Fact or Fiction
The semi-apocryphal words of the fictional Los Angeles police detective, Sergeant Joe Friday.
- The aim of this page is to both complement and challenge factual content to be found in the four well-known biographically-based works illustrated below. I highly recommend the three most recently-published should be in the collection of anyone interested in the lives of such a disparate group as the men who served in the famous 7th Cavalry on 25 June 1876, even if none of these volumes is as definitive as generally assumed. A surprisingly large number of the factual errors that continue to be widely perpetuated can be traced directly to Men With Custer: Biographies of the 7th Cavalry, by the late Kenneth Hammer (1995) or the U.S. Army, Registers of Enlistment, though the value of Hammer’s ground-breaking work cannot be over-stated. It is hoped therefore that the information posted here, based almost exclusively on the findings of my personal research from mainly primary sources, and in this instance confined to those born beyond the borders of the present-day United Kingdom, will be well received by visitors to this website irrespective of their level of knowledge of the Battle of Little Big Horn (aka Little Bighorn) and the Plains Indian Wars. New entries will be added from time to time as and when new information comes to light.
- Peter Russell
'Men With Custer: Biographies of the 7th Cavalry', Kenneth Hammer, CBHMA, Inc., (1995).
'Military Register of Custer's Last Command', Roger L. Williams, Arthur H. Clark Company, Norman, Oklahoma (2009).
'Men With Custer: Biographies of the 7th Cavalry', edited by Ronald H. Nichols with Daniel I. Bird, CBHMA, Inc. New Expanded Edition (2010).
'Participants in the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Frederic C. Wagner III, McFarland & Co, Jefferson, North Carolina, Second Edition (2016).
- 1. First Sergeant Joseph McCurry, Company H
- 2. First Lieutenant Donald McIntosh, Company G
- 3. Private Garrett H. Van Allen (real name Gerrit Houghtaling Niver), Company C
- 4. Private James Thomas (real name Thomas James Stowers), Company B
- 5. Private Ernest Wasmus, Company K
- 6. Corporal Daniel Nealon, Company H
- 7. Wagoner Albert Whytefield (real name Albert Schenke), Company K
- 8. Sergeant John Vickory (real name John H. Groesbeck), Company F
- 9. Katherine Garrett Gibson and Katherine Gibson Fougera (wife and daughter of Lt Francis Marion Gibson, Company H)
- Note: To a lesser or greater extent, Military Register, Men With Custer (2010) and Participants have benefited from the findings of my independent research over many years from primary sources though, until recently, this has mainly been confined to men who were born in the UK (see Biographies page) plus a small number from the Republic of Ireland and mainland Europe. I have chosen to use Nichols here as it contains the most information relating to both pre and post military service. Military Register is essentially aimed at the more serious student, while Participants, which can be read online, is generally less comprehensive and confined to those U.S. personnel who were in the field during the Little Big Horn campaign.
1. First Sergeant Joseph McCurry, Company H
A late 1800s lithograph of a baseball game.
- Theodore Ewert, Company H, 7th U.S. Cavalry, confided to his diary1 that “McCurry delivers a swift and correct ball, generally to suit the batter, is a sure base runner, briskly if it pays, earns his runs, and is a gentlemanly player withal….He is undoubtedly the stay and prop of the club, and is also the best player.”
- Joseph McCurry, son of Irish immigrants, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, mostly likely in 1853, not three years earlier as virtually every biographer has led us to believe.
- He was enlisted into the U.S. Army by Captain Samuel Whitside on 22 January 1872 in Philadelphia, at a stated age of 21, and described as having brown eyes, dark hair, a ruddy complexion, standing 5’ 7” tall, previously employed as a coach maker. From Philadelphia McCurry was sent to the St Louis Depot, Missouri where, on 2 February 1872, he was transferred via the General Mounted Recruiting Service to the 7th Cavalry and assigned to Captain Frederick W. Benteen’s Company H, which he joined in Nashville, Tennessee, ten days later. He was promoted to corporal on 20 August the same year.
- On 1 March 1873, while still stationed in Nashville on Reconstruction duty, Company H decided to organize a club with the view of having games, sports, and exercises to be known as the “Benteen base ball and gymnasium club.” Joseph McCurry was elected as treasurer. It is interesting to note that leadership, military and sporting, among the enlisted men of Company H rested in the hands of McCurry – team captain, club treasurer, star pitcher, leading actor of the Fort Rice Minstrels theatrical group, which also performed at Fort Lincoln and Bismarck, and last, but no means least, its future senior NCO. He participated in the Yellowstone Expedition campaign against the Sioux later that year.
- Joseph McCurry was appointed sergeant on 1 July 1874 and served with his company in the famous Black Hills Expedition.
- In addition to its athletic program, the troopers of Company H also organized a glee club. According to the Ewart diary, one of their performances in the Black Hills for Samuel June Barrows, correspondent for the New York Tribune, was rewarded with two bottles of whiskey. They also sang several times in Yankton during the spring of 1875.
- Yankton Daily Press and Dakotaian, 25 May 1875.
