Custer’s Last Stand anniversary highlights Brainerd ties

The Battle of Little Big Horn, aka Custer’s Last Stand, took place almost 150 years ago in late June of 1876. George Armstrong Custer was no stranger to Brainerd, and former Brainerd resident Mark Kellogg was the only reporter to die in the battle between Native Americans and the U.S. Army.

General George Custer
Gen. George Custer.
Contributed / Library of Congress

BRAINERD — People may not remember the Battle of Little Big Horn. But they’ve almost certainly heard of Custer’s Last Stand.

They are one and the same, however, with the latter popularized as an expression of doomed defiance against insurmountable odds.

What others may be surprising to learn is U.S. Army Lt. Col. George Custer passed through Brainerd, or that a former Brainerd resident was the only journalist killed in that battle.

Mark Kellogg
Mark Kellogg, a reporter for the Bismarck Tribune and New York Herald, was killed while covering the Battle of the Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876. Kellogg lived in Brainerd in the early 1870s.
Contributed / Public Domain

“Mark Kellogg lived in Brainerd for a couple of years, and Gen. Custer traveled through Brainerd and stayed on more than one occasion,” said Jeremy Jackson, a local historic investigator and researcher, of Custer, who was also a major general in the U.S. Volunteer Army.

The Battle of the Little Bighorn took place June 25, 1876, near the Little Bighorn River in Montana Territory. Custer led the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the U.S. Army against a band of Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. About 260 of Custer’s men died.


Tensions between the federal government and tribal leaders rose amid the discovery of gold on Native American lands. The U.S. Army — including Custer and the 7th Cavalry — confronted the tribes when a number of them missed a federal deadline to move to reservations, explained.

“Custer was unaware of the number of Indians fighting under the command of Sitting Bull at Little Bighorn, and his forces were outnumbered and quickly overwhelmed in what became known as Custer’s Last Stand,” according to

Kellogg was a journalist from La Crosse, Wisconsin, who accompanied Custer to their bitter end. Kellogg was born in Ontario, Canada, before his family moved to La Crosse in 1851. Through the Bismarck Tribune, Kellogg connected with the 36-year-old Custer.

“After stints in Lacrosse, Wis., and Brainerd, Minn., Kellogg arrived in rough and rowdy Bismarck not long after the railroad reached town,” according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Kellogg worked as a telegraph operator at the Wisconsin Telegraph Co. for many years before becoming a traveling journalist.

“He was the only civilian newspaper correspondent that died along with many officers and soldiers of the 7th Cavalry Regiment during the battle,” Jackson said. “Mark Kellogg is interred in the Custer National Cemetery in Montana.”

Chief Sitting Bull
Chief Sitting Bull
Contributed / Library of Congress

While living in Brainerd during the early 1870s, Kellogg ran as a candidate for the Minnesota Legislature and was defeated, according to Jackson, before becoming a last-minute replacement to accompany Custer to the infamous battle.

“He also wrote newspaper articles during his time in Brainerd that appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press (formerly the St. Paul Dispatch) under the pen name of ‘Frontier,’ and he was associated with the Brainerd Tribune,” Jackson said.


The 45-year-old newspaper stringer’s dispatches were the only press coverage of Custer and his men in the days leading up to the battle and he is considered the first Associated Press correspondent to die in the line of duty.

