A few years ago, while browsing in a used bookstore, I found a copy of Dick Chaisson’s “Hometown Chronicles.” Chaisson is a gifted writer and local historian. We left Athol in 1967 and do not get back very much. It contains several of his previously published newspaper articles. One that got my attention was about an Athol resident who had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Snow was employed as an Athol barber when he decided to enlist in the Army in 1875. A year later, he found himself on the Rosebud Creek Battlefield in southern Montana in a fight for his life. After being wounded and crippled, he returned to Athol. He married, raised a family, studied the law and led a productive life.
When he died, he was buried in an unmarked grave in Highland Cemetery. Then as reported by Chaisson, it was not until 1968 that one of his descendants, sorting through a jewelry box, uncovered the Medal of Honor. Now the grave is appropriately marked and the medal is on display at the Athol Historical Society.
On our next trip back to Athol, we found his grave and the medal. We had just returned from Montana. With the help of Scotty and Kathy Bosworth, who administer the Facebook Athol Memories Page, we visited the battlefield. Two Montana Park Rangers met us and gave us a tour of the battlefield. They came with maps of how the six-hour battle unfolded, and they were able to show us where trumpeter Snow had been wounded.
Elmer Snow was the bugler who rode beside Captain Mills immediately relaying orders to the three companies of troopers on the right flank of a huge battlefield. The front was three miles wide. Calvary buglers played an important role in each engagement. The sounds from the bugle directed every activity from “boots and saddles” to the direction of combat forces on the field.
At this point, it is important to note there is no glory in war. I never met anyone in uniform during my military career who believed that it did. And every Medal of Honor recipient that I have known will quickly tell you it is not their medal — it belongs to everyone who was there that day. And the Indian Wars were not our finest hour.
My interest in Snow is that I did not know, growing up, that Highland Cemetery was the final resting place of a Medal of Honor recipient. The Vietnam Wall is not far from where we live now. There are names of Athol service members listed there. My point is Elmer Snow was not the first Athol volunteer to serve this country and will not be the last.
Trumpeter Snow was wounded during the second charge. Best guess: mid-morning. Captain Mills ordered a “wheel right” and his troopers came immediately under heavy fire. He was hit in both wrists shortly after sounding that order. Mills writes that initially Snow did not have control of his horse but was able to turn his mount back to safety using his legs.
This incident helped define what happened that day. The image of a lone trooper charging into certain death, and then returning safely was inspiring. The story soon made its way back to Washington.
For me, it is a story not about the medal, or the merit of the Indian Wars, it is a story of a young Athol man who served his county with honor.
Dr. Parks, retired Air Force colonel, lives in Leesburg, Virginia. Parks and his wife graduated from Athol High School in 1962.
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