- “We were favored last evening with a delightful serenade from a glee club organised by members of Co. H, 7th cavalry. It was a most agreeable interruption to our nightly labor and we thank the singers for thus kindly remembering us. If Yanktonians want to enjoy some of the best vocal music extant we recommend them to make friends with the Co. H boys. The following gentlemen comprise the membership of the glee club: 1st Sergeant — Theodore Covers; Sergeants — P. H. Rooney, Joseph McCurry; Farrier — John. M. Marshall,2 Privates – Alonzo Plumb,3 Charles W. Lange, Alexander Bishop, Charles Bishop. It is hoped that we may have them here on a concerting visit soon. If they remain at Randall they will endeavor to favor Yankton with a couple of entertainments.”
- Yankton Daily Press and Dakotaian, June 14, 1875
- “The McDougall4 Base Ball Club played the Randalls [Benteen Base Ball Club] a close contested game on the 8th inst. The score stood, Randalls 32, McDougalls 19. The Randalls improved on McCurry’s swift pitching, while the fielding of the McDougall nine was miserably poor.”
- Bismarck Weekly Tribune, 27 November 1875
- “Fort Rice Ministrels – The Fort Rice boys have organized a minstrel troupe consisting of the following persons, some of whom are known to our people as artists of unusual merit: — Joseph McCarthy [McCurry], right end; Alonzo Plumb, left end; James Tanner,5 interlocuter; William F. Davis; S. G. Mawson; Thomas G. Meader6; A. B. Bishop; John M. Marshall; J. M. Walsh and James Stringer. They expect to give their first entertainment about Dec. 10th, and hope to visit Bismarck during the winter.”
- On 1 October 1875. Joseph McCurry was promoted to 1st Sergeant of Company H.
- Bismarck Weekly Tribune, 15 December 1875
- “The Fort Rice Minstrels will give their first entertainment on or about Dec. 18th, at the Opera House, Fort Rice. Judging from their programme, a rich treat is promised. They may be expected at Bismarck at an early day.”
- Bismarck Weekly Tribune, 12 January 1876
- “Sergt. McLaughlin was in the city from Fort Rice Saturday. He says the Minstrels took in $150 at their last entertainment. The programme was acted to perfection. Lowenstein’s Garden, by McCurry and Plumb could not have been excelled in any country. They will appear at Bismarck in a few days.”
- Bismarck Weekly Tribune, 26 January 1876
- “The Fort Rice Minstrels did themselves credit in their performance last night. McCurry, Plumb and Bishop were encored again and again. The house was full, – packed and jammed to such an extent that, other ventilation being defective, several panes of window were broken. When the boys come again they are certain to secure a full house.”
- Bismarck Weekly Tribune, 16 February 1876
- “Sergt. McCurry and Plumb, of Fort Rice Minstrel fame, are in town, making preliminary preparations for an entertainment next Monday or Wednesday night. They will perform at Rice tomorrow night.”
(Above) Captain Frederick W. (1834-1898), Commanding a battalion (Companies D, H and K) at the battle. (Right) Sergeant Major William H. Sharrow.
- McCurry participated in the hilltop fight at the Little Bighorn where he received a gunshot wound in his left shoulder on the second day of the battle but remained in the field. On 1 August 1876 he was transferred the Non-commissioned Staff appointed sergeant major to replace British-born William H. Sharrow7 who had been killed with Custer.
- Due to one member of the team being killed6 and four wounded, including McCurry,7 the Benteen Base Ball Club never played another game after the Little Bighorn.
- McCurry has been suspected as the author of the notorious Reno petition, because of a perceived similarity of his handwriting with that of several of the alleged signatures, although the evidence is far from conclusive.
- On 2 October 1876, for his own reasons, McCurry reverted to 1st sergeant from sergeant major. He was discharged by expiration of service on 22 January 1877, at Fort Rice, as a 1st sergeant of excellent character.
- Contrary to what was originally published by Kenneth Hammer, and perpetuated by subsequent generations of authors, McCurry did NOT live at 4820 Oliver Street, Philadelphia, but [according to the United States Census, 1880] he WAS a boarder in the house of Harry Stafford, 1946 North 10th Street, Philadelphia, working in a carriage factory. He died, unmarried, of phthisis pulmonalis (TB) on 20 August 1883 in Philadelphia – address given as 1946 North 10th Street – and buried three days later in the city’s Cathedral Cemetery.9 The plot number is not known.
- Joseph McCurry’s age is shown as 27 in the 1880 census and 30 in the Philadelphia death records, which makes it seem very probable that he did, indeed, increase his age by two, or possibly three, years at enlistment to meet the minimum age requirement, i.e., 21. Writing in early 1876, Theodore Ewert gives McCurry’s age as 23, which supports the hypothesis that he was born in 1853, NOT 1850, as is published in three of the four books featured above.
- Notes and Sources
- 1. Theodore Ewert, originally from Prussia, author of Private Theodore Ewert’s diary of the Black Hills expedition of 1874, was discharged at Fort Rice with the rank of sergeant on 10 February 1876. He enlisted in the 5th Infantry on 15 February 1878 and discharged five years later at Fort Keogh, Montana Territory, a sergeant major of excellent character. He died 27 November 1906 at Quincy, Illinois.
