Grant Marsh – The Most Famous River Pilot of Them All

While in Bismarck, North Dakota, the Frontier Travelers went searching for the gravesite of Grant Prince Marsh – probably the best river pilot of them all.

Grant Marsh River Pilot
Grant Marsh

Born in 1834, Marsh began his career as a cabin boy and later a first mate on the Mississippi River steamboats. At one time, he was assisted by a young Sam Clemens.

Following the Civil War, Marsh captained the North Alabama, carrying fresh vegetables and other supplies to Fort Buford at the mouth of the Yellowstone River. During the Indian Wars of 1876, Marsh was put in charge of the Far West, accompanying General Alfred Terry and Col. George Custer in their campaign against the Sioux and Cheyenne.

Following Custer’s defeat at the Little Bighorn, Marsh carried the survivors down river to Fort Abraham Lincoln, opposite Bismarck.┬áThe Far West’s 54-hour, 710-mile day-and-night dash to Bismarck with more than 50 wounded troopers stands as the most remarkable exploit in the history of Missouri River steamboating.

The last notable event of Marsh’s career took place in April of 1883, when he transported Sitting Bull and his band from Fort Yates to Fort Randall. Following a brief stint in Tennesee, the riverboat captain returned to Bismarck where he died January 1916, in near-poverty.

Grant Marsh is buried at St. Mary’s cemetery on a Bismarck hilltop. His gravesite is marked by a boulder inscribed with an image of the Far West and the story of Marsh’s remarkable journey carrying the wounded from the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

The Frontier Travelers visited his gravesite in 2009.

Grant Marsh Gravesite
Grant Marsh Gravesite

If you’d like to read more about Captain Grant Marsh, we recommend:

The Conquest of the Missouri, Being the Story of the Life and Exploits of Captain Grant Marsh, by Joseph Mills Hanson.


  1. A very interesting man who had a knack, like so many in our country’s history do, of being in the right place at the right time more than once for parts in significant events in American history.

    Are Captain Marsh’s River Boat journals saved for posterity anywhere?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *