22 February 2015
Remembering Our Civil War Heritage and Heroes:
Moses Hunter: Montana’s Last Civil War Veteran
By Ken Robison
For The River Press
February 25, 2015
This is the thirty-fifth installment of a monthly series commemorating Union and Confederate veterans of the Civil War who came to Montana during or after the war. In Honor of Black History Month, this is the story of Moses Hunter who volunteered to serve in the Union Army just before the end of the Civil War. He remained in the Indian Wars Army for twenty years. Descendants of Montana Civil War veterans are encouraged to send their stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Moses Hunter enlisted in the Union Army on April 26, 1865, and that raises the question, “When did the Civil War end?” The date often cited is April 9th the day General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. But was that the end? Well, no, not really. The 4th Michigan Cavalry captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis on May 10th. The last battle was the Battle of Palmito Ranch, Texas on May 12-13, while the last significant Confederate force to surrender was Cherokee Brigadier General Stand Waite with his Indian soldiers on June 23rd. The last actual Confederate force to surrender was the CSS Shenandoah on November 6, 1865. Technically, the Civil War continued until President Andrew Johnson formally declared the end of the war on August 20, 1866.
Returning to Moses Hunter, he was born into slavery October, 1842, on the Hunter plantation near Norfolk, Virginia. Hunter recalls his father, Jock Irving, was a slave on the same plantation and changed his name to Jock Cowans after the Emancipation Proclamation brought his freedom.
“Those were troublous days,” Hunter recalled. “Everybody was talking about slavery. My father’s ancestors were brought to the United States in slave ships and sold to white plantation owners in Virginia. I knew my father was looking forward to the time when there would be no slavery. I came to feel, as I grew up, that something should be done about it. I felt that it wasn’t right for my people to be looked upon as property. I can remember when black folks were sold like cattle. They had to go with the white man who bid the most money for them. I didn’t like the thing.”
Hunter continued his reminiscence, “I remember when the Civil war broke out. I was getting pretty well along in years then; a young man who thought there should be no slavery. Marse Lincoln called for volunteers. I was too young, but when I grew older [around 20 as he remembered], I ran away when Marse Lincoln made his last call [for troops] in the winter of 1865-66.”
Young Hunter went to east Tennessee and enlisted on April 26, 1865, at Greenville, Green County. Enlisting for three years in Company H, 40th Infantry Regiment United States Colored Troops (USCT), Hunter went off to war. The 40th Infantry USCT had been organized at Nashville in February 1864 and attached to 2nd Brigade, 4th Division, District of Tennessee, Department of the Cumberland. During 1865-66, until the regiment mustered out on April 25, 1866, Hunter performed railroad guard duty in defense of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad.
Moses Hunter was honorably discharged at Chattanooga, on April 25, 1866, although he was given credit for two years’ service in the Army. He returned to Virginia in the spring of 1866, back to his old plantation where he worked on a railroad for a year. Hearing about Indian warfare then going on in the West, he headed west to Knoxville, Tennessee, where he enlisted in the post-war Army.
On April 3, 1867, at Nashville, Hunter was sworn in for three years service as a Corporal in Company I, 38th Infantry Regiment USCT. Most of the 38th Infantry was sent marching from Leavenworth, Kansas, then the end of the railroad, across the plains to Texas. En route they were stricken with Asiatic cholera and forced to bury the victims every morning before starting on that day’s march.
Moses Hunter with Company I and a second company of the 38th were left at Leavenworth, Kansas to perform guard and chain-carrying duty for construction of the Union Pacific Railroad. Hunter and his company followed the line of building through Kansas, Colorado, Utah, and on to present-day Los Angeles, and then back to Omaha. Hunter later recalled experiences when his company was engaged in guarding construction of the railroad. “His unit was called upon at times to fight the Comanche. He remembers the ambush by Indians of the Beecher . . . command on the North Fork of Republican river when his unit arrived a little too late and found the entire command massacred. [Lieutenant Frederick Beecher and 21 men were killed during an attack by a large party of Cheyenne on the morning of September 17, 1868. The surviving Army soldiers were rescued on September 25 by a troop of 10th Cavalry (colored) and the 38th Infantry.]
