Doane, Gustavus Cheyney (20 May 1840-5 May 1892), soldier and explorer, was born in Galesburg, Illinois, the son of Solomon Doane, a carpenter and farmer, and Nancy Davis. The Doane family traveled to Oregon in 1846 and to Santa Clara, California, in 1849, where they established a farm. Doane attended local schools and graduated from the University of the Pacific in 1861 with a bachelor's degree. Following the outbreak of the Civil War, Doane enlisted in late 1862 in a special cavalry company, the "California Hundred," which was later absorbed by the Second Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry of the Union army. Serving as a sergeant with this unit, Doane participated in the battle of South Anna Bridge, Virginia, on 26 June 1863, and subsequently performed scouting duties with his regiment in the Washington, D.C., area. After falling behind the march of their battalion, Doane and a comrade were briefly detained by Confederate guerillas and released after surrendering their sidearms, resulting in Doane's later court martial for failing to offer resistance to an equal sized enemy force. Due to his temporary capture Doane was reduced from the rank of sergeant to private on 16 October 1863, but he later accepted a commission as a first lieutenant with the Mississippi Marine Brigade on 22 March 1864. He was discharged from this unit in January 1865.
After the war Doane lived in Yazoo City, Mississippi, where he was engaged in a mercantile business. On 25 July 1866 he married Amelia Link, a local planter's daughter; they had no children. Doane's business failed shortly thereafter. On 6 December 1867 federal Reconstruction authorities appointed Doane as the mayor of Yazoo City, but his mercurial temperament and questionable administrative practices--he strictly enforced a local statute against carrying concealed weapons but allegedly pocketed the fines collected--resulted in his resignation from the office on 19 May 1868. He next applied for a commission in the regular army and was appointed second lieutenant in the Second U.S. Cavalry on 1 August 1868.
Doane first saw combat with the frontier army on 23 January 1870, when his company participated in an expedition against the Piegan Indians camped on the Marias River in Montana Territory. Led by Major Eugene M. Baker, the army attacked before dawn and left over 170 Indian men, women, and children dead on the field. Doane's next major assignment was leading the military escort for the Yellowstone exploration party organized by the Montana Territorial surveyor general Henry Dana Washburn. The Washburn-Langford-Doane expedition started from Fort Ellis on 22 August 1870, followed the Yellowstone River to Yellowstone Lake, and thoroughly examined the geyser basins along the Firehole River before returning to Virginia City on 23 September. Doane kept a detailed journal of the expedition, which was printed by order of the U.S. Congress as a Senate executive document in the spring of 1871. The report proved to be an important step in the eventual creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1873 and was the highlight of Doane's career. Ferdinand V. Hayden, himself the creator of an in-depth reconnaissance of Yellowstone's wonders, hailed Doane's report as a masterful blend of subjective and objective observation: "for graphic description and thrilling interest it has not been surpassed by any official report made to our government since the times of Lewis and Clark."
In August 1871 Doane accompanied another Yellowstone expedition, this time led by Ferdinand V. Hayden of the U.S. Geological Survey. The reception of the published results of this expedition eclipsed Doane's earlier report, and he later displayed a thinly veiled jealousy of Hayden's success. On 1 December 1871 Doane was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant and acted as a company commander the following summer when Major Baker led a military escort for surveyors of the proposed Northern Pacific Railroad in the lower Yellowstone River Valley. While camped along the river on 14 August 1872, the combined forces of Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Indians, led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, attacked Baker's camp. Doane actively participated in the successful defense of the camp, but rumors of Baker's incompetence in preparation and drunkenness during the engagement prevented any of the military participants from gaining positive recognition for the victory.
Frustrated by his inability to build a reputation as a successful combat officer, Doane returned to his pursuit of fame as an explorer. In 1873 he was assigned a survey of the Judith Basin country of Montana Territory to determine the suitability of the land for a new Crow Indian reservation, but his report of the reconnaissance was never published. In 1874 he wrote to the Smithsonian Institution proposing an expedition to trace the headwaters of Africa's Nile River but failed to achieve the appointment. Although his recognition as a Yellowstone explorer received a substantial boost when he was assigned to escort the U.S. secretary of war William Worth Belknap through the park in the summer of 1875, Doane's desire to further his association with Yellowstone was delayed by his participation in the Great Sioux War during the summer of 1876. Marching with the "Montana Column" led by Colonel John Gibbon, Doane was among the first to reach the surviving troops of the Seventh Cavalry on the Little Bighorn battlefield that June. His quick evacuation of the wounded by means of stretchers conveyed by pack mules earned Doane favorable mention in official reports and authorization to lead another expedition through the Yellowstone country.
On 11 October 1876 Doane led a small command on an attempt to trace the course of the Snake River from its origin in Yellowstone National Park to its confluence with the Columbia River. The expedition started too late in the season and, after the loss of the men's equipment and supplies in the freezing waters of the Snake, Doane's men faced the risk of starvation before reaching an isolated mining settlement on 18 December. During the summer of 1877 Doane was assigned to assure the loyalty of the Crow Indian tribe during the continuing campaign against the Sioux. He commanded a small detachment of soldiers and Crow Indian scouts during the pursuit of the Nez Perce in July and August; when the Indians fled into Yellowstone National Park, Doane sought to pursue them but his commanding officer denied him permission to do so.
In 1878 Doane divorced his wife and married Mary Lee Hunter, the daughter of a pioneer Montana doctor and entrepreneur. They had no children. Doane used his honeymoon leave from the army to travel to Washington, D.C., where he failed to interest the government into adopting a tent design he had patented. He then applied for an assignment with Captain Henry W. Howgate of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, who was mounting an expedition to explore the North Pole. On 17 May 1880, following his return to Fort Assinniboine in Montana, Doane received orders to accompany Howgate's expedition. The plan called for Doane to join a party on a steam freighter to Ellesmere Island off the west coast of Greenland and there establish a base for further scientific observation of the polar regions. Unfortunately the ship chosen for the expedition proved unsuitable and nearly sank during a perilous voyage to Godhavn on Disco Island, Greenland. After superficial repairs the ship returned to port at Saint John's, Newfoundland, and Doane returned to duty at Fort Assinniboine. As a result of this failed expedition and his new wife's protests, Doane withdrew his name from consideration of any further exploration schemes.
On 22 September 1884 Doane received his final promotion, to the rank of captain, and was transferred with his battalion to the Presidio, a fort near San Francisco, California. He served in Arizona Territory during the final pursuit and capture of Geronimo during the first nine months of 1886 and, as a result, missed an opportunity to be posted as the first military commander of Yellowstone National Park. All of Doane's subsequent attempts to gain the Yellowstone command failed in spite of substantial lobbying on his behalf by prominent Montana Territorial citizens and army comrades. Again assigned to duty in southern Arizona in 1890, Doane became ill while serving at Fort Bowie and the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. Doane's afflictions included a painful nerve disability that prevented him from walking more than a few yards or even riding a horse, and a bout of influenza in the winter of 1891-2 left him in a dangerously weakened state. Unable to gain a discharge for physical disability in 1892, Doane joined his wife in Bozeman, Montana, under the authority of a temporary medical leave and died at her parents' home from heart failure at the age of fifty-two.
Although two mountains in Wyoming are named for him, Doane's modest accomplishments as an explorer are largely forgotten. His consistent attempts to gain recognition for his achievements were foiled by a combination of his own personal failings and circumstances beyond his control. Doane's post-Civil War military career typifies the frustrations of many army officers of education and talent who found themselves stymied by a glacially slow promotion schedule and limited opportunities for recognition. In one telling passage from a published article he wrote in 1875, Doane expressed his desire to be given "a paragraph in the encyclopedia of the human race."
Almost all of Doane's personal papers are held by the Merrill G. Burlingame Special Collections at the Montana State University Library in Bozeman. An annotated transcription of Doane's 1870 Yellowstone report, along with his 1876 Snake River expedition journal and a brief biographical sketch, can be found in Orrin H. and Lorraine Bonney, Battle Drums and Geysers: The Life and Journals of Lt. Gustavus Cheyney Doane, Soldier and Explorer of the Yellowstone and Snake River Regions (1970). For a more complete biography see Kim Allen Scott, Yellowstone Denied: The Life of Gustavus Cheyney Doane (2007).
Kim Allen Scott
Back to the top
Kim Allen Scott. "Doane, Gustavus Cheyney";
American National Biography Online October 2008 Update.