- 2. Farrier John M. Marshall, Company H, who claimed to have been born in Scarborough, Yorkshire, though his true identity has not been verified, was absent sick in the post hospital, Fort Rice, on 5 May 1876 and he did not participate in the Little Bighorn campaign.
- 3. Private Alonzo Plumb was described by Ewert – ‘as “right field, the funnyman,” don’t profess to play base ball, but thinks he can keep the “nine” in a good humorous vein, thus in good working condition. He is from Ohio, catches pretty fair, is ambitious, but says himself that baseball is not “his forte,” but is on hand when “the laugh comes ”’ He was discharged April 3, 1876, at Fort Rice. He later served in the 1st and 10th U.S. Infantry, and discharged on disability in Washington, D.C. on 13 February 1891. Sadly, Plumb died, age 43, in an asylum for the insane on March 1, 1893 and buried in Saint Elizabeths Hospital East Cemetery, Washington, D.C., where a small military-style headstone marks the spot.
- 4. Lieutenant Thomas Mower McDougall, born Fort Crawford, WI, Company E, 7th Cavalry. He was appointed captain on 18 February 1876 and assumed command of Company B, which provided the pack train escort at Little Bighorn.
- 5. Real name Jacob Henry Gebhart, a private, Company M, from Altoona, Pennsylvania, killed in the hilltop fight at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, 26 June 1876.
- 6. Private Thomas E. Meador (correct spelling), Company H, from Bedford County, Virginia, also killed in hilltop fight, 26 June 1876.
- 7. Sergeant Major William Hunter Sharrow, born 2 March 1845, Sheriff Hutton, Yorkshire, England.
- 8. Private William Davis, from Vandalia, Illinois, Company E, killed with Custer’s column.
- 9. All Company H, 7th (i) 1st Sergeant Joseph McCurry, see above; (ii) Corporal Alexander B. Bishop, from Brooklyn, New York, wounded in right arm in the hilltop fight, and taken on the steamer Far West to Fort Lincoln; (iii) Private Charles H. Bishop, from Washington, D.C., wounded in the right shoulder but remained in the field; (iv) Private William C. “Fatty” Williams, born Wheeling, Virginia, wounded in the left leg, also remained in the field.
- 10. Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Death Certificates, 1803-1915.
(Above)Headstone of Private Alonzo Plumb. (Left) Headstone of Sgt Maj. Theodore Ewert.
- Obituary – Theodore Ewert – 27 November 1906 (11 March 1847-27 November 1906)
- Colonel Theodore Ewert, who served in the civil war and later in the regular army, and who was for twenty years connected with the Illinois National guard, died Wednesday morning at the Illinois Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home at Quincy, of which he had been an inmate since last spring. The funeral will take place at the cemetery of the home this afternoon, and the interment will be at the cemetery of the home. The services will be under the auspices of the Grand Army of the Republic. Colonel Ewert died as the result of a general breaking down of his mental faculties and the system in general. He was 64 years old.Colonel Ewert was a native of Prussia, but came to this country when a youth. On Aug. 9, 1861, he enlisted in Thielman’s cavalry, and re-enlisted Feb. 14, 1864. He was commissioned second lieutenant of the Twelfth United States colored heavy artillery on July 9, 1864, and was mustered out April 11, 1865, at the end of the war. Jan. 24, 1867, he enlisted in company H of the Thirty-sixth United States infantry and was discharged as corporal Jan. 24, 1869. He again enlisted, this time in the seventh United States cavalry, April 1, 1871, and was discharged as sergeant April 10, 1876. April 15, 1878, he enlisted in the Fifth United States artillery, and was discharged as sergeant major April 14, 1883.
- Colonel Ewert on his discharge from the army in 1883, came to Springfield and was appointed a clerk in the office of the adjutant general. Aug. 30, 1883, he was commissioned captain of Troop C, First cavalry, Illinois National Guard. He resigned Oct. 10, 1884, to accept the position of captain and adjutant of the Eighth Infantry, I. N. G., being commissioned as such Oct. 18, 1883, to rank from April 30, 1883.
- March 15, 1885, he was commissioned as acting assistant adjutant general and on July 1, 1885, as assistant adjutant general with rank of colonel, serving until his successor was appointed in June, 1889. Dec. 30, 1889, he was commissioned as captain of Company C, Fifth Infantry, resigning May 16, 1890. May 4, 1891, he was appointed assistant adjutant general of the Second brigade, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He resigned this position Oct. 4, 1892. All this time he was connected with the adjutant general’s office, remaining there until the accession of General Alfred Orendorff as adjutant general in the spring of 1893. He was commissioned Captain and adjutant of the Fifth Infantry, July 14, 1896, holding the position until April 19, 1902, when he was appointed assistant adjutant general, holding that position until General Scott was appointed adjutant general in 1905, when he became custodian of the state arsenal. When his health failed last spring, he was sent to the Illinois Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home at Quincy.
- Colonel Ewert was twice married. His first wife died several years ago, and he married Miss Nellie Bell, daughter of Colonel John C. Bell of this city, who survives him, together with one son, Frederick Ewert, now residing in Chicago and one daughter, Miss Etelka Ewert, both children by his first wife. Colonel Ewert was a member of the G. A. R. and of the Modern Woodmen of America. Pub. in the Illinois State Register, Springfield, IL 12-4-1906
2. First Lieutenant Donald McIntosh, Company G
'Men With Custer - Biographies of the 7th Cavalry', Edited by Ronald H. Nichols with Daniel I. Bird, CBHMA Inc., 2010, p. 264.
- Date and place of birth: It is widely stated that Donald McIntosh was born 4 September 1838 at Jasper House, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Other references suggest it could have been at anytime from 1835 to 1840. In Lives Lived West of the Divide: A Biographical Dictionary of Fur Traders Working West of the Rockies, 1793-1858 (2013), Bruce McIntyre Watson says that Donald McIntosh was born in 1836, with a question mark! I think it is safe to say that he was NOT born in Montreal and possibly not even at Jasper’s House in present-day Alberta, but as no written record of his birth has been found the precise date and place must remain uncertain.
- Heritage: Donald’s parents were John (not James) McIntosh and Charlotte Robertson (not Robinson). He was almost certainly NOT “of the same Scotch family” as Sir James McIntosh, NEITHER, I believe, was his mother, daughter of Scots-born Colin Robertson, a Chief Factor with the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) and Theresa Chilafoux,, a direct descendant of Red Jacket. In the HBC records John McIntosh is styled a ‘Clerk in charge’, not a ‘Factor’.
- Church records: ‘Catholic Church Records of the Pacific Northwest. Oregon City’ (1984) – baptisms on 18 Sept. 1842 of Donald, aged 6, and John, aged 3, sons of legitimate marriage of John McIntosh and Charlotte Robertson (godmother was Betsy McIntosh); ‘Vancouver’. Volumes I and II (1972) – baptisms on 13 June 1845 of Jacobus [James], legitimate son of Jean McIntosh and Charlotte Robertson, born Oct. 23, 1843.
- The Catholic Church Records of St. James Church, Vancouver, now in Washington state – show that on 4 June 1848 Charlotte and three of her children, including Donald were confirmed.
- Death of father: John McIntosh was shot dead by a “Sickanie Indian” at McLeod Lake, present-day British Columbia, on 8 July 1844 when Donald might have been as young as four or as old as eight, but not fourteen!
- Headstone: Donald McIntosh’s headstone in Arlington National Cemetery is inscribed ‘Aged 36’ (see below), not 37 as the 1838 year of birth would suggest, which only adds to muddy the water.
Looking towards the site of the second Jasper House across the Athabasca River.
- Additional Notes:
- John McIntosh (1803-1844)
- 1836-1842 Clerk in charge Connolly’s Lake New Caledonia
- 1842-1844 Clerk in charge Babines New Caledonia
- 1844 Clerk in charge McLeod Lake New Caledonia
- 1844, 8 July “…shot Dead by a Sickanie Indian”
- Fur Trade Family History: John McIntosh, HBC
- Additional Notes (Cont’d):
- James Lowe’s journal entry for June 12, 1845, records the arrival of the interior brigade with the “family of the deceased Mr. McIntosh” who were “brought down to be left here.” Thereby hangs a tale. John McIntosh, a part-Indian clerk who was described as “boastful and tactless,” had long served in New Caledonia. On July 8, 1844, he was shot to death by a Sekanis Indian while tending his fish nets at McLeod’s Lake during a time of famine. His wife, Charlotte Robertson, made secure both the fort and the Company’s property, including the furs, before abandoning the place with her family and the only other male employee. The reason for her being taken to Fort Vancouver is not stated in records thus far examined, but evidently the Company felt an obligation to provide for her. Her children in June 1845 were: Catherine (Kitty), ca. 14 years; Archibald, age unknown; Donald, ca. 10 years; Elizabeth, age unknown; John, Jr., ca. 5 years; James aged 1 year, 7 months; and Julia, age unknown. In addition, there was Marie, ca. 2-1/2 years, the natural daughter of John McIntosh by Nancy, a woman of the Carrier tribe. Mrs. McIntosh was still at Fort Vancouver with several children in 1850. At that time she seems to have been living inside the fort, and perhaps had done so since 1845. At least two of the sons [Archibald and Donald) later entered the [HBC] Company’s service.
- John F Noble (ca.1828- ?)
- According to the Catholic church records, in early February of 1852 Catherine (Kitty) McIntosh gave birth to a daughter; on May 6 Julia Catherine Noble was baptized and Kitty McIntosh was buried. Her daughter followed her to the grave in August of 1852. (Warner and Munnick, Vancouver, H, passim.) John Noble was a military commissary clerk at Columbia Barracks (Fort Vancouver) under Brevet Captain Ulysses S. Grant and later Captain Rufus Ingalls. Noble served in the First Oregon Cavalry during the Civil War. Archives West: John F. Noble papers, 1849-1950
- John F. Noble was an Indian agent, stock rancher, and U.S. Army officer who lived in Oregon and Washington State. He came overland in 1849 from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, as a civilian traveling with the U.S. Mounted Rifle Regiment. He was married to Catherine McIntosh at Fort Vancouver in 1851, and engaged in a stock raising enterprise near The Dalles, Oregon, with Louis Scholl.
