Boyle, James P.

Place of Birth: County Tyrone

Date of enlistment: 7 December 1874

Age given at enlistment: 21

Rank: Private

Company: G

Location on 25 June 1876: With pack train and in hilltop fight



Date and place of birth within County Tyrone not yet verified.


The Ever-Faithful Attendant

County Tyrone, Northern Ireland,

  • A native of County Tyrone, in present-day Northern Ireland, James Boyle was the son of James and Mary Boyle. According to the date that appears on his gravestone, in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Bismarck, North Dakota, he was born in 1853. Boyle, however, was most likely born in 1855.1 One source claims that the family arrived in America in 1857 and we know from the Federal Census that by mid-1860 they had settled in Lowell, Massachusetts, a city lying about 32 miles north-west of Boston, known as the ‘cradle of the American industrial revolution.’ James Whistler, the famous London-based painter, was born in Lowell and the discredited Civil War general, Benjamin Franklin Butler, is buried there.
  • Mary Boyle, daughter of Daniel and Ann Boyle,  died of a tumour, at the stated age of 40, on 9 March 1866. The widowed James Boyle senior, a mechanic, married Bridget McDermott, a spinster, in Lowell on 22 May 1867. The couple would go on to have seven children of their own.2
  • Lt. William Harper enlisted the younger James Boyle in the U.S. Army, in Boston, on 7 December 1874. At enlistment Boyle was described as having hazel eyes, auburn hair, a ruddy complexion and being 5′ 6 3/8″ tall. After a brief period of basic training at the Jefferson Barracks, south of St. Louis, James Boyle was assigned to the 7th Cavalry’s Company G, which he joined on 10 February 1875 at Shreveport, Louisiana, where it was then engaged on Reconstruction duty.
  • Boyle was with his regiment during the campaign of 1876 and was on detached duty with the pack train on 25 June. On the following day, in the action on Reno Hill, he was lightly wounded by a bullet in the back; but was able to remain with his company in the field. James Boyle was discharged at Fort Meade, Dakota Territory, on 6 December 1879, “a private of good character.” After exactly one month out of uniform he re-enlisted in Boston, on 6 January 1880, and was assigned to the Seventh’s Company B; which he joined at Fort Yates in the April. Promoted to corporal on 21 April 1883, Boyle was reduced to private just over two months later.  The following year he was absent without leave, from 5 September 1884 for 90 days, and in confinement that December.  He was discharged from the army, on 5 January 1885 at Fort Yates: “a private of good character, a reliable soldier in the field.”
  • After leaving the army nothing is known about Boyle’s whereabouts until the first year of 20th century, when he appears as a nursing orderly at a hospital in Bismarck, North Dakota. The local press would later refer to him as being one of the “pioneers of the Mis­souri Slope country,”and it seems he was well known in Bismarck for some time prior to 7 June 1902 when the Bismarck Daily Tribune reported that he had returned from Massachusetts the previous day after attending his father’s funeral.3
  • Known to his friends as “Jim” or “Jimmy,” Boyle was a popular figure in Bismarck and, according to the local paper (see below), was regarded as something of an expert on the migratory patterns of robins! A confirmed bachelor and reportedly shy in female company; his annual vacation in 1910 was spent in St. Paul. As he later told a local journalist, he had found the city ‘pretty hot and dry’ but was glad to ‘get back where he can see something of the world beside tall buildings’. That same year the early Custer researcher Walter Mason Camp interviewed him. “Jimmy” Boyle remembered his years as a soldier affectionately and described his years of service “in Custer’s Cavalry” as “great times.” In November 1913 he suffered from a stroke, which temporarily at least left him paralysed, and was treated at the Bismarck hospital, one of the town’s two medical institutions, both of which Boyle had at one point or another worked in.
  • Boyle responded to the treatment he received in Bismarck hospital but it does not appear to have been a full recovery. Four years later, in May 1917 he applied for a military pension, but his application was refused. The reasons given were that the census of 1860 showed that he was not aged 62, as he had stated, but was in fact aged 61; equally pertinently his entire period of service was after the Indian War period named in the relevant legislation. James Boyle was admitted to Bismarck’s St. Alexius hospital, where he worked, seriously ill on 1 November 1918 and died there, of chronic nephritis and hypertension on 2 September 1920. He was buried two days later in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Bismarck, where a flat gravestone marks the spot.
  • After his death at least one colourful tale of acts of daring-do “Jimmy” Boyle had committed in his pioneer days in the Mis­souri Slope country appeared in print. His death, or so the Ward County Independent announced in an article that appeared the following week, closed “a thrilling chapter in the early history of North Dakota” and he had been “one of the last great Indian fighters.” More accurately perhaps, James Boyle was described in his own lifetime as both an “ever-faithful attendant” at the hospitals he had worked in and also as a man who had “helped bring back to life many a comrade.”
  • The author gratefully acknowledges the valuable contributions to this sketch by Geoff Topliss and Roger Williams (Military Register of Custer’s Last Command, p. 44).
What the local paper said about James Boyle.
  • Bismarck Daily Tribune, 7 June 1902
  • Jim Boyle, of the hospital, returned yesterday from a trip to Massachusetts where he was called by the death of his father.
