Private Marvin C. Hillock – A Lost Medal of Honor Recipient

…for distinguished bravery on 29 December 1890, while serving with Company B, 7th U.S. Cavalry, in action at Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota.

1862 MOHPrivate Marvin C. Hillock was assigned to Captain Charles A. Varnum’s B Troop sometime prior to the regiment’s departure from Fort Riley to South Dakota in November 1890. Being in B Troop likely placed Hillock on the ‘V’ shaped angle of sentinels surrounding the council of Indians during the disarmament on Wounded Knee on the morning of 29 December 1890.  This position would put him in the thick of the fight at the opening volley.  Twelve of the forty-three soldiers in B Troop were casualties that day, including the company’s First Lieutenant, John C. Gresham.  Of those twelve, five where killed outright and two more died later of their wounds.  This was the second highest casualty rate of the ten line companies at Wounded Knee, including the artillery and Indian scouts.  Only K Troop making up the other leg of the ‘V’ had experienced more casualties, sixteen, including six killed in action and two that died of wounds.  Hillock came through the battle unscathed but was not so fortunate the following day at the battle on White Clay Creek.  There Hillock was one of two soldiers from B Troop wounded, the other being Private William S. Kirkpatrick.  Captain Varnum recorded in the company muster roll that Private Hillock was sick in quarters suffering from a gunshot wound to his left foot received in action on 30 December.[1]

Inset of Lieut. S. A. Cloman’s map of Wounded Knee depicting the scene of the fight with Big Foot’s Band, December 29, 1890.

Inset of Lieut. S. A. Cloman’s map of Wounded Knee depicting the scene of the fight with Big Foot’s Band, December 29, 1890.

His actions in both battles clearly made an impression on his commander and fellow soldiers, as he was one the first troopers awarded the Medal of Honor from that day, receiving the Nation’s only medal at that time on 16 April 1891. However, there is some confusion as to which battle, Wounded Knee Creek or White Clay Creek, Private Hillock was recognized.  According to the 1917 Medal of Honor Review Board convened to question the validity of all medals presented to that date, Private Marvin C. Hillock was awarded the Medal of Honor for “distinguished bravery” on 29 December 1890, while serving with Troop B, 7th Cavalry, in action at Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota.[2]  However, in General Order Number 100 issued on 17 Dec. 1891, Major General Schofield lists the following commendation for Hillock:

 December 30, 1890. Private Marvin C. Hillock, Troop B, 7th Cavalry: For distinguished bravery in action against hostile Sioux Indians, near the Catholic Mission, on White Clay Creek, South Dakota, continuing on duty though painfully wounded.[3]

The answer of whether his distinguished bravery occurred at Wounded Knee or White Clay Creek probably lies in Captain Varnum’s recommendation dated 17 March 1891.

Marvin C. Hillock was the fifth of seven boys born to Robert and Mary Hillock about June 1867 at Port Huron, St Clair County, Michigan.  His father, Robert Hillock, was born about 1831 in Caledon, Peel County, Ontario, Canada.  He was the son of Alexander and Catherine (Daly) Hillock, both immigrants from Ireland.  On 8 June 1858 at Toronto Gore, Peel County, Ontario Robert married Mary Jean Gough.  She was born about 1838 at Caledon, Ontario, the daughter of John and Dellia (Garaghty) Gough, also both Irish immigrants.[4]  In 1861 Robert and Mary Hillock were living in a framed one-story house in Caledon, Peel, Canada West with their two-year-old son, Dennis, and one-year-old son, Alex, and were registered as Roman Catholic.  By 1870 they had relocated to Burtchville, St Clair, Michigan, with Robert working as a tanner having immigrated to the United States about 1863. Their family had grown to five boys, eleven-year-old Dennis, ten-year-old Alexander, eight-year-old Robert, five-year-old John, and three-year-old Marvin with the two youngest sons having been born in Michigan and older sons in Canada.[5]  The Hillocks still resided in Burtchville, Michigan in 1880 with Robert working as a farmer and the family having grown to seven children with the addition of two more sons, Thomas, born about 1870, and Edward, born about 1873.  The eldest four boys were working as laborers and the three younger were attending school.[6]  Robert Hillock died sometime between 1880 and 1900, his precise date of death and final resting place unknown.

