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Porter, Doctor Henry

By | Last Modified: January 26, 2018

Doctor Henry Rinaldo Porter was a pioneer physician and druggist. He is probably best known as the only surgeon who survived the Battle of Little Big Horn.

Despite his historical significance, it’s unlikely that he was the namesake of Bismarck’s Porter Avenue. One source says it was named for a member of Colonel Sweet’s 1872 survey party, which disqualifies Dr. Porter as he did not arrive in Dakota Territory until 1873. Another possibility is George F. Porter, the receiver of the Federal Land Office at the time. Considering George’s antagonistic position against Edwinton – in which he allegedly conspired to “steal” the town through improper documentation and issuance of non-binding receipts – he’s an unlikely contender.

Early Life

Porter was born on February 13, 1848 in New York. He would be the third generation of doctors in his family.

He attended Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where he graduated in 1872. He interned at Columbia Hospital for Women in Washington.

Although not an enlisted soldier, Porter signed a contract with the army to provide medical care in support of its Indian battles. He was first assigned to the command of Colonel George Cook in Arizona, where he later receives a commendation.

On April 25, 1873, he was transferred to Camp Hancock in present-day Bismarck. He arrived on October 16th. His contract ended in December 1874, when he entered private practice and established a local drug store.

Battle of Little Big Horn

In 1876, Porter signed a three-month commitment with the U.S. military as an Acting Assistant Surgeon in support of the Great Sioux War of 1876. He, along with Doctor George Lord and Surgeon James DeWolf, accompanied General Custer’s campaign at his Last Stand during the Battle of Little Big Horn. Both Lord and DeWolf perished during the confrontation, leaving Porter solely responsible for tending to the surviving wounded.

Later Life

Following his contract’s dismissal on September 30, 1876, Porter returned to civilian life in Bismarck, practicing medicine privately before serving as Burleigh County Physician from 1878-1892.

He later travels the world, dying on March 3, 1903 at the Hotel Metropole in India.

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