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  • The Life of Yellowstone Kelly
  • Stacy Reaves
The Life of Yellowstone Kelly. By Jerry Keenan. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006. ISBN 0-8263-4035-1. Maps. Photographs. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xxi, 377. $29.95.

In this biography, Jerry Keenan introduces readers to Luther "Yellowstone" Kelly and gives the army scout and western adventurer the recognition he deserves. On the frontier, Kelly's reputation was as great as that of his fellow scout, Buffalo Bill. However, the unassuming, private Kelly never sought fame or glory and, as a result, historians have overlooked his contributions. Keenan draws upon a rich trove of memoirs, letters, and newspaper accounts to chronicle the life of this colorful western character.

Born in 1849, Luther Sage Kelly grew up in Geneva, New York, and in 1865, at the age of sixteen, enlisted in the army. This was the beginning of Kelly's western adventure. The army stationed him on the frontier at Fort Wadsworth, Dakota Territory, but after serving three years, Kelly left the army to hunt and explore the Judith Basin, Yellowstone area, and Milk River country of Montana.

In 1873, Yellowstone Kelly's reputation as a hunter and scout brought him to the attention of the United States Army. Lt. Col. George Alexander [End Page 537] "Sandy" Forsyth engaged Kelly to guide the army along the Yellowstone River to the mouth of the Powder River. During the 1876–77 Sioux Wars, General Nelson A. Miles employed Kelly as the army's chief scout in the Yellowstone District. Keenan argues that the scout's service with Miles fulfilled his desire to end the Indian problem in Yellowstone country.

In 1879, Kelly served as a guide to a cavalry unit escorting surveying crews in Yellowstone Park, and in the following year ventured into northwestern Colorado, where the army employed him to survey the White River area for a possible wagon route and to look for Ute Indians still residing in the area. His recommendation for the wagon route later became U.S. Interstate 70. In 1898, Kelly's sense of adventure led him to Alaska, where he scouted for the Third Expedition, also called the Reindeer Expedition, which explored Prince William Sound, looking for travel routes between the Copper and Susitna Rivers.

During the Spanish-American War, Kelly accepted a commission as a captain with the Seventh Volunteers, but the unit never saw action in Cuba and the army mustered out Kelly after three months. In 1899, he accepted a commission with the Fortieth U. S. Volunteers, which served in the Philippines until 1901. Upon returning to the United States, he took an appointment as the Indian Agent for the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona, where he served for five years. In 1915, after a few years gold mining in Nevada, Kelly settled permanently in Paradise, California, where, on 17 December 1928, he died and became a legend of the Old West.

Jerry Keenan's biography of Luther Kelly is a great addition to any western history collection. Those interested in the American West and the Indian wars will enjoy this biography. The name Yellowstone Kelly conjures up romantic images of the Old West and Keenan does not disappoint the reader in giving them a colorful character.

Stacy Reaves
Tulsa Community College
Tulsa, Oklahoma