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July 5: Colonel Lounsberry’s Big Scoop

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After serving in the Union Army during the Civil War, Colonel Clement Lounsberry moved west. He entered journalism as a writer for the Minneapolis Tribune, but he had something else in mind - establishing a newspaper wherever the Northern Pacific Railroad crossed the Missouri River. That plan became a reality in 1873 when the first issue of the Bismarck Tribune came off the presses.

Three years later, late in the evening on this date, the steamboat Far West pulled up to the dock at Bismarck. The boat carried survivors of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry. The Cavalry was posted at nearby Fort Abraham Lincoln, so the story of the battle was momentous news for the citizens of Bismarck.

Steamboat captain Grant Marsh had learned the details of the battle from the survivors and relayed the story to Lounsberry. It was the biggest story of the year. Editor Lounsberry spent the night at the telegraph, sending 50,000 words about the battle to the New York Herald.

Americans were stunned by the news. Custer was a well-known and popular figure. He was young, handsome, and a hero of the Civil War. Largely because of him, the 7th Cavalry was widely regarded as a symbol of the country. It seemed impossible that “the gallant seventh cavalry and its dashing leader” were gone. It was especially poignant considering that Custer’s two brothers and his nephew were also killed.

Based primarily on Lounsberry’s information, newspapers across the country printed pages and pages of maps, reports, and details about the battle of the Little Big Horn. The New York Herald touted its “Special Report from the Field of Battle.” The newspaper had a personal stake in the story since one of their correspondents was among those who died.

The first news of the massacre, reported by Custer’s Crow scout, Curley, was hard to believe. But when the survivors arrived in Bismarck, it could no longer be denied.

Lounsberry operated his newspaper for about twelve years before selling it. He hoped to be appointed governor of Dakota Territory, but lost out to Gilbert Pierce of Chicago. Among his other accomplishments, he was instrumental in organizing the North Dakota Historical Society in the 1890s.

He passed away in 1926 and is buried in Arlington Cemetery.

Dakota Datebook by Dr. Carole Butcher


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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