A Dane who survived the Little Big Horn Fight

(Above) Gravesite for Jan and Carolina Mollar in Mount Moriah Cemetery, Deadwood, South Dakota. Photograph courtesy of Scott Nelson. (Right) Jan and Carolina Mollar's headstone. Author's photograph.

  • Jens Mathiasen Møller aka Jan Moller or Mollar
  • Written in collaboration with Leif Rudi Ernst, Aalborg, Denmark.
  • On September 15, 1849 a male child was born in the village of Hasle, a small port on the west side of the remote Baltic island of Bornholm, which lies a short distance off the south coast of Sweden.
  • He was the seventh child in a family of five boys and four girls born to Hans Nielsen Møller, a coalminer, and his wife, Elisabeth Kirstine Hansen. Five weeks later the infant was baptized Jens Mathiasen in the Evangelical-Lutheran parish church. At age eleven Jens went to work on a farm in the nearby town of Nyker but was back in Hasle on April 4, 1864 when he was confirmed, despite having only attained the lowest grade for his Christian knowledge. His father died in 1867 at the relatively young age of forty-eight though his mother lived to be seventy.
  • Jens Goes to America and joins the Army
  • In 1870 Jens left his native Denmark and was among a growing number of his fellow countrymen who decided to seek their fortune in America. He sailed from an unknown port for New York, from where he travelled by rail to Chicago.  Not every street in the Windy City it seemed was “paved with gold” and the prospect of being unemployed in a strange land during a second bitterly cold winter may well have influenced him to join the army.
  • Army Registers show that on January 15, 1872 he was enlisted as a private into the United States Army by Captain Samuel Young, 8th Cavalry, and sent to the General Mounted Recruit Service at St Louis, Missouri. We learn that Jens was recorded Jan Moller, born ‘Orsle’, Denmark, aged 22 years, 5’ 8” in height, with gray eyes, light hair, and a sandy complexion, previously employed as a laborer.
  • It is interesting to note that the recruiting sergeant wrote the name of Jens’ birthplace exactly as this young Bornholmer would have pronounced it. Inhabitants of Bornholm, which geographically is much nearer to Sweden than to the rest of Denmark, speak with an accent peculiar to that island and a stranger to this part of Scandinavia could easily misinterpret ‘Hasle’ as ‘Orsle’. It was the latter spelling that Jan Moller continued to use long after leaving the Army, possibly for fear of falling foul of the law when signing legal documents.
  • On February 2, 1872 he was transferred to the 7th Cavalry and assigned to Company H five days later. Moller joined his company on February 12, which was engaged on Reconstruction duty in Nashville, Tennessee, under the command of Captain Frederick W. Benteen.  If Moller joined the cavalry to fight Indians on the frontier then, initially at least, he would have been disappointed as much of his time was to be spent in a policing role tracking down members of the Ku Klux Klan and illicit whiskey distillers in the Volunteer State. However, in the ensuing years Company H saw active service in the Yellowstone Campaign (1873) and the Black Hills Expedition (1874) before returning south to New Orleans for a second spell of Reconstruction duty in the fall of 1875.
  • The Battle of the Little Big Horn
  • In the late spring of 1876, for the first time since it was organized ten years before, all twelve companies of the 7th Cavalry, assembled at a camp two or three miles south of its regimental headquarters at Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory, in readiness for a campaign against the free-roaming Sioux, who had been declared hostile by the United States Government.
  • The events surrounding the disastrous defeat of the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, June 25-26, 1876, are too well known to be repeated here other than to say that Company H played a major part, and at great cost, in defending Reno Hill; totally unaware of the fate of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and all 209 men under his immediate command. Captain Benteen, who to all intents and purposes had taken command of the depleted regiment, placed his own company in a very exposed position on the bluffs facing south towards the river. It was their failure to construct breastworks or dig rifle pits, mainly due to the lack of trenching tools, that directly contributed to an unacceptably high number of casualties. Jan Moller was struck by a bullet in the right thigh on the second day of the battle and took no further part in the action.
  • After the battle Jan may have been one of those who was carried on a pallet, made of blankets strung between two poles with a mule at each end, twenty miles downstream to the junction with the Big Horn River. At 5 p.m. on July 3 the steamer Far West, with the Moller and 38 other wounded troopers lying on beds of freshly cut grass on the deck, started out on its epic 710- mile journey down the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers to Bismarck, which was reached in a record-breaking 54 hours.
