Thursday, January 18, 2018

Stillwater’s historic telegram of Custer’s defeat, death

This week marks the anniversary of a significant event in the history of our community.
On the night of July 1, 1876, Muggins Taylor arrived at the trading post of William Norton and Horace Countryman near the mouth of Keyser Creek.
He was carrying a dispatch from General Alfred Terry to be transmitted to higher headquarters from the telegraph office in Bozeman.
It was an account of General Custer’s defeat on the Little Big Horn on June 25. Exhausted, Taylor was persuaded to rest for the night before continuing on.
Norton either read the dispatch or heard the story from Taylor. Norton, who had an agreement with Andrew Fisk, editor of the Helena Herald to relay news from Stillwater composed a summary and Countryman immediately rode west with it reaching Bozeman the morning of July 3.
After ascertaining (or assuring) that the telegraph line was down, he rode on to Helena with the scoop.
Fisk printed an extra edition and sent the story on to the Associated Press in Salt Lake City. The story under the byline, “From our Special Correspondent, Mr. W.H.. Norton” was the first account of Custer’s defeat and death to reach readers in the East on July 5, 1876.
We should stop to consider and appreciate the accomplishments of the pioneers who settled in our area. We must preserve the dwindling number of physical reminders of that legacy.

Bill Hagen
Columbus