Monday, June 9, 2014

Fort Missoula Stories in Stones

Fort Missoula Stories in Stones 2014

Stories of the dead come alive at Fort Missoula

June 08, 2014 6:45 pm  •  
Kim Kaufman used a sunny day at Fort Missoula Post Cemetery to tell a very grave story.
The headstones in front of Kaufman bore the names Helen Morgan and Infant Morgan. Helen Morgan was married to Private Joseph Morgan. She lived on a ranch with her parents in the Cold Springs area.
“In the fall of 1918, Joseph came home on leave for the birth of their first child,” Kaufman told the audience standing among the graves.
Sadly, the day after Joseph returned home, the baby died. Five days later, Helen died as well. Both of them were likely killed by the Spanish Flu pandemic of the period. As family of a military member, they were buried in the fort’s cemetery.
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Kaufman was just one of the volunteers spread out in the cemetery on Sunday to tell the stories of some of the people buried there as part of the annual Stories in Stones.
The event is put on by the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula and the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History.
Kaufman said when it was made, the Morgan child’s name was not known, so the headstone only says infant. However, when the museum was researching the Morgans in 2007 for a project it was able to track down the child’s birth and death certificates.
“We now know that his name was George and he was named after his grandfather,” Kaufman told the crowd.
She also pointed out several graves for the children of Augustus Snoten, buried during a time when the infant and child mortality rate was high.
“I think we have way too many children here, but that’s the way it was in those days,” Kaufman.
Snoten was an African American and member of the Buffalo Soldiers who died in 1924. His gravestone gives his rank as color sergeant. It’s not a reference to his race, Kaufman said, but rather that he was one of the men who carried the flag.
Tate Jones, executive director of the military history museum, said most of the volunteers like Kaufman who take part in Stories in Stones choose a specific person or subject in the cemetery to research in depth.
“They use the Mansfield archives, the city library, contemporary news of the time and Missoulian archives to learn more about these people,” he said.
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Gary Lancaster, another volunteer, told the audience stories about two of the military members buried at Fort Missoula. During the American Indian Wars, Private Michael Himmelsbach was tasked with trying to recover stray horses. His group, a sergeant and three other privates, came upon two women and a child before being attacked by a group of 50 Native Americans. The soldiers managed to hold off the attack, and after a failed attempt to escape on foot, Himmelsbach’s group was rescued when a survey crew came into the area. The Native Americans, believing it to be more soldiers, left. Upon returning to camp and giving their report, the five soldiers were all awarded the Medal of Honor in 1870.
Lancaster also spoke about Harry Garland of the 2nd U.S. Calvary. Garland was part of a group of cavalry and infantry sent to stop a Native American retreat and escape attempt during the Nez Perce War. The corporal climbed up a tree to attempt to spot the Native American group and direct fire for the soldiers on the ground.
“Up in the tree, he was shot by I guess what you could call one of the first Native American snipers,” Lancaster told the audience.
The shot hit two rounds of ammo on Garland’s belt, pushing them into his stomach cavity and fracturing his hip. Although he could no longer walk, Garland continued to direct fire from his treetop vantage point until he was relieved by another officer. He was taken to Fort Ellis near Bozeman to recover, although his lasting injuries meant he was never able to return to field duty. Instead, Garland was made the hospital steward, the title that is written on his gravestone.
Both men received new gravestones in 2006 when the military updated its records and discovered both men had been awarded the Medal of Honor.
“Until 2006, we didn’t know we had two Medal of Honor recipients buried right here in Missoula,” he said.
The soldiers were two of the 37 bodies exhumed when Fort Ellis was disbanded in 1886 and re-interred at Fort Missoula.
While 37 bodies were moved and reburied, there were actually supposed to be 39.
Dressed all in black, Jennie Pak recounted the story of the deactivation of Fort Ellis and the moving of the bodies to Missoula. When the time came, the Army asked for bids on transporting the 39 bodies and gravestones. The high bid came in at $2,730; the lowest bid was $360.
“Let’s all take a guess at which bid got accepted,” Pak said.
Lower costs meant cutting corners and when the job was “finished” two bodies, an “Infant Child Bean” and a “Citizen Adams” never made it to their new resting place.
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Marcia Porter, the organizer of the event, was also a participant, dressed as an Army laundress to give the history of Matilda Clinchey Tatje, who in 1879 was the first woman to die and be buried at Fort Missoula.
Tatje’s headstone contains none of her history, and is simply marked by her name. Porter said it had been a challenge tracking down more information about her.
“Like Tatje, a majority of Army laundresses were illiterate immigrants,” she said.
Porter said when she first began researching and talking to people in 2007 to organize Stories in Stones at Fort Missoula, “About 95 percent of the people didn’t even know the cemetery was out here.”
Fort Missoula Post Cemetery is the oldest one in Missoula that is still interring bodies, going all the way back to the first burial at the location, Private William Gerick in 1878.
To her, that’s what makes sharing the history so important, and what gives her satisfaction at seeing more people come out to attend the event every year.
“People really want to hear these stories,” she said.

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