  • After spending time in the post hospital at Fort Lincoln he was transferred to the post hospital at Fort Rice on July 16, where Company H was garrisoned. He returned to light duties before the end of July but almost certainly reported sick on more than one occasion over the coming months. Moller was promoted on January 4, 1877 and discharged eleven days later on expiration of five years’ service, as “a corporal of excellent character.”
  • Returns to Civilian Life
  • His whereabouts immediately after leaving the army remain obscure but he was living in Spearfish, Lawrence County, present-day South Dakota, on December 7, 1881 when he was granted a modest Army disability pension. Sometime after, he moved to Redwater Creek, Crook County, Wyoming, a tributary of the Belle Fourche River. The 7th Cavalry had passed through this beautiful valley in July 1874 during the Black Hills Expedition, which inspired Chief Engineer William A. Ludlow to write:
  • The temperature was delightful; the air laden with sweet wild odors; the grass knee-deep and exceedingly luxuriant; while wild cherries, blueberries and gooseberries abounded, as well as many varieties of flowers.  All these advantages, combined with that with an abundance of pure cold water, were ours, with rare exceptions, until the final departure from the hills.”
  • It is little wonder that Jan, also known as John, choose to spend the greater part of the next 40 years in this northeast corner of Wyoming. In support of Jan’s successful application for U.S. citizenship Henry Slater, age 35, and Jems [Jens?] A. Moller, age 31, both living in Beulah, stated on April 14, 1890 that “they had been well acquainted with Jan Moller for more than seven years.” The same year Iver Hejde, who lived in nearby Aladdin, said “he had been knowing Moller for 20 years,” which suggests they may have first met onboard the ship that brought them from Europe, or soon after landing in America.
  • Jan Moller Takes a Wife
  • Jan Moller married Carolina Anderson in Spearfish on October 4, 1891. Carolina was born in Sweden on 11 June 1849 and came to America in 1879 following the death of her first husband in their native country, which left her a widow with two young children to support. Her second marriage was to remain childless.
  • Returns to Denmark
  • Jan and Carolina sailed for Denmark in the late spring of 1898 and bought a house in Vestergade Street, Nyker, a few miles from Hasle. In July that year Jan sought the help of P. Ipsen, county head-clerk in the nearby town of Rønne, who agreed to write to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Copenhagen with a request that Jan’s U.S. Army pension be paid in Denmark on a yearly or half-yearly basis. His letter is dated July 23, 1898. There is also reference to a similar letter being sent to the Royal Danish Consulate in Chicago. For whatever reason, Jan’s request was denied. The Mollers were to remain in Bornholm for the next four and a half years.
  • Back to America
  • On 3 March 1903, together with Jan’s younger brother, Hans Andreas, Jan and Carolina registered with the emigration office in Copenhagen as all three had decided to immigrate to America. They gave Deadwood, South Dakota, as their intended destination, which was the home of Carolina’s son, William Nielsen. However, the Federal Census (1910) reveals that Jan and Hans each farmed land on Hay Creek, northeast of Aladdin, Wyoming, close to the state line with South Dakota.
  • Sometime later Jan, resettled near Beulah, where the injury that he sustained in the hilltop fight continued to give him a great deal of pain and discomfort. Dr. Alexander Otto Frasser, at Belle Fourche Hospital, examined him on December 27, 1909, and certified, “Mr. Jan Moller appeared before me this day and upon examination is suffering from a gunshot wound of right thigh. Of late he has been suffering from Rheumatism of right leg so that he is disabled from doing manual labor. He is 60 years old and as a result of this Rheumatism of right leg is prevented from doing manual labor or gaining a livelihood. For the last 10 years this has prevented him from doing manual labor and gaining a livelihood and during the last 2 years entirely prevented him from doing manual labor or earning a livelihood.”
  • A letter found among in his pension papers, dated May 10, 1912, contains the following information, “Question: Where did you live since discharge?  Answer: Beulah, Wyo. I Leve on a veset to Denmark for 5 yars? I was Sick.”  On 19 September 1921 Moller stated that he had been living in Wyoming, near Beulah, since the date of his discharge from the army. From this time, he received a pension of $50 a month, which was granted to veterans who had served for 30 days or more during the Indian Wars [Act of Congress, March 4, 1917].

