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Causby, Thomas

Place of Birth: None given

Date of enlistment: 1 January 1872

Age given at enlistment: 25

Rank: Quartermaster Sergeant

Company: Staff

Location on 25 June 1876: Powder River Depot

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Comments:

Consult: (i) ‘Military Register of Custer’s Last Command,’ Roger L. Williams, The Arthur H. Clark Company, Norman, Oklahoma, 2009, p. 29.  (ii) ‘Men With Custer – Biographies of the 7th Cavalry,’ Edited by Ronald H. Nichols with Daniel I. Bird, CBHMA Inc., 2010, p. 5.

‘Cansby’ is almost certainly an incorrect transcription of ‘Causby,’ which is the form shown in his enlistment papers.

A Poacher turned Gamekeeper

It is an interesting fact that all four non-commissioned officers on the Headquarters Staff of the 7th United States Cavalry at the time of the Battle of the Little Big Horn were born in Europe; two of whom were English. Sergeant Major William H. Sharrow came from Sheriff Hutton, near York, and Quartermaster Sergeant Thomas Causby, the subject of this paper, hailed from Liverpool, then in the county of Lancashire.

So who was Thomas Causby? What do we know of this man who served with the Seventh Cavalry during one of the most eventful periods in its long and distinguished history? According to the U.S. Army Registers of Enlistments it would seem that he was born in 1846, but this conflicts with the date of 9 May 1848, which is inscribed on his headstone in Oakland Cemetery, Davenport, Iowa.  Information received by this writer from a direct descendant of Causby living in the United States revealed that his mother’s name was Martha and surviving correspondence refers to a brother, Harry, and a nephew, Harry Gidlow, all residing in Liverpool. Despite this apparent wealth of genealogical data a diligent search failed to find anyone matching his description or, indeed, a single person bearing the surname Causby residing in the whole of Lancashire during the period in question. Therefore until further evidence was forthcoming one had to reluctantly conclude that the true identity of Custer’s Quartermaster Sergeant would remain uncertain.

However, the breakthrough came through after several years of research when  this writer came across a report in the Liverpool Mercury, dated Monday, 25 January 1869, under the heading – A DERBY EMBEZZLER ARRESTED IN LIVERPOOL – namely a Thomas Causby Woolfitt (birth name registered as ‘Woolfit,’ i.e. only one ‘t’.

Although Woolfitt claimed to be slightly older than the age Causby gave on enlistment further research confirmed beyond any doubt that they were one and the same person.  His birth certificate clearly shows he was born on the ninth of May, but two years earlier than depicted on his headstone.

Entry in the Register of Baptisms, St. Peter's Church, Liverpool for 1 October 1846. Thomas Causby Woolfit(t) was living with his parents at Otterspool, Aigburth, Liverpool.

To confuse matters further the name ‘Causby’ was added at baptism but it is a short step from ‘Thomas Causby Woolfit(t)’ to ‘Thomas W. Causby.’ When in America it seems that the ‘W’ stood for ‘Wellesley’ (pronounce Wells-lee), presumably after Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, the victorious general at the Battle of Waterloo and later British prime minister, the 1st Duke of Wellington. Causby always had a great sense of occasion.

Thomas Woolfitt, a book keeper, married 20 year-old spinster, Mary Sealand, on 2 April 1865, at the General Baptist Church, Castle Donington, Leicestershire. Following his release from prison in early 1870 he deserted his wife and three young children before crossing the Atlantic to America (the exact date is unknown). He enlisted in the US Army in Memphis, Tennessee, on New Year’s Day 1872 under the name of Thomas Causby and was later assigned to the 7th Cavalry, Company B.

On 23 October 1875, in Fargo, Cass County, Dakota Territory, he married Emily Larsen, daughter of Norwegian immigrants, the late Lars Halveson and Christiana Erikson, and widow of Harry Williams.

Bismarck Tribune, 20 February 1880 - Death notice for Emily Larsen Causby. Thomas and Emily had three daughters - Martha (known as Mattie), Ida and Emily. Emily, senior, died at Fort Meade of peritonitis following the birth of her fourth child (one from her previous marriage), on 12 February 1880. A headstone to her memory can be found in Fort Meade National Cemetery, near Sturgis, South Dakota. (See right - Author's photograph)

In August 1875 he was appointed this celebrated regiment’s Quartermaster Sergeant.  At his own request, Causby was discharged from the army at Fort Abraham Lincoln, D.T. on 3 June 1879 but found employment as a civilian clerk at Fort Meade, D.T. a few weeks later.

In Hillsborough, Traill County, D.T. on 21 January 1882, Causby married Emma Helen Evenson (or Evinson), also a daughter of Norwegian parents, Lars (Lewis) and Eli (Ella) Evenson. They settled in Davenport, Scott County, Iowa, circa 1888, having previously lived in Beatrice, Nebraska, and Henderson, Kentucky.

Thomas Causby and Emma Evenson (his third wife) in 1882. Photograph taken by F. R. Case, Four(th) Street, Beatrice, Nebraska. Courtesy of Marian Pries Hintermeister.

Three times married Causby died at 1430 Bridge Avenue, Davenport, Iowa, on 16 October 1906, and is buried in Oakdale Cemetery, where a fine pink granite headstone marks the spot. Emma Helen Evinson Causby, who outlived her husband by over 43 years, died at the home of her daughter, Mrs Ida Pries, 724 Brown Street, Bettendorf, on 2 July 1950.

A fully-researched and updated biography (first published in The Crow’s Nest, the biannual journal of the Custer Association of Great Britain, Autumn/Winter 2004, Vol. 4, No. 2) will be posted later this year [2016].

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