Wyoming Historian Uncovers Only Known Photo Of 1865 Cavalry Captain

A Wyoming historian has uncovered the only known photo of U.S. Cavalry officer Capt. James Ellbridge Greer who was the commander at the 1865 Battle of Platte Bridge Station near present-day Casper.

Dale Killingbeck

March 03, 20247 min read

Casper historian Johanna Wickman discovered a rare photo of James Greer, an 11th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry officer, while searching through an online auction.
Casper historian Johanna Wickman discovered a rare photo of James Greer, an 11th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry officer, while searching through an online auction. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

A rare photo of an 11th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry officer involved in the July 25, 1865, battle with American Indians at Platte Bridge Station near modern-day Casper, Wyoming, represents a significant find for historians.

Capt. James Ellbridge Greer likely stood by July 26, 1865, at Platte Bridge Station when another soldier from a different unit, 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry Lt. Caspar Collins, rode out leading a column of troops to assist a supply train that was on its way to the fort. Collins and several troops were ambushed and killed.

Collins’ death led to the naming of Fort Caspar and the city of Casper.

Greer was commander of the station, but for people looking back into history he was only a name. Until now. There is still no known adult photo of Caspar Collins.

The mystery of Greer’s likeness seemed lost to history until an online auction and the careful eyes of a Casper historian spied his name at the bottom of a photo despite the auction mislabeling him as another soldier.

Johanna Wickman, who has researched and written about the 11th Kansas Volunteer Calvary’s role during the Civil War in what in now Wyoming, called the photo “priceless.”

“I love being able to put faces with names, and when you can finally find a picture of somebody who has been talked about so much in local history, it’s amazing,” she said.

A Decade-Long Hunt

Wickman said she has been trying to find a photo of Greer for a decade because of his role at the post and actions in the days leading up to the battle. Some historical accounts blame Kansas officers for not leading the mission Collins took.

“I have been looking in museums, the Kansas State Historical Society, local museums, photo albums of 11th Kansas soldiers, and he’s nowhere,” she said. “He died when he was 31.”

Her opportunity came when a friend she met doing research informed her of a Civil War collector’s death in Missouri and an online auction of his memorabilia.

When Wickman went online, she saw the photo, but it was labeled as being another soldier. However, on scrutiny of the photo itself, she could see the name: “J E Greer Adj. 11th K V C.”

“I went on there and was able to buy it, which was great,” she said. “A lot of (times) they can go to a private collector who then kind of hordes it and then they don’t realize what they have. Since I was able to get this, now I can scan it, and we can use it at the (Fort Caspar) museum and put it online and on Civil War databases, and his picture can get back out there again.”

Wickman believes Greer’s photo was taken in Kansas City, Missouri, around 1863 because the back of it is missing a tax revenue stamp that can be found on similar photos taken in 1864 and 1865 of Civil War soldiers.

How much is it worth?

“For me, it is priceless, just because it is the only one we’ve got of him,” she said. “Civil War photos can range in value all over the place. For a lot of collectors, they want the guys in full uniforms, holding weapons and that kind of thing, which this one is not. But for someone who is interested in the regiment this is an extremely valuable photograph.”

Casper historian Johanna Wickman estimates this photo of James Greer, a U.S. Cavalry officer, was taken in 1863. He likely had few photos taken.
Casper historian Johanna Wickman estimates this photo of James Greer, a U.S. Cavalry officer, was taken in 1863. He likely had few photos taken. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)

11th Kansas’ Role

Wickman, who authored “Lost Forts of Casper” that chronicles the efforts of members of the 11th Kansas as well as the 11th Ohio in protecting the transcontinental telegraph lines and supply routes, has a special affinity for the 11th Kansas. She also has authored a history of an 11th Kansas officer who became a U.S senator, Preston Plumb.

Greer played a significant leadership role while stationed at the North Platte River. He was named commander of Platte Bridge Station in July 1865 following a dispute with an officer from the 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, a Lt. Henry Bretney, who did not want to recognize the authority of the Kansas regiment.

However, Wickman said it was common for soldiers guarding the telegraph lines to be in mixed units, where one officer from the 11th Kansas would lead troops from the 11th Ohio, and vice versa.

Greer also was involved in a skirmish with American Indians on July 25, 1865, the day before the Battle of Platte Bridge Station.

Collins had just accompanied some troops from Laramie and arrived at Platte Bridge Station that day. Greer took some of those men to chase warriors trying to run off a cattle herd 2 miles east of the station. They killed a Cheyenne chief, High-Back Wolf, and returned with one soldier wounded from a saber used by a warrior and another grazed by a bullet.

Earlier in July, Greer had led 10 troops to chase a group of Sioux warriors who had cut telegraph wires and fired shots at the post.

A Fistfight

On July 26, 1865, Collins led troops out of the station, despite protests from Bretney, who had arrived the night before. Following the battle — and the death of Collins and others — Bretney engaged in a fistfight with Greer and knocked him down, for which Bretney was thrown into the brig.

Wickman said early historical accounts of the Battle of Platte Bridge Station attempted to put Greer’s name in a bad light. She believes it makes sense Greer was not assigned to Collins’ supply train mission because he had just gone out and led a mission the day before. Collins arrived at the station following a leave.

Author James Mokler, who published an account of the battle in the 1930s, spoke only with Bretney’s son to get his information.

“That information was heavily biased,” Wickman said, adding that historians would later repeat Mockler’s account.

Greer, who married in 1863 and had two children, returned to Kansas after the war and engaged in farming. Four years later, he was serving as the assistant secretary of state for Kansas.

Early Death

A native of Ohio, Greer had experienced health issues even prior to his military service. Consumption, or tuberculosis, would end his life at an early age.

“He died of consumption which he attributed to his military service, which was entirely likely,” Wickman said. “A lot of the guys developed longstanding health issues marching through blizzards, sleeping in mud and snow and that kind of thing. He had actually gone to Colorado to one of those sanitariums, and he was there for a couple of months and didn’t get any better. So, he went back home to Topeka and passed away.”

Greer’s obituaries in both the Topeka, Kansas, Daily Commonwealth on Nov. 21, 1871, and The New Chicago Transcript on Nov. 25, 1871, praise him.

“The deceased was upright in all his dealings and was held in high esteem by all who knew him,” the Commonwealth reported. “A brave soldier, a kind husband, and an indulgent parent has gone to his rest.”

The Transcript adds: “Captain Greer was well-known throughout the state as an upright, honorable officer and worthy citizen. His loss will be deeply felt by his relatives and many friends.”

Wickman said she will donate a copy of the photo to the Fort Caspar Museum. She also is helping pull together a dedication service in June for headstones at the museum honoring the 11th Kansas Cavalry soldiers who died while serving at Platte Bridge Station.

Dale Killingbeck can be reached at: Dale@CowboyStateDaily.com

  • A depiction of the Battle of Platte Bridge Station.
    A depiction of the Battle of Platte Bridge Station. (WyoHistory.org)
  • Platte Bridge Station in the Wyoming Territory.
    Platte Bridge Station in the Wyoming Territory. (Courtesy Candy Moulton)
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Dale Killingbeck


Killingbeck is glad to be back in journalism after working for 18 years in corporate communications with a health system in northern Michigan. He spent the previous 16 years working for newspapers in western Michigan in various roles.