Battle of the Teton River
Part of The Second Mexican War
Date 1881
Location Montana Territory
Result United States victory
34StarsUnited States BritainUnited Kingdom


Commanders and leaders
USArmySealGeorge Armstrong Custer

USArmySealHenry Welton
USArmySealTheodore Roosevelt

675px-BritishArmyFlag2.svgCharles G. Gordon
The Battle of the Teton River was one of the few genuine victories won by the United States during the Second Mexican War. The battle took place in Montana Territory, when Canadian troops, led by Charles G. Gordon invaded the territory from Canada, aiming for Montana's rich mines. The battle that followed occurred after a cease fire along all fronts had been announced, and the US forces were unable to press home their victory. It would be this victory that gave US President James Blaine the courage to drag the cease fire out until April 1882.


U.S. Colonel of Volunteers Theodore Roosevelt, commanding his own Cavalry Regiment used his outnumbered forces to delay the invasion. Meanwhile Brevet Colonel Henry Welton awaited reinforcements from Utah in Great Falls, Montana with his Seventh Infantry Regiment. These were the Fifth Cavalry Regiment along with a detachment of eight Gatling guns lead by Brevet Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer. After Custer's arrival, he and Roosevelt's cavalry advanced ahead leaving Colonel Welton to form up a defense position along the Teton River with his infantry and the Gatlings.

The Battle of the Teton RiverEdit

British forces under the leadership of Major General Charles Gordon, consisted of a division made up primarily of Canadian Infantry with Cavalry elements and a pair of field guns, advanced south towards Helena. His tactics were straight forward, with the infantry marching in the center and cavalry screening ahead and to either flank. When General Custer meet up with Colonel Roosevelt, he had the First Montana guard his flanks while he lead his Fifth Cavalry in the centre. As the two armies met, Gordon had his lancers charge the center of the U.S. forces, only for them to be decimated by the Fifth Cavalry's carbines. Custer then ordered a counter-charge against Gordon's infantry. His attack was no more successful and the Fifth Cavalry suffered horrendous losses, resulting in a retreat to the Teton River. Among the casualties was Custer's brother Tom.

On reaching the River, Custer was displeased to see that Welton had not only picked a defense position on the forward slope of a low, gentle rise, but had dug defensive trenches. Custer felt it was a waste of time but Welton argued that from his experiences during the War of Secession any protection was better than standing out in the open. Since the trenches were already dug, Custer gave way but his temper did not improve when he saw the Gatlings placed in front. Custer felt that as artillery they should be place to the rear and looked to Roosevelt for support. However, Roosevelt agreed with Welton, arguing that the Gatlings were not quite artillery and should placed forward. Once again, Custer yielded.

The next day, General Gordon arrived and elected to soften up the U.S. position with his artillery. After a half hour of shelling, he ordered his infantry to advance. The Seventh Infantry and the dismounted remnants of the Fifth Cavalry returned fire from their trenches but did not slow the Canadians' advance. When they were within three hundred yards, all eight of the Gatling guns opened up, devastating the attackers. The Canadians attempted to maintain their push, but when this proved impossible they cracked under the pressure. The entire assault broke up and they fled the field. With the infantry routed, the First Montana, which had been watching the action unfold from atop a nearby hill, charged after them and overran their artillery support. However, General Custer was forced to order a halt to Roosevelt's pursuit before the British surrendered as word reached him of a cease-fire.


Regrettably, this victory came after a cease-fire had been declared on all fronts. As a result, Custer was embittered at the dual realization that the victory meant nothing and that he lost his brother. Yet his triumph on the battle field was nonetheless greatly hyped in the US press, giving the nation a much-needed morale boost and he also was rewarded for his victory with a promotion to brigadier general in the regular army.

This victory also gave President Blaine some hope that he could win the war, or at least get favorable terms for the US. Reporters descended upon the US forces in Montana and interviewed both Custer and Roosevelt, attracted by the bravado of both men. The two men became national heroes in the war's aftermath, and Custer grew bitter at Roosevelt stealing what he thought was his victory. Although they had cooperated well with each other during the battle, the two fell apart over the years, their frustration with each other festering into rivalry. Both the press and the US Army overlooked the true hero of the battle, Colonel Welton, who had chosen the field of battle and had presciently set up the Gatlings where they had broken the enemy. To Roosevelt's credit, he remembered that he owed Welton for his rise to prominence. Over thirty years later, in 1917, when Roosevelt was President of the United States, he reminded the now-General Custer that he owed his heroic reputation entirely to Welton's foresight.

The battle would later be popularized in the movie about Roosevelt's Unauthorized Regiment, starring Marion Morrison as TR, in the mid 1930s.