Place of Birth: Ayrshire
Date of enlistment: 5 May 1875
Age given at enlistment: 26
Location on 25 June 1876: St. Louis Barracks, Missouri
From Ayrshire to Alberta
Headstone for John McAlpine in Three Hills Cemetery, Kneehill County, Alberta, Canada. Courtesy of Bob Cuthill.
In the cemetery of Three Hills, a small prairie farming town in Kneehill County, lying some 70 miles northeast of Calgary, Alberta, in western Canada is a distinctive, white marble headstone on which is boldly carved “JOHN McALPINE 1849 – 1941 THE LAST SURVIVOR OF GENERAL CUSTER.”
The entrance to Three Hills Cemetery, Three Hills, Alberta, Canada.
In an interview published in the Calgary Herald in 1938 McAlpine claimed to have been at Little Big Horn, but not until two days after the battle. He said that about 60 other soldiers were in charge of supply wagons and were held up by rough terrain and swollen streams. When they finally arrived at the battlefield, they found nothing but bodies.
McAlpine went on to say that not everyone was killed and, in fact, a Métis scout had pulled a Sioux blanket from one of the dead Indians, wrapped himself in it, and made his escape. He said he knew the scout personally and talked to after the battle but when interviewed in 1938, McAlpine (perhaps conveniently!) couldn’t remember the scout’s name.
It would be wonderful if this story and the legend on the gravestone were true but the evidence clearly points to John McAlpine not even being a member of the celebrated 7th United States Cavalry on 25 June 1876, let alone arriving at the battlefield two days later and outliving every officer and enlisted man who ever served under [Brevet Major General] Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer.* The findings of my own ongoing research into the life of this enigmatic Scot are published below.
In an article, entitled ‘Answering An Old Question,’ Dan Bird tells us that “My years of research indicates that there are upwards of 140 men who enlisted in the U.S. Army prior to and during the Battle of the Little Bighorn and eventually joined that regiment. Usually, enlistees [like McAlpine] signed up at a recruitment office and then were sent off to the St. Louis Cavalry Depot. All enlistees, both first-time and veterans, then became members of the General Mounted Service and all were known as recruits.” He goes on to say: “Some men stayed at the depot only a few days, some weeks and still others for years.” Although John McAlpine enlisted in the U.S. Army on 5 May 1875 he was not transferred to the 7th Cavalry until September 1876 and arrived at Fort Abraham Lincoln on the twenty-eighth day of the same month. As Bird said: “… the St. Louis Depot dictated when an enlistee became a member of the 7th Cavalry, not the 7th Cavalry or the soldier’s enlistment date.” My own completely independent research reached the same conclusion.
A Declaration of Recruit signed by UK-born John Parker on 3 February 1872 clearly shows an enlistment in the Army of the United States, not the 7th Cavalry. John McAlpine would have signed a similar declaration.
Note (*): Private (later Sergeant) Charles Windolph, from the Baltic island of Bergen, Germany, who died 11 March 1951, aged 98, in Lead, South Dakota, was the last survivor of the 7th Cavalry who actually fought in the battle. However, Private Jacob Horner, who was on detached service at the Powder River Depot, and therefore did not take part in the battle, died 21 September 1951, in Bismarck, North Dakota, just 15 days short of his 96th birthday.
John McAlpine and Jacob Horner were fellow sergeants in Company K, 7th Cavalry. In 1938 McAlpine wrote Memoirs of a Frontier Soldier, a manuscript in the collection of George Kush, Monarch, Alberta, which it is hoped will be published in the foreseeable future. I look forward to reading them. McAlpine may well have ‘borrowed’ the experiences of Horner regarding being at the Powder River Depot.
Extract 7th Cavalry Monthly Return for September 1876 showing the 'Recruits from Depot - joined Co's Sept. 28 '76.'
- McAlpine took part in the Nez Perce campaign (1877). See Nez Perce Summer, by Jerome A Greene, p. 274. Information taken from Memoirs of a Frontier Soldier, 1938 MS. Collection of George Kush, Monarch, Alberta, Canada.
- He was discharged at expiration of service on 4 May 1880 at Fort Totten, Dakota Territory [present-day North Dakota] a sergeant, who had served in companies “D” and “K”, character ‘excellent’ [Register of Enlistments].
- Federal Census – Jamestown, Dakota Territory, June 1880 ‘Dakota House’ – Denis Kellehar, 39, Hotel Keeper, b. Ireland; Lyman B. Miner, 39, Book Keeper, b. New York; John McAlpine, 31, Clerk in Store, b. Scotland; Thomas Bowditch, 21, Clerk in Store, b. England.
- Jamestown Alert, 10 August 1880
- D. M. Kelleher is building an addition to his saloon. Call and see his genial barman John Mcalpine.
- Jamestown Alert, 22 April 1881
- John McAlpine was chosen bridge examiner last evening by unanimous vote.
- Jamestown Alert, 15 July 1881
- McAlpine-McCourtney – Married, on Wednesday, July 13th, by Justice Steinbach, Sergeant McAlpine to Miss May McCourtney, both of Jamestown. [May was daughter of Irish immigrants Patrick McCourtney (b. 1824) and his wife, Catherine (b. 1837).]
- Jamestown Weekly Alert, 7 July 1882
- Organization of the Veterans – The veterans of Jamestown and vicinity organized the Veterans’ Association of Stutsman county on Tuesday, 4th July … [among] the following answered the call:
- Geo H. Vreeland, Co K, 7th cav
- J. Cavanaugh, ” “
- John McAlpine ” “
- Jamestown Weekly Alert, 21 July 1882
- John McAlpine, a former employee of Dakota House, is sick.
- Jamestown Weekly Alert, 13 October 1882
- John McAlpine was appointed a judge of election for Jamestown precinct.
- Jamestown Weekly Alert, 9 March 1883
- John McAlpine is now assisting L. B. Miner in the business of the office of register of deeds, the business of the office having increased as to require the aid of an assistant.
- Jamestown Weekly Alert, 23 March 1883
- John McAlpine appointed one of four “judges of election in the fourth ward.”
- Jamestown Weekly Alert, 27 July 1883
- A ten and half pound boy immigrated into the family circle of John MaCalpine yesterday. He was named Henry [aka Harry].
- Jamestown Weekly Alert, 24 November 1887
- Deputy Register of Deeds McAlpine …..
- Jamestown Weekly Alert, 7 June 1888
- Jno. McAlpine, Register Miner’s efficent (sic) deputy is the proud possessor of a fine boy. Mrs. McAlpine is considered seriously ill and her friends have been anxious for the past two days, as to her recovery. The physican (sic) Dr. Baldwin states that a great improvement was manifested this afternoon.
- Death of Mrs. John McAlpine– The sad but not unexpected death of Mrs. Jho. McAlpine occured last evening, a few minutes after 8 o’clock. Her friends were gathered around the beside, and after every possible effort to save the life of the esteemed lady had failed, sorrowfully saw her breath fade away. She leaves to the care of a stricken husband and father, five young children, four boys and a girl.* The sincere and heartfelt sympathy of all is extended to them in their irreparable loss.
- [Note (*): Henry (Harry) b. 27 July 1883; Archie & Bernard b. 1885; Inez b. 6 May 1886; a male child b. June 1888 – may have died in infancy]
- Miss Kitty McCourtney, sister of the deceased, is expected to arrive tomorrow from Milwaukee. The funeral service will occur at two o’clock, Rev. Father Cassidy of the Catholic church, officiating.
- The funeral of Mrs. McAlpine occurred this afternoon. Miss McCourtney, sister of the deceased failed to arrive, but is expected tomorrow. The remains were laid to rest in the Catholic [Calvary] cemetery. No headstone.
- Card of Thanks.
- I desire to return my heartfelt thanks to Mrs. C. R. Flint, Mrs. Procter, Mrs. Mendenhall, Mrs. DeNault, and the many more town friends who so kindly came to me in my hour of great sorrow and soothed my beloved wife in her last moments by their loving care and attention. With equal gratitude I thank all those who, on learning of my bereavement, by their presence, showed their sympathy for me, and their love and respect for my lost one. JOHN McALPINE
- Jamestown Weekly Alert, 9 August 1888
- Wanted – A middle aged lady, as housekeeper for the undersigned and two children. Apply after 6 pm at Third ave. North, or address P.O. box 547. J. McAlpine
- Jamestown Weekly Alert, 28 February 1889
- The abstract books of L. B. Miner have been transferred to John McAlpine, who has opened an office with Alfred Steele for furnishing abstracts of any real estate in Stutsman County.