  • Bismarck Daily Tribune, 26 December 1902
    Christmas was appropriately celebrated at St. Alexius hospital. Christmas eve there was a Christmas tree in the center of the hall on the second floor. The tree was handsomely decorated and lighted and all around were presents which Santa Claus had left for the inmates and the invited guests. Jim Boyle distributed the gifts, and Sister Boniface, superior at the institution, directed their distribution. Many and laughable were the gifts distributed. The sisters had been busy ……..
  • Bismarck Daily Tribune, 31 March 1907
  • Saw a Robin—Jim Boyle is author­ity for the statement that the robins have come home again. He asserting that he saw one the other day.
  • Bismarck Daily Tribune, 9 August 1910
  • Jim Boyle returned Saturday night from St. Paul, where he spent ten days, taking his annual vacation. He reports the weather down there pretty hot and dry and is glad to get back where he can see something of the world beside tall buildings.
  • Bismarck Daily Tribune, 17 October 1912
  • “That regimental band is a splendid musical organization,” said Jimmy Boyle. “People living in Bismarck certainly must appreciate the oppor­tunity afforded them to hear fine music during their stay at Fort Lincoln. Fort Lincoln is a nice post too. It is a little different from old Fort Abrah­am Lincoln across the river. We used to have some great times there. I was in Custer’s cavalry. Our quarters were down the bluff from the infantry barracks, which were up on the hill, where you can see those trees stand­ing now. There was always trouble between the infantry and cavalry. We called the infantry dough-boys, gravel mashers, mud agitators and sore feet. One of our troopers was rolled by two infantrymen one night on his way across the ice from Little Cuba (a little settlement that used to be just across the river from the fort). Af­ter that there was nothing but war. Even on pay day none of the dough­ boys dared to come down to the sut­ler’s exchange in our camp. There “were some great times in those days.”
  • Bismarck Daily Tribune, 31 October 1912
    Jim Boyle, the ever-faithful attend­ant. at the Bismarck hospital, was in­structed by headquarters to meet No. 7 train yesterday for the purpose of meeting a young lady. Jim was very nervous, as he did not. know the young lady, either by name or sight, and as the train was quite late, he was down town prancing around in a rather con­fused state of mind, for fear the train would be delayed too long, as he was in suspense, not knowing who the young lady was that was expected, and this being Leap Year. Jim wor­ried considerable, but us stated above, he is faithful to his duties at all times and learned when the lady arrived that her name was Rose Buck, and that, she is to assist with work at the Bismarck hospital. So Jim feels con­siderably relieved now that this duty is off his hands.
  • Bismarck Daily Tribune, 13 November 1913
  • Jim Boyle is critically ill with a stroke of paralysis at the Bismarck hospital. Everybody knows Jim Boyle. Everybody is his friend, and will re­gret to learn of his untimely illness.  Jim is one of the pioneers of the Mis­souri Slope country. He was a mem­ber of Reno’s army in the battle of the Little Big Horn and marched with his comrades back to Bismarck. For years he has served as nurse in both the hospitals at Bismarck, and has helped to bring back to life many a comrade.
  • Bismarck Daily Tribune, 16 November 1913
    The many friends of Jim Boyle, who is in the Bismarck hospital, ill with paralysis, will be glad to hear he is resting easily and is somewhat improved.
  • The Bismarck Tribune, 3 September 1920
    James Boyle, Who Marched From Fort Lincoln With Custer, Succumbs
    James Boyle, aged 80 years [?], one of the pioneer residents of Bismarck, died last evening at 8 o’clock in St. Alexius hospital. “Jimmy,” as he was known to hundreds of friends, was a soldier in the early days and was in the expedition against Sitting Bull’s hostiles, in which Custer’s force was detached and massacred. Mr. Boyle had been a patient at the hospital since November 1, 1918. For twenty-five years previous to that he was employed as an orderly in the hospital. Funeral services will be held from St. Mary’s church at 8:30 o’clock to­morrow morning. Rev. Father Hiltner conducting the services. Burial will be in St. Mary’s cemetery. Mr. Boyle was one of the small number of veterans of the Indian wars and of Fort Lincoln in the days when the post was one of the im­portant posts of the northwest.
    Marched From Ft. Lincoln
    In 1876, when General Terry march­ed out with force from Ft. Lincoln, in which Custer served, “Jimmy” was a member of the battalion under the command of Major A. Reno. The expedition set out with the in­ tention of wiping out the forces of Sitting Bull. Three forces were to converge, General Terry’s force, Gen­eral [Colonel] Gibbon’s force from Ft. Ellis, Montana and General Crook’s force, from the Department of the Platte.
    Command Divided
    Custer was sent ahead by General Terry with about 600 men. This force was divided into three parts, and Ma­jor Reno’s command went farther south. The Indians discovered Cus­ter’s force and Major Reno’s force of 200 troopers. The force of Major Reno, in which Boyle served, was surrounded for two days with the Indians, who left when they learned of a larger force moving on them. In the meantime, on June 25, 1876, Custer’s force was wiped out, one In­dian scout [Curley] escaping.
  • The Bismarck Tribune, 4 September 1920
  • Funeral services were held this morning for James Boyle at St. Mary’s, with Rev. Father Hiltner officiating. A large number of people attended the last services for the pioneer. Otto Dirlam. J. D. McDonald, P. D. Webb and S. S. Clifford acted as pall bearer.