“His detachment left Fort Wallace [westernmost frontier post in Kansas] and hurried over the Smoky Hill route to reach the scene. Several minor brushes with the marauding Indians molesting work on the railroad were also a part of his contacts. Of skirmishes there were many, he said, with the United States soldiers always coming out with victory.”
In the early summer of 1869, Company I was ordered to rejoin the 38th Infantry in Texas, and marched down through the Indian Territory. Once the 38th was re-united, it was consolidated with the 41st Infantry to form the 24th Infantry Regiment. The 24th was formed November 1, 1869, under Brevet Brig. Gen. Ranald S. McKenzie, and Hunter with his company became Company I of the new regiment. Four months later Corporal Hunter was discharged April 3, 1870, at Fort Richardson, Texas.
Hunter apparently returned briefly to Tanners Creek, Norfolk, Virginia where he was recorded in the U.S. Census of 1870 with Hunter family members. On June 29, 1870, Hunter re-enlisted in Company I of the 24th Infantry Regiment with promotion to Sergeant. The 24th Infantry began its existence with companies stationed at forts Davis, Stockton, Concho and McKavitt, Texas, along the southern edge of the Great Staked Plains [aka The Llano Estacado] in northwest Texas. This area was described in a regimental history of the 24th:
“That country of beautiful rivers, grass and grassy plains, teemed with game. The buffalo overran the plains in the autumn; immense herds of antelope, thousands of deer, while wild turkeys, quail, duck and geese were everywhere—not to speak of cattle run wild, by the thousands free to anyone. The wild Indian lived almost secure on the staked plains and raided the settlements every full moon. ‘Wild’ was the characteristic of the time, place and things.”
Fort McKavitt was the 24th Infantry (Colored) regimental headquarters, garrisoned with four companies of the 24th, two companies of the 25th Infantry (Colored), and two troops of Cavalry. In the spring of 1871, Colonel Abner Doubleday, Brevet Major General, the hero of Fort Sumter and a Corps Commander at Gettysburg, assumed command of the regiment while Company I was commanded by Captain John B. Cunningham and First Lieutenant Samuel E. Armstrong.
The 24th regimental history described the environment: “Texas at that time was . . . the most remote and unknown of all of what was then called ‘The Frontier,’ to which all officers expected to be sent and some were not.
“An irregular cordon of posts guarded the Rio Grande (by treaty terms), and the settlements along the edge of the plains with remnants of the former cordon inside and those along the old ‘Pecos Trail’ to California.
“At each post were two or more troops of Cavalry, which were ‘out after Indians’ more or less all the time, the Infantry also making scouts and furnishing detachments at sub-posts and guarding stage stations. The climate was invigorating, the country a fair land so big and boundless that a sense of freedom permeated the mind and heart . . .
“At the interior posts we lived the wild American frontier life, scouting, fishing and home life at the posts; while on the Mexican frontier we lived the life of Old Spain, with the Alcade, the Padre, the guitar and the fandango.
“. . . The Southern Indians were not fighting like the Sioux and Cheyenne, and pitched battles were rare; but a constant ‘chasing Indians’ was kept up to keep them in some sort of subjection, the ‘Indian problem’ of that region being settled only by the extermination of the buffalo.
“Some incidents of life there might be interesting. . . . Lieutenant Armstrong [of Company I], with some hundreds of recruits and insufficient guard—not his fault—while in camp on the plains between Concho and Stockton, was run into by a horde of Indians returning from a raid in the lower country, and all his mules—nearly 200—taken, leaving him helpless on the prairie. An Indian was killed close to Fort McKavitt—in fact, they were scattered through the country in small bands of 5 to 15, all the time; they were Kiowas and Comanches on the northwest and the Kickapoos and Lipaus about Fort Clark. About the spring of 1872 they captured a train at Howards’ Well, above Ft. Clark, tied the teamsters to the wheels and burned them to death, and beat off a troop of Cavalry, killing Lieut. Vincent. They did the same thing with a train near Ft. Griffen, nearly capturing General [William T.] Sherman and staff, who were touring the frontier posts at that time.
“The [24th Infantry] regiment remained in that section until the spring of 1872, when it was changed to the Rio Grande posts: Brown, Ringgold Barracks (afterwards Fort Ringgold), Duncan and Clark. This was the land of chaparral, the ebony tree and the senorita, the “shuck cigarette: (the cigarette was then unknown at home), and mescal, and joyously the youngsters took all of them, except the trees. The duties of the troops were light, and while in thought we had troubles and privations, we now look back from those times as the halcyon days. Ice was a thing unknown. The water supply system was the water wagon and its eight splendid mules which seemed to crawl around at the rate of one and five-tenths miles per hour. The water barrels were supplied through a hole in the back fence. Enforced abstention from the ‘benzene’ habit of those days was called ‘on the water wagon.’ The list of commissaries of those days and the other accommodations—if enforced on the private soldier of today [about 1904]—would probably cause desertion. As a fact, the necessities of the private soldier of today would have been luxuries beyond the reach of the officer then.”
The 24th Infantry remained along the Rio Grande until Sergeant Moses Hunter was honorably discharged at Fort Brown, Texas, on June 29, 1875. Six months later, on Dec. 29, 1875, he re-enlisted in the same company and regiment. The regimental history continued, “We remained in that country until 1876. General Doubleday retired in 1872 and General Joseph H. Potter became our Colonel.
“In the spring of 1875 a big scouting expedition was organized to explore the plains under Lieut-Colonel Shafter, who was considered the most capable and energetic officer of rank in the Department. This expedition consisted of nine troops of the Tenth Cavalry, one company Twenty-fifth Infantry (Capt. John W. French), two companies Twenty-fourth “D” (Capt. Cunningham and Lieut. Markley), “F”, (Lieut Custer and Beacon) and a company of Seminole scouts (Lieut. Markley) and Tenkawn scouts (Lieut. Wood, Tenth Cavalry), and had its rendezvous at Fort Concho, the organizations marching from Duncan about 200 miles. About the only thing known of these regions at the time, as shown on the maps, was like that of the great West as shown by the school atlas of two generations ago. [The Expedition extended from May 10th to December 24, 1875] . . . to the Pecos River at Three Rivers, New Mexico. This scout was the first mortal blow to the Indian domination of that historic region, and the destruction of buffalo finished them. . . .
“The next year, 1876, another big expedition was organized again under Colonel Shafter, with troops of the Eighth and Tenth Cavalry, companies of the 25th and companies D and F [but not Sgt. Hunter’s company] of the 24th. Lieut. Markley commanded all Infantry. This expedition was against the Lipaus and Kickapoos, who lived in Mexico in a wild and rugged county. . .
“The next year, 1877, a large force, —what in those days seemed an army—was organized at Fort Clark under General McKinzie, consisting of troops of the Fourth, Eighth and Tenth Cavalry and 10th and 24th Infantry, but the Infantry took little part. Camp gossip had it that the idea was to get up a war with Mexico, great irritation existing on the American side from the raids by Indians harbored in Mexico, and from lawless Mexicans stealing cattle.”
Sgt. Hunter was discharged on December 28, 1880 at a camp near Red River, Indian Territory, and re-enlisted again in Company I, 24th Infantry Regiment. He continued to serve until December 28th, 1885 when he was honorably discharged at Fort Supply, Indian Territory, making a total of 20 years of service in the United States army.