On 14 October 1888 the second eldest son, Alexander Hillock, died at the age of twenty-seven at Bay City, Bay, Michigan.[7]

Marvin’s younger brother, Thomas, headed to Detroit in September 1889 to enlist in the Army.  He ended up serving in Battery C, Third Artillery Regiment at Washington Barracks, District of Columbia.  Following his younger brother’s lead, on 11 March 1890, Marvin Hillock enlisted in the Army at Detroit, Michigan for five years.  The recruiting officer, Lieutenant Lockett, listed him as twenty-two years and nine months in age, a farmer born at Port Huron, Michigan, with blue eyes, red hair, fair complexion, and five feet, six inches tall.[8]

Whether due to his wound at White Clay Creek, or some other unrecorded reason, Hillock was discharged from the Army on 2 April 1892 at Fort Riley, Kansas, after serving two years on his five year-enlistment.  Hillock was drawn back to the military sixteen months later, enlisting at Chicago for another five year stint on 5 August 1893.  His recruiting officer, Captain Hoyle, recorded Hillock as twenty-three years two months in age, which appears to be three years younger than his actual age, with an occupation of miner, a profession that Hillock continued to pursue for the remainder of his life.  During his second enlistment, Hillock was assigned to F Troop, 3rd Cavalry, which at the time was located at Caldwell, Kansas, and later Pond Creek, Oklahoma, under the command of Captain George A. Dodd where the unit was participating in the opening of the Cherokee Strip, part of the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1893.  This was another controversial episode where the U.S. troops were alleged to have killed various homesteaders or ‘sooners.’  Despite the negative press the Army received, an investigation of the incident reported that the conduct of the troop was “very good. The citizens are glad to have the troops with them and petitioned the major-general commanding the department to allow them to remain here for the moral effect.”[9]  Whatever his role in this incident, Hillock’s enlistment record states that he deserted from his unit on 11 January 1894, just five months after enlisting.[10]

If Marvin Hillock was following his younger brother, Thomas, by entering the military, it was Thomas that followed Marvin’s lead by deserting the Army.  Thomas was discharged from his first enlistment with the 3rd Artillery as a corporal on 24 December 1892.  He enlisted again a year later not long after Marvin enlisted a second time.  Thomas was assigned to Battery C, 4th Artillery, but like Marvin, deserted from his unit in August 1894.  At about the time that Thomas was deserting from his unit, the youngest of the seven Hillock brothers, Edward, was enlisting at Portland, Oregon, on 4 August.  He was assigned as a Teamster in Company G, 14th Infantry at Vancouver Barracks, Washington, but was discharged for disability after only five months.[11]

At least three of the Hillock brothers and their mother appear to have reunited in Lead City or Deadwood, South Dakota, in the mid-1890s.  John, Marvin and Edward all turn up at various times in South Dakota in the latter half of 1890.  Edward filed for a disability pension in March 1895 from South Dakota, and John’s name is listed in the St. Paul Daily Globe later that same year as a mining investor:

Pierre, S. D., Nov. 18.–Articles of incorporation were filed today for the Black Hills and Wyoming Gold Mining Company, with a capital stock of $1,500,000 headquarters at Lead City.  Incorporators, John P. Hillock, James P. Wilson, Lead City; O. N. Ainsworth, Spearfish.[12]

Marvin’s name appears in the Omaha Daily Bee in 1897 under dubious circumstances, where he is listed as a mine owner.

Lead, S. D., March 6.–(Special.)–Marvin Hillock, a well-to-do mine owner, living in this city, was arrested this week upon the charge of seduction upon promise of marriage, preferred by Sophie Nelson, a domestic, employed by Wolff Fink, the jeweler.  Miss Nelson is soon to become a mother, and charges Hillock with being responsible for her condition.  Hillock was bound over until Monday in the sum of $500, bail for which was furnished.  If Hillock decides to fight the case, it will be highly sensational, for he is very prominent in mining circles, and well known throughout the entire Hills.  The girl in the case is a comely young woman, and has always borne a good reputation.[13]

Whether he fought the case and created a sensation is unknown, as the Omaha Bee did not follow up on the story.  Marvin appears again later that same year in the Engineering and Mining Journal this time with questionable mining practices.

