John C. Lockwood was born on April 1, 1857, in the little town of Bonaparte, Van Buren County, Iowa, the son of Hiram and Thirza Lockwood. In 1859, the family moved to Port Louisa, Iowa, on the Mississippi River, in the days when the river was the most common means of transportation.
Port Louisa was a refueing point for river steamboats. The big stern-wheelers churn up both the mighty river and Jack's yearning for adventure. During the Civil War, the boats were filled with soldiers. The attraction was so strong that he led his playmates in his first attempt to enlist, at the age of four. He started his formal education at age 5 after the family moved to Grandview, Iowa. At age 12, he work as a janitor at the towns schoolhouse, earning tuition for him and two sisters.
The following summer, he left for Muscatine, Iowa 15 miles away to help with the timber harvest. He spent the fall among hunting parties that sold wild game to communities along the river.
During Fall 1870 at the age of 13, he helped his favorite uncle John Raymond drive steers from Texas to Kansas. While enroute, their camp was once visited by George Custer with his small band of men when both groups were hunting for game. Lockwood noted with unconcealed admiration Custers golden flowing hair.
John returned to Iowa for one more school term but left home permanently the following summer with his uncle and his companions. The group spent the next year buffalo hunting, gold mining and trapping. As the youngest of the group, he was responsible to keep meat on the table. He honed his hunting skills and became an expert marksman.
They traveled up the Missouri River to Dakota Territory. The famous scout Charley Reynolds joined them in Yankton. There, and subsequently in Standing Rock and Bismarck, many Sioux Indians possessed gold artifacts. Reynolds correctly speculated the gold was from the Black Hills. After resupplying at Fort Benton, they crept into the Reservation and found gold at Deadwood Gulch. They traveled to Bismarck in Spring 1872 to cash in their gold. Their second prospecting expedition in Fall 1872 was a failure.
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In April 1873, Reynolds reputation in the region landed them a job with Colonel George Custers command, to assist them in transporting his men and materiel to Fort Rice and Fort Abraham Lincoln. They stayed on as civilian scouts. During Custers expedition to confirm the existence of gold in the Hills, Lockwoods Uncle John was killed by the Indians.
Despite his great grief, Reynolds and Lockwood signed on the following year with General Crook and his troops who were ordered to clear the white prospectors out of the Black Hills. Upon their return to the Mandan area, they found many more men hunting buffalo and the herds thinned out. So they sought out and were taken on again as civilian scouts for the Seventh Cavalry.
On June 25, 1875, Lockwood and Reynolds were among the eight civilians in Custers contingent. According to the book based on Lockwood's personal papers, Custer had dispatched Reynolds and Lockwood with identical messages to Major Reno, each to take separate routes to Reno. After both successfully delivered their messages, attempted to rejoin Custers soldiers only to be attacked enroute. Reynolds died in the encounter and Lockwood barely escaped, returning to Renos command after hiding out all night in the grass and reeds along a river bank.
After its defeat, the Army quickly sought to resupply both men and materiel, including horses. Lockwood assisted the quartermaster with the selection and purchase of new horses. But per Army regulations, civilians were not to be involved in supply decisions.
After obtaining his father's permission, he signed on to to the US Armys Seventh Calvary on August 31, 1976. He noted later to his family that as an enlisted man, he did not have the privileges he had as a packer and scout.
John was among the troups sent in early 1877 to the northern border with General Howard to protect settlers from the small war parties sent in by the Sioux. They crossed the Yellowstone River and got caught between it and the flooding Mussel Shell River without adequate supplies. Soldiers on guard duty and on picket lines would return with hands and feet frozen.
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Lockwood contracted a lung infection for which he refused to seek medical treatment and it remained untreated for 6 months. Lockwood finally collapsed in Janaury 1878 while on outdoor guard duty back at Fort Lincoln, spitting so much blood his comrades thought they were under attack from the Indians. Despite remaining in the hospital for over 6 months, he was unable to regain his strength. He was discharged early on July 18, 1878 with a hopeless case of tuberculosis, and weighing a mere 80 pounds. He returned to Fort Benton and got on as a dogsled driver for the Hudson Bay Company, delivering supplies to their "British Territory" outposts.
He would drive stage on the Bismarck to Deadwood route for the Northwestern Stage Company, and later with the Overland Stage Company as a Treasure Coach driver the iron clad wagons that hauled gold from Deadwood.
As the railroad moved into the area, the stage coach routes changed and so did Lockwoods assignments. In March of 1883 while driving for the Boise City and Kelton Stageline, he had only two passengers. A mining company executive was making unwelcomed advances toward the female passenger aboard who was the wife of the Rocky Bar Mine's superintendant. Mary [McIntryre] Wheeler was told if she did not cooperate, he would make it tough for her husband. Fortunately they arrived at a rest station before the situation worsened.
The woman recounted her story to the stationkeeper's wife, who in turn discussed it with Lockwood. Refusing a bribe from the executive, Lockwood arranged for her to ride with him, outside. Furious, upon their arrival at the mining camp, the executive claimed to Superintendant Wheeler that Lockwood had an adulterous relationship with his wife. Barely escaping a lynch mob, Lockwood was wanted by the law for almost a year. When finally given a fair opportunity, he cleared himself and subsequently married Mary "May" [McIntyre] Wheeler in June 1884. After honeymooning in Idaho, they returned to San Fransisco to live near her parents. The couple were blessed with a son, but May died soon after.
Specifically what happened next may be lost forever to history, but in his grief he may have returned to his former base of operation in the Fort Lincoln, Dakota Territory area. He met and apparently married Margaret Stebbins and they lived in the Mandan area. However the couple split in the early 1890s. Margaret remarried and moved to Bismarck with her new husband, James Arnold, a guard at the state penitentiary.
Following a distinguished military career he was active in veterans affairs, serving for some time as Adjutant of National Indian War Veterans with headquarters in Wichita Kansas. Later he retired to Sawtelle Soldiers Home, Sawtelle to Houston, Texas that while enroute from Sawtelle to Houston Texas that he was killed in an automobile accident near Heber, Utah on September 11, 1928, at the age of seventy-one. He was buried in the Old Soldiers Cemetery at Sawtelle.
Margaret (Stebbins) and John Lockwood c. 1889
NOTE: The majority of this Legacy Program Biography was derived from the book Custer Fell First edited and compiled by J. C. Ryan, Lockwood's grand nephew, from information left by the subject and largely archived in the Henry E. Huntington Library in San Marino, California. It is also noteworthy that the book has multiple significant errors, from mis-naming one of the most famous frontier scouts Charley Reynold's to the name of the riverboat that picked up the wounded. His account of Charley Reynolds death and his assignment proportedly delivering a dispatch from Custer to Reno is in direct contrast to sworn testimony in various military investigations and other archived historical documents.
The Society would like to extend special appreciation to Lockwood's great-grandson Dennis Arnold for sharing the photo of his great grandparents with us, and for providing other information regarding them to the Mandan Historical Society.
The MHSoc's museum and office is located at 411 W Main St, Mandan, ND 58554 Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave message at (701) 751-2983