For almost six decades after leaving the Army, Sgt. Moses Hunter moved from place to place, often living in soldiers’ homes. In 1900 he was living in Springfield, Monroe County, West Virginia, recorded in the U.S. Census as divorced and working as a farmer. Ten years later he was listed as a Union Soldier living in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
In 1916, Moses Hunter was admitted to the Illinois National Home for Disabled Veterans at Danville, Illinois. At that time he was 73 years old, standing five feet ten inches tall with gray hair. From there he moved on to the National Military Home in Leavenworth, Kansas. By 1930, he had arrived in Miles City, Montana where he joined the household of his daughter Suzie Thomas, Mrs. William B. Thomas.
Through Suzie Hunter Thomas we learn something of the Moses Hunter family. Hunter married Mary E. Stoon of Virginia about 1872. Daughter Suzie was born in Ringo Barracks, Texas in 1878. Suzie first married an Army man by the name of Smith, and that likely is what brought her to Fort Keogh and Miles City. In 1907 she re-married William Broviaur Thomas, the son of a white cavalryman and his African American wife Sadie Butler—a most controversial interracial marriage at that time and place. The rest of Moses Hunter’s family is unclear since he was reported in earlier censuses as divorced or widowed.
Living in Miles City in February 1939, the Montana News Association profiled Moses Hunter, “Today at either 94 or 95 years of age, residing with his daughter in Miles City, Hunter is slightly bent under the weight of his years. His eyesight is becoming dim. His physical vigor, however, despite his years is still good. His memory is unfailing. During the years since his retirement from the army he has made his home at the soldiers’ home at Danville, Ill., and at Leavenworth, Kan., making occasional trips to Montana, to be with his daughter and her family.”
Concluding the 1939 profile, the newspaper wrote, “Hunter so far as is known is the only Civil war veteran living in eastern Montana.” For three more years, former slave and Civil War and Indian Wars Army man, Sgt. Moses Hunter remained in Miles City until he passed away on August 28, 1942 at the remarkable age of 99. This last known Montanan to serve in the Civil War became the last Civil War veteran to die in Montana.
Ken Robison is a local historian and author of Confederates in Montana Territory: In the Shadow of Price’s Army and Montana Territory and the Civil War: A Frontier Forged on the Battlefield.
1. Sergeant Moses Hunter, Civil War and Indian Wars veteran, is buried in Custer County Cemetery. [Courtesy of Find a Grave]
30 January 2015
Remembering Our Civil War Heritage and Heroes:
Adeline Hoffman: From Slave to Servant, A Family Tradition By Ken Robison
For The River Press
January 28, February 4, 2015
This is the thirty-fourth installment of a monthly series commemorating Union and Confederate veterans of the Civil War who came to Montana during or after the war. In Honor of Black History Month, Adeline Hoffman’s unusual story is featured as she transitioned from slave to servant serving generations of the same family. In addition story of Union Private Alfred Skaggs is featured—Adeline lived for decades with the Skaggs family in Montana. Descendants of Montana Civil War veterans are encouraged to send their stories to email@example.com.
For Adeline Hoffman, the Civil War and Emancipation never happened. From slavery to freedom, Adeline served the same Southern family, passing from generation to generation and locale to locale. She was born a slave in 1848 on the plantation of Daniel Rhyne in Gaston County, North Carolina. The Rhynes were a large, prominent family of German descent, and later at least thirty-two Rhynes served in the Confederate Army from North Carolina. In the era of slavery, slave marriages were not permitted in the South. Adeline’s mother was a slave belonging to Rhyne while the nearby Ford family owned her father.
The North Carolina Slave Census of 1850 recorded Daniel Rhyne’s slave property holdings: five adult males; two adult females, one 55 years old, and the other 35 years old and likely Adeline’s mother; and three children, two girls four and two years old (the latter likely Adeline) and a male baby. While later dates recorded for Adeline’s age vary, the predominant evidence is that she was born in May 1848.
As a household slave, young Adeline served the Rhyne family until the death of her master in 1856. Rhyne’s will allocated his slave children to his sons and daughters. Margaret “Peggy” Rhyne, wife of farmer Jacob S. Hoffman, became Adeline’s new owner. At that time the Hoffman family lived on a plantation in Madison County, in southeastern Missouri, after moving west several years earlier from Gaston County, North Carolina.
