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Sterland, Walter S.

Place of Birth: Chesterfield

Date of enlistment: 18 November 1872

Age given at enlistment: 21

Rank: Private

Company: M

Location on 25 June 1876: With General Terry

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Walter "Johnny Bull" Sterland

 An Old Bismarckian

At Dickinson (North Dakota), upon alighting from a train a chubby individual, with a white slouch hat, approaches you and slips a card of the Eagle hotel in your hand. It is Walter Sterland, who, five years ago, was familiarly known in Bismarck as “Johnny Bull,” the glass juggler at Whitney’s opera house, and later in the fruit and stationery business.  Bismarck Daily Tribune, 21 August 1885.

Walter Scott Sterland was born on 16 April 1852 (not 1851 as is universally stated) in South Street, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, son of Henry Sterland, a grocer and tea dealer, and Sarah Scott Sterland, who registered the birth on 12 May.  He was therefore only age 20 years-old when he enlisted in the United States Army.

In 1861 the family was living in Beetwell Street, Chesterfield, next door but one to the Spread Eagle Inn, where Henry Sterland was a running a tallow chandler’s business and sufficiently prosperous to employ a live-in ‘house servant.’ Both Walter and his seven year-old sister, Charlotte, were atending school. Several siblings died in infancy.

The 14th century Parish Church of St. Mary and All Saints, Chesterfield - famous for its crooked spire. Walter Scott Sterland was baptised here 7 May 1852.

Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald, Saturday, 30 May 1857 – DEATHS – On Thursday last, at Chesterfield, Clara, daughter of Henry Sterland, tallow chandler, aged three months.

Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald, Saturday, 18 December 1858 – DEATHS – At Chesterfield, on Friday, Harry, son of Henry Sterland, chandler, aged 7 months,

Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald, Saturday, 30 November 1861 – SALTER-GATE CANDLE MANUFACTORY AND PROVISION STORES – Henry Sterland, proprietor – will open his provision stores on Saturday, 7 December 1861, with a well selected stock of Flour, Cheese, Bacan, Hams, Lard, Butter, Eggs, Composite, Mould and other Candles, and hopes by strict personal attention to business, and purchasing only first-class articles, to merit the patronage of old and new customers.

Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald, Saturday, 16 May 1863 – DEATHS – May 11, at Chesterfield, S[arah] Scott, infant daughter of Mr. Henry Sterland, grocer and provisions dealer, nine months.

Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald, Saturday, 4 June 1864 – [Advert] Richard Wright, Tallow Chandler, Chesterfield (successor to H. Sterland). Shopkeepers liberally treated. N.B. Butcher’s Fat and Fine Quality received.

Sadly his mother died in the spring of 1864, by which time the family had moved to Holywell Cross in the centre of town.

Walter Sterland arrived in the United States at the age of 17 and appears to have settled in Chicago. On 18 November 1872, at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he was enlisted in the U.S. Army by Lt (later Captain) Calbraith Rodgers (see endnote) and was described as having blue eyes, light hair, a fair complexion, standing 5′ 5 1/2″ tall, previously employed as a teamster.  Sent to the St. Louis Depot, where he was transferred from the GMRS to the 7th Cavalry on 22 November and joined Company M, then stationed in Unionville, South Carolina, in early December 1872, which was engaged in Reconstruction duty. He participated in the Yellowstone campaign in 1873 and the Black Hills expedition the following year. Much of his time in the regiment was spent on detached duty as either a butcher or herder. Although it appears he initially remained at the Powder River Depot on the the way to the Little Big Horn, there is some evidence that suggests he served as a Brigadier General Alfred H. Terry’s butcher and came up to the Big Horn camp on the steamer Far West on 22 June but did not take part in the battle. 

He was promoted to corporal with effect from 18 October 1876, acting company quartermaster sergeant from April to August 1877, was with his company in the Nez Perce campaign the same year, on detached service on the steamer Silver City in October, and discharged on 18 November 1877 at Fort Rice, Dakota Territory, on expiration of five years service as a corporal of good character.

Walter Sterland married Ella Jane Blanchard on 18 November 1879 and had one child, Arthur Walter, born December 1881. They lived in Bismarck, D.T., from 1879 to 1885 during which time he was a barman at Witney’s Opera House before purchasing a tobacco, fruit and newsagents business from Clum Emmons in October 1880.

In 1882 ” .. his large pet Newfoundland dog bit a little girl and was ordered  shot, the family experiencing great sorrow,” Bismarck Tribune, 17 November 1882.

Back in England his father died in Higher Broughton, a surburb of Salford, near Manchester.

Manchester Evening News, Friday, 2 May 1884 – DEATHS – STERLAND, Henry, on the 23rd April at Hilton-street, Higher Broughton, Henry Street Sterland, age 67 years.

