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Manuscripts by Subject - Military - #10115

Title: Matthew Forney Steele Papers

Dates: 1871-1936

Collection Number: 10115

Quantity: 2 cubic feet

Abstract: Papers consist of letters from Steele to his mother concerning family affairs and military service in New York, Virginia, Georgia, Texas, Dakota Territory, and North Dakota. Includes reminiscences of the death of Sitting Bull.

Provenance: The State Historical Society of North Dakota acquired the Matthew Forney Steele Papers from Roy P. Johnson between 1951 and 1954.

Property Rights: The State Historical Society of North Dakota owns the property rights to this collection.

Copyrights: Copyrights to this collection remain with the donor, publisher, author, or author's heirs. Researchers should consult the 1976 Copyright Act, Public Law 94-553, Title 17, U.S. Code or an archivist at this repository if clarification of copyright requirements is needed.

Access: This collection is open under the rules and regulations of the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Citation: Researchers are requested to cite the collection title, collection number, and the State Historical Society of North Dakota in all footnote and bibliographic references.

from the Fargo Forum, February 26, 1953:

Lt. Col. Matthew Forney Steele, 91, of 707 Seventh St. S., who died Wednesday in a Fargo hospital, was Fargo's last surviving veteran of the Indian wars of frontier times.
He was most widely known as a member of the little band of U.S. Cavalry which figured in the fatal Sitting Bull incident of 1890.

Fargoans knew him best as head of the pioneer J. B. Folsom real estate and loan agency, which he operated for 38 years following his retirement from the Army, and as a kindly, modest and well-loved citizen.

Many Fargoans looked upon him as a living representative of a romantic past about whom hung an aura of the stirring days when white men and women and Indians struggled for supremacy.
To Gen. George C. Marshall he was a bright and skillful Army major, who taught Marshall the strategy of battle in the days when Steele was an instructor and Marshall a student at the Army General Service and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., in 1906.

What Gen. Marshall thought of Steele is revealed in a hitherto unpublished letter sent by the World War II Army chief of staff to the Fargo Forum, in which he tells a secret shared by the two old friends.

"I first met Colonel Steele in the fall of 1906 at the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., an old frontier post from which the military convoys and guard escorts started westward in the early days," Marshall said.

"He was the professor of military history and delivered a series of lectures which are or were in fact the contents of the very well known book, 'Steele's American Campaigns.'"I much admired Colonel Steele, who was then a major of cavalry. I remained at Leavenworth three more years, one in the Staff College, and two more as an instructor. During this time I came to know him intimately, and Mrs. Steele also, and developed an affectionate regard for both of them.
"On my return from France with General Pershing in 1919, I saw something of Colonel Steele in Washington and in later years we exchanged letters several times."Once during our Italian campaign in 1943 he wrote to me in a spirit of critical discussion of the progress of that campaign."My reply was the only discussion I ever indulged in outside my official channels and contacts during the war."I had such high regard for Colonel Steele personally and as a military strategist that I made this single exception."Colonel Steele's book of 'American Campaigns' is the standard work on the subject. It stands in very high regard among military students, even though, as he states, he did not make the effort necessarily a prodigious effort to include a consideration of the voluminous official records of the Civil War--the fighting from 1861 to 1865.
"In 1944, or possibly 1945, Gen. Henry A. Arnold and I were pheasant shooting near Bismarck, N.D. Colonel Steele called me on the telephone inviting me to stop over for a visit.
"Unfortunately I had engagements which prevented me from doing so, much to my regret.
To many in the Army of the late 80s Steele was the officer who struck a soldier and thereby brought about a change in the Army's court martial procedure. The incident occurred at Fort Yates, N.D.

To Col. E. S. Walker, Gainesville, Fla., a West Point classmate, Steele was "a popular cadet whom I remember very pleasantly." They graduated in 1883. The only other member of that class still surviving is Brig. Gen. Ira A. Haynes, Palo Alto, Calif.
To his fellows in the eighth U.S. Cavalry he was a comrade who was with them the longest march in military history until that time an overland journey of the regiment in 1888 from Fort Daxis, Texas, to Fort Meade, Dakota Territory.
To Gen. Joe Wheeler of the First U.S. Cavalry Brigade, Steele was his young aide who fought in the Battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba with such gallantry that he was awarded a silver star.
To the folk of Huntsville, Ala., where Steele was born June 19, 1861, he was a local celebrity who came up from poverty under the tutelage of a devoted school teacher mother.
Steele entered West Point in 1879, his classmates including Tom Ridgeway, father of Gen. Matthew Ridgeway.

After his graduation he was assigned for a number of years to frontier posts in Texas, at one of which he met a visiting Fargo girl, Stella Folsom, whom he married in Fargo Oct. 5, 1887.
Later he served at Fort Meade and Fort Yates in Dakota, then at Fort Meyer, Va., Fort Keogh, Mont., and later in Cuba and the Philippines during the Spanish American War.
As a young army officer he made a sortie with a cavalry detachment in 1890 to Sitting Bull's camp on the Grand River, near Fort Yates to rescue a troop of besieged Indian policemen who had killed the Sioux leader. Col. Steele retired from the Army on the death of his father-in-law, John Folsom, in 1912, and took over management of the latter's land office. He was back in service for a brief period in World War I as military science instructor at NDAC.
Mrs. Steele died Nov. 15, 1945. They had no children.


Box 1:
1 Correspondence, June 1871-March 1878
2 Correspondence, September-October 1879
3 Correspondence, June-August 1879
4 Correspondence, November-December 1879
5 Correspondence, January-February 1880
6 Correspondence, March-May 1880
7 Correspondence, June-July 1880
8 Correspondence, August-December 1880
9 Correspondence, January-May 1881
10 Correspondence, January-April 1882
11 Correspondence, May-July 1882
12 Correspondence, August-October 1882
13 Correspondence, November-December 1882

Box 2:
1 Correspondence, January-March 1883
2 Correspondence, April-June 1883
3 Correspondence, July-December 1883
4 Correspondence, January-March 1884
5 Correspondence, April-July 1884
6 Correspondence, August-December 1884
7 Correspondence, January-March 1885
8 Correspondence, April-June 1885
9 Correspondence, July-September 1885
10 Correspondence, October-December 1885

Box 3:
1 Correspondence, January-April 1886
2 Correspondence, May-August 1886
3 Correspondence, September-December 1886
4 Correspondence, January-February 1887
5 Correspondence, January-May 1888
6 Correspondence, June-December 1888
7 Correspondence, January-April 1889
8 Correspondence, May-August 1889
9 Correspondence, September-December 1889
10 Correspondence, September-October 1890
11 Correspondence, January-May 1891
12 Correspondence, June-August 1891
13 Correspondence, September-December 1891
14 Correspondence, January-May 1892
15 Correspondence, June-August 1892
16 Correspondence, September-December 1892

Box 4:
1 Correspondence, January-April 1893
2 Correspondence, May-June 1893
3 Correspondence, June-September 1893
4 Correspondence, October-December 1893
5 Correspondence, January-March 1893
6 Correspondence, April-June 1894
7 Correspondence, July-December 1894
8 Correspondence, January-March 1895
9 Correspondence, April-July 1895
10 Correspondence, September-October 1895
11 Correspondence, January-May 1896
12 Correspondence, June-September 1896
13 Correspondence, October-December 1896
14 Correspondence, January-April 1897
15 Correspondence, May-August 1897
16 Correspondence, September-December 1897
17 Correspondence, January-April 1898
18 Correspondence, May-October 1898
19 Correspondence, November-December 1898
20 “The Constitution of the United States” (WDAY broadcast on behalf of ND Daughters of
the American Revolution [NDDAR]), by Colonel M. F. Steele, 1936;
“The Death of Sitting Bull: A Reminiscence,” M. F. Steele, Lt. Col. U.S. Army (Ret.), n.d. (two copies);
Essay on the character of Jefferson Davis, Masonic Hall, May 1876

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