- Jamestown Weekly Alert, 24 July 1890
- Buchanan [Township] J.J. Gram, proxy for John McAlpine. Ten men to represent the county of Stutsman [at a state wide conference].
- Jamestown Weekly Alert, 13 November 1890
- John McAlpin, who has been rusticating all summer on the Kearney farm at Rio [the original name for Buchanan Township], has taken a position in Auditor Graves’ office. Mac is proficient in clerical work, an expert accountant and about as familiar with work in county offices as any man in the state.
- Jamestown Weekly Alert, 4 December 1890
- John McAlpin is on the sick list – which just now is quite a lengthy one.
- Jamestown Weekly Alert, 5 December 1890
- Board of County Commissioners of Stutsman County – John McAlpine services in auditor’s office [paid] $30.
- Jamestown Weekly Alert, 2 January 1891
- Board of County Commissioners of Stutsman County – John McAlpine services in auditor’s office [paid] $76.65.
- This is the last known reference to John McAlpine being in the United States.
- McAlpine is believed to have emigrated to Canada in 1903.
- Sunnyslope Post Office [established 1 December 1903] Federal Electoral District: East Calgary/Red Deer (Alberta) McAlpine was Postmaster from 16 April 1912 to 15 April 1915 .
- Census 1916: Census of Alberta, 34 Calgary East John McAlpine (67), born ca.1849, Scotland, a farmer, immigrated [which of course means to Canada] 1903, no-one else in household.
- Census 1921: Stauffer, Calgary East, Alberta, John McAlpine (72), widower, born Scotland, a farmer, a Presbyterian, immigrated 1877 (sic). Clearly the date of immigration is incorrect if this is ‘our’ John McAlpine.
- Died in 1941 and buried in Three Hills Cemetery, Three Hills, Kneehill County, Alberta.
- The Western Producer, 13 July 2000
- July 15-16, 2000 – ‘John McAlpine Days & Rodeo,’ Three Hills, Alberta (whether this was a one-off or an annual event is not known to this writer).
- The Fate of John McAlpine’s Children
- State Census (3 July 1895) – Derrynane, La Sueur, Minnesota
- Patrick Duane, 66, Farmer, b. Ireland; Mary Duane, 58, his Wife, b. Ireland; Bernard McAlpin, 10, Student [Grand-nephew], b. North Dakota.
- Patrick McCourtney, 74, Farmer, b. Ireland; Catherine McCourtney, 60, his Wife, b. Ireland; Archie McAlpin, 10, Student, Grandson, b. North Dakota; Iniz McAlpin, 9, , Grand-daughter, Student, b. North Dakota.
- Federal Census (2 June 1900) – Derrynane, La Sueur, Minnesota
- Partick Duane, 76, Farmer, b. Ireland; Mary Duane, 68, his Wife, b. Ireland; Bertrud [Bernard] McAlpin, 14, Farm Laborer, b. June 1886, North Dakota.
- Patrick McCourtney, 76, Farmer, b. Mar 1824 Ireland, arrived in the U.S. in 1850; Catherine McCourtney, 63, his Wife, b. Dec 1837, Ireland, arrived in the U.S. in 1852, could neither read nor write; they had 13 children of which 11 were surviving; Harry McAlpin, 17, Grandson, Farm Laborer, b. Mar (sic) 1883, North Dakota; Archie McAlpin, 14, Grandson, Farm Laborer, b. Mar 1886, North Dakota; Inez McAlpin, 9 (sic), Grand-daughter, b. May 1887, North Dakota.
- The McCourtney’s later changed their surname to ‘Courtney.’
- Federal Census (1910) – Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Inez Mcalpin, 20, Single, b. 1890 (sic); North Dakota.
- Federal Census (1920) – Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Inez McAlpine, 25, Single, b. 1895 (sic); North Dakota.
- Federal Census (1920) – Almira, Lincoln, Washington (State)
- Harry McAlpine, 37, Single, Lodger, b. 1883, North Dakota.
- Federal Census (1930) – Forest Center, Stevens, Lincoln, Washington
- Harry Mcalpine, 47, Single, Boarder, b. 1883, North Dakota.
- Federal Census (1940) – Hawthong and North, Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Inez McAlpine, 53, Single, Attendant Park Play House b. 1887 (sic); North Dakota.
- Death – 1 September 1971
- Inez McAlpine, age 85, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
- The surname ‘McAlpine’ had several variants, including McAlpin. Mcalpin and Mcalpine.