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Great Stories of the Great Plains: Jamestown visitors for Thanksgiving, 1878

Jamestown had guests for Thanksgiving in 1878. This would have been the first holiday season reported on by a newspaper in the young community. An early November issue of The Jamestown Alert printed a copy of the proclamation by President Rutherf...

  

Jamestown had guests for Thanksgiving in 1878. This would have been the first holiday season reported on by a newspaper in the young community.

An early November issue of The Jamestown Alert printed a copy of the proclamation by President Rutherford

B. Hayes proclaiming Nov. 28, 1895, as a day of Thanksgiving. There seems to have been no community celebration of the event that made the news.

What made the news was the arrival of Company K of the 7th Cavalry stopping in at Jamestown. The unit was traveling from Fort Lincoln to Fort Totten and camped a night along the James River in town.

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The mounted cavalry troopers were traveling by horse to their new post. Reports indicate there was about 10 inches of snow on the ground so it probably wasn’t a pleasant trip.

Company K included 57 troopers under the command of Capt. E.G. Mathey. The troops probably had a good time in Jamestown. They met up with the paymaster Augustus Seward here and drew what was likely several months of pay.

Seward was the son of William Seward, secretary of state under President Abraham Lincoln. No word if Augustus Seward hiked up the hill to see the Fort Seward site, named in his father’s honor, that had been abandoned the year before.

The Alert doesn’t note if members of the community spent much time talking to Mathey either. If they had, they would have heard some great stories of the American West.

Mathey was born in France but ran away from home at the age of 8 when his parents started pushing him toward a career as a priest. By the time he was in his 20s, he had moved to the United States and enlisted in the Union army during the American Civil War.

He rose through the ranks to become a major of volunteers during the war and was accepted into the regular U.S. Army as a lieutenant afterward. He was assigned to the 7th Cavalry under the command of Col. George Armstrong Custer.

Mathey was with the 7th at the Battle of Washita, although he did not participate in the battle because he was “snow blind.”

He participated in the Battle of the Little Bighorn and was the second in command of the mule pack train that connected up with the Reno and Benteen commands to survive the battle.

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As one of the few surviving officers of that day in June 1876, Mathey was promoted to captain. He also fought in the battles against other tribes.

Robert Utley, one of the prominent authors and historians regarding Custer and the Indian Wars, labeled Mathey a “mediocre” officer but then pointed out that probably saved his life at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Good officers were with Custer at the front of the column, mediocre were back with the mules.

Other historians give Mathey credit for being tops in the 7th Cavalry in one particular skill.

According to the book “Eyewitnesses to the Indian Wars,” a compilation of firsthand accounts of the conflict, “Mathey was known in the 7th Cavalry as ‘Bible-thumper’ because of his dubious reputation as the ‘star blasphemy-hurler of the regiment.’”

If the folks of Jamestown did take time to visit with Mathey and his troopers on that Thanksgiving Day of 1878, they probably got some pretty colorful stories for their effort.

Keith Norman can be reached at

Keith@KeithNormanBooks.com

 

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