Sunday, December 6, 2015

Have Italians Invaded Montana?

Italians in Montana?
Have Italians ever invaded Montana?  The question may strike some as absurd.  If by "invasion" one means occupation by forces from an Italian government then the answer is clearly "no".  If, however, one defines "invasion" as simply "Italian forces fighting in Montana" then the surprising answer is "yes".

For Italians really did fight in the area now known as Montana in the 19th century.  In our new book Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World we explored the topic...
Where Custer fell
Little Bighorn, MT
"After the US Civil War, Italians and Italian Americans would fight in the Indian wars on the western frontier. No less than six Italians were members of Custer’s 7th Cavalry at the time of the Battle of Little Bighorn. They were First Lieutenant Charles DeRudio (b. Belluno), Private Augustus DeVoto (b. Genoa), Private James John (b. Rome), Private Frank Lombard (b. Naples), and Trumpeter John Martin (b. Sola Consalino). Somewhat surprisingly, none of these men were killed with Custer at the Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876.

Giovanni Martini
The trumpeter, John Martin—or Giovanni Martini—played a vital role in the dramatic events of that fateful day as he carried Custer’s final message to Captain Benteen. The famous message, found in the West Point Museum today (and reproduced in our photo section), reads: “Benteen, Come on. Big Village, Be quick. Bring packs. W.W. Cooke. P.S. Bring packs.” Some historians have interpreted this as a call for ammunition, while others see it as a last desperate plea for immediate reinforcement. Martin, a fortunate musician who had served as a drummer boy in the Italian Army, died in 1922 in Brooklyn."
Custer's Last letter
West Point Museum, NY
Poor Martini, in fact, died after having been struck by a beer truck!

Fort Missoula Display
Missoula Airport, MT
Many years later Italians would again become involved with Montana.  Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 Mussolini declared war on the USA.  As a result of this action an Italian cruise ship, the SS Conte Biancamano, was seized in Panama.  The ship was converted into an Allied troop transport and renamed the USS Hermitage.  The largely Italian crewmen and male passengers were made prisoners of war and interned at Fort Missoula in Montana (  About 1,200 of them remained there until 1944.  Many of these POWs grew to love Montana, referring to Big Sky country as "Bella Vista," and many of them ended up staying in Montana.  The vibrant Italian American community in Missoula today can trace many of its members back to the SS  Conte Biancamano. 
SS Conte Biancamono

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