An excerpt from Adventure Tales of Montana’s Last Frontier
Mary Kellogg, the wife of senior Captain Edgar Royme Kellogg, believed that Fort Assiniboine’s leisure life made up for its harsh winters. Their festivities centered around the officers club – women admitted once a week – the officers amusement hall, individual officers’ own quarters, and the post trader’s home.
This companionship included formal dinners with eight to ten courses, with the best of their combined silver, crystal, china, and linen table cloths and napkins; formal and informal dances with the post band providing the music, amateur theatricals, card parties, ice skating, ice sailing, and so on. In the warmer seasons the group picnicked at Beaver Creek in the shadow of the Bear’s Paws, and enjoyed horseback rides and polo games, hunting, and tennis, plus sporting competitions against the enlisted men, including baseball, football, and field events. Sometimes the group attended social events in Fort Benton or Helena, and officer couples from other forts joined them in shopping expeditions.
Mary Kellogg especially enjoyed weekly visits to the officers club, where the women were allowed to play billiards. The three-times-a- week mail and newspapers delivery from Fort Benton was always looked forward to, all items being read over and over again.
The group needed little excuse to have a dinner party: birthdays, anniversaries, Department of Dakota or Helena headquarters inspectors or commanding officers and the paymaster from Helena. Also, “quarters dinners” and card or quilting parties happened on a regular basis. As she could, Mary wrote letters and articles for the newspapers.
Trips to the mountains were another popular activity. These overnight stays involved many support people, such as
a soldier escort and teamsters with wagons. A Quartermaster Corps sergeant set up a canteen near their Creekside tent city. The soldiers hauled trout to the chosen creek from creeks on the east side of the mountains.
Other than expressing pleasure at moving from the tents into the first-officers duplex in the fall, and how hard it had been to keep dust and dirt out of the tents, especially when cooking meals, or the dangers of cooking in a tent, Mary still didn’t write about the fort’s military operations.
Throughout her first summer in Assiniboine, a large construction crew of soldiers, government civilian workers from St. Paul, and Red River Valley Métis, labored through a very hot and dry season, under a fierce mosquito presence. Quarrymen mined limestone from the nearby east hills for foundations, and other men contended with the brick kilns as the brick-molding machines spat out thousands of bricks. Other excitement included a mid-winter expedition of all the fort’s forces sent east to Frenchman Creek when Sitting Bull’s force again appeared, the major prairie fire that almost reached the buildings, and frequent fire fights with parties of Plains Cree attacking or stealing from the reservation Indians.
Only what affected Mary’s personal life rated mention, but one story about forty frostbitten soldiers was an exception. Another personal instance involved Edgar Kellogg on a routine hunting trip to Kim Otto General Manager the mountains, accompanied by a Lieutenant McClare and an unnamed soldier. The hunting party left the fort early on a clear winter’s morning. Upon their return trip, late in the afternoon, a blizzard struck. With little visibility, they wandered around lost for eleven hours. Kellogg tried his best to keep them on a northeast line to the fort, using the technique of keeping the blowing wind on his right cheek.
The fort’s commander had sent out a search party of Gros Ventre scouts, who returned empty-handed. The head officer then ordered a bonfire built on an adjacent hill to guide them in. Finally the hunters saw the flames in the distance. They arrived at the bonfire, warmed up and tried to figure out exactly where they were. It was now 2am. Looking around, they discovered a telegraph pole, and literally ran into the second one. They were now on the fort grounds, but could not see the buildings through the blinding snow. Finally they followed a light, which led them to the (old) stockade, and received an escort to their quarters. Mary, Mrs. Hoyt, and the post medico, DR. Percy, were waiting.
Later Mary learned that they Hoyts had decided to take her in if Kellogg was dead, since she would immediately lose her quarters. The Hoyts planned to escort her to Fort Benton in the spring, for the steamboat ride back to Bismarck.
The regiment left Montana in the spring of 1885, its main force assigned to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, while Captain Kellogg went to Fort Hayes, Kansas. Mary spent the summer with her parents in Ohio, rejoining him in the fall. While Mary hated the northern Montana winters, she did miss the modern, spacious quarters that were lacking at their next two posts.