63 Stewart Street, Deadwood. Jan Mollar lived here. Photograph courtesy of Scott Nelson.

  • The Final Years
  • Around 1923, due to increasing infirmity, Jan and Carolina went to stay with her son, William Nielsen (or Nelson), at 63 Stewart Street, Deadwood, South Dakota. It was here that Carolina died on January 11, 1928. Six weeks later Jan followed his wife to the grave.
  • We glean from reports published in the Deadwood Daily Pioneer-Times that in the early hours of February 23, 1928, Jan Moller, who lived at the home of his stepson, William Nelson, on Stewart Street, had retired the evening before in his usual state of health, he having been for a number of years suffering from a catarrhal trouble, and it was this disease which resulted in his death.
  • During the wee small hours, Mr. and Mrs. Nelson, whose rooms were above those which had been occupied by the deceased, heard him moving about as though preparing to build afire. When they arose and went downstairs about an hour afterward, and not hearing him stirring in his room, they opened the door and found him sitting in the large easy chair which it had been his custom to occupy during the day, dead. The end, apparently, had come quickly and painlessly, as there were no evidences of a struggle.
  • The funeral service was held on February 26, 1928 and conducted by the Rev. William E. Hartung of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Deadwood. The cortege was escorted from Schulte & Son’s undertaking parlor to Mount Moriah Cemetery* by men of Company F, 109th Engineers. Bramble Lawler, Ole Peterson, Henry Goslin [Gosselin], John Neavill, Jens Andersen, and William Mueller were the pall bearers. At the grave, “Taps” was sounded by a trumpeter after which a three-volley salute was fired over his grave.
  • Jan and Carolina Moller lie buried in Addition 3, Section 2, Lot 200, where a fine granite monument stands guardian over the grave. Their surname is inscribed as ‘Mollar’ on the headstone and Jan’s date of birth is incorrectly shown as ‘Sept. 13. 1849′ when, in fact, it was September 15 that year.
  • Jan Moller was survived by his brother, Hans, Belle Fourche, and stepson.
  • (*) Mount Moriah Cemetery, which overlooks Deadwood City, is also the last resting place of those legendary “Wild West” characters James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok and Martha “Calamity Jane” Cannary.

 

Another Dane who survived the Little Big Horn Fight

  • Frederik Holmsted Mortensen aka Frederick Holmsted
  • Written in collaboration with Leif Rudi Ernst, Aalborg, Denmark.
  • When undertaking research on men who served in the U.S. Frontier Army it is often frustrating to discover that they not only enlisted under an assumed name but also gave an incorrect place of birth. Such was the case of Frederick Holmsted, Company A, 7th Cavalry.
  • Frederik Holmsted Mortensen was born on December 9, 1849 in the small village of Vallund, Ølgodparish, Ribe County, Denmark.  His parents were Morten Andersen, a farmer, and Maren Esnesdatter, who were also born in Ølgod parish. Vallun is situated in the western part of the mainland of Jutland, some sixty-two miles north of the German border. Frederik was baptized in the parish church on January 27, 1850.
  • In April 1859 Morten and Maren took their fast growing family to the nearby parish of Nørre Nebel. Their two eldest children, Kirsten and Kirsten Marie, had already left home to find work on nearby farms but Eskild Christian 14; Anders 12; Frederik Holmsted 10; Marie 7; Leopold 4 and Kjeld Vilhelm Sophus 2 were still at home.
  • On April 3, 1864 Frederik Holmsted Mortensen was confirmed, in the church at Nørre Nebel, when the priest gave him the highest marks for his Christian knowledge and excellent manners. He was then fourteen years of age and, as was the custom at that time, ready to leave home to learn a trade and earn his own income. It was only three days after his confirmation that he went to work in the town of Henne and stayed there for about twelve months before moving on to the town of Varde.
