First, a little background information...
James Rooney was born in New York City in 1848. He died half a continent away on August 5, 1918, in Yankton, South Dakota, at the State Hospital. During his stint in the 7th U.S. Cavalry, he was a member of Company F, under Captain George Yates. Luckily, for Rooney, he was detailed to help with the pack train on June 25, 1876. Most of his company followed Custer into the fight and were wiped out.
He was promoted to sergeant on November 10, 1876 and was discharged on December 3 of the following year at Fort Buford, Dakota Territory, upon expiration of service.
He was admitted to the Yankton State Hospital in July 1911. He died at age 74 (which is at odds with his supposed date of birth) at 3:45pm on August 5, 1918, at Yankton State Hospital. Cause of death was carcinoma of the lip. Buried in Grave 593, Yankton State Hospital Cemetery (now South Dakota Human Services Center).
|Rooney's grave at Yankton, South Dakota|
During the 7th Cavalry's march to the Little Big Horn, they lost a pack from one of the mules. A few soldiers went back to retrieve it and found Indians trying to break the pack open. Shots were fired and the Indians left the scene. The troopers reported the incident and this was a factor that convinced Custer his column had been discovered and the village was about to be warned. Since the army was worried the Indians would scatter, Custer decided to attack. I mention this because according to the book, Camp, Custer, and the Little Bighorn by Richard G. Hardorff -- "The men who went back to check on the pack that was lost were Sgt. William A. Curtiss and Privates James M. Rooney, William Brown, Patrick Bruce, and Sebastian Omling, all of F Company."
As I mentioned above Rooney was a private in F Company assigned to the pack train. He took part in the hilltop fight portion of the Little Big Horn battle.
Now we finally get to the point of my post to the LBHA Facebook group and this blog entry.
Walter Mason Camp was a renowned Little Big Horn researcher and his notes are priceless to the modern day student of the battle. As Rooney had participated in the hilltop portion of the Little Big Horn battle, Camp would definitely have been interested in getting any insight Rooney would have been able to provide. In a January 16, 1909 letter to Camp, Rooney made the weird comment that when Captain Benteen arrived on Reno Hill, he was wearing a big straw hat and carrying a fishing pole!
As odd and far-fetched as that seems, it can possibly be explained. The letter between Camp and Rooney was 33 years after the battle. I don't know about you but my memory may be a bit lacking when it comes to details from 30+ years ago. This is one of the issues with getting participant testimony so long after the events transpired.
I believe that in the years following the battle, Rooney had read up on the campaign in which he was a participant. It is a well-known fact that after the Battle of the Rosebud, Crook retreated to Goose Creek, near present-day Sheridan, WY, and spent a lot of the time fishing. I'm thinking maybe Rooney congealed what he remembered from that stressful day during the battle with what he read over the years and simply mixed Benteen up with Crook. Also, since Rooney was with the pack train, he would have arrived on Reno Hill AFTER Benteen had already gotten there.
My Facebook post garnered some interesting discussion. A couple of group member comments that struck me as particularly interesting (I've left off the poster information):
"The story I’ve read about the fishing pole was that it occurred one year later when Benteen and the 7th Cavalry were deployed in the Nez Perce campaign against Chief Joseph."
OK, this I would find more believable if it wasn't for one thing...I can't find any documentation to support the claim that Rooney was part of the campaign against the Nez Perce. I checked the three "roster" reference books I have and none have a mention of Rooney participating in the Nez Perce campaign. Of course that doesn't mean that he didn't.
"A number of the 7th's officers, including Benteen & Godfrey, were ardent fly fishermen & went fishing whenever the opportunity presented itself while on route up the Rosebud. By the mid-19th century most fishermen were using split-cane bamboo rods, which were very fragile, broke easily & couldn't be stowed safely with the packs. To prevent their breakage, the officers generally kept their poles close to hand."
This is another post that makes some sense to me. But fragile or not, I really can't see Benteen walking around during an Indian battle with a fishing pole over his shoulder.
Whatever the reason, it's certainly an interesting remark and makes one think. Did Rooney confuse things or was Benteen an even cooler cucumber than he's been portrayed? Something to ponder...