- 10 August 1857, Charlotte Robertson McIntosh (Donald’s mother) dies at Fort Vancouver.
- For a resume of Donald McIntosh’s army career, see ‘Nichols above.
First Lieutenant Donald McIntosh. Inscription on the headstone of Donald McIntosh and his wife, Mary "Mollie" Garrett, in Arlington National Cemetery, Section 1, Grave 107D (right).
3. Private Garrett H. Van Allen (real name Gerrit Houghtaling Niver), Company C
'Men With Custer - Biographies of the 7th Cavalry', Edited by Ronald H. Nichols with Daniel I. Bird, CBHMA Inc., 2010, p. 400.
The Niver-Eddy mausoleum, Elmwood Cemetery, Bethlehem, New York. The mortal remains of Gerrit's parents, David M Niver and Phoebe C. Houghtaling Niver, are deposited here.
Elmwood Cemetery, Bethlehem, Albany County, New York. The inscription reads: GERRIT H. NIVER - Killed in the Custer massacre on the Little Big Horn Dakota June 25 1876 Aged 30 years 4 mo. 25 days.
- Place & Date of Birth: Born 1 February 1846 (the indexes says 1843!), in Bethlehem, Albany County, New York and baptised Gerrit Houghtaling Niver on 1 May 1846 in the First Reformed Church, Bethlehem. Several censuses support 1846 as the year of his birth.
- Heritage: Gerrit’s parents were David M. Niver (1819-1906), a farmer, and Phoebe C. Houghtaling Niver (1819-1903). His mother was never was a “Van Allen”!
- Enlistment: He was enlisted in the U.S. Army in New York City on 2 October 1873, by Lt. Edward Hunter, 12th Infantry, in the name of Garrett H. Van Allen, when he gave New Brunswick, New Jersey, as his place of birth. His occupation is given as ‘Farmer’, most likely simply meaning he only “worked on a farm.” Interestingly, he is recorded as a “Clerk on Steam Boat,” in the Federal Census, 1870. No explanation has been found to why Gerrit Niver said his surname was ‘Van Allen’, which he ‘borrowed’ from his brother-in-law, Richard Van Allen, who had married his sister, Anna, in December 1869.
- Army Records: Williams was incorrect to list him as Private Garrett H. Niver as no-one of that name ever enlisted in the U.S. Army, whereas others placed too much faith in Hammer’s erroneous assumption that ‘Niver’ was the surname of his mother’s second husband – the good lady only had one husband, David Niver, Gerrit’s father. They were married on 26 October 1843 at the First Reformed Church, Bethlehem.
- Army Pension: His mother’s application for an army pension, dated 18 April 1892 (No. 548,585), was rejected on the grounds that her husband owned property which provided comfortable support and she was not dependent as contemplated by law. See below.
4. Private James Thomas (real name Thomas James Stowers), Company B
'Men With Custer - Biographies of the 7th Cavalry', Edited by Ronald H. Nichols with Daniel I. Bird, CBHMA Inc., 2010, p. 392.
- Place of Birth: Thomas James Stowers, who enlisted under the name of James Thomas, was born in Nashville, Tennessee, not ‘Bucks’ County, Pennsylvania, which most likely is a miss-reading of ‘Burk’ [Berks?] County, PA, as appears in the U.S. Army, Registers of Enlistments.
- Heritage: His parents, William Stowers, a nightwatchman/labourer, from Tennessee, and Emily Parrish from Virginia, were married in Sumner County, TN, on 31 January 1838. Thomas, their third child, had at least three brothers and two sisters. Emily Parrish Stowers died 11 July 1886.
- Civil War Regiment: He was mustered into Company D, 199th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry (not the 119th) on 3 September 1864 under his real name and mustered out on 28 June 1865.
- Army Records: Only Nichols correctly shows him enlisting as Private James Thomas on 1 December 1874.
- Death: Thomas Stowers died on 25 July 1933 in Baxter, Tennessee (Williams says it was the 26th – the date of his funeral) and buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery there. It is true that he did survive the Battle of Little Big Horn, being firstly with the pack train and later in the siege on Reno Hill, but was neither the sole nor the last survivor.
Headstone of Thomas James Stowers, Odd Fellows Cemetery, Baxter, Tennessee.
Thomas Stowers in later life. Photograph courtesy of the late Michael Nunnally.
5. Private Ernest Wasmus, Company K
'Men With Custer - Biographies of the 7th Cavalry', Edited by Ronald H. Nichols with Daniel I. Bird, CBHMA Inc., 2010, p. 414.
- Jemima “Jennie” Beulah Cornell, the future Mrs Ernest Wasmus, was born in May 1854, in Ontario, Canada, daughter of David Cornell (Canada) and Margaret Jane Harvey Cornell (Ireland).
- Federal Census 4 June 1880 – Port Huron, St. Clair County, Michigan
- Mary Cornell, 46, Keeping House, with five boarders.
- Children: Jemima, 26, School Teacher; Meta, 22, Dressmaker; Allen, 19. Machinist’s Apprentice; Maud, 13, and niece, Kate McGraw, Dressmaker – all born Ontario, Canada.
- Marriage: Ernest Wasmus and Beulah Cornell, 13 November 1886 at St. Paul, Ramsey County, Minnesota.
