Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Luther "Yellowstone" Kelly

With Nancy J. Farrier

Luther "Yellowstone" Kelly
Most of us have heard of Buffalo Bill and know of his important contributions to the west in the 1800’s. Few have heard about Luther ‘Yellowstone’ Kelly, yet his exploits, bravery and contributions have been compared to Buffalo Bill.

Born in Geneva, New York, in 1849, Luther became the ‘man’ of the family at eight years old when his father died. As a teenager, Luther prepared to go to a Wesleyan seminary, but the lure of the Civil War drew him to enlist. Some reports say he was sixteen when he enlisted, others say he was only fifteen and lied about his age to be allowed to enlist. Either way, the fighting ended by the time he was able to join the army. 

Instead of fighting in the Civil War, Luther shipped out west to join the Cavalry. He stayed in the army for three years, but then became an explorer. He was known for his bravery and fearlessness. He loved Montana and did much of his exploring there.

In 1869, Luther spent the winter at Fort Buford, hunting for game and doing chores at the
Kelly as a Scout
Fort. Some of the soldiers were assigned the task of carrying mail between Fort Buford and Fort Stevenson, a very dangerous task. When two of the soldiers failed to return, the post commander asked for volunteers to take some important messages to Fort Stevenson. None of the soldiers were willing to go, but Luther volunteered. He later wrote that he needed the employment. 

He set off late so he could traverse the most dangerous part of the trail in the dark. The snow made the road treacherous, but the trip to Stevenson proved uneventful. However, on the trip home he encountered two Sioux warriors who stopped and waited for him to approach. When he came close enough, they opened fire on him. One had a gun and the other used a bow and arrow. 

Luther leaped from his horse and killed the Sioux with the shotgun first. The other warrior took shelter behind a tree and he and Luther exchanged fire. Luther hit the warrior, breaking his arm. Luther later wrote, “He rushed toward me in furry and despair, attempting meanwhile, to place an arrow on the string of his bow, but I dropped him in his tracks.” 

Charles Russell depiction of Kelly fighting
the Sioux warriors.
Another story of his bravery happened when he decided to shoot a bull buffalo. The buffalo became angry and charged Luther, something that would terrify most people. Kelly wrote: “I shoot from the left shoulder, but there was no time for that operation so, quickly shifting my little Henry rifle, I held it on that grizzly ornament of his face, the forelock, heavy with sand and matted with burrs, which hung between his eyes, and when he was about 10 feet away, let him have it. He dropped in an instant.” I can’t begin to imagine waiting until such a huge beast was only 10 feet from me before shooting.

Yellowstone Movie Poster
Kelly had many accomplishments. He fought in many noted battles in the west. He knew General Custer, met Geronimo, was friends with Theodore Roosevelt, explored Alaska, led expeditions into Yellowstone, and fought in the Philippines and the Spanish-America War. He finally retired in California where he died in 1928. As per his arrangements, he was buried in Billings, Montana.

In 1959, Warner Bros. made a movie based on a book about Yellowstone Kelly. Clint Walker starred as Kelly. There is also a Facebook page devoted to remembering Kelly. 

Have you ever heard of Luther ‘Yellowstone’ Kelly? Have you seen the movie? Check out his Facebook page and let me know what you think. I love hearing your thoughts.

Nancy J. Farrier is an award winning author who lives in Southern California in the Mojave Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. Nancy and her husband have five children and two grandsons. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needle craft, play with her cats, and spend time with her family. Nancy is represented by Karen Ball of The Steve Laube Literary Agency. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website:


  1. Kelly sure sounds like an interesting man. I think I do remember seeing that movie when I was younger. I do kind of wonder what happened to his family.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Vickie. Yes, I would love to know more about Luther Kelly and his family. Fascinating person.

  2. Never heard of Yellowstone Kelly! Sounds extremely adventurous and did not look for the easy way out of a situation. sm wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

    1. Yes, Sharon, he is much more adventurous than I would want to be. Thank you for commenting.

  3. Yes, I remember the movie but I was never familiar with this information. Thank you for sharing!