On receiving news of Daniel Rhyne’s death, Jacob Hoffman drove by wagon to the Rhyne plantation to bring Adeline and her younger brother and sister to Missouri. The two younger slave children were destined to join other Rhyne relatives living in the Middle West. Hoffman with the slave children headed west in the summer of 1856.
Later in life, Adeline recalled that trip, “I sure must have cried all the way back. I remember that grandpa (Jacob Hoffman) gave me candy and tried every way to make things nice for me but I just wouldn’t listen. I wanted to stay with my mother. Grandpa said he almost made up his mind to turn around and take me back to her only she (the mother) had gone to join my father.
“When we reached the Mississippi and the ferry at Cape Girardeau I just closed my eyes and wouldn’t look until we were over. I never saw the river just thought that once we were over, I would be gone from home for good.
“Grandpa promised me.” Adeline recalled, “that I never would be whipped and that no one ever would run over me in general dealings. He always kept his promise.” As she got used to life in the Hoffman family on the Missouri plantation, Adeline lived in a sea of Hoffman children, thirteen of them. She became attached to the second youngest, a girl of four named Rose Angeline or Rosie. Amazingly, for the next 83 years, Adeline would work for Rosie, first as slave and after the Civil War as servant, becoming in some ways a member of the Hoffman family.
Then came the Civil War ripping Missouri apart. In October 1861, Brig. Gen. M. Jeff Thompson led a 1500-man Missouri State Guard (secessionist) force into southeastern Missouri wrecking havoc to the Iron Mountain Bridge. Brig. Gen. U. S. Grant commanded loyal Union forces in the District of Southeast Missouri at that time. In response to the threat of the Missouri State Guard, Gen. Grant ordered two Union columns, one under Col. Joseph B. Plummer with 1,500 men and another under Col. William P. Carlin with 3,000 men in pursuit.
The Union force engaged Col. Thompson’s men in the Battle of Fredericktown on October 21, 1861. Fredericktown was the county seat of Madison County and located near the Hoffman farm. Outnumbered and outmaneuvered, the Missouri State Guard was defeated and forced to withdraw. Some Union soldiers believed that locals assisted Thompson in the engagement and that the State Guardsmen mistreated Unionist citizens in the area. This resentment led to retaliation against the town with at least seven homes burned and other buildings damaged before Union officers regained control of their men. The victory at Fredericktown consolidated Union control of southeastern Missouri for the duration of the war.
Adeline recalled that it was a hard struggle to live on the farm during the war. It was near a major highway so troops were passing constantly. Horses, fodder, food money, all were taken from the Hoffmans during these turbulent times. She never made clear why Union troops didn’t “free” her from slavery, although her loyalty to the family must have played a role. Later she remembered outlaw bands raiding and the family hiding “terror-stricken” children in the timber for days while “mounted gangsters raided” the Hoffman home. Adeline likely was hidden together with Rosie and the other white children.
At last the war came to an end, order was restored, and farming resumed. Union forces had freed most of Missouri’s 115,000 slaves during the war. Yet, Adeline, although no longer a slave, remained in the Hoffman household by her choice—at this point she was along and simply knew no other life. She apparently was treated well by the family, and had formed a close bond with young Rosie Hoffman. As Adeline later related, her older sister came to take her along their road to freedom. Adeline declined, saying, “I didn’t see how I could better myself with that foolishness, so I just stayed on. Grandma [Mrs. Margaret Hoffman] was needin’ me, and I’d passed my promise to my folks and I didn’t need what they called freedom.”
Life swept on in post-war Missouri. Rosie Hoffman met a young man named Alfred Ferguson Skaggs, who had lied about his age, entered the Union army at 15 years and served in the last year of the war. Private Skaggs, born October 5, 1848, enlisted in Company F, 50th Missouri Volunteer Infantry when that regiment was organized September 11, 1864. His wartime experiences are an important part of the story.
