Miles featured in new military collection


The U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Penn.,  holds hundreds of thousands of photographs, letters, art, weapons, books, manuals, diaries, recordings, uniforms and other item related to the  military.  Of particular interest to Miles City is the collection of papers that belonged to General Nelson Appleton Miles, after whom Miles City is named.

The U.S. Army career of Miles began during the dark days of the American Civil War. Miles entered the Union Army on September 9, 1861 and rose through the officers ranks quickly, achieving the rank of major general of Union Volunteers. He received the Medal of Honor for his conduct at the Battle of Chancellorsville, 1863.  After the Civil War, Miles received command of the 5th Infantry Regiment with the rank of colonel.

In 1876, Miles was ordered to move his command from Kansas to the Montana Territory along the Yellowstone and Tongue rivers. The site was considered ideal as it was near the mouth of the Tongue River and on the banks of the Yellowstone River so supplies could be easily transported by water to the fort. 

In 1877, a new permanent fort named after Captain Myles Keogh was built nearby. Captain Myles Keogh, 7th Cavalry Regiment, was killed at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, June 25th, 1876. Myles’ horse, Comanche, was the long survivor of Custer’s command. 

Fort Keogh was a key base of operations because it allowed the U.S. Army to intercept the warring Sioux and Nez Pierce tribes.  These tribes defied the U.S. government demand they resettle to reservations.  

Miles launched a winter campaign, marching his men through brutal sub-zero temperatures and deep snowfall in order the harass the Native Americans when they were used to moving very little because supplies were short.

Fort Keogh quickly grew into a substantial military post. 

In the spring of 1877, Miles, who was a strict Temperance man and who found that “whisky caused him more trouble than the Indians,” threw out the bartenders and ladies of ill repute, forcing them to move to the far edge of the military reservation.  That community was named “Miles City,” although whether to honor Miles City or mock him was debated at the time.

Fondly known as “Milestown,” Miles City picked up and moved one year after its founding when the original Tongue River Barracks were abandoned and the permanent installation, Fort Keogh, was constructed on higher ground.  The fort moved two miles and the city followed, to make sure they were as close to their customers as possible.

Miles was promoted to Brigadier General in 1880 and commanded various military departments throughout the United States.  His leadership led to the capturing of Nez Pierce Chief Joseph in 1877 and the Apache Geronimo in 1886.  As a Major General, Miles commanded the 1898 Spanish-American War expedition to capture Puerto Rico.   

Miles received further promotions and attained the rank of lieutenant general in 1901. He finished his military career as the Commanding General of the U.S. Army. Miles died in 1925, after a prominent and heroic Army career.

Miles never really approved of the town named after him, even though his nephew, George, lived here and was one of the town’s most prominent businessmen.  He rarely visited after he left in 1880, once allowing the train he was on to stop for fifteen minutes so his nephew could visit him on the train.  In his autobiography, Miles makes one passing reference to the community but not by name.

While Miles never liked Miles City, Miles City has always held the general in high regard.  A number of items that once belonged to Miles City are on the display at the Range Riders Museum on the west side of Miles City, between the town and Fort Keogh, which is now an agricultural experiment station.

The U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pa., holds a collection of General Nelson A. Miles’ papers and photographs that are available for research by the general public. Please visit or call 717-245-3972.