The family resided in Dickinson, Stark County, D.T. in 1885 where he ran a hotel, and later farmed around 160 acres in Township 140 R94, north of Gladstone (named after Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone), for 28 years.

Walter Sterland would almost certainly have been among the assembled throng  in Dickinson on 4 July 1886 to hear future president Theodore Roosevelt make his first major public speech, which was reported in the Jamestown Weekly Alert, 8 July 1886, see below.

It reads: THEODORE ROOSEVELT delivered the oration at Dickinson, Dak., on the Fourth. It took in the entire country, the present, past and future, the glory and the grandeur of Dakota, and the privilege that would descend to the individual’s children, even to the third and fourth generations, if we were good Dakotans, and made the politicians shape the political destiny of the future with regard to honesty. He declared that it was the duty of every individual to see that public officials were strictly honest. Mr. Roosevelt should know that, like whisky, all Dakota politicians are honest, but some more than others.

Sterland visited his home in England in 1910 and received an army pension of $20 a month from 11 April 1917.

The City Directory for Dickinson (1918) lists him as a “City Assessor, Police Magistrate and County Judge, Juvenile Commissioner for Tenth Judicial District [and] Masonic Temple,” living at 46 West 3rd Street.

Under the heading ONLY 32 ARRESTS FOR A WHOLE YEAR The Grand Forks Daily Herald, Wednesday Evening, January 5, 1916, reported: “Dickinson, N.D., Jan 5. – Police Judge Walter Sterland has completed his report for the past year showing that 32 arrests were made during that time with 29 convictions as a result. For a city the size of Dickinson, this certainly makes a wonderful record, in fact it is a great record for a city of any size and bespeaks for our city officials a clean efficient government and for the citizens and visitors a disposition to obey the law. The 32 cases were all of minor importance, while the vigilance of the police department has kept the number of offenders at a minimum. Dickinson surely holds the record as a law-abiding city, clearly proven by the above report.”

Obituary – Walter Sterland Passes Away – Walter Sterland of Dickinson, age 71 years [actually age 70], passed away at a local hospital yesterday evening as a result of an operation for cancer of the bladder. Mr. Sterland held the offices of justice of the peace, juvenile commissioner, city assessor, and city magistrate at the time of his death. He lived in North Dakota for many years, was here in territorial days and fought in battles against the Indians. He farmed near Dickinson for number of years but had retired. The body was sent to Dickinson today and the funeral services will be in charge of the Blue Lodge. Mr. Sterland leaves a wife and one son, A. W. Sterland of Medora. The Bismarck Tribune, August 28, 1922.

Sterland died at 8:00 pm on 27 August 1922, at St. Alexius Hospital, Bismarck, following surgery for a tumour and was buried the following day in Dickinson City Cemetery with full Masonic rites, where a distinctive headstone marks the spot (Lot 8, Block P, South 1/2) – see below. Ella Blanchard Sterland, who received an army pension of $11 a month until her death on 26 April 1924, is buried  near her late husband.

This writer believes his greatest legacy was the time spent in public office in Dickinson – “As police magistrate and justice of the peace his fair and impartial decisions won for him the respect of all. As city assessor he fulfilled the difficult duties of his office with marked skill. His work as juvenile commissioner took him to all parts of the Slope and the kindness and consideration which he used with his wards will cause them to revere his memory. His devotion to his duties kept him at work even when the condition of his health was critical, yet he bore up complainingly, and when death came he fell fighting like the true soldier he had always been.The Bismarck Tribune, 2 September 1922.

Note: One author mistakenly states that Sterland was born in Sheffield (nine miles north of Chesterfield) and implies that he died in Dickinson, not Bismarck, North Dakota.

The Dickinson Press - 26 May 2012

Cavalry Scout Honored, by Linda Sailer - The Dickinson Press, 26 May 2012

Headstone for Walter & Ella Sterland - Dickinson City Cemetery, Photograph courtesy of Judy Hamilton.

Tablet in front of Sterland's headstone (incorrectly stating was was 72 yrs not 70 years, which is correct). Photograph courtesy of Judy Hamilton

Calbraith Perry Rodgers (12 January 1879 – 3 April 1912), son of Captain Calbraith Rodgers, was an American aviation pioneer. He made the first transcontinental airplane flight across the United States from 17 September to 5 November 1911, with dozens of stops, both intentional and accidental. The feat made him a national celebrity, but he was killed in a crash a few months later at an exhibition in California. His father died 23 August 1878, over four months before he was born.

Calbraith Perry Rodgers - photograph taken 1911.

Calbraith Rodgers (right) at Cicero Flying Field - August 1911.

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