- St. Paul Daily Globe, 14 November 1886
- Mr. Ernest Wasmus, chief clerk of the adjutant general’s office at Fort Snelling, and Miss Cornell, were married Friday. An elegant silver tea service was presented to the happy couple by Mr. Wasmus’ brother clerks.
- St. Paul Daily Globe, 12 April 1890
- HE IS STRANGELY MISSING.
Unaccountable Disappearance of Ernest Wasmus of 299 Pleasant Avenue
In a cosy little home at 299 Pleasant avenue, a young mother, tearful and tremulous, and a prattling babe, are awaiting the return of the husband and father, Ernest Wasmus, who has mysteriously disappeared. The mother, with intervals of tears, hopes he may yet return all right, and the child is scarce old enough to do aught than
vaguely wonder why it does not daily receive the caresses of its father. Wasmus is chief clerk of the adjutant general’s office, at the war building. On the first day of the month he left his home as usual, and so far as can be ascertained, no one has since set eyes upon him. A Globe reporter called upon Maj. Barber, acting adjutant general, yesterday afternoon, but that official could give us insight into
the cause of the disappearance. “Wasmus is a capable, efficient clerk,” he said, “and his place will be held open for him a reasonable time. I hope he may return and resume his duties as usual.” Last evening Mrs. Wasmus answered the ring of the Globe envoy at her front door. She was very much agitated and evidences the suffering she has undergone. Her knowledge includes nothing that would account for the absence of her husband, other than that he had complained of pains in his head, nervous headaches, and other evidences of mental trouble. It is possible, then, that in a temporary aberration of mind he wandered away and may return. Maj. Barber thought possibly a slight mental derangement was at the bottom of the case.*
About this city it was learned that Wasmus had a few debts, most of them being of the nature of outstanding paper upon which he had secured indorsements (sic). Lieut. Budy, of the mounted patrol, had indorsed for him, and Lieut. Cole, of the subsistence department, had also accommodated him in the same way. The amounts in these cases were very small, and would not, of themselves, account for the flight of Wasmus. It is possible that there are other accounts of a larger sum, and that his indebtedness preyed upon the mind of the missing man, in connection
with nervousness growing out of over work. But whatever may be the cause, his friends are a unit in expressing the hope that Wasmus may return at once.
Ernest Wasmus was a sergeant of K troop, Seventh cavalry, until 1883. In that year he came to St. Paul to a rifle contest, and through the influence of Capt. Davis was exchanged into the general service here. Upon receiving his present position he married Miss Cornell, of St. Paul, and has since resided here.
- Note (*): In addition to insanity, other possible PTSD symptoms emerge from the Seventh Cavalry medical records. They include Little Bighorn survivor, Private Ernest Wasmus, who experienced insomnia when he was about to engage the Nez Perces a year after the battle. Among the more than 20,000 medical records, only one other case of insomnia occurred. Source: Health of the Seventh Cavalry: A Medical History, edited by P. Willey and Douglas D. Scott, 2015.
- St. Paul Daily Globe, 12 November 1890
- Mrs. K. Wasmus, teacher of Fourth grade, Madison school, to date from Oct.13, at schedule salary.
Historic Fort Snelling entrance.
- St. Paul Daily Globe, 9 November 1899
- ASKS FOR A PENSION
- Mrs J. Beulah Wasmus files an application with Gen. Lambert
- RECALLS A DISAPPEARANCE
- Nearly Ten Years ago Her Husband, then a Member of the Seventh Cavalry, but Serving In Department Headquarters Left His Office and has Never Been Seen Since— An Old Story
- An application was filed with Adjt. Gen. Lambert for a widow’s pension by Mrs.J. Beulah Waumus yesterday afternoon.* The application calls to mind the mysterious disappearance of Ernest Wasmus, who was for a number of years a clerk In the adjutant general’s office of the department of Dakota. One day he complained of a violent headache, put on his coat and hat, left the office and has never been seen since. Many different surmises were made as to the manner of his death, If he were dead, but his disappearance is a as much shrouded in mystery today as it was on the day he was missed by his family. Wasmus disappeared March 30, 1890, leaving his wife with three small children to support.** Mrs. Wasmus went bravely to work, securing a position as teacher in the Madison school and educating her children to the best of her means. Max Ernest Wasmus, her husband, was originally sergeant In Company K, of the Seventh cavalry, and resigned as sergeant to take a detached position In the adjutant general’s office. Accompanying Mrs. Wasmus’ application are affidavits from the colonel of the Seventh cavalry and others as to Wasmus’ record and as to the disability that he had incurred at the time of his disappearance.
- It was stated at the time that the domestic relations of the Wasmus family were all that could be desired, and that, in the absence of any cause for suicide, the affair was a most unaccountable one to the friends -of the family. Wasmus had, however; incurred some disability since his enlistment In the army in 1874, and was subject to violent headaches. Mrs. Wasmus is still teaching at the Madison school and lives in the Argyle apartment house.
- (*) This application for a pension was not successful but a second application filed on 7 March 1923 was approved.