James Boyle is buried in Lot 8, Row 8, Block A, St. Mary's Cemetery, Bismarck, North Dakota.

  • The Ward County Independent, 7 October 1920
  • Bismarck, N. D., Oct. 1. — “Jimmy” Boyle is dead. His death closes a thrilling chapter in the early history of North Dakota. It was “Jimmy” Boyle who, squint­ing down the shiny barrel of his six shooter, held a hundred Indians at bay from behind a huge rock skirting a trail from the hills while the villagers prepared for the attack. It was “Jimmy” Boyle who later rode into the hills with a handful of whites and gave battle to the raiders. “With a bit of a grin Jimmy fought on until three of the leaders were made prisoners,” said one of his cro­nies many years later. “That night Jimmy sat before the campfire and filed eight more notches in his sixshooter.” Boyle was 80 years old (sic) when he died. His death marks the passing of one of the last great Indian fighters. [But is this the former 7th Cavalry trooper?]

Captain Grant Marsh (1834-1916).

Walter Mason Camp (1867-1925).

  • Walter Camp meets James Boyle in Bismarck
  • Bismarck Daily Tribune, 10 August 1910
  • W. M. Camp, is editor of the Railway Review of Chicago and an Indian historian of some note who in his leisure moments is an enthusiastic student of the American Indian, his customs, traditions and wars, was among the visitors in Bismarck yesterday, interviewing some old timers who were personally interested in the Custer campaign of 1876. Mr. Camp is writing a history of the Seventh cavalry and its Indian battles and campaigns, and has accumulated some valuable and interesting material with reference to the Custer battle and other battles. Among those who were seen by Mr. Camp in the course of his stay here were Capt. Grant Marsh, whose recent book on river experience, which has an extended chapter on the Custer battle, has created wide interest,  Sergeant Flanagan, an old soldier of the Seventh; James Boyle, who fought with Reno at the same time as the Indians wiped out Custer, and others. Mr. Camp has also spent several weeks on the Cheyenne river reservation, and has talked with the Indians who were in the battle. Most important of the chieftains were Two Moon, an old Cheyenne elder, now nearly seventy years of age and nearly blind, Tall Bull and White Bull, two other Indians from whom he obtained first hand statements regarding the Custer battle. Mr. Camp has also been over the battle ground a number of times, and was there with Curley, the Crow scout, who was with Custer, and with who Mr. Camp went over the route taken by Custer to the battlefield, and Curley’s route to the he river. Mr, Camp believes Curley’s story as told of his escape from the actual battle and his view of the engagement twice before he passed from sight, is true, and that it is corroborated by important witnesses and by circumstances. Curley is now living on the Crow reservation in Montana, and his story is verified by circumstances and corroborated by the accounts of the Sioux chieftains of the facts regarding the battle. There are a number of interesting details with regard to the Custer massacre and the other Indian fighters of the same campaign that Mr. Camp has collected and is preparing for publication. Mr. Camp left for the east last night. He spends his summers every other year among the Indians, camping on the reservation and devoting his time to gathering historical material.

Memorial stone to James Boyle's step-mother, Bridget McDermott Boyle and several of his half-siblings in St Patrick's Cemetery, Lowell, Massachusetts.

  • 1. His exact date of birth remains uncertain and his place of birth in County Tyrone is not known to this writer.
  • 2. Bridget McDermott Boyle, died age 69 (?), in Lowell on 13 March 1909, is buried in a separate plot – Range 6, Section 6, Lot 1 – in the same cemetery from her late husband, where a fine granite memorial stone has been erected for her and several other members of the family.
  • 3. James Boyle, age 80 (?), a grocer, died in Lowell, Massachusetts, on 13 April 1902 and  was buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery, Lowell (no headstone).
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