Private Skagg’s Company F was engaged heavily at the Battle of Pilot Knob or Fort Davidson, Missouri September 26-27, 1864, during Maj. Gen. Sterling Price’s invasion of Missouri. As Company F’s commander Lieut. David Murphy related many years later at a reunion at Pilot Knob:
“Maj. Gen. Sterling Price left Camden Arkansas with 14,000 cavalry in three divisions and ten pieces of artillery under Gen. Jo Shelby. The three divisions invaded Missouri marching by parallel roads with orders to form a junction at Frederickstown, 22 miles east of Pilot Knob, by the 24th of Sept. [Remember, Frederickstown was just miles from the Hoffman and Skaggs farms in Madison County.] The junction was made as ordered and immediately Gen. Shelby was ordered to move northwardly via Farmington to Mineral Point and then destroy the bridges at Pilot Knob and prevent them from reaching St. Louis, thus, as Gen. Price supposed, insuring the capture of Fort Davidson with its armament and store.
“Union Gen. Thomas Ewing, commander of the St. Louis District, was ordered to Pilot Knob with instructions to hold the place against any detached force, but his further orders were, that if he was satisfied that Price was in his front with his entire force, he (Ewing) should blow up the magazine of the fort and retire on St. Louis.
“On arrival, Gen. Ewing ordered the stores of the quartermaster and commissary department to be moved to St. Louis, and this as done on Sept. 26th. ‘On the morning of the 27th of September fighting broke out on the slopes of Shepherd Mountain and Pilot Knob. Later in the morning our troops were driven into the fort and Marmaduke’s artillery planted on the eastern face of Shepherd Mountain commanding the fort.’ [As the battle unfolded Private Skaggs and his Company F with 60 men of the 50th Missouri under 1st Lieut. David Murphy were stationed in the ditch connecting to the fort with the town of Pilot Knob along with other Missouri volunteer units and two pieces of artillery on the flank.]
“Gen. Ewing felt we were in a very precarious position, and said to me [Lieut. Murphy]: ‘Why don't you open fire, don’t you see them planting their battery up there?’ I was in charge of the artillery in the fort, and I answered: ‘Yes, I see them . . . but, you know that we have decided to hold this fort until night, and if they want to keep off their fire until night, let them do so; I am not going to precipitate this battle. , , ,’ I told him then: ‘We will let them fire the first gun, and they can’t say they are not ready; they can’t say we have taken advantage of them. But as soon as they open on us with their gun fire, then these guns from the western side of the fort shall reply.’ From Marmaduke’s guns came the first fire and in less than 20 minutes that battery was driven from its chosen position and dragged down to the shoulder of the mountain beyond there out of the way. That was the first taste of victory, because we had disposed of the most seriously threatening feature of the attack, the artillery fire from Shepherd Mountain.’
“Then came the rebel assaulting column from the direction of Ironton pouring up from over Pilot Knob and Shepherd Mountain 12,000 armed men, coming in one grand body. They seemed to be drunk with the prospect of victory, as if to say: ‘We will walk right over them and sweep them out of the way.’ Oh, but they didn’t walk over us; they didn’t sweep us out of their way. We swept them back, and they never stopped until they were two miles away. All their chance of victory was gone. Their loss in battle was a little less than 1500 men killed and wounded.
“After the battle was over, and after our men had cheered themselves hoarse and were resting after their arduous work, a little incident occurred right over there where that tent stands: There was a colored man lying on his back. I knew him very well; we had treated him as the captain of the colored contingent that had helped to put this fort in condition for the defense. He lay there and says I: ‘Captain Jim, you must get up; this is no time to be lying down; get up, because we are getting ready to go out.’ He says: ‘I can’t get up, I am mortally wounded.’ I asked him where, and he said he was shot through the hips. Says I: ‘I will see that you are taken care of.’ Says he: ‘Never mind me, Major; when I look up and see the old flag floating, and victory perching over our little band, I die content.’
