The Conley Bros. Custer Co. Law Officer Legends
Posted by cody7 (+22) 2 years ago
By Jim Blodgett
Whenever the name “Conley” is mentioned to anyone interested in Miles City, Deer Lodge, Montana State Prison or law enforcement history, Frank Conley will most likely come to mind. In the 1880’s Frank was well known as a fearless, lawman in Custer County and the wild Cowtown of Miles City. In 1886 at age twenty-two he was hired as a guard at the Territorial Prison in Deer Lodge. In 1890, after Montana Statehood, Frank was hired as Warden, a post he held for 30 years. He also served as Mayor of Deer Lodge for 29 years.
These personal accomplishments are but a sampling of the interesting life and contributions of the big Irishman Frank Patrick Conley. A great deal more needs and will be told in the coming weeks. But first, there is more to the Conley story than just Frank. Before Frank set foot in Montana Territory, his two older brothers John “Jack” and James “Jim” Conley preceded him. Both Jack and Jim made their own marks in Montana law enforcement history. Their accomplishments and examples undoubtedly served to define the man and younger brother Frank Conley. As a result, their stories must be the first of the “Conley Chronicles.”
John “Jack” Conley was born in 1854 in Baltimore Maryland to Irish immigrants James Patrick Conley and Mary Elizabeth McGann. Shortly after the birth of Jack the family relocated twenty-five miles from Baltimore in to Shawsville Maryland in Harford County where Father James entered the Cattle business.
During the following nine years 3 additional children were born to the Conley’s; Son James Patrick Jr. in 1857, Daughter Mary Ann in 1861 and Frank Patrick in 1864.
In 1865, only one year after birth of their youngest son Frank, James Sr. passed away suddenly at the young age of forty-four. This tragedy left wife Mary Elizabeth alone with a cattle operation and five children. Mary was forced to sell the property and relocate with her children to live with relatives in Iowa.
In 1870, at age sixteen, oldest son Jack left home to work on his own. For the next six years he worked in various jobs including farming, rafts man on the Mississippi river and shoveling coal as a fireman on a Chicago & Northwest Railroad steam locomotive.
In 1876 Jack decided to head west to Cheyenne Wyoming where he joined up with Tom Moore’s pack train as a packer and mule skinner. Tom Moore was a successful if not famous military packer who provided support for U.S. Army General George R. Crook during his 1871expeditions against the Apaches. General Crook was about to embark on his campaign against the Sioux nation and employed Moore to be his chief packer.
During the Indian campaigns of the 1870’s and 80’s the pursuing Cavalry were at a distinct disadvantage. The natives of the mountains and prairies excelled at their particular mode of warfare and relocation of entire family and shelters. Generally unencumbered by the burden of excessive food and equipment, the native families simply sustained their selves from the land. Most natives could ride anywhere from sixty to eighty miles a day while on the run. The cavalry trooper riding his one grain-fed horse burdened with saddle and equipment could barely average twenty miles a day.
The only advantage that the pursuing cavalry could provide was to have the ability to maintain a constant, focused pursuit that would hopefully wear down those pursued. This advantage could only be obtained by having the ability to transport necessary supplies including food, equipment, ammunition, medical supplies and grain for the horses. The pack train provided this essential support with minimum delay of the troops.
Tom Moore’s pack train along with packer Jack Conley accompanied General Crook to Montana and was part of the coordinated attack designed to drive the defiant Lakota bands gathered around Sitting Bull back onto their reservations. In this campaign Crook’s troops were forced to retreat from the Lakota and Cheyenne warriors led by Chief Crazy Horse in a battle at Rosebud Creek. That unexpected battle denied reinforcements to General Armstrong Custer and may have contributed to his devastating loss at the Little Big Horn.
In early 1877 Tom Moore gave Jack Conley charge of his own pack train and he was transferred to Colonel (later Major General) Nelson Miles’s command at Fort Keogh Montana. Conley accompanied Colonel Miles as his chief packer and scout during the Sioux and Nez Perce campaigns. During the spring and summer of 1877, he participated in the campaign that scoured the Northern Plains after Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer's defeat at the Battle of the Little Big Horn and forced the Lakota and their allies onto reservations. In the winter of 1877, Colonel Miles drove his troops on a forced march across eastern Montana to intercept the Nez Perce band led by Chief Joseph.
Jack Conley at the scene when Chief Joseph surrendered October 5th, 1877.
To be continued . . . . The Conley Chronicles.
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