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Dr. Henry R. Porter, Little Bighorn Survivor

On June 25th, 1876 the Battle of the Little Bighorn took place in eastern Montana. Also known as the “Battle of Greasy Grass” or “Custer’s Last Stand,” the event involved legendary figures George Armstrong Custer, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse. However, a lesser known hero played an important role.

Dr. Henry R. Porter was “acting assistant surgeon” under Major Marcus Reno and it fell to him to attend the wounded. For days after the terror of the battlefield, he remained busy, keeping the injured alive. Colonel Benteen said of Porter’s service:

“I know of no doctor …who would have performed the work which Dr. Porter did with his small force of assistants…There was no nonsense, no gush about him, only a strict attention to duty, and…modest.”

Dr. Porter was a contracted civilian, not active military. However, he did have military experience. He had served as an acting assistant surgeon in the regular military in 1872, under General Crooke in Arizona Territory. In 1873 he was transferred to Camp Hancock as post surgeon under Custer. The site of Camp Hancock sits on Main Street in downtown Bismarck. After his work at the Battle of Little Bighorn, Porter returned to Main Street, Bismarck, where his medical practice would be located for the next 27 years.

Porter was born New York State, the son of doctor. He had the opportunity to follow in his father’s footsteps in the family medical practice, but instead chose the adventure of the western frontier. He was an adventurous and worldly man, traveling extensively across the globe, before and after establishing in his home in North Dakota.

Dr. Porter was among the first prosperous businessmen in Dakota Territory, and was a respected community leader. He founded The First National Bank of Bismarck and encouraged his business friends in the east to invest in the “Dakota Boom” that was underway in the 1880s.

Dr. Porter was on one of his world travels when he unexpectedly passed away in Arga, India in 1903. Porter was a widow, and left one son, who lived in Montana. He would never return to North Dakota, as his final resting place remained in India.  Porter Street in Bismarck, just east of the State Capitol, is named in his honor.

Dakota Datebook by Maria Witham

Walker, L.G. Jr. M.D. Dr. Henry R. Porter: The Surgeon Who Survived Little Bighorn. McFarland & Co., Inc, 2008

Bismarck Daily Tribune, March 05, 1903, p. 3

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