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McElroy, Thomas

Place of Birth: Ireland (no town or county given)

Date of enlistment: 3 July 1875

Age given at enlistment: 30

Rank: Trumpeter

Company: E

Location on 25 June 1876: With Custer's Column

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Comments:

Name, place and date of birth not yet verified.

Loch Neagh, Northern Ireland.

'Men With Custer - Biographies of the 7th Cavalry', Edited by Ronald H. Nichols with Daniel I. Bird, CBHMA Inc., 2010, p. 259.

  • I have found no evidence or primary source to support the above claim, taken directly from Kenneth Hammer’s Men With Custer (1995), that Thomas McElroy “Arrived in the United States in 1863. Served in the Civil War and was wounded,” or that he was “Born: 1844, Neagh, Ireland.”  No town or county is recorded in either of his enlistments in the U.S. Army, which begs the questions: Did he enlist under an assumed name? Did he feel he had something to hide? And, other than being Irish, did he simply not know the place of his nativity?  The only ‘Neagh’ in Ireland is ‘Lough Neagh’, which is a freshwater lake in present-day Northern Ireland, so clearly he couldn’t have been born there!  ‘The Wild Geese‘, an Ireland-based website, tells us that the trumpeter in Company E hailed from Nenagh, Tipperary, but I suspect that this is pure speculation based on nothing more than the similarity in the spelling. McElroy (or McIlroy and several variants) is a relatively common surname north of the border, though much less so in the Republic. Lastly, I have not found a single incidence where McElroy used the second forename of Francis.  Therefore, until more information comes to light the true name, place and date of birth of Thomas McElroy must remain uncertain.
  • McElroy’s enlistment is dated 24 May 1870 but he did not join Company G, 1st Infantry, at Fort Porter, near Buffalo, Erie County, New York until 25 August. In December that year he is described as a ‘fifer’, probably a member of the regiment’s Fife and Drum corps. We know he deserted on 11 July 1871 from Fort Porter and was apprehended on 18 August in Buffalo, for which he was sentenced at a general court martial, held on 18 September at Fort Randall to forfeit $8 pay a month for eight months and be kept in confinement for the whole period. (Military Register of Custer’s Last Command, 2009, Roger L. Williams, p. 202.)  It seems he kept out of trouble for the rest of his service and was discharged as a ‘musician’, but without a comment regarding his character.
  • McElroy married Nora Sullivan, ca.1873,  who had arrived in the United States from Ireland in 1871. They had one child, Thomas Francis, born 28 March 1874 (one source says Michigan while another says south Dakota). Nora, Mary Crisfield and Frances DeWolf were at Fort Totten, Dakota Territory, when they learned that their husbands had been killed at Little Big Horn.

  • Nora’s supposed reaction to this tragic news is graphically told in the fact-based novel Voices In Our Souls.2  It reads: “Nora McElroy bolted from her chair with a blood-curdling scream. “No!”  Whirling hysterically, still shrieking, she tore at her hair, ripped open the top of her dress and clawed red marks across her chest. Marie McLaughlin rose to her aid, but she jerked away. “Get away, dirty squaw!”  She lashed at Marie’s face with her nails, missed and tumbled over the back of her chair. Flat on her back, her wild eyes fixed on Little Fish and the two younger braves. “Savages!  Bloody savages!” she screamed, scrambling on all fours toward the Indians.  Several men pulled her up and hurried her out of the front door.  Her shrieks and wails grew more frantic as they half-pulled, half-carried her across the parade ground into the laundry building.”
  • Nora McElroy wed Private John Fureyalso in Company E, 7th Cavalry,3  a marriage that was to remain childless. Furey died before 1900 and Nora filed for a second widow’s pension on 7 October 1905, which appears not to have been successful.  She died in Sturgis, South Dakota, on 27 January 1937 and is buried in St. Aloysius (Catholic) Cemetery, where a fine headstone marks the grave. See headstone below.

U.S. Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934.

  • Notes:
  • 1. Thomas Francis McElroy adopted the surname of his step-father.  He married Mattie Bell Turner, from Missouri, who was ten years his junior, in Los Angeles, Calfornia, on 12 September 1908. On the marriage certificate the groom refers to his father as ‘Thomas Francis Furey’, clearly using the forenames of his natural father and the surname of his step-father.  According to his military-style headstone, during WW1, Thomas served as a sergeant in Company C of the 6th Field Signal Battalion. Mattie died at an unknown date prior to May 1920 and may well have fallen victim to the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918-20. For many years Thomas, worked as a telegrapher on the Southern Pacific Railroad. He died, age 95, from a heart attack at his home, 323 N. Oregon, El Paso, Texas, on 1 December 1969 and is buried in Fort Bliss Still National Cemetery there. See headstone below.
  •       Thomas and Mattie’s only known child, Thomas “Teddy” Francis, was born in Ventura County, California on 6 July 1909 and married Beverly Merle Lowry in 1929.  Teddy died on Christmas Eve 1946 in Los Angeles and is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale. Beverly died, age 74, on 1 November 1984 in Santa Clara, California. Their  only known child, Thomas Milton Furey, great-grandson of Thomas McElroy, was born 29 June 1930 in Los Angeles; lived in Monolith, Kern County, California, in 1940, graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1952; and lived in Missoula, Montana, at least as recently as 2007.
  • 2. Voices In Our Souls (2010), by Gene Erb and Ann DeWolf Erb, a distant cousin of Dr. James DeWolf, is based in part on a diary found on the acting assistant surgeon’s body at the battlefield and letters exchanged between him and his wife, Frances. The story focuses on the relationship between the DeWolfs and uses their lives to call attention to the complex situations between whites and Indians as settlers and soldiers pushed west during the second half of the 19th century.
  • 3. John M. Furey, from County Tyrone, Ireland, was serving in Company K, 20th Infantry on 25 June 1876 and discharged “a private of excellent character” at Fort Totten 5 January 1877. His third enlistment papers were signed by First Lieutenant Ernest A Garlington, Company H, 7th Cavalry, at Fort Abraham Lincoln on 15 January 1877. Furey was described as having brown eyes, brown hair, a fair completion, standing 5′ 6 1/4″ tall and was assigned to Company E.  The place and date of his marriage to Nora McElroy and the circumstances surrounding his death are not known to this writer.

Nora Sullivan McElroy Furey's headstone in St. Aloysius Cemetery, Sturgis, South Dakota (above). The military-style headstone for Sgt. Thomas F. Furey in Fort Bliss National Cemetery, El Paso, Texas (left).

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