- (**) At the time of his disappearance there was only one child to support, Margaret Alwaine, born 18 August 1887. However, his wife was five months pregnant with a son whom she named Ernest Louis, born 6 August 1890. Beulah Wasmus never remarried and lived for a further fifty-six years.
- St. Paul Daily Globe, 25 February 1900
- WASMUS’ LONG LUNCHEON
- He Started in 1890 and Has Not Yet Returned
- Judge Bazille yesterday in probate court appointed Mrs. Jennie Wasmus, the widow, as administratrix of the estate of Ernest Wasmus. The appointment recalls, an interesting story. Wasmus was for a considerable time chief clerk at the army building. March 31, 1890, he went out for lunch and has never been heard from since, although every agency was employed. He left two minor children, besides the widow, and an estate, consisting principally of $2,000 in life insurance.
Judge of Probate Edmund W. Bazille (c.1855-1922) in his office in the courthouse, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1900.
- Federal Census 13 June 1900 – St. Peter Street, St. Paul, Minnesota
- Beulah J. Wasmus, 40, a Widow, Teacher, born Canada East. Children: Margaret A., 12 and Ernest L., 9 – both born in Minnesota and both at school.
- Minnesota State Census 3 June 1905 – 561 Laurel Avenue, St. Paul.
- Beulah Wasmus, 50, Housewife. Children: Margaret, 17 and Louis, 14. Frank Bussell, 26, School Teacher, born Illinois.
561 Laurel Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota. Beulah Wasmus and family lived here.
- Death: Beulah J. Cornell Wasmus, 25 July 1946, St. Paul, Minnesota. Her place of burial is not known to this writer
6. Corporal Daniel Nealon, Company H.
'Men With Custer - Biographies of the 7th Cavalry', Edited by Ronald H. Nichols with Daniel I. Bird, CBHMA Inc., 2010, p. 294.
Guest register for the Gilt Edge Hotel, Gilt Edge, Montana, 16 January 1898 - note Dan Nealon's signature.
- Daily Enterprise, 20 October 1884 – Livingston, Montana.
- The List of Letters Advertised at Livingston waiting for collection included the name of Daniel Nealon.
- Federal Census (1900) – Gilt Edge, Maiden, Fergus County, Montana.
- Daniel Nealon, a Quartz Miner, lodging with Thomas L. Burke, b. Rhode Island, October 1850, parents born in Rhode Island and New York.
- Fergus County Democrat, 22 August 1900.
- Daniel Nealon was the delegate for Maiden, Fergus County, at the Republican Convention.
Looking southeast on Main Street, Gilt Edge, circa 1905.
- Federal Census (1910) – School District 23, Fergus County, Montana.
- Daniel Nealon, a Farmer, single, age 60, both parents born in Ireland.
- Fergus County Democrat, 20 April 1916
- DANIEL NEALON DIES SUDDENLY
WELL-KNOWN OLD-TIMER WHO SERVED UNDER MILES AND CUSTER MUSTERED OUT.
While sitting in a chair at the Midway saloon yesterday morning, Daniel Nealon, generally known as “Cracker Box Dan,* fell over to the floor dead. Heart failure was the cause of death. Mr. Nealon was a widely known old timer and for many years was located at Maiden. He was a native of Rhode Island and came to Montana first forty-three years ago. He served with distinction in the army during several Indian campaigns, having fought under General Miles and Custer. He was a man whose word was always respected and was known far and wide as a brave, upright, industrious citizen. He went to Maiden soon after leaving the army and worked in the Spotted Horse for Mr. McAdoo for several years and also worked in the Maginnis mine. He was 69 (sic) years of age. While little is known as to his family he had many friends among the old timers and they are interesting themselves in seeing that his is given a proper burial
The arrangements for the funeral have not yet been completed.
- Fergus County Democrat, 27 April 1916
- FUNERAL OF LATE DAN NEALON FROM CATHOLIC CHURCH SATURDAY
The funeral of the late Daniel Nealon, the widely known pioneer and ex-solider (sic), was held from the Cotholic (sic) church at 2 Saturday afternoon. A number of old timers, friends and associates of the decedent, had charge of the arrangements.
An effort has been made to find Mr. Nealon’s discharge papers and other paper but they have not as yet been located. Any person having knowledge as to where Mr. Neulon kept his papers is requested to communicate the information to the Democrat.
- Fergus County Democrat, 29 June 1916
- George R Creel, Undertaker, paid $100 for Daniel Nealon’s burial.
- (*) According to Private John Burkman, Company L, papers, Nealon was known as “Cracker Box Dan” because he kept hid behind a cracker-box on Reno Hill. Source: Military Register (Williams), p.23
- Participants (Wagner), p.72 reads: “Possibly illiterate, though this is hard to believe for a corporal [sergeant effective from 1 September 1876]”. Wagner is right to query this as two Federal censuses (1900 and 1910) show that Nealon could both read and write (also, see signature above).
- Daniel Nealon never married. He was buried in Calvary Cemetery, Lewistown, Fergus County (no headstone). His date of birth and heritage remain uncertain.
7. Wagoner Albert Whytefield (real name Albert Schenke) Company K
'Men With Custer - Biographies of the 7th Cavalry', Edited by Ronald H. Nichols with Daniel I. Bird, CBHMA Inc., 2010, p. 425.
