Wednesday, November 25, 2009
The marriage of Lieutenant Henry Harrington and Grace Bernard was reported on this day in 1872. The Lieutenant and his wife would eventually become known to North Dakotans for very different reasons; Harrington would become one of the sad casualties of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and his wife’s actions afterward would serve to perpetuate the mythical curse of the battle.
Lt. Harrington began his military career at the West Point Academy, graduating in 1872. He was appointed to the rank of Second Lieutenant with the 7th Calvary in 1872, and served under George Custer during the 1873 Yellowstone Expedition and 1874 Black Hills Expedition. He was on leave after this last expedition, and did not move to Fort Abraham Lincoln near Bismarck until March of 1876. There, he joined the rest of the 7th Calvary once again, and became known to local residents. Only a month later, the Lieutenant set off with his men as part of the Sioux Campaign under the direction once again of George Custer.
In June, Harrington and the Calvary met the Sioux and Cheyenne near the Little Bighorn River in Montana. The Lieutenant participated in the now-infamous two-day siege. It is believed that he was killed on June 25th , serving alongside Lt. Colonel Custer, although his body was never identified. This was not unique to the Lieutenant, as many of the bodies could not be later identified due to both the brutality of the battle and later mutilations. These unidentified soldiers were placed into a mass grave near the battleground.
When his wife in New York received word of her husband’s death, she refused to believe it. Lacking the concrete proof of a body, Mrs. Harrington continued to live in a state of denial, telling friends and relatives that she believed her husband captured or lost in the remote regions of Montana. Under the guise of visiting family out west, Mrs. Harrington set out from New York in search of her husband. She disappeared for two or three years, before showing up in Fort Worth, Texas, suffering from amnesia and pneumonia. Many at the time considered this as proof of the “curse” that was said to haunt survivors of those lost in the battle.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job