The Battle of the Blowout

The 28th of April of 1876 marks the most important event in our local history. It has been and will be remembered long after all the local murders and suicides, street and bridge and school construction, weddings and tornadoes, dedications and speeches and floods and fire are forgotten. The Battle of the Blowout was only a small skirmish; yet it is our Gettysburg, our Balleau Woods, our Big Horn, our Battle of the Bulge and our Pusan Perimeter all in one. As a nation’s history is highlighted by her wars, so may be a locality by it battle.

If this Battle of the Blowout would have not occurred, probably Fort Hartsuff would not have been preserved. The site of the old fort was recognized as worthy of preservation as early as 1910. It was looked upon as an appropriate monument to pioneer hardship, danger and bravery. The battle fought by fort soldiers and area settlers against a common foe coalesced the recognition of these desirable traits.

The true record of mutual implications of jealousy and disrespect notwithstanding, the battle was viewed as a victory by all. A victory by soldier, Indian and settler alike. The fact that a soldier was killed was accepted as the normal price to be paid by one whose profession it was to engage in battle.

If Sergeant William Dougherty of Company A of the 23rd Infantry had not been killed, many lives would have been changed. He was engaged to a young Marilla Frederick. One may assume that had he survived the battle they would have been married. They would probably have propagated their own line of Dougherty’s. The reality of Dougherty’s death sent Marilla’s life on a different trajectory.

She continued her employment with an officer’s family here at Hartsuff. When they were transferred to Fort Omaha, she met and fell in love with Sergeant William Flynn. He was soon transferred west with his company of the 4th Infantry Regiment. They continued to correspond and were married at Cheyenne. Their first two children were born at Fort Laramie. Sergeant Flynn served during the arduous campaigns of 1876. He was wounded by survived the Rosebud Battle under General Crook. Flynn eventually left the army and settled in the Ord area.

The Flynn’s parents nine children. We are proud to note that one of their offspring lives in Ord today. She is Rachel Flynn Oliver. Rachel is a delightful and active lady, considering that she is, by her own admission, ‘no spring chicken’. We must give some credit to the Battle of the Blowout. That history-altering event presented us with the opportunity to enjoy this fine, fruitful family of Flynns. These numerous and far-flung descendents often visit the old fort to reestablish their ties with the past.

We’re sure that the Flynn’s remember their grandmother’s first love; handsome, brave, dead Sergeant Dougherty. Or Dokkity!

“Dokkity” was the rendering of Dougherty’s name by “Little Indian Dick”. We remember him as the foster son of 2nd Lieutenant William Heyl . Dick was an Apache child captured and nurtured by Lt. Heyl. This was while that officer was performing highly commended service in the Southwest near Fort Verde, Arizona.

Would Dick himself be so well remembered had it not been for Heyl’s fame? Hey led the detachment of soldiers from Fort Hartsuff, responding to calls for help by settlers. IN recognition of his bravery, he was awarded the nation’s highest prize for gallantry: The Medal of Honor.

In fact, Lieutenant Heyl was one of three soldiers to be cited for bravery that spring day in 1876. Two corporals, Lytton and Leonard, both of whom were Irish immigrants, also brought honor to Company A of the 23rd Infantry.

For three soldiers to be awarded the Medal of Honor in one battle is almost unparalleled in Plains Indian Warfare history. It is especially noteworthy in that they were members of an infantry unit. Of the few medals awarded during the Indian Wars, most went to the more dashing and romantic cavalry soldiers.

Was the issuance of three Medals of Honor remarkable in the history of the Loup Valley region? Let us look at it in perspective. Other soldiers from this area have fought in the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. How many of these thousands of brave servicemen have been awarded the Medal of Honor? None to my knowledge! Many have died, as Sergeant Dougherty did, but the three Medals of Honor were a singular result of the Battle of the Blowout on 28 April 1876.

The battle has served to shape and define those of us who have come and gone later. That dramatic event will have its local impact for all time to come. It has become an integral thread of the cultural weave of our people. We are by such singular events interwoven with the past and future.

A cheer for the Indians and soldiers and settlers who participated on that day in 1876. More cheers for the dead Dougherty and the wounded Brule Indian. Yet more for Heyl, Lytton and Leonard, proudly wearing their ‘baubles’, as George Custer described his brother Tom’s TWO such medals.

More cheers for those responsible for helping preserve and perpetuate this story. Let us include pioneer settler Charlie Jones and Fort Hartsuff’s Surgeon, George Towar. And a final cheer for one who has researched and organized the facts of the event during the past quarter century, our own late Sergeant Orval ‘Buck’ Newbury.