Brainerd High School volunteer archivist/curator John Erickson puts together an exhibit at the school to commemorate its sesquicentennial anniversary.
A marker was erected in September 2022 with information about the Headquarters Hotel, the Arlington Hotel and the second Northern Pacific Railway depot after the original was struck by a snowplow.
The Brainerd park off South Seventh Street is a little-known snow-sledding paradise. The 2-acre park was named after Brainerd real estate agent Vern Hitch and Wayne Rosvold, a 5-year-old boy.
Brainerd Rotary acquired 38 acres of land and 1,400 feet of Mississippi River frontage and donated the property to the city of Brainerd on Jan. 3, 2012, for use as a park.
Brainerd toboggan slides existed early in the city’s history. The outdoor recreational activity offered a fun way for Brainerd lakes area residents to enjoy winter.
The Brainerd Brewing Co. on Boom Lake’s east shore was in operation as late as 1914. Razed a decade later, part of the brewery’s foundation was uncovered by the Brainerd History Group in 2009.
The ground was broken for the Mississippi Landing Trailhead Park project in Brainerd in June. The planned greenspace with trails and pathways, a community amphitheater and an outdoor classroom with steps down along East River Road was previously a Tourist Park attracting thousands.
A Michigan resident with ties to the Brainerd lakes area kept his earlier promise to donate $2,500 to construct a roof over a locomotive engine at the Crow Wing County Fairgrounds because his relatives were employees of Northern Pacific Railway.
Sylvan Township and Pillager School Community Education sponsored a presentation by Brainerd lakes area resort owners and operators at the CTC Center in Pillager about the history of Kavanaugh’s Sylvan Lake Resort, Madden’s on Gull Lake and Cragun’s Resort on Gull Lake.
The Brainerd Fire Department observes its sesquicentennial this year and battled many of the blazes that ravaged and in some cases burned to the ground the historic businesses of downtown Brainerd, such as the early hotels and saloons that helped establish the city.
The Barn is a longtime restaurant off Washingon Street that is popular with locals and known for its friendly staff and pies. The Barn in Brainerd was opened in 1945 by a family from Iowa. It was part of the original Maid-Rite franchises and still serves the loose-meat sandwich.
Buster Park was a dog park created between Boom Lake and the Mississippi River near Kiwanis Park. The off-leash, fenced-in park includes playground equipment for dogs and is divided into two areas by dog personalities. The park was named after Buster, a Boston terrier.
The Northern Pacific Railway was the driving force behind Brainerd’s first bridge across the Mississippi River, and the bridge was constructed in 1870. But five years later, it came crashing down and five passengers were killed.
The J.J. Howe Lumber Co. played a key role in shaping Boom Lake in Brainerd’s past. But scant evidence of the business remains at the lake today near the popular Kiwanis Park.
A public dedication ceremony by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War Camp No. 56 will take place Aug. 27 at Evergreen Cemetery in Brainerd to honor Union Pvt. Elias Fenstermacher, the last Civil War veteran buried in Crow Wing County. He died in 1948 at the age of 97.
Army Lt. Col. Hortense McKay, a Brainerd High School graduate, served as a nurse in a makeshift hospital in the Philippines during World War II starting in 1941 and returned to the Southeast Asian country a second time as a nurse following her evacuation from it.
A locomotive engine of historic significance is on display at the Crow Wing County Fairground. Discussions have taken place to preserve that part of Brainerd’s railroad history by erecting a roof over the engine to shelter it from the elements, such as snow and rain.
Smiles on the 'Sippi is set July 30 and includes a Mississippi River paddle with points of historic interest highlighted. The inaugural event is sponsored by the Brainerd Family YMCA, CTC, Cuyuna Regional Medical Center, the Mississippi Headwaters Board and Smiles for Jake.
Sarah (Thorp) Heald lived from 1881 to 1954. The 73-year-old artist’s paintings often portrayed Crow Wing County's early pioneer days and the Ojibwe in the area. Four of her works are on display in the historic courthouse with more in the county museum on Laurel Street in Brainerd.
The assassination of Chief Hole-in-the-Day the Younger occurred on June 27, 1868, or 154 years ago to the day on Monday the 27th. Hole-in-the-Day the Younger became chief of the Mississippi band of Ojibwe after the death of his father, Bagone-giizhig the Elder.
Lyman P. White Sr. was called the father of Brainerd. White came to Brainerd from St. Cloud in 1870. He built the first frame house in Brainerd, with lumber coming by team, about 60 miles away from Sauk Rapids.
The Mississippi River flows through Aitkin and Crow Wing counties, historically providing a means to transport goods but also is used for outdoor recreation in more recent times. The Mighty Mississippi has also flooded in years past, causing headaches and destruction.
The Northern Pacific Center in Brainerd will begin offering free tours next month in June of the historic buildings or structures that make up the railway property’s grounds south of Washington Street and east of Southeast 13th Street.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brainerd was the first church in the nascent community of Brainerd. The historic church building was constructed at its current location near Gregory Park with a cornerstone embedded in its wall that supposedly came from an Old Crow Village church.
Visit Brainerd’s tours are available by advance reservation — online purchase or via phone. Tours are limited to 10 people. Tour durations last about 90 minutes and participants are advised to dress accordingly for the walking tours.
Local historian Ray Nelson shares his research of Minnesota's oldest rifle artifact to date and its journey from Europe to fur trade-era Minnesota. He is a member of the Friends of Old Crow Wing and its former president, and a founder of the Crow Wing County Muzzleloaders Club.
The construction of the Northern Pacific Railway in the Brainerd lakes area didn’t come easy. But once the tracks were laid, officials immediately turned their attention to the construction of a passenger depot as an area transit hub for the burgeoning community of Brainerd.
Three of the most prominent baseball players from the Brainerd lakes area that went on to play professional baseball from the region’s past included Leslie Ambrose Bush aka “Bullet Joe,” Charles Albert Bender aka “Chief Bender” and Herbert Jude Score.
The demolition of the second depot building, first erected in 1920, took place nearly a century after the first one was built.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church hired a Cincinnati-based company specializing in bell repair to rebuild the housing last month of its 1875 bell which has not rung in almost a decade after the rope broke. The church at North Seventh and Juniper streets is Brainerd’s oldest church.

Kellogg’s last dispatch read, "By the time this reaches you, we would have met and fought the red devils, with what result remains to be seen. I go with Custer and will be at the death."

According to newspaper articles of the time, Custer spent the night in Brainerd on March 23, 1876, while traveling to Washington, D.C., by train, and returned again on May 8, 1876. Little did he know, his time on earth would soon be up.

The Brainerd Tribune documented at least two visits to Brainerd by Gen. George Armstrong Custer, but he was probably in Brainerd a few other times,” Jackson said. “He died at the Battle of Little Bighorn just a few weeks later on June 25, 1876.”

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The weekly newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
What To Read Next
Get Local