Kirby “Indian Jack” Preston was a famous early baseball player, US Army cavalry officer and American Civil War hero. He was eventually disgraced by the Three Rivers Incident, ruining his military career.
Kirby spent his early life in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. He was the only child of Marla and Archibald Spencer. Archibald, an Englishman, owned a printing press in the town. He funded Kirby’s education at Columbia University.
American Civil War
At the outbreak of the war, Spencer was writing for a local newspaper in Long Island. Upon recieivng the reports of Fort Sumter, he immediately walked to the nearest Armory and enlisted as a Private in the New York Volunteers. However, he was quickly given a commission and placed under Company A of the 154th New York Volunteers. A masterful rider since childhood, he was soon transferred to the New York Cavalry Brigade of the 3rd Cavalry Division under George Armstrong Custer.
At the Battle of Petersburg, Preston famously infiltrated Confederate Lines and captured over 100 wagons worth of supplies on a daring raid into the headquarters of a Confederate Brigade. His actions resulted in a collapse of the Confederate lines and prevented a bloody assault on the Petersburg center.
Three Rivers Controversy
Despite his Civil War fame, Preston earned notoriety as a cavalry officer in Dakota and Wyoming territory for his persistent disagreements with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In the summer of 1883, Preston commanded a Brigade of cavalry based out of Fort Douglas, Wyoming. Although he was ordered multiple times to attack a Lakota encampment on the banks of the North Platte River, he refused, citing that the encampment was unarmed and fleeing peacefully for Canada. In tribunal records, Spencer is quoted as securing written promises from the chieftan of the Lakota party that they would not take arms against United States Citizens. However, the tribe’s raiding parties would go on to pillage and burn the farming community of Three Rivers in Montana Territory. Preston was courtmarshaled for insubordination by a special military tribunal in St. Louis, but there was insufficient evidence to suggest that he had been directly derelict of duty–as his subordinate officers refused to testify against him. However, he was nationally disgraced and personally blamed for the deaths of over 100 men, women, and children of Three Rivers at the hands of a Lakota raiding party. Newspapers in the East labeled Kirby “Indian Jack,” to insinuate his betrayal of the people of Three Rivers.
Preston, unable to promote any further in the Army, was approached by Michael Monroe of Monroe Tobacco, who offered him a lucrative position as the first Manager of the Richmond Rifles–a new team forming in the Legacy Baseball League in 1889.