James Montgomery Bell was born on October 1, 1837, at Williamsburg, Pennsylvania, and earned a master's degree from Wittenburg College in 1862. He was mustered into the 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry as a captain in October 1863 and participated in sixteen major engagements, including the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, White Oak Road, and Coggins Point, where he was wounded.
He was appointed a second lieutenant in the 7th U.S. Cavalry on July 28th, 1866, and was promoted to first lieutenant in April 1867. Bell served as quartermaster from 1867 to 1869, and became a friend and frequent social guest of Lieutenant Colonel George A. and Libby Custer.
During the November 1868 Washita battle, he was in charge of the advance supply train. After Captain Frederick Benteen's departure from the train to join Major Joel H. Elliott, the wagons and their tiny escort had advanced up the trail about a half mile. At the sound of the shooting, Bell again moved forward but was delayed crossing the Washita River approximately one mile above the village. Then, following on Custer's trail, he ascended the steep grade and saw the on-going fight below. Finally, the train penetrated a loose cordon of warriors arriving from the downstream camps. These men disrupted the effort to claim the soldiers' greatcoats and other equipment left behind during the initial advance, and the Cheyenne seized the material while the train, drawn by galloping mules, raced down the crusted slopes, forded the stream some distance west of the fighting and entered the village. The wheels of one of the wagons was in flames because of friction on the tarred axle, and upon reaching the lodges the troopers overturned the wagon to save the ammunition, using snow to extinguish the fire. After Bell's arrival shortly before noon, ammunition was distributed to the troops.
Bell married Emiline "Emily" Mary Hone on March 12, 1872, at the Trinity Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The couple did not have children. Major Marcus Reno stood a court-martial in May 1877, in part for making improper advances to Emily Bell-a charge Reno denied, claiming that she had been the aggressor. Nevertheless, Reno was found guilty.
Bell did not participate in the Yellowstone or Black Hills expeditions, as he was on detached service with the Northern Boundary Survey. He missed the Little Bighorn campaign while on leave of absence and received his captaincy as a result of the death of Captain George Yates. He served in the West for the next twenty years, receiving a brevet to lieutenant colonel for the 1877 battle of Canyon Creek against the Nez Perce.
Bell served as an escort for the Northern Pacific Railroad construction crew during the summers of 1880-82. He was appointed major in April 1896, and in 1898, he commanded a regiment in the Cuban campaign of the Spanish-American War. In 1899, as a brigadier general of volunteers, he led a brigade in the Philippines. He retired as a Regular Army brigadier general on October 1st, 1901.
In 1918, Representative James McClintic of Oklahoma introduced a resolution in Congress to grant Bell the Medal of Honor for his valorous deed at the Battle of the Washita. The Bill was in discussion at the time of his death; it died in committee. James Montgomery Bell died in Hermossa Beach, California on September 17, 1919. Bell was buried in the San Francisco National Cemetery.
Greene, Jerome A. Washita: The U.S. Army and the Southern Cheyennes, 1867-1869.
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004. (pgs 62, 79-80, 91, 101, 111, 113, 123-25, 206, 244)
Hardoff, Richard. Washita memories: eyewitness views of Custer's attack on Black Kettle's village.
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008. (pgs 11, 14, 22-23, 26, 90, 130-31, 135, 139, 150, 154, 156, 162-170, 211, 228, 243)