robert M. Brown has published a new book on Captain Charles Rawn and the Frontier Infantry in Montana, published by History Press in 2016.

Bob asked me to write a foreword for the book, which I was happy to do and which can be found below. Check it out. It’s a good book!

Capt Charles Rawn

Foreword to Captain Charles Rawn and the Frontier Infantry In Montana by Robert M. Brown

I first encountered Captain Charles Rawn on a fine spring day at the site of Fort Fizzle, scene of a confrontation in Montana’s Lolo Canyon between hundreds of Nez Perce warriors and a small contingent of U.S. Army soldiers and local civilians. Dressed in an impeccable blue uniform trimmed with gold braid, wearing a black campaign hat and armed with a single-action pistol, Captain Rawn cut an imposing figure as he described the events of the 1877 Nez Perce War to a group of local schoolchildren. They listened raptly as Rawn described his role as leader of the small force at Fort Fizzle and told of his unsuccessful attempts to negotiate a peaceful surrender with the Nez Perce leaders, including Looking Glass, White Bird, and Joseph. Most of the schoolchildren who learned the story of Fort Fizzle from Major Rawn never realized that the uniformed figure who portrayed Rawn was in fact Dr. Robert M. Brown, the Executive Director of the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. Rawn was the founder and first commander of Fort Missoula, and Dr. Brown spent years researching his historic alter-ego, making him uniquely qualified to write the story of one of the little known but important figures of the frontier army. Whole bookshelves have been filled with biographies of a few prominent soldiers who fought the Indian wars, in particular Lt. Col. George A. Custer, who famously lost his entire battalion after a rash attack on a vastly superior force. On the other hand there has been little written of the everyday lives of the mid-level officers of the frontier army, those men who were focused on doing their jobs and keeping their men alive, rather than seeking fame and promotion. Rawn was raised in an upper middle class family in Pennsylvania, yet chose a career that would take him away from the comforts of civilization for years at a time. He and his family would spend most of their lives in a near lawless land where a small number of soldiers were tasked with keeping an uneasy peace between newly arrived settlers and the Native Americans who had occupied the land for millennia. It is telling that when the U.S. Army drastically downsized at the end of the Civil War, many well-regarded officers were mustered out of service. Rawn on the other hand was not only retained as an officer, but kept his war-time rank of captain while many of his peers faced major reductions in rank. Rawn’s story provides insight into the hardships experienced by those who chose a career in the post-war military, which for most officers proved a thankless job with little chance for advancement and was often characterized by a frustrating series of postings to remote forts. Who were these men who chose to serve their country for little pay or recognition? What motivated them to remain as career military officers despite harsh living conditions? In Captain Charles Rawn and the Frontier Infantry in Montana, Dr. Brown has given us a rare and long overdue insight into the day-to-day lives of the front-line officers who were the backbone of the frontier army during the last half of the Nineteenth Century. Gary Glynn, author of That Beautiful Little Post: The Story of Fort Missoula


Fort Missoula Bicycle Corps

A full account of the Bicycle Corps can be found in That Beautiful Little Post: the Story of Fort Missoula.
Fort Missoula Cover
That Beautiful Little Post: the Story of Fort Missoula

In 1896 a far‑sighted Army officer named Lieutenant James A. Moss of the 25th Infantry learned that several European Army’s were experimenting with bicycles, and he began his own tests on the suitability of bicycles for military purposes at Fort Missoula, a frontier military post in Montana. Although the officers were white, the 25th Infantry was a “crack black regiment.”

The 25th Infantry bicyclists climb Minerva Rerrace in Yellowstone National Park
The 25th Infantry bicyclists climb Minerva Terrace in Yellowstone National Park

Moss sent his uniformed cyclists pedaling through the valleys of western Montana in the summer of 1896, delivering messages to remote outposts. By the end of the summer, Moss and his men embarked on an eight hundred mile tour of Yellowstone National Park which proved so successful that Lieutenant Moss decided to push his bicycle corps to the limit, and during the winter of 1896 he planned a new trip. His goal was St. Louis Missouri, half a continent away. Since many of the roads in the West were little more than unimproved horse trails, Moss planned to follow the route of the new Northern Pacific railroad to Billings, then along the route of the Burlington railroad to St. Louis. Knowing he had no sag wagon to rely on, Moss chose his route carefully, shipping supplies and spare bicycle parts to fourteen railroad stations along the route.

Mansfield Library UM 73-31
Mansfield Library UM 73-31

“Bad roads, Hard Winds, Alkali Water, Rattlesnakes and many other pleasures” was how a local newspaper described the United States Army’s first extensive test of the bicycle. Armed with the grandiose title of the Fort Missoula Bicycle Corps, twenty‑three soldiers pedaled their heavy, balloon‑tired bicycles past the front gate of a frontier military outpost in Montana on a cloudy gray day in 1897. The cyclists (they preferred to be called wheelmen) were headed to St. Louis Missouri, nineteen hundred unpaved miles from their starting point. Members of the 25th Infantry, they carried rifles, ammunition, and camping gear as they pushed their bikes through a blizzard on the Continental Divide, dealt with hailstorms, rattlesnakes, intense heat, and roads that were never intended for bicycling. Mud clogged their tires, rain soaked them day and night, and illness, “skeeters”, and exhaustion took their toll; nevertheless, their forty day journey to St. Louis was an unqualified success.

FMBC map
Route map from Missoula to St. Louis

Newspapers across the country, including the New York Times, had been following the progress of the Bicycle Corps, and in Lincoln Nebraska the cyclists were mobbed by so many curious citizens that they were forced to camp on the statehouse lawn. On the following day they met a family of German immigrants who plied the hungry soldiers with milk, bread, cookies, and cake. Edward Boos reported “when the corps left the place I dare say that not a crust remained in the bread box of the dear woman.”

Mansfield Library UM 672-240
Mansfield Library UM 672-240

 On July 24, forty days after leaving Fort Missoula, the Bicycle Corps were escorted into St. Louis by local bicycle clubs. Thousands of curious onlookers lined the streets as they pedaled the last few miles to their campsite at Forest Park. The weary troopers regaled local cyclists with their adventures, while Moss, Kennedy and Boos were entertained by the leading citizens of St. Louis.

A few days later, the soldiers cheered the news that they would be returning to Montana by train. Despite the rain which had plagued them two out of every three days, Lt. Moss and his men had conclusively demonstrated that bicycling was an effective means of military transportation. Although one man had been unable to keep up and had returned to Missoula halfway through the trip, the soldiers and their bicycles had stood the trip remarkably well. Resting only two days out of forty, they had averaged forty‑seven miles a day on their nineteen hundred mile journey.

Read more about the history of Fort Missoula  and the Fort Missoula Bicycle Corps

Fort Missoula Cover
That Beautiful Little Post: the Story of Fort Missoula

September 1944 in Montana

September 3 – The Dillon rodeo began.

September 4 – Labor Day (which was not widely celebrated due to the war).

September 5 – The schoolhouse in Richey was damaged by hail, forcing classes to be held in the jail.

September 11 – Joseph T. McGeever, former Bobcat football star, was killed in action in France at age 26.

September 14 – Six hundred state firemen met in Polson.

September 20 – The William Clark Chalet in Butte, built in 1885 as the copper king’s summer home, was destroyed by an electrical fire.

September 22 – One airman died when his light plane crashed on Mt. Wright, near what would become the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

September 23 – Fire destroyed several historic buildings in Zortman.

Read more about September 1944 in Montana

August 1944 in Montana

October 1944 in Montana

Montana History Calendar 1942

Montana History Calendar 1941

Montana History Calendar 1930s