Ten years before the Battle of Little Big Horn, more famously known as Custer’s Last Stand, another group of US military servicemen were surrounded by Indians and wiped out to the last man. Known as the Fetterman Disaster, the story is worth repeating, because an O’Gara was among the victims.
With the American Civil War over, joining the US Army must have seemed like a safe way to earn a steady paycheck. Michael O’Gara, a recent immigrant from Ireland to Chicago, enlisted to support his wife and two infant boys back in County Sligo. In April, 1866 he enlisted and soon found himself at Fort Philip Kearny in the Dakota Territory, now in the state of Wyoming. Private Michael O’Gara was assigned to Co. C, 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry. Along with the 2nd US Cavalry, their job was to protect the fort and its occupants. The fort was deep in Indian country and the Indians were not happy about its construction on their land. Wood gathering parties, upon leaving the safety of the fort, were frequently attacked.
During one of these attacks, on December 21, 1866, Captain William J. Fetterman was dispatched with eighty men to drive off the attackers. He was warned to remain within sight of the fort. Captain Fetterman was not a man lacking in confidence, he had been heard to claim, “with eighty men I can ride through the Sioux nation”. These words would prove to be ironic.
Ft Kearney 1867
Sketch by Bugler Antonio Nicoli, 2nd US Cavalry, from The Bozeman Trail, Vol.1
Fetterman chased the small band of attackers into a clearing beyond view of the fort. Waiting for him were hundreds of Indian warriors (up to two thousand by some estimates). The battle was short and decisive. When it was over, Fetterman and his entire command were dead, including Private Michael O’Gara. The number of dead, seventy-six soldiers, three officers and two civilian frontiersmen, came to a total of eighty-one.
The victims were buried in a mass grave at the fort, subsequently disinterred and reburied at the national cemetery at Little Big Horn Battlefield.
Fort Kearny, under constant siege by the Indians, was finally abandoned in July, 1868. It was later burned down by the Indians.
Michael O’Gara’s wife and children subsequently emigrated to America and were awarded pensions.
Michael O’Gara ( 6/15/1844 – 12/21/1866), son of Thomas and Bridget McGuinness, married Bridget Kilgallen (1842 – 5/7/1925) at Dromard Parish, Skreen, Co. Sligo, Ireland on March 9, 1862. They had two sons:
I. James O’Gara (born 1/7/1863 – ????) married Mary Agnes Daugherty (c.1872-????) in New York City 9/26/1895. Mary’s parents were John Daugherty and Hanorah O’Brien. 1920 census shows James and Mary living in Rutherford, New Jersey with Bridget and their three children:
- Walter J. O’Gara (1904-????) Oct. 1919 started working for Erie Railroad.
- E. Regina O’Gara (1906-????)
- Mary O’Gara (1908-????)
II. Michael O’Gara (born 9/1/1864- 3/1/1934) married Mary V. O’Hare (b. 10/1867-????) in the Bronx, NY on 10/13/1898. Mary’s parents were James O’Hare and Mary Cashion.
They lived in the Bronx, NY:
- James R. (2/20/1901-8/6/1974)
- Winfield (1903-1961)
- Muriel (7/19/1904-3/13/1983)
- Isabelle (1909-????)
- Genevieve (1910-8/6/1948)
- John (7/12/1914-8/24/1984)
- Edwin (1918-????)
Thanks to Michael’s grandchildren, James R O’Gara and Claire O’Gara Grimes, for providing additional information.
The Bozeman Trail, Vol. 1 by Grace Raymond Hebard and Earl Alonzo Brininstool
“The Late Indian Massacre at Fort Kearney”, New York Times, February 3, 1867
“Fort Kearny as Site for Memorial”, New York Times, June 17, 1928
US National Archives and Records (NARA) for Michael O’Gara
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