Firt Sergeant John M. Ryan (1845-1926)

First Sergeant John M. Ryan
First Sergeant John M. Ryan (U.S. 7th Cavalry)

Courtesy of the Fifth Field

The son of Edward and Hannora Lynch Ryan, John M. Ryan was born in West Newton, Massachusetts on August 25, 1845. Young Ryan trained as a carpenter, but at the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted on December 13, 1862 in Company C, 28th Massachusetts Infantry. He enlisted in Company M, 7th U.S. Cavalry on November 23, 1866 and promoted to the rank of Corporal.

He was promoted to Sergeant on November 27, 1868, during the Battle of the Washita , to replace Sergeant Erwin Vanousky. Sgt. Vanousky was killed along with Major Joel H. Elliott and fifteen other soldiers near Sergeant Major Creek. Ryan participated with the 7th in the 1873 Yellowstone Expedition and the 1874 Black Hills Expedition. Ryan was appointed First Sergeant in 1874. In April 1876 he was court-martialed for mistreatment of a private (hung him by his wrists as punishment for wrong-doing; the Private had cut a harness from a horse rather than remove it). Ryan's sentence was a reduction in rank to private. In May of 1876, just one week later, Lt. Col. George A. Custer reappointed him to First Sergeant. During the Battle of the Little Big Horn he fought as part of Reno's Battalion, surviving the battle. He was wounded three different times during the Civil War. John M. Ryan was discharged from the U.S. Army in January of 1877. He married Mary Jane O' Donnell on October 13, 1881, and they had four children. After his service in the Army, he returned to West Newton, Massachusetts and became a police officer. Ryan was promoted up the police ranks to Captain in 1903. On January 21, 1913, Ryan retired from the West Newton Police Department. He died quietly at home on October 14, 1926.


Greene, Jerome A. Washita: The U.S. Army and the Southern Cheyennes, 1867-1869.
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004. (pgs 81, 97-98, 114, 235, 240)

Hardoff, Richard. Washita memories: eyewitness views of Custer's attack on Black Kettle's village.
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008. (pgs 200, 201, 231)

Last updated: February 5, 2018

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