“That was the same sentiment, and that was the same spirit that actuated the white defenders of Pilot Knob. I took him over to the hospital, helped to carry him myself, and placed him under the charge of Dr. Carpenter, who had very hard work to keep his color from being discovered and his body taken out and mutilated by the infuriated rebels when they entered the town; but he was not discovered, and he was buried as a faithful, loyal citizen should be buried; he was given the burial of a good union soldier.
“Then, as we marched out, we went up through this gorge and on to Caledonia. There we met the terrible [Gen. Jo] Shelby coming down, all his men swearing and gritting their teeth, and imagining to themselves the number of men they were going to kill when they got down here. Well, our little advance dashing into their advance and we captured three or four of them and drove the others back, and they fell back to Shelby . . .
“Shelby was not very anxious to overtake the little command; he didn’t want to meet the men that had fought at Pilot Knob. . . they followed us for many miles; they had two mounted divisions, 7,000 strong, and seven pieces of artillery, and when Ewing would halt and prepare for battle, the pursuing force would halt, and so it was for 60 miles that they followed us to Leesburg. There we threw up some slight works. . . we built them ourselves, using railroad ties as the foundation, covering them with earth, and we stood again, just as we stood at Pilot Knob, and said: ‘Come on.’
“. . . [Yet] the great Marmaduke, and the terrible Shelby, the Napoleon of the South, marched off and left us there alone at Leesburg, with the loss of only a few men. Why? Why, it was because the soldiers of Pilot Knob had taught their men that if they made an attack upon them they would give them the worst of it. . . .
“That is the way it was with our little band at Leesburg; we were too much for the 7,000 men under Generals Price, Marmaduke, Cabell and Shelby.
“That is the way the battle of Pilot Knob was fought, and the successful retreat to Leasburg. That is the way the glorious record was made.”
Price’s invasion passed southeast Missouri and ultimately failed. For the rest of the war and until August 1865 the 50th Missouri Infantry remained on guard duty in southeast Missouri. For Private Alfred Skaggs, the war was over and he returned to his home farm in Madison County.
After his discharge, Alfred Skaggs saw young Rosie Hoffman and, when she was 16, he married her in September 1868, and the couple set up housekeeping on a farm near the Hoffman’s. Soon Hoffman needed help on his farm and the Skaggs moved there.
The Skaggs and Hoffmans continued to farm in Missouri until 1886 when they heard of the fertile valley of the Gallatin River near Bozeman, Montana Territory. Soon all of them boarded a train and headed westward to Billings and continued on to settle in that Gallatin Valley. Adeline live with the Skaggs family for the rest of her life as cook, housekeeper, and nurse.
Gold was discovered in central Montana and the town of Gilt Edge in the Judith mountains near Lewistown boomed as the Gold Reef and Whisky Gulch diggings brought rich strikes. The Hoffman and Skaggs families moved to Gilt Edge in 1896 after a decade in the Gallatin Valley.
Adeline became the community nurse, often caring for the patients of Dr. William J. Lakey who operated the Miners’ Union Hospital in Gilt Edge. She was known as “Doc” to the early miners. In addition to helping with the birth of the eight Skaggs children, Adeline was present as midwife at the birth of many of the children of the surrounding communities. By the time the ore ran out and the mines closed down, Adeline’s capable hands had brought scores of children into the world in central Montana in the days when it was a week’s ride to the nearest doctor. Her “children,” literally hundreds of them, moved to all parts of the world and had their children.
By day and night, on foot and in wagons, Adeline answered the constant appeal of those about to be born or in need of care. Snow filled the canyons or spring freshets rushed down the coulees but Adeline kept on going. Among those whose children Adeline ushered into the world were “Teddy Blue” Abbott of “We Pointed Them North” fame and Bill Burnett, who trailed north with three Texas herds, captained the first big Montana roundup, and led the Vigilantes who knew the outlaw Kid Curry.
