Magnificent Maguire maps travel through time

Amorette Allison
History Columnist

I love maps. Which is ironic, since I have absolutely no innate sense of direction and I never travel. But I love maps. Topo maps. Road maps. Old maps. New maps. One of my favorite maps is hand-drawn and is an important part of Miles City history.

Labeled “Proposed Location of Government Reservation on Tongue and Yellowstone Rivers,” it is dated Dec. 4, 1876. The artist and surveyor who drew this marvel was Lt. Edward Maguire of the Army Corps of Engineers. 

Yes, even before there was a Miles City, the Army Corps was around, drawing maps.

This map was of the “reservation,” as it was called in the early days. It wasn’t a reservation for Native Americans, as we are familiar with today, but a military reservation, with thousands of acres reserved for the use of the military.

The map is full of delightful details. As we all know, cottonwoods grow along side waterways and this map shows lots of trees carefully drawn along the rivers and creeks. There are also bluffs drawn, showing the high ground in the area and a river bed that created an island on the north side of what wasn’t yet Miles City.

The cantonment is shown on the map, close to the mouth of the Tongue, as well as the “Proposed Site of the Fort,” later Fort Keogh, and the “Proposed Townsite.”

A square box is drawn around the entire area and this is really the most interesting part. The heavier line shows the “original reservation.” This square, 20 miles on each side, was supposed to be for Fort Keogh.

However, armies are always followed by merchants and other entrepreneurs and these hardy souls need a town of their own. And since those merchants sold what was called politely “liquid stock,” that town needed to be well away from the fort.

Most of us know the story of the founding of Miles City. General Nelson Miles, then a lieutenant colonel in command of the cantonment, was a good Baptist and temperance man who did not approve of alcoholic beverages.

“Whiskey,” Miles is famously quoted as saying, “caused more trouble than the Indians.”

So he wanted the town a minimum of two miles away from his military quarters. But the military reservation was 20 miles across. So Miles allowed for the upper northeast corner of the military reservation to be cut off, giving the town land two miles from the cantonment.

So, on this map, you can see a box that contains, tucked into the corner as close to the military reservation as possible, a site labeled “proposed townsite.”

That is old Miles City.

In the spring of 1877, Nelson Miles City moved his men from the cantonment to the location of modern Fort Keogh. It was two miles to the west on higher ground.

This meant the original Miles City was still two miles from the now-abandoned cantonment, but four miles from the Fort and its customer base.

So, Miles City picked up and moved. The military reservation readjusted its borders again, now declaring everything on the west side of the Tongue River military and allowing the east side to be open to settlers. A small square inside that open land was set aside as the Fort Keogh Ferry landing. It remained part of Fort Keogh until 1924.

Miles City pressed itself up against the bank of the Tongue as tightly as possible, except for that section held out for the ferry landing.

Which is one reason why Miles City clings tightly to the Tongue River.

There wasn’t much concern for flooding. There was just getting as close to the customers — the soldiers at Fort Keogh — as was practical.

The map is also interesting because of the engineer who drew the map. Lt. Maguire, a West Point graduate originally from Tennessee, would be around Fort Keogh  until at least 1881, by which time he had been promoted to captain. He drew a number of maps of the area, including a closely-detailed map of the Fort Keogh Reservation in 1878, after the town and the fort had settled into their permanent locations. 

Before his maps of this area, Maguire was also the man in command of a troop of cavalry who were sent by General Terry a few days after the Battle of the Little Bighorn to make a survey of the battlefield site. That, the Maguire Map, is one of the most important documents that tells the first story of that tragedy.

The map was actually drawn by Sgt.  Charles Becker, a man under Maguire’s command, but it is known as the Maguire Map.

That map is 17.5 inches by 15 inches. It accompanied Maguire’s Annual Report dated July 10, 1876. In that report, Maguire tells the story of the Seventh Cavalry from the day they left Fort Abraham Lincoln on May 17 through the initial burials. His was the first official report of the battle and the one all historians use as a starting point for analysis of the battle.

Maguire spent his time in eastern Montana completing surveys and drawing maps. He surveyed and drew in detail the route from Fort Keogh to Fort Buford. Fort Buford is now a National Historic Site in North Dakota. Buford was built at the confluence of the Yellowstone with the Missouri. 

Fort Buford retains one of the old officers’ quarters still on the original parade ground site. Visiting Fort Buford can give a visitor an idea of what Fort Keogh was like. It was constructed five years before Fort Keogh but the forts were all based on a similar plan.

Maguire made a number of detailed trips up and down the Yellowstone River. Those maps also survive in federal archives and make an imaginary trip up river that I have always enjoyed taking, noting every island, the landscape around the river, and all those cottonwood trees.

(Amorette Allison is a local history columnist.)