09 June 2013

James Wesley & Clarissa Jane Crump: Free Black & Slave Come to Montana Territory

Civil War Heritage 150 Years
Remembering Our Civil War Heritage Heroes:

James Wesley & Clarissa Jane Crump: Free Black & Slave Come
to Montana Territory
By Ken Robison

[The Great Falls Tribune
January 27, 2013 Sunday My Montana]

This is the seventeenth installment of a monthly series commemorating Union and Confederate veterans of the Civil War who settled in Montana. In Honor of Black History Month this episode highlights Union soldier James Wesley Crump and his wife and former slave Clarissa Jane Powell. Descendants of Montana Civil War veterans are encouraged to send their stories to mtcivilwar@yahoo.com. To see previous installments from this series, visit greatfallstribune.com/civilwar.

From the first days of the Civil War, Missouri was torn between loyal Union and pro-secession elements. Slave-owners and their slaves populated Little Dixie along the Missouri River corridor through the center of the state. Two African Americans from Little Dixie, James Wesley Crump and Clarissa Jane Powell, lived through the violent days of Civil War Missouri, separately migrated to Montana Territory, and left descendants to tell their story.

James Wesley Crump was born a free black in 1847 in Jackson County, Missouri near today’s Kansas City. On July 15, 1864 at Leavenworth, Kansas he enlisted as a private in the Douglas Independent Battery, U. S. Colored Light Artillery Brigade. When James Crump was mustered in he was described as a 17-year old laborer, 5’ 6” height, with yellow complexion, brown eyes and black eyes.

With few exceptions, white officers commanded black units in the Civil War.  Private Crump’s Battery, known as the Independent Colored Kansas Battery, was one of the few exceptions—black officers led it. One of these black officers, Second Lieutenant William D. Matthews enlisted Crump and his brother John into the Union Army. In October 1864, the Kansas Battery entered combat just as Confederate Maj. Gen. Sterling Price began to invade Kansas from his base in Arkansas. The Kansas Battery went into action with two modern rifled Parrott 3-inch cannons manned by forty men. As part of the Third Brigade, the Kansas Battery joined other artillery units gaining praise from Brigade commander, Maj. Gen. Samuel Curtis, who reported: “The enemy was soon overpowered . . . Every piece of artillery, especially the little howitzers, was active in fire, showing artillery enough to represent an army of 50,000.”

The Kansas Battery then joined a week-long running cavalry battle driving Price’s army out of Kansas. In January 1865, Crump was promoted to Corporal and served until July 22, 1865 when he was mustered out at Fort Leavenworth.

Clarissa Jane or Jennie Powell was born a slave on August 2, 1854, and as the Civil War began she lived with two other female slaves in the household of farmer Philip E. Evans in Pettis County, Missouri. Young Clarissa, still a slave, accompanied the Evans family when they boarded the steamboat Lillie Martin at St. Louis in April 1865 bound for the upper Missouri. These were turbulent times in Montana Territory so at Fort Union a “Guard of Soldiers” boarded to provide protection from native Indian harassment. The steamer struggled against low water in the river to arrive at the mouth of the Marias River in late June, and the passengers proceeded on to Helena by wagon.

Clarissa was freed legally by enactment of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in December 1865. She was educated by the Evans family and for the rest of her life remained in touch with the family including their son, John Morgan Evans who served as U. S. Congressman from Montana.

James Crump began freighting westward after the war, and by 1869 was working for the Diamond R Overland Freighting Company in Montana Territory hauling freight to Fort Benton and Helena from Corrine, Utah, then terminal of the Union Pacific Railroad. In October 1869 James Crump married Clarissa Jane Powell at Corrine. After more than a decade of freighting and mining in the Butte and Marysville areas, the Crumps settled in Helena where in 1885 James contracted for construction of their family home at 1003 9th Avenue. This long-time Crump home is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Crumps were leaders and active members of the Helena black community including the St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church, Pleasant Hour Ladies Club, Manhattan Club, black Masonic and Odd Fellows Lodges, and the integrated Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.). They raised two daughters, Emma and Clarinda, and descendants remain in Montana including Raymond Crump Howard and his wife Nava, who have shared their family history making this account possible.

James Wesley Crump, a strong and successful Montana pioneer, died April 18, 1919. Clarissa Jane Powell Crump, described as “a woman of charm and character” and “the last black pioneer of the state,” passed on March 10, 1941. Both pioneers rest today in Forestvale Cemetery, Helena.

Sources: [Biographic sketches of James Wesley and Clarissa Jane Crump; History of the Crump/Howard Home; U.S. Army Register of Enlistments; Fold3.com Service Records James and John Crump; GF Tribune Montana Parade Sept. 10, 1978; Helena Independent Record Jan. 18, 2009.]


1 1. "When the new Montana State Capitol was dedicated on July 4, 1902 with surviving G.A.R. members present, Corporal James Wesley Crump received the honor of holding the American flag.” [Courtesy of Raymond Crump Howard]
22. "Former Slave Clarissa Jane Crump in Helena, Montana.” [Courtesy of Raymond Crump Howard]

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