JOHN McLENNON (1855 ~ 1888). Medal of Honor Recipient John McLennon was born into a military family at Fort Belknap, Texas, in 1855. His parents, Michael and Mary McLennon, were married in County Kilkenny, Ireland.
After immigrating to the United States, Michael McLennon served with Company A of the Seventh Infantry as a Sergeant. On September 1, 1871, John McLennon enlisted in Company A of the Seventh Infantry at Fort Ellis, Montana Territory, as a musician. Since he was sixteen years old, his mother had to sign a consent form for her son to enlist. McLennon was discharged on September 1, 1876, at the mouth of Glendive Creek in the Montana Territory and reenlisted in the Seventh Infantry the same day.
In 1873, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe in Oregon negotiated with the government to remain on traditional lands instead of moving to an Idaho reservation. The government reversed its decision in 1877, giving the Nez Perce only thirty days to relocate. Having always argued for peace and negotiation, Chief Joseph decided to flee to safety in Canada rather than submit to the U.S. government. However, a small rogue group of Nez Perce killed a group of white men in retaliation for the deaths of some Nez Perce. Chief Joseph's retreat towards Canada is regarded by historians as one of the greatest military maneuvers in history. Approximately 700 Nez Perce (with only 200 warriors) fought 2,000 U.S. soldiers in four major battles. Crossing the Montana Territory, Chief Looking Glass convinced Chief Joseph to make camp in the Big Hole River Basin (thinking that there was enough distance between them and their pursuers). The Nez Perce were unaware that new telegraph lines had carried an alert to the Seventh Infantry under Colonel John Gibbon of their position. On the morning of August 9, 1877, 200 soldiers surrounded the encampment and opened fire. After twenty minutes they captured the camp, but the Nez Perce had sniper positions on the ridges surrounding the valley. For the next 36 hours, the Seventh Infantry suffered heavy losses as the Nez Perce held the high ground. On the night of August 10, the Nez Perce withdrew. The Seventh Infantry lost 30 men, while the Nez Perce lost 89 men, women, and children. They were eventually captured and surrendered 40 miles south of the Canadian border. By then, the government revoked its promise of land in Idaho and forced the Nez Perce onto a reservation in the Indian Territory.
John McLennon was among those soldiers caught in the valley for 36 hours. He was praised by his commanding officer for displaying bravery and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on December 2, 1878, though his exact actions are not recorded on his Medal of Honor citation. In 1881, at the end of his enlistment, McLennon was a Sergeant. He reenlisted in Company A of the Seventh Infantry for a third time on September 1, 1881, at Fort Buford in the Dakota Territory.
When honorably discharged as a Sergeant on September 1, 1886, McLennon again reenlisted the same day, this time at Fort Omaha, Nebraska. He was transferred to Camp Pilot Butte in Rock Springs, Wyoming, and died there of kidney inflammation on May 14, 1888. By that time he had been demoted to Corporal. John McLennon is buried next to fellow Medal of Honor recipient Patrick Rogan in the St. Joseph's Catholic Cemetery in Rock Springs, Wyoming.
Bibliography: "Above and Beyond: The Medal of Honor in Texas." Capitol Visitors Center, State Preservation Board of Texas; Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association, University of Texas, http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles; Official U.S. Army Records, Big Hole River Battlefield National Monument.