The journalist who was likely the most unfortunate reporter to write for a North Dakota newspaper
"Did You Know That" columnist Curt Eriskmoen begins the story of Mark Kellogg, who would die in the Battle of Little Bighorn.
“Snake-bitten” was a common term in frontier days for someone who encountered more than his share of bad luck. That term certainly applied to the newspaper reporter Mark Kellogg.
In 1865, he opened a grocery store in La Crosse, Wis., and less than a year later it burned down. In 1867, his young wife died, leaving Kellogg with two young daughters to raise. In 1872, he was elected to the Minnesota Legislature, only to have his victory overturned and the office was awarded to his opponent. After helping Clement Lounsberry establish the Bismarck Tribune in 1873, he was dismissed from his position on the paper.
Finally, in 1876, it appeared that Kellogg’s good fortune was about to finally materialize when Lounsberry hired him back at the Tribune. Lounsberry had received permission to accompany Col. George Custer on his mission to the Little Bighorn region of Montana Territory to subdue the Sioux Indians who refused to settle on established reservations. Lounsberry needed a reliable editor to publish the Tribune while he was gone, and Kellogg was his logical choice.
Shortly before the expedition was about to leave, Lounsberry’s wife became ill and he felt compelled to send Kellogg in his stead. Kellogg saw this as his big break because he would be able to report on something that would be of national interest — the expected defeat of the remaining non-reservation Dakota Indians by the 7th Cavalry, under the command of Col. Custer. Little did Kellogg know that the Dakota and Cheyenne Indians were drawing up a final act based on an entirely different script.
On their way to the Little Bighorn, Kellogg’s horse became lame, and the reporter was given a mule to ride. After they were attacked, Kellogg’s mule was unable to race to a place of cover and, reportedly, Kellogg was one of the first white men killed in the battle.
Marcus “Mark” Henry Kellogg was born March 31, 1833, in Brighton, Ontario, the third of 10 children to Simeon and Lorenda (Whepley) Kellogg. Simeon was a merchant and hotel manager. In the mid-1830s, the Kelloggs moved 90 miles east to Toronto, and then in the early 1840s relocated to the state of New York, first to Watertown and then to Syracuse before returning to Canada.
In the late 1840s and early 1850s, the Kelloggs lived in northern Illinois and then settled in La Crosse, which at that time, was a small village located along the Mississippi River in western Wisconsin. When the Kelloggs arrived in La Crosse in 1851, the village had just been platted and Simeon found employment as the manager of the Western Enterprise Hotel and, shortly afterward, was elected chairman of the first La Crosse School Board and appointed postmaster of the village.
Initially, Mark did not make the move to La Crosse with his family because he was in Kenosha, Wis., learning how to become a telegraph operator. In 1853, Simeon purchased the hotel, renamed it the Kellogg House, and hired Mark to be a hotel clerk.
In 1859, Kellogg was hired to be a telegraph operator at the Wisconsin State Telegraph Co. in La Crosse. Now that he had full-time employment, he married Martha J. Robinson on May 19, 1861, and they became parents of daughters in 1862 and again in 1863.
One of Kellogg’s good friends was Marcus “Brick” Pomeroy who, in 1860, had established the La Crosse Democrat, a weekly newspaper. Pomeroy was a Democrat who initially supported Abraham Lincoln, a Republican. That is interesting, because the motto of his paper was, “Democratic at all times and under all circumstances.”
Pomeroy was strongly opposed to war, and when the Civil War began on April 12, 1861, he became one of the leaders of a new political group called the Copperheads that pushed to end the war. Kellogg also joined the group and, in 1862, Pomeroy hired him to be a reporter for the La Crosse Democrat.
Since that work was part time, Kellogg continued with his job as a telegraph operator. Also in 1862, Kellogg opened a “flour and seed store” in La Crosse, which burned down a few months later.
Although Kellogg was opposed to the Civil War, he served in the La Crosse Light Guard during the duration of the war. With the end of the Civil War in 1865, Kellogg was able to focus on his work and growing family. That became very important early in 1867, when his young wife, Martha Kellogg, became very ill. She died on May 17, two days before the couple was going to celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary. At that time, his daughter Cora Sue was 4, and other daughter Mattie was 3.
Kellogg had been very active in politics and, in the hope of finding a better-paying job with regular hours to take care of his young daughters, he tossed his hat in the ring to run for the position of La Crosse city clerk. Kellogg was defeated in a close race and, in order to try to help him out financially, Pomeroy informed him that he was starting another newspaper, the Council-Bluffs Democrat in Iowa, and that he would appoint Kellogg as his assistant editor.
Kellogg made arrangements with Martha’s sister, Lillie Robinson, that she would care for his two daughters until he could financially take care of them. Kellogg moved to Council Bluffs to work on the newspaper, but the paper failed to get enough subscribers to sustain its existence and the Council Bluffs newspaper closed its operation in late 1868.
He returned to La Crosse and first took a job as a printer before being hired as a telegraph operator for the Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company. As a telegraph operator, he learned that a new transcontinental railroad company had been formed that would stretch from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Ocean.
Knowing that this company, the Northern Pacific Railway, would need a telegraph operator, he applied and was hired. This also meant that, once again, he would have to leave his two young children in La Crosse.
We will continue the story of Mark Kellogg next week.
Update: One of the gratifying things about writing my columns is that readers have the opportunity to correct errors or provide additional information that makes the articles more complete. In last week’s column, I wrote that Jesse Langdon was “North Dakota’s only known Rough Rider.” He was the only one known by me, but Diana Skroch, from Valley City, knew of one other Rough Rider. Her great-uncle Frank Kania was born in Poland in 1877, and his father homesteaded in Stutsman County in 1881. According to her research, they were the only two Rough Riders from North Dakota. Langdon was the only one born in this state.
“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at email@example.com.