Custer's 7th Cavalry Leaves a Mark at Initial Rock

On May 17th, 1876, Lt. Col. George Custer's 7th Cavalry left Fort Abraham Lincoln on their way to Little Big Horn. Ten days later, they entered the badlands of North Dakota, a distance of approximately 126 miles. Once entering the badlands, they followed the difficult Davis Creek trail, requiring the troops to build bridges and improve the trail to allow the passage of their supply wagons.

As the engineers made agonizingly slow progress on a nearby bridge, Companies K and M were assigned rear guard duty to protect the bridge builders from potential Indian attacks. The only hostile forces the troops on watch encountered that hot and humid Sunday were fearless rattlesnakes and relentless mosquitoes. Privates Frank Neely and William C. Williams stood watch at the base of a nearby hill. To pass the time and overcome boredom, the two privates carved their names into the soft sandstone.

Frank Neely was born in 1850 in Collinsville, Ohio and enlisted in the 7th Calvary on April 8, 1871. Before enlisting, Neely was a painter and an avid hunter. William C. Williams, born March 28, 1856, Wheeling, West Virginia and enlisted on September 27, 1873. Before joining the Cavalry, Williams was a farmer.

Both Privates survived the Battle of Little Big Horn. Neely spent approximately 12 years in the Cavalry. His last tour of duty was in Arizona, where it was purported that he accidentally killed a man. It is believed that Neely was so distraught over the accident that he went hunting and never returned. Williams was wounded in the battle and was later discharged in 1878 as a Sergeant. He went on to become a druggist in Norfolk, Virginia. He died at the age of 63 on May 22, 1919.

Today, their carvings can be seen at the Initial Rock Interpretive Site located south of Fryburg, ND. To visit the site, follow highway I-94 to the Fryburg I-34 exit. Proceed down Main Street through town until it ends at Sully Creek Road. Take a right onto Sully Creek Road. Take the first left onto 136thAvenue. Follow 136thAvenue to Easy Hill. At Easy Hill, turn right onto 762 (look for a small brown and white State Park maker "I-762.") Proceed down 762 to 740. Turn right onto 740 and follow for approximately 2 1/2; miles to the Initial Rock Interpretive Site.

The site is not visible from main roads and the only amenity is a Male / Female shared restroom (beware of spiders). Initial Rock is located in the National Grasslands and visitors are reminded to stay on marked roads and trails. There are remnants of wagon wheel ruts throughout the Grasslands and unauthorized off road travel may potentially destroy these pieces of history.