Polo Creek, Lawrence County, South Dakota,–Claim jumpers have been busy in this neighborhood of late, but two of their number, Ernest LaVenture and Marvin Hillock, came to grief last week, receiving a thorough thrashing at the hands of an indignant miner, and the practice is likely to fall into disrepute.[14]

In 1900 the matriarch of the family, Mary Hillock, is listed as a widowed resident of Lead, South Dakota, the mother of seven children, five still living.  That same year Marvin Hillock again made the papers this time with his older brother, John, when they appeared in an article in the Nebraska State Journal with the headline “Deadwood People Buncoed.”

 DEADWOOD, S. D., April 15.–(Special.)–About two months ago, Marvin and John Hillock, two old-time mine owners of this city, brought in a report from their mining ground that they had made a remarkable discovery of sylvanite ore.  They exhibited very rich samples of the ore on the streets and had assays made which went as high as $60,000 to the tone gold.  There was great interest in the new find.  The brothers placed an armed guard at the entrance of the tunnel and very few people were permitted to go in and see the gold strike.  A week ago, a Colorado man got permission to enter the tunnel and he obtained a sample of the rich ore.  This he pronounced genuine Cripple Creek, Colorado, phonolite ore, and he stated to certain Deadwood parties that the ore came from a depth of at least 600 feet.  This statement aroused the suspicion of some parties who had put money into the find and they then compelled the two brothers to sink a shaft on the vein.  At a depth of four feet, the ore was as rich as ever.  The brothers had dug the hole and then salted it before the parties arrived.
The two brothers have suddenly disappeared.  The vein has been examined closely and it was found pounded full of small pieces of sylvanite ore that came from Boulder, Colorado.  Water had then been poured over the salted place and allowed to freeze, which gave it the appearance of being a solid body of ore.  It is now known that two large boxes of sylvanite ore specimens were purchased at Boulder, Colorado, valued at $1,200.  This rock was all given away to Deadwood and Lead people as samples from the Hillock mine.  A third party named Ernest LaVenture, has been arrested and jailed and the officers are hot after the Hillock brothers.  These brothers put through a similar deal a long time ago, in which they were successful.[15]

Sometime after this incident, Marvin Hillock relocated to Ontario.  The final documentation of his whereabouts being his marriage certificate in 1911 when he was a resident of Webbwood, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada and listed himself as a 37-year-old mining engineer, although by all other documentation he would have been about 44-years-old.  On 23 May of that year Hillock married Catharine Shanahan, a 29-year-old Roman Catholic woman working as a domestic from Renfrew, Ontario.  She was the ninth of ten children of John and Ellen (Culhane) Shanahan, he being a farmer whose parents immigrated to Canada about 1845 when he was an infant.  The Shanahan family had been congregants of the Mount Saint Patrick Catholic community since its establishment in Renfrew.[16]

Marvin and Catharine Hillock had one child, George, who was born in 1912.  George was a farmer in Lanark, Renfrew, and died in July 1998.  He was buried in Precious Blood Cemetery in Calabogie, Renfrew.  Catharine died on 19 January 1933 at the Ontario Hospital in Kingston after almost two years treatment for chronic intestinal obstruction.  She was buried two days later at the township of her residence, Ashdad, Renfrew County.  Unfortunately, a search of the Renfrew Catholic cemeteries, to include the Precious Blood Cemetery where her son is buried, and the Holy Well Cemetery where her parents are buried, failed to locate her grave.[17]

Marvin’s younger brother, Edward, died in 1913 in a flash flood in Ely, White Pine, Nevada, where he was working as a salesman in dry goods.

ELY, Nev., Aug. 26.–One man was drowned this afternoon when a well of water from a cloudburst swept down Murray creek, which flows through Ely.  The flood rose above the banks of the stream and inundated a portion of the business and residence section to a depth of several feet.   When the torrent struck the corner of the Northern hotel, it quickly found its way into the basement, where C. D. Vautrin and Edward Hillock happened to be.  The water poured down the stairway in such volume that they were unable to make their exit.  Axes were obtained and a hole in the floor of the barroom was cut out, through which both men were dragged.  Efforts to resuscitate Hillock failed.[18]

Edward was buried in the Old Holy Cross Cemetery in Santa Cruz, California.  In 1920 Marvin’s mother, Mary Jean Gough Hillock, died in Detroit, Michigan, where she was living with her son, John, his wife and their four children.  Mary Hillock was buried with her youngest son, Edward, in Santa Cruz.  Cemetery officials at the Old Holy Cross Cemetery were unable to find any other Hillock’s buried there.[19]

