of Lt. Thomas Wallace
By KIM BRIGGEMAN of the Missoulian
Lt. Thomas Wallace is best remembered for chasing down a party of "renegade" Nez Perce on the first day of summer 130 years ago.
This June and last, he's also recalled for the way he died.
Bob Brown is executive director of the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, but come Saturday he'll dress up in Army garb, take on the role of the founding captain of Fort Missoula, and tell Wallace's story at the second annual Stories and Stones at the Fort Missoula Post Cemetery.
Two hours of stories begin at 1 p.m.
Brown counted 19 stations in the small, oft-overlooked cemetery off South Avenue and Guardsman (CCC) Lane. Last year's inaugural event drew more than 200 people.
"It went fantastic. We were really surprised," Brown said. "Year two is the pivotal year for any program. If you survive year two you're probably good to go."
It's a summertime version of the Missoula Cemetery's popular Stories and Stones tour, which comes off around Halloween each year.
"There's not much in the way of shade out here, not like they have at the Missoula Cemetery," said Brown, eyeing the forecast of a 90-some degree day. "Of course, they have theirs in October. Maybe we do this backwards."
He can offer a chilling story of Wallace's death, though. The lieutenant left the fort on a hunting excursion on Dec. 8, 1878, accompanied by a surgeon and another lieutenant.
The three men headed downriver toward Grass Valley and split up. The other two returned to the fort at darkness, thinking Wallace would do the same. But the young lieutenant never showed up.
"He fell off his horse, or the horse bolted in the middle of the Clark Fork River," said Brown. "He was alone, he managed to get to shore, but they found him a couple of days later, froze to death."
Wallace was the second person buried at the post cemetery. Since last year's Stories and Stones, Marcia Porter has uncovered the identity of the first one - a private named William Gerrick.
Porter is supervisor of records at the Missoula County Courthouse. She and Wally Long, who wrote a book on the military history at Fort Missoula, have done the bulk of the research for the cemetery.
Porter will tell the story of the first woman buried in the cemetery, a laundress named Mrs. Tatje, who died in 1879. A number of women and children are interred at the cemetery, which is only an acre in size but is thought to be Missoula's oldest that's still in use.
It's set aside for veterans with a lifetime of service, those who died in active duty, or those with service-related disabilities.
Capt. Charles Rawn, whose personage Brown will take on, established it and the fort in 1877. Stories and Stones is timed to coincide with the date of the fort's birth, June 25, when soldiers arrived from Fort Shaw on the Sun River.
Construction was delayed due to the outbreak of the Nez Perce War that summer. In July Rawn, senior captain of the 7th Infantry, was unsuccessful in stopping the march of Chief Joseph and his people down Lolo Creek, at a point that came to be known as Fort Fizzle.
Joseph surrendered early that October after the Battle of the Bear Paw. But a number of Nez Perce, including a band of 90 led by White Bird, slipped away to Canada. Nineteen of them were trying to make it back to their homeland in Idaho in the summer of 1878 when they raided some outlying settlements near Missoula.
Wallace gave chase through the Bitterroots and surprised them on June 21 on the North Fork of the Idaho's Clearwater, killing five or six.
Graveyard wanderers on Saturday can also hear stories of the two Medal of Honors winners buried at Fort Missoula, Cpl. Harry Garland and Pvt. Michael Himmelsback. Both were veterans of the Indian Wars. Gary Lancaster of Missoula will tell their tales.
The cemetery also holds victims of the Spanish influenza outbreak in 1918. Tate Jones, director of the Rocky Mountain Museum of Military History, will present a couple of young privates from the Student Army Training Corps who died of the horrific bug.
Fort Missoula, said Brown, was "really devastated by the flu."
Other flu pandemics have preyed largely on the very young and old.
"This was the opposite," Brown said. "People 20 to 40 (years old) died like flies."
The historic museum, just down the road from the cemetery, is presenting an exhibit titled "Unintended Consequences: The 1918 Flu and WWI" through next February.
Stories and Stones
Visitors can hear the stories behind the markers in the Fort Missoula Post Cemetery at 1 p.m. Saturday. The event is free and open to the public.