Adeline’s activities didn’t stop with the children. She mothered cowpunchers and miners, gamblers and touts, and no one was turned down. “I can’t remember Adeline ever saying “no” to anyone,” says William Skaggs. “To all the family she was the boss and still is to most of us now. When we were hurt we went to the Doc. When we were hungry we went to her and, if she had nothing on hand, she cooked something for us. Not only us but the neighbor’s kids. After payday the miners and cowhands would come to her broke and hungry after a party and be cured of hangovers. Everyone knew her and knew she would help.” Adeline was loved and respected by all who became acquainted with her. Governor Roy E. Ayers knew her and State Historical Librarian John B. Rich, once a cowpuncher, was her friend.
After Gilt Edge became a ghost town the Skaggs family moved to a ranch near by and then, a few years later, to a ranch location near the Judith Mountain Divide where the Skaggs brothers operated the largest coal mine in the district.
“I take my time,” Adeline often said. “Young folks today could learn to take theirs and be happier. I’ve seen just lots of them rush into marriage just to get married and then bust up. I’d say folks who are going to be married ought to find out how they get along. Then there would be fewer bust-ups. Marriage is a business, not just the result of liking another person for a spell.”
“Yes sir, what folks need to know is how to take their time.”
The long life she has lived brought Adeline her own philosophy, not so much cultured as acquired without conscious effort. Bright of mind with a good and accurate memory and as she neared the century mark, Adeline had a quiet laugh and an eagerness for the new and interesting. She always showed an interest in life as she went on cooking, washing, working in the fields, nursing and mothering not only her own family but half the countryside as well.
Late in her life, Chadbourne M. Wallin visited Aunt Adeline. Of his memorable visit, he wrote, “I had Snooker, the 3-year-old [son], in my arms when I walked through the yard mud and into the big, two-story stone Skaggs ranch house in the coulee on the east slope of the Judith mountains, near Lewistown, Mont. Aunt Adeline was in the kitchen, washing dishes. She came out and I put Snooker on his feet. She saw him and said, ‘Whose boy are you?’ Snooker, as usual when startled put half his right hand in his mouth tucked in his chin and looked out from lowered brows. Then they stood and beamed at each other, the span of a century between . . .”
Adeline Hoffman lived with her Skaggs family until her death in January 1941. Her obituary read, “Beloved Negro Slave Laid to Rest Tuesday. Adeline Hoffman, 96, who was born in slavery on a plantation of the Old South 17 years before the start of the Civil War and who spent most of her life as a loyal and beloved member of the household of William Skaggs and his forebears tracking back over three generations, was laid to rest in the Lewistown city cemetery.”
In tribute to Aunt Adeline, a Skaggs family member Millie Hoves Salomon wrote these words:
“Some people say that slavery was bad
I’m sure we all agree
It was real nice of Lincoln
to set the slaves all free
my great grand parents got this little girl
when she was only nine
they loved her like their very own
her name was Adeline
When they told her years later
the slaves were all set free
she cried and said, now mam & pap
I’ll never leave thee
and so they kept her years and years
till they left this world behind
Then my grandfather & grandmother
kept sweet Adeline
My father told this to me
some years ago you see
he told me how she took care of him
when he was only three
and so you see there’s good in all
if we could only see
I’m thankful for the story told
that my father passed to me.”
Nostalgic tributes aside as well as the rewarding life led by Adeline Hoffman, slavery was far more than a “peculiar institution”—it was an evil one! God bless her white families who valued Adeline as a family member . . . but many more than “some people” say adamantly that slavery was bad.
Ken Robison is a local historian and author of Confederates in Montana Territory: In the Shadow of Price’s Army and Montana Territory and the Civil War: A Frontier Forged on the Battlefield.
1. Aunt Adeline, from slavery to freedom, serving generations of the same family. Photo by Chad Wallin.
2. The Alfred Skaggs family with Adeline present as a member of the family. [Courtesy of Kristi Lana (Reynolds) Davis, Find a Grave]