Marvin C. Hillock’s date of death and final resting place remain unknown.  He is one of two Medal of Honor recipients from the Battle of Wounded Knee whose ultimate fate is unrecorded, the other being Matthew H. Hamilton.  The Medal of Honor Historical Society list Hillock and Hamilton as two of over 400 recipients lost to history.[20]


[1] National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; Returns from U.S. Military Posts, 1800-1916; Microfilm Serial: M617; Microfilm Roll: 1532.  Statistics were compiled from the Seventh Cavalry Regiment’s monthly returns for December 1890 and January 1891; Adjutant General’s Office, Muster Rolls of Regular Army Organizations, 1784–Oct. 31, 1912, 7th Cavalry, Troop B, Oct. 31, 1890–Dec. 31, 1890, pages 5 and 6; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s-1917, Record Group 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
[2] United States Congress, Congressional edition, Volume 7609, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1919), page 419.
[3] Adjutant General’s Office, United States War Department General Orders and Circulars, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1892), G.O. 100 page 7.
[4] and Genealogical Research Library (Brampton, Ontario, Canada).Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1801-1928 [database on-line]. Archives of Ontario; Series: MS248_23; Reel: 23.
[5] and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1861 Census of Canada [database on-line]. Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; Census Returns For 1861; Roll: C-1062.
[6] and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Year: 1880; Census Place: Burchville, St Clair, Michigan; Roll: 604; Family History Film: 1254604; Page: 38C; Enumeration District: 367; Image: 0077.
[7] Michigan, Deaths and Burials Index, 1867-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011, Original data: “Michigan Deaths and Burials, 1800–1995.” Index. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2009, 2010. Index entries derived from digital copies of original and compiled records.
[8] U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007, Original data: Register of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, 1798-1914, (National Archives Microfilm Publication M233, 81 rolls), Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s-1917, Record Group 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
[9] United States Congress, The Executive Documents of the House of Representatives for the First Session of the Fifty-Third Congress, 1893, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1893), page 7.
[10] U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007, Original data: Register of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, 1798-1914, (National Archives Microfilm Publication M233, 81 rolls), Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s-1917, Record Group 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
[11] U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007, Original data: Register of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, 1798-1914, (National Archives Microfilm Publication M233, 81 rolls), Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s-1917, Record Group 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
[12] St. Paul Daily Globe., November 19, 1895, Page 5.
[13] Omaha Daily Bee., Arrest of a Rich Mine Owner, March 07, 1897, Part I, page 6.
[14] Engineering and Mining Journal, Volume 64, Aug. 14, 1897, page 198.
[15] Nebraska State Journal, Deadwood People Buncoed, April 16, 1900.
[16] and Genealogical Research Library (Brampton, Ontario, Canada).Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1801-1928 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010, Archives of Ontario, Series: MS932_154; Reel: 154; Ontario, Canada, Catholic Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1747-1967 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007, Original data: Gabriel Drouin, comp. Drouin Collection. Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Institut Généalogique Drouin.
[17] Murray Pletsch and Diane Dillon, Renfrew County, Ontario Gravemarker Gallery, accessed 4 Aug 2013; Ontario, Canada, Deaths, 1869-1938 and Deaths Overseas, 1939-1947 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2010, Original data: Archives of Ontario, Series: MS935; Reel: 464.
[18] The San Francisco Call., August 27, 1913, Page 2.
[19] The Library of Michigan; Michigan Death Records, 1897-1920; Rolls: 1-302, Archive Barcode/Item Number: 30000008346607, Roll Number: 302, Certificate Number: 12232.
[20] Medal of Honor Historical Society of the United States, Lost to History, accessed 4 Aug 2013.

About Sam Russell

I am a fifth-generation Army officer with over twenty-five years of commissioned service. I have been researching the frontier Army for over twelve years and am interested in documenting the lives of the soldiers that participated in the battle of Wounded Knee using primarily official reports, diaries, letters, newspaper articles and other primary source documents. My interest in Wounded Knee stems from my kinship to one of the principal participants. I am the great-great-grandson of Samuel M. Whitside, who was a major and battalion commander at the battle. I welcome and encourage comments on posts and pages and am always interested in any new primary sources. If you have copies of letters, diaries, etc, from participants and are willing to share, please contact me. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are strictly my own, and should in no way be construed as official Army or U.S. Government positons.
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