THE shrill call of bugles, the thunder of hooves and the echoes of gunfire shattered the serenity of a sleeping native American village which lay coiled along the banks of the Little Big Horn River.

Young Private Timothy Donnelly galloped from atop the steep bluffs, along with the flamboyant Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and the celebrated 7th United States Cavalry, which was certain of victory.

But what happened next is the most famous battle in American history: the Battle of Little Bighorn which is also known as General Custer’s Last Stand.

Historians and academics have debated Custer’s decisions, but little is known about the young soldiers who perished alongside him. One such was Pte Donnelly, the youngest British-born soldier to fight and die that day, who was born in Tubwell Row, Darlington.

Darlington author and historian Patrick Townsend has brought his story to light in his new novel To Ride With The 7th.

Donnelly was born in April 1857, the first of 11 children to John and Ann (McGuire) Donnelly, Irish Catholics, who’d moved to England in the years following the Great Famine.

They’d married on June 14, 1856, at St Augustine’s church, and John, a modest, lower class businessman, set up as a provisions dealer and potato merchant.

Donnelly Provisions thrived and expanded to two locations: 34 Tubwell Row (which was until recently Dodds picture framing shop) and 2 Skerne Place (now beneath the pedestrian crossing on the east side of Priestgate bridge).

John was known for his high quality Irish and English bacon which was in great demand. He leased a farm outside town to breed pigs, cutting out the middle man to provide goods for own his shops.

But in 1865, the Russian Cattle Plague arrived in Darlington. This national disaster resulted in a nation-wide cull of stock, devastating the British meat economy.

On September 27, 1865, John Donnelly filed a petition for adjudication of bankruptcy at Darlington County Court.

Within a year he had managed to pay off all of his debts, by taking extra jobs, and he remained in business, working from only Skerne Place – but for the family, things would never be the same.

His brush with bankruptcy left John believing there was no longer a reason to stay in Darlington, or the UK – a better life awaited in the New World.

In 1868, John left to secure that new life in the wire-producing village of Spencer, Massachusetts, leaving Ann and Timothy, along with five other children, to await a date to join him.

That date came the following year and, having sold the family business, Ann and the children sailed from Liverpool on the steamship Tripoli and arrived in Boston, on August 30, 1869.

John was working as a supervisor at the wiremill, and he invested the money from the sale of his Darlington business in a smallholding, with acquiring four cows, four swine and 55 acres of land.

But working on the land was not for Timothy. In September 1875, spurred on to enlist by a poster in the local press, he chose a life that promised adventure and travel as a soldier in the revered 7th Cavalry.

He never told his parents of his intentions and just left, enlisting on September 21, 1875, at the Boston Recruitment Office, 6 Portland Street, Boston, Massachusetts.

Recruitment officer Lt Henry Lawton described Timothy as having "blue eyes, dark hair, a fair complexion, standing 5′ 6″ tall" and noted he had been previously employed as a labourer.

Underage to enlist, Timothy stated that he was aged 21 years and five months old rather than using his actual age of 18 years and five months.

After passing a basic medical examination, Timothy's journey took him from Boston to the Jefferson Barracks, St Louis, Missouri, for three weeks of basic military training.

He and a detachment of 150 other recruits then departed on October 14, 1875, for Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory, where Timothy was assigned to Company F on March 2, 1876, under the command of Captain George Yates.

Inadequate training, poor diet and lack of rest, for men and horses, prevented the 7th Cavalry from being a fully effective fighting force.

On June 25, 1876, the combined warriors of the Lakota (Sioux), Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, descended on the 7th on the banks of Little Bighorn River.

Of the 700 cavalrymen, 268 were massacred – including Timothy. His body, found in an area known as Deep Ravine, was one of the few which could be identified as many of the dead were mutilated by their enemy.

He was buried in a mass grave in Montana, South Dakota, although his name and place of birth and his role in Custer’s Last Stand are included on the family grave in Spencer, Massachusetts, ensuring that the name of the young boy from Darlington, who dreamed of adventure will live on forever.

“It has taken six years of intensive research in collaboration with fellow history buff Patricia Glennon, of Worcester, Massachusetts, and we were fortunate to have the opportunity to share research with other scholars in the US, Ireland and the UK including Peter Russell, author of Men with Custer, to finally bring the story of Timothy Donnelly to life in To Ride With The 7th,” says Patrick.

“It is part-fact, part-fictional, but an historically true and accurate story using research and anecdotal quotes about a young Darlington’s boy’s desire to seek adventure.

“I don’t think many people in the town are aware of his story so it is very exciting to be able to bring it to people’s attention. It would be amazing if we could trace any living relatives on either the Donnelly or Maguire sides of the family and leave a lasting legacy in the shape of a plaque to commemorate him on the house he lived in on Tubwell Row as a really fitting tribute to a forgotten hero.”

L To Ride With The 7th by Patrick Townsend and Patricia Glennon is published by Amazon, and is available in paperback or on Kindle from

DARLINGTON COLLEGE media students produced a two minute trailer for To Ride With The 7th after being approached by author Patrick Townsend.

Richard Alsop, Kaidyn Wilkinson, Reece Goodham and Ben Fox, filmed, produced and edited the story. They used 60 actors from the Lonestar Old West Re-enactment Group, horses, chickens and a pig, and spent two days in Leyburn, North Yorkshire.

Kaidyn, 20, of Darlington, said: “We took Patrick’s vision and turned it into a fabulous trailer. It really gives an essence of the battle and sets the scene for the entire book.”

Richard, 20, of Darlington, added: “I wasn’t aware of the battle of Little Bighorn but finding out that a soldier from Darlington, who lived just down the road and was a similar age to me, really gave me a personal interest in the project.”

The trailer was shown to guests at Darlington College when the book was launched a recently to coincide with the 143rd anniversary of the battle.

AUTHOR Patrick Townsend is an historic re-enactor specialising in the 7th US Cavalry, when not working as an advice and guidance counsellor for the International Educational Charitable Organisation.

A former pupil of Carmel College, Darlington, and graduate of the University of Sunderland with a degree in Education and Training, Patrick has a life-long fascination with the American West, fuelled by his grandparents.

He co-founded the Lonestar Old West Re-enactment Group Ltd in 1997. With a membership of more than 180 re-enactors, the group provides educational and interactive events at national level venues across the UK.

The group’s goal is to provide accurate period interactions with visitors and provide an educational and entertaining experience.

To Ride With The 7th is Patrick’s first published book.