Telegraphic communication not only played an important role in the life of a newspaper, it played even a more important role in the life of an Army post. Soldiers from Fort Keogh first ran a line from the Fort to Bismarck. This line was completed in April 1878. This line sustained the Post until hostile forces had been somewhat subdued. In September 1878, serious construction got underway on a communications network. First, several companies under the command of Lieutenant William Bowen set to work and completed a line from Terry Point (a supply center located at the mouth of the Big Horn River) to Fort Buford, Dakota Territory. A month later Company D, Fifth Infantry, under Lieutenant H. K. Bailey, was sent to construct a line between Fort Keogh and Fort Buford. Company D was joined in its efforts by Company H, Fifth Infantry during November 1878, with Lieutenant Logan in command. Troop B, Second Cavalry, under Lieutenant M. E. Brien, started a line from Fort Keogh to Deadwood in the same month.
The problems faced by Lieutenant Brien, as well as the solutions given, reflect those of the other officers and men who constructed the telegraph line around Fort Keogh in those days. Brien's party had thirty-eight enlisted men and six skilled civilian workers. They started the job with seventy-seven miles of wire, all that Fort Keogh could supply. Conditions in the field were hard, resulting in the discharge of half the civilians after two days out. Soldiers such as Private Stage of Company "B" did a great deal of the pole climbing. In ten days they had used up all the wire and had traveled seventy-seven miles out from Fort Keogh. Several men were sent to Deadwood for more wire as the troops remaining went back over old ground and installed more insulators. After the Quartermaster delivered thirty additional miles of wire to the Little Missouri, work on stringing the wire resumed. Indians were seen by his troops near Belle Fourche, Dakota Territory and so Lieutenant Brien left the line after stringing all the wire he had and pushed on toward Deadwood. There he found eighty-six miles of wire, 650 brackets and 360 insulators. With his fresh supply of material, Brien started to construct the line now back from Deadwood toward where he had left off. The pine timber in the badlands slowed his work a great deal as reels had to be fed out and wire chopped. This forced the using of connectors, thus slowing the process. In open country thirteen or fourteen miles a day was average, but the pace dropped to two miles in the pines. As Brien reached the end of his supplies, he failed to find any more waiting at Camp Ruklen and so he pushed on to Spearfish at the west edge of the Black Hills and was informed by telegraph there that more material was coming via the stage. Insulators were short in numbers so every other pole was insulated and after the supplies arrived, troops were sent back to finish the job. When the job was completed, Lieutenant Brien was informed that part of the line had been torn up. He was ordered to return down the line to Deadwood where he found that teamsters, while passing under the wire, had stood on the wagon seat and torn the wire down. Brien decided to move the line fifty feet to prevent temptations and then marched on to Deadwood to resupply and maintain his animals. On his return to Fort Keogh, Brien inspected the line and as needed he nailed on brackets where lost, replaced split wire, tamped and banked poles and tested the line. It was reported back to Fort Keogh that there was an average of twenty poles to the mile. Thus the Lieutenant completed the job he had begun some thirty-six days earlier.By the end of 1879 Fort Keogh was in telegraphic communication with Bismarck, Deadwood, Fort Custer, Fort Ellis, Helena, Fort Shaw, Fort Benton and Fort Assinniboine. Troops from Fort Keogh had run 650 miles of telegraph lines, most of which was used by the general public in 1880.
FORT KEOGH: CUTTING EDGE OF A CULTURE
Josef James Warhank