Thomas, Herbert P.
Place of Birth: South Wales
Date of enlistment: 5 May 1873
Age given at enlistment: 32
Location on 25 June 1876: Fort Abraham Lincoln
A Miner from the Valleys of South Wales
Pentre Colliery, Rhondda Valley, South Wales.
- His name, date and place of birth have not been verified. There is no primary source to positively verify Williams (Military Register, p.289) that Thomas was age 22 at his first enlistment or Nichols (Men With Custer (2010), p. 391)) that he was born in February 1851.
- Herbert Thomas, who claimed to be a 32-year-old miner from South Wales, was enlisted in the U.S. Army in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on 5 May 1873 by Lt Randolph Norwood, 2nd Cavalry. He had blue eyes, light hair, a fair complexion, and stood 5′ 6 1/4″ tall. After passing through the St Louis Depot he was transferred to the General Mounted Recruiting Service; assigned to the 7th Cavalry 24 days later; and joined Company I at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, on 3 June. He was with Company I on both the 1873 and 1874 Northern Boundary Commission escorts under the overall command of Major Marcus A. Reno.
- Left behind at Fort Lincoln
- Thomas was one of the 57 enlisted men left behind at Fort Lincoln on 17 May 1876 while still on extra duty with the Quarter Master Department and consequently did not participate in the Battle of the Little Bighorn. He was discharged at the fort on 5 May 1878 – “a private of excellent character.”
- Enlists in the 4th Infantry
- On 25 September 1884, a man matching Herbert Thomas’s description, other than his stated age being ten years younger,* was enlisted at Fort Omaha, Nebraska by Lt. Butler Delaplaine Price, 4th Infantry and assigned to Company E of his own regiment. By this time his fair complexion had turned to ruddy. He deserted on 25 May 1885 but was apprehended on 20 August and dishonourably discharged at Fort Omaha on 6 November the same year, when he was sentenced at a court martial to serve three years in a military prison.**
- (*) On this occasion Thomas did not use a second initial ‘P’ and was ten years younger, although the records do show his place of birth as ‘S. Wales, Eng’d’ and it was his second enlistment. But was he the same man?
- (**) Wild Geese of the Greasy Grass [Keith Norman] says “Thomas and the rest of the company (I) were killed in the Battle of the Little Bighorn.” One of a countless number of factual and typographical errors that are a feature of this generally poorly ‘researched’ and carelessly edited little volume.
- His fate is not known to this writer.
- A letter from Rockville, Maryland
- In a letter to the late Norman Walker, Crosskeys, Newport, Gwent, dated 1 September 1986, George Kulstad, Rockville, Maryland, wrote:
- “Family legend has it that one of the members of my maternal great-grandmother Thomas’s family survived the Little Big Horn. However, based on the above and circumstantial ‘evidence,’ the man in question is thought to be Private Henry P. Thomas who was on detached duty at the time of the battle.
- “Sarah, daughter of John Stringer and Susan Howe, born 6 February 1829, emigrated to America in either 1868 or 1870, presumably with her husband, Benjamin Walter Thomas. Federal Census records of 1900 show Sarah Thomas as having had three children, one of whom was Benjamin Walter Thomas, Jr, who was born 4 November 1859. Herbert Thomas’s given birth year of 1851 fits in with BWT, Jr’s, claim that his ‘older brother’ was a survivor of the battle.”
- As stated above, there is no hard evidence that Herbert Thomas was born in 1851 and further investigation is needed before this family oral history can be confirmed as fact.