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The officer at Fort Yates in charge of rounding-up and confiscating the Indian ponies used by Sitting Bull’s warriors at the Battle of the Little Big Horn was later named second in command of an Arctic expedition that attempted to be the first to reach the North Pole.  

Because the arctic expedition was never resupplied with food and other provisions, 18 of the 25 men, including Frederick Kislingbury, perished before a rescue party arrived three years later. 

Most of the men died from starvation.  When Kislingbury’s casket was opened, his carved up remains led many to conclude that the survivors resorted to cannibalism.

Kislingbury was born Christmas Day, 1847, in Ilsley, near Windsor Castle, England.  In the mid-1850s, the family settled in Rochester, N.Y.  Kislingbury joined the 54th New York Infantry in 1864.  When the Civil War ended, Kislingbury was stationed at Detroit.

While in Detroit, Kislingbury met Agnes Bullock, and they were married on March 1, 1866. He affectionately called her “Aggie.”

In 1869, he was transferred to Fort Concho in San Angelo in west Texas.  A large part of his duty was supervising the soldiers who protected the workers putting up telegraph poles throughout the area.

After the defeat of Lt. Col. George Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn,  Kislingbury’s company was transferred to the Cheyenne River Agency (later called Fort Bennett) in Dakota Territory in August 1876.

 A couple of months later, Kislingbury was assigned to the Standing Rock Cantonment (later called Fort Yates) on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. In December, Kislingbury was given the assignment of finding the “ponies the Indians had hidden from the army rather than surrender them as ordered following the defeat of Custer.” 

By the spring of 1876, Kislingbury and his men had collected so many ponies at the fort that they had to be removed and sent overland to St. Paul, Minn.  Kislingbury was given the job of leader of the drive.  When he returned, Kislingbury rounded up more ponies that were sold at public and private auctions at Fort Yates and at Bismarck.

While Kislingbury was in Bismarck, he made the acquaintance of Adolphus W. Greely, the man who had been in charge of erecting telegraph lines from Fort Abraham Lincoln to military forts in Montana Territory.

 In April 1878, Kislingbury’s wife died, and he sent for Jessie Bullock, the sister of Agnes, to care for his three young children.  The following year, Jessie and Kislingbury were married.

In 1880, Kislingbury was stationed at Fort Custer in Montana when he learned that his friend Greely was planning to lead an expedition to the Arctic in the spring of 1881. 

The U.S. agreed to establish a post at Lady Franklin Bay, across the channel from northern Greenland.  Greely was named to lead the Lady Franklin expedition, which would take place in the spring of 1881. 

Kislingbury wrote to Greely asking to be included as a member of the group.  Not only was he selected, Greely named Kislingbury as second in command.

On June 1, 1881, Kislingbury and two enlisted men sailed from New York to supervise the proper stowing of two-year’s worth of cargo in preparation for the three-year mission in the Arctic.  It was expected that re-supply ships would drop off supplies at the Cape Sabine base camp during the summers of 1882 and 1883.  

The mission did not start well.  Greely was a very strict leader, which did not sit well with Kislingbury. When Kislingbury was late for breakfast on Aug. 26, Greely ordered him to resign his position as second in command.  Kislingbury then resigned from the expedition.

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He packed his bags and went to board the ship Proteus.  But just as he arrived to where the boat was moored, he saw the vessel sailing home through the icebergs.  Kislingbury knew that he would have to stay until a relief vessel arrived the next summer. 

In 1882 a relief ship could not find a clear path through the icebergs and turned back.  In the summer of 1883, the Proteus hit an iceberg and sank.  With no food, the men began starving.

The first death occurred in January 1884.  Kislingbury died of starvation on June 1, 1884.  His last words were, “Aggie, Aggie.” Three weeks later, a rescue ship arrived and picked up the six survivors, one of which was Greely.

Kislingbury was loaded into a casket and returned to New York.  His funeral was held at the Monroe County Court House in Rochester on Aug. 10.  More than 20,000 came to pay their respects.

Because some of the survivors returned “fit and strong,” suspicions about cannibalism arose.  The Rochester Post offered to pay the expenses to exhume Kislingbury’s body, and on Aug. 14, his coffin was opened. 

The body had no skin, and his arms and legs were only held on by the ligaments.  Kislingbury’s body had been “methodically carved.”

 Greely explained that those parts of his body were used as bait in the fish and shrimp traps.  Despite objections from Kislingbury’s brothers and much of the public, the military agreed and, in June 1886, Greely was promoted to captain.

(Written by Curt Eriksmoen. Reach Eriksmoen at cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.)

 

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