- Albert Schenke, alias Whytefield and Whitefield – A Timeline
- c.1845 – Born Prussia (Germany), not Sandusky, Ohio, son of Henry and Elmira Schenke.
- c.1856 – Arrives in the United States with both parents and a sister, Johanna (born c.1854).
- 1860 – 8 June Federal Census for Sandusky, Erie County, Ohio – Henry Schenke, 39, Painter, born Bavaria; Elmira, 48, wife, born Russia. Children: Albert, 15, born Prussia; Johanna, 6, born Prussia.
- 1863 – 19 October enlists under the name ‘Schenck’ in 12th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry and assigned to Company I.
- 1865 – 19 July mustered out of 12th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, Sweet Water, Tennessee.
- 1866 – 11 September enlists in U.S. Army, using the alias “Whytefield” (said to be illiterate, which he may have been in English) in Detroit, Michigan, for five years. Age given as 20, a painter, with blue eyes, light hair, a fair complexion, 5’ 4 1/2” in height. Assigned to 7th Cavalry, Company K, which he joined at Fort Riley, Kansas, in October. On extra duty as a teamster in December.
- 1867 – 20 May deserted from a camp near Fort Hays, Kansas.
- 1873 – 7 July arrested at Sandusky. In confinement in Newport Barracks, Kentucky to 11 August when transferred under guard to Fort Lincoln, Dakota Territory.
- 1874 – 4 February transferred to Company K at Fort Rice, Dakota Territory, in confinement. 1 May sentenced by a general court martial to three years confinement, then dishonourable discharge. 20 June restored to duty (authorised by ‘General’ Custer) to accompany the Black Hills Expedition. 14 October unexpired portion of sentence remitted. November and December extra duty with QMD and on 1 December appointed company wagoner.
- 1876 – 15 June detached service at Powder River Depot thereby did not take part in the Battle of the Little Bighorn. 11 August detached service at mouth of Rosebud Creek. 12 – 28 September detached duty with QMD with 281 cavalry horses at Fort Lincoln. October dismounted teamster with QMD.
- 1877 – 23 June discharged at camp on Sunday Creek, “a wagoner of excellent character.”
- 1880 – Federal Census for 1515 Madison Street, Sandusky, Erie County, Ohio – Rochus Link, 33, a grocer, born Baden (Germany); Anna, wife, 29, born Maryland [the future Mrs Albert Whitefield], and cyhildren: Anthony, 9; Mary, 8; Oliver, 5; George, 1 – all born Ohio.
- c.1882 – Rochus Link dies – no details. Albert marries his widow, Anna Zellers.
- 1884 – Son, Albert Whitefield, born 20 June 1884 in Sandusky.
- 1885 – Daughter, Nora Whitefield, born 11 December in Sandusky.
- 1886 – 12 April U.S. Army Invalid Pension granted.g556
- 1894 – Michigan State Census Kalamazoo, Michigan – Albert Whitefield, age 46, Teamster; Anna, 44, wife. Children: Albert, 10; Nora, 8 (and three stepchildren but excl. Anthony).
- 1895 – Albert, Snr, a teamster, and family living at 1125 North Park, Kalamazoo.
Main Street, Kalamazoo, Michigan, ca.1899.
- 1899 – 20 July one-year-old son,Willie, dies.
- 1899 – Albert, Snr, dies in early November and buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery, Kalamazoo on 9 November. A Civil War style headstone shows his adopted surname incorrectly spelled as “Whitfield.”
(Above) Memorial stone of Anna Zellers Whitefield. (Left) Military-style headstone to her husband, Albert Whitfield (sic) - real surname Schenke, Mount Olivet Cemetery, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
- 1899 – 17 November Anna Whitefield applies for a U.S. Army widow’s pension, which was granted.
- 1900 – 13 June Anna Whitefield and her six children living at 1010 South Church Street, Kalamazoo. It is likely that Albert died there.
- 1905 – Anna Zellers Whitefield living with her son, George, at 508 West Willard, Kalamazoo.
- 1909 – Leona (Nora) Whitefield marries Nelson Gerow, age 22, in Kalamazoo, on 27 February.
- 1918 – 21 June Anna Zellers Whitefield dies of ‘General Debility’, aged 69 years and 23 days. Buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery, Kalamazoo.
8. Sergeant John Vickory (real name John H. Groesbeck)
'Men With Custer - Biographies of the 7th Cavalry', Edited by Ronald H. Nichols with Daniel I. Bird, CBHMA Inc., 2010, p. 404.
Clifton Park Baptist Church, Saratoga County, New York, built 1837. A young John Groesbeck and his family would most likely have attended services here.
- Contrary to popular belief, I have found no evidence to support the claim that John H. Groesbeck (alias John Vickory) was born in Toronto, Canada. Why would New Yorker (Saratoga County) Mariah Groesbeck travel 300 miles in the late 1840s to a foreign country to give birth to just one of her eight or nine children? It makes no sense, whereas to John Groesbeck, a deserter from a New York regiment in the Union Army, laying a false trail clearly does. After all, he has successfully managed to deceive almost the entire Custer community for more than the last 150 years! The fact that