  • Frederik Holmsted Mortensen goes to America
  • At some unknown date Frederick Mortensen went to Copenhagen where he was employed as a clerk. Evidently he decided that there were better prospects to be found in America for on February 9, 1872 the following details were recorded in the Copenhagen Police Register of Emigrations: “Frederik Holmsted Mortensen. Birthplace and last residence: Copenhagen (sic). Occupation: Clerk. Age: 22 years. Bound for New York City.”  As his name appears in the “Indirect” Register, it is most likely that he sailed for the United States from either an English or German port.
  • Mortensen found his way to Williamstown, Massachusetts from where he wrote a letter to the Danish Consul General Christian T. Christensen in New York City, asking him to check into some financial matters concerning money he was going to receive from Portland, Oregon. The money was to be sent to his address in Williamstown.
  • The General was known to be a very honorable man, who did what he could to help his fellow countrymen.
  • Private Frederick Holmsted
  • In common with many other immigrants Frederik Mortensen was unable to find a job and was forced to return to New York City. On November 6, 1872 he enlisted in the U.S. Army under the name Frederick Holmsted, and stated that he was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, age 23 years, a clerk by occupation. He was described as having brown eyes, blond hair, a fair complexion, and being 5′ 8¼” tall. Captain Edwin Vose Sumner, a future colonel of the 7th Cavalry, signed his enlistment papers and he was sent to the General Mounted Recruitment Service at St. Louis from where he was transferred to the 7th Cavalry, duly assigned to serve in Company A, then under command of Captain Myles Moylan and First Lieutenant Charles C. De Rudio, and joined this unit at Elizabethtown, Kentucky, on December 2, 1872.
  • During Yellowstone Expedition (1873) Company A was in action at the Tongue River, Montana on August 4, and near the Yellowstone River on the eleventh. Eight months later Company A again saw action, this time near Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory, on April 23, 1874. On July 2 that year his company joined nine others of the 7th Cavalry on the Black Hills Expedition, which set out from Fort Abraham Lincoln on an 880-mile round march.
  • Battle of Little Big Horn, June 25-26, 1876
  • A detailed account of the iconic Battle of Little Big Horn is beyond the scope of this article other than to say that Company A formed part of Reno’s three-company battalion that attacked the Indian Village. In the flight that followed, after Major Reno had lost control of his command and retreated to the hills, Frederick Holmsted numbered among those left behind in the timber.  According to Dr. Henry Porter, Holmsted “ … came out afterwards, probably with Scout George Herendeen, and joined his company at the hilltop fight where he received a minor wound to his left wrist.
  • Along with around forty other wounded men, some of who were carried on a pallet made of blankets strung between two poles with a mule at each end, Holmsted was carried twenty miles downstream to the confluence the Big Horn River. Early on July 3, the steamer Far West, with the 39 wounded enlisted men and one Arikara Indian scout lying on beds of freshly cut grass on its deck, started out on its 710-mile record-breaking journey via the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers to Fort Abraham Lincoln, where it arrived late in the evening of July 5.
  • A little over thirteen months after the Little Big Horn fight Frederick Holmsted again saw action, this time at Snake (Eagle) Creek, near Bear Paw Mountains, Montana Territory on September 30, 1877. The enemy this time was Chief Joseph and his band of Nez Percé Indians.
  • On 6 November 6, 1877 he was discharged at Fort Abraham Lincoln; still a private, but with an “Excellent Character.” The same day he enlisted for six months in the detachment of Indian Scouts.
  • Returns to Civilian Life
  • After his military service Holmsted worked for a time as an interpreter at Fort Abraham Lincoln. Later he came to work as a quartermaster clerk in forage business in Bismarck at $75 a month.
  • On April 2, 1878 he became a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in the same city.
  • During the winter of 1879 the house in which he was living caught fire in the middle of the night during a spell of severely cold weather and he escaped with nothing more than the night clothes he was wearing. It is hardly surprising that he was in a very bad shape after this.
  • Friends who knew him well later told that he was always cautious when it came to revealing anything concerning matters of business. But on one thing they all agreed upon, he lost a great deal of valuable property securities and money which had gone up in smoke. He was known to him. His health continued to deteriorate and he developed consumption, which finally cost be an honorable and trustworthy person well liked by all who came in contact with him his life.
  • Frederick Holmsted died at Fort Abraham Lincoln on March 27,1880; he was 30 years of age. His death was reported in the Bismarck Tribune, April 2, 1880
  • DEATHS – HOLMSTEAD. – At Fort Lincoln, D.T., at 4:40 p.m., March 27, 1880, after a protracted illness, Mr. Fred Holmstead of this city, aged 29 years (sic). Brackets not in italics
  • Mr. Holmstead was buried at Fort A. Lincoln on Sunday, John G. Tritton conducting the usual ceremonies on behalf of the Odd Fellows order of which Mr. Holmstead was a worthy member. Chaplain J.W. Jackson preached the funeral sermon, Maj. John Carland aiding as chaplain for the lodge.
  • The Bismarck Odd Fellows Lodge passed the following resolution at its meeting Tuesday evening:
  • Resolved, – That the thanks of this lodge be tendered to Col. Tilford, commandant at Ft. A. Lincoln; Dr. Wolverton, surgeon in charge of post hospital; Capt. Beach, Chaplain Walker, Adjutant Varnum, Hospital Steward Smith, Maj. John Carland and nurse Mount for their kind and unremitting attention to Bro. Fred Holmstead of this lodge during his last illness.
  • Resolved, – That a copy of this resolution, under the seal of the lodge, be forwarded to each of the persons named above and that a copy be furnished the Bismarck Tribune for publication.
  • It was William von Kuster, the secretary of Odd Fellows Lodge, who in a letter informed Holmsted’s parents in Denmark of their son’s death. With the help from a member of the Hall of Mandan Lodge No. 12. S.O.O.F. in Bismarck, the letter was translated into Danish by man called S.T. Simonsen.
  • Did Holmsted die a wealthy Man?
  • Frederick Holmsted knew he was dying, and asked von Kuster to send to his father, Morten Andersen, in Denmark, a notebook and a gold ring after his death. This von Kuster duly did. He also sent $21 in money from the deceased’s estate. Morten Andersen did not believe that the paltry sum of $21 was all there was left of the property left by his son. In letters sent from Fort Abraham Lincoln, dated March 16, 1877 and July 22,1878, Frederick Holmsted had written about buying 160 acres of land some 150 miles east of the fort, near the Red River, which he estimated to be worth around $2,000.
  • In another letter, dated December 2, 1878, Sturgis City, Black Hills, Dakota Territory, Holmsted wrote about his savings of $400, which he had deposited in a bank in St. Paul, Minnesota. Unfortunately, this bank went broke and he was only able to retrieve a small amount of his savings.  In a letter, dated 1891, his brother, Leopold Mortensen enquired if he was eligible for a pension from the United States Army but this was denied as only parents of a deceased soldier qualified to receive a pension, and since Holmsted was not in the Army at the time of his death this was denied.
  • Morten Andersen asked the Foreign Affairs Secretary in Denmark to help him in the matter, again without success. The Royal Danish Vice-Consul for Dakota Territory, Henry Krogh, took over and did his best to resolve the matter. He contacted several of Holmsted’s known acquaintances but they were unable to help him with information on Holmsted’s affairs. The Vice-Consulate then wrote to the Registrar of Deeds in Cass, Richland, Traill and Grand Forks counties (North Dakota), without success as nothing could be found. Letters to the Sheriff of Lawrence County were never answered. Clearly it proved extremely difficult for the Danish consul to achieve the result he was hoping for.
  • The Odd Fellows Lodge, where Holmsted had been a member, either could not or would not help. As he described in a letter to the Royal Danish Consul in Chicago, Emil Dreier: Since I am not a member of the lodge I hardly can’t get any information from them concerning Mr. Holmsted… He finely had to give up.
  • Where is Holmsted buried?
  • When Fort Abraham Lincoln was abandoned in 1891, the remains of 160 men buried at the post cemetery were removed and re-interred at Custer Battlefield National Cemetery (Custer National Cemetery since 1997). Holmsted’s mortal remains were not among them because, at the time of his death, he was not in the U.S. Army so his burial was almost certainly treated as a civilian affair. Strangely, his name cannot be found in the record of burials in the Morton County Cemetery.
  • Postscript
  • Eight years after Frederick Holmsted’s death he was to be remembered in a very special way. A younger brother, Leopold, and his wife, Hansine Kirstine Thomsen, were blessed with the birth of a son who was christened Frederik Holmsted Mortensen on 30 April 1888 year in honor of his late uncle who fought so bravely and survived the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

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