DOD: June 15, 1925
Cemetery Location: Section 24, Plot 290
Branch: Company A, 20th U.S. Infantry and General Services
Service Dates: 1874 - 1881
Read Pvt. Stein's 1916 interview in the Milwaukee Sentinel.
Pvt. John Stein served in Company A, 20th U.S. Infantry and General Services, USA, from 1874 to 1881.
At the time of his enlistment, the 20th U.S. Infantry was part of the Department of Dakota. Company A was stationed in Fort Trotten, North Dakota (near Devil's Lake). The fort was established in 1867.
The stations occupied by the various companies of the 20th U.S. Infantry were among the most isolated and inaccessible in the country. They were located on, or near the reservations and lands on which the savage bands of Sioux roamed, or were maintained, and in addition to the probable restraining influence they had upon the Indians, served as safeguards to the thousands of hardy settlers who, with the advent of railways, made the Dakotas populous.
There were occasional tours of detached duty and changes to and from regimental headquarters at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, and other posts in the Department, performing duties incident to service in an Indian country. In 1874, Company I was attached to and formed part of General Custer's command, for the exploration of the Black Hills country. Other companies had frequent, but less extended tours of detached duty, on exhibitions of minor importance, some into Montana.
Pvt. Stein's memories of that time were vague and ran together. In 1916, he recalled, "Custer, he was with us--'twas in '74 I think. Then his detachment separated from us and a few miles away they were all murdered."
The army had sent Gen. George A. Custer on an expedition to the Black Hills in the summer of 1874. He was to investigate rumors of gold in the Black Hills and to deternine an appropriate site for a possible future military post. But he was killed at Little Big Horn, Montana on June 25, 1876.
Pvt. Stein's memories of the weather and hardships were more clear. He said, "We fought that winter, sometimes in four feet of snow; and it was hard fighting. Day after day we went with no rations to speak of and the snow above our hips. Couple of pieces of hardtack, maybe, with a chunk of fat, greasy pork once a day...and well I recall nights when I'd be called in the dark to go on sentry duty and find my shoes frozen so stiff I couldn't get them on hardly."
The 20th U.S. Infantry was transferred to the Department of Texas on December 3, 1877. About the middle of the month, the companies marched to the nearest point at which railway transportation could be taken, and proceeded to their new stations. Company A was ordered to Department Headquarters at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio.
In 1880, some changes to the companies' stations were made and Company A was moved to Fort Brown, Texas, near Brownsville..
The transfer of the 20th U.S. Infantry from the Department of Texas to the Department of Missouri took place in October 1881. Presumably, this was about the time Pvt. Stein left the service.
Pvt. Stein applied for a survivor's pension on September 8, 1917 (SC #10023) and later, an invalid pension (IC #222847). He died at the Soldiers Home on June 15, 1925 and was buried three days later in Section 24, Plot 290.
A Guide to the Indian Wars of the West
by John D. McDermott; Univ. of Nebraska Press 1998
, December 30, 1916
VETERANS CAN'T BELIEVE HOME WILL BE CLOSED
"We Are Happy Here," Says Private Who Fought With Custer.
Perplexity, mingled with *** of apprehension, was *** on the time worn visage of Private John Stein.
"I can't understand it," he murmured, attempting what developed into
merely an apology of a wry little smile, as he set down a newspaper
clipping -- a story that held in it for him something of the tragic.
The clipping told the story of the proposed abandonment of the Milwaukee Old Soldiers' home.
"It can't be true," he almost whispered. "Is it - are they going to
make us move away from here?" His bewildered gaze swept the little room
in the rear of the opera house uncertainly. It had been his dwelling
place for years.
"Why, I know it can't be true," he repeated, again his face *** with
smiles. "Here I am living on borrowed time - you know they say that
after you pass 65 you are living on borrowed time - and I'm just 6* and
mighty close to 70. They certainly ain't going to make me go away from
here. It don't sound reasonable.
"Been manager of the opera house here for I can't remember how long.
Place seems kind of like I was born in it now, and I'd hate - I'd
certainly hate to leave it." A little tremor crept into his voice as the
veteran again surveyed his surroundings with a flickering glance.
Recalls Gen. Custer.
"Why, the government wouldn't be doing the square thing if they took us
old timers away from this place. It's our home, and a mighty good one,
too. Why, I fought for the government back in the time of the Custer
He trailed off into reminiscences of the days of his youth, when with
rifle on shoulder, he *** the treacherous western Indians across the
"Custer, he was with us - 'twas in '74 I think. Then his detachment
separated from us and a few miles away they were all murdered. We fought
that winter, sometimes in four feet of snow; and it was hard fighting.
Day after day we went with no rations to speak of and the snow above our
hips. Couple of pieces of hardtack, maybe, with a chunk of fat, greasy
pork once a day."
Home Is Cheerful.
His eyes twinkled as he recalled the hardships he had undergone. "I
thought it was sport then, 'cause I was young and sturdy. And well I
recall nights when I'd be called in the dark to go on sentry duty and
find my shoes frozen so stiff I couldn't get them on hardly."
He paused in his ruminating rambling, and, catching his visitor's
interested glance, passed his hand over his eyes and came back to the
"But it's different here. In winter it ain't so cold, any anyway, I know
we couldn't stand it like we did then, and besides we have the steam
heat. And the rations are good and the old home is cheerful. Lord, I
hope they won't." A suspicion of a tear glistened in the corners of his
eyes as he breathed the words.
Then Private John Stein showed his visitor through the opera house, and
forgot, in his enthusiasm over his charge, the dire forebodings that a
few moments before had dimmed his eyes with tears.