John Stuart Forbes (1849-1876) came to Edinburgh aged two, where his parents, a banker, Charles Hay Forbes and his wife, Jemima Rebecca Macdonell, lived at Canaan Park. J S Forbes went to school at Edinburgh Academy. When his father died in 1859, he and his mother moved South to England, where he managed to pass through three more distinguished schools – Cheltenham, Marlborough and Clifton, perhaps from an early addiction to gambling. At the age of 22, he left Britain to visit his brothers in New Zealand, and moved to New York in 1871, under an unspecified ‘fall from grace’ – his mother advising him not to come home. Evidently he felt the need to hide his identity and, in 1872, he joined the 7th Cavalry of the US army taking his name (no doubt sardonically) from his brother in law, the Rev Walter Hiley.
‘John Stuart Hiley’ found himself serving under Lt Col George Armstrong Custer in the Great Sioux War of 1876. Custer underestimated the Sioux and Cheyenne, and believed he would have no difficulty in driving them into the designated reservations; he was heavily outnumbered by a well-armed enemy. Custer’s column was wiped out at the Battle of Little Big Horn, and Forbes was killed.
Unknown photographer, ‘Comanche, a mustang horse, the only army survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn, Smithsonian collection.
The native American warriors stripped their enemies, and identifying the individual soldiers proved difficult. Forbes’ luggage was retrieved and held letters from his mother, clarifying his name – her last said that his trouble had been settled, and he could come home soon. Ironically, the luggage also contained a faro set: ‘FARO may almost be said to occupy in America the position of a national game. The methods of cheating used in connection with it are so numerous and so ingenious that it becomes really necessary to devote an entire chapter specially to them.’ [http://sharpsandflats.com/faro_01.html] This does not suggest that Forbes had reformed.
He is commemorated on the memorial at the battlefield as ‘J S Hiley’. His mother placed a brass plaque in nave of St John’s Church, Edinburgh, under the grand stained glass window dedicated to his father’s memory.
S Stevenson, Memorial plaque for John Stuart Stuart Forbes, St John’s Church, Edinburgh, 2108
See Peter Russell and Leslie Hodgson, English by Birth, Scottish by Blood, alias Private John S. Hiley, 7th Cavalry Regt. U.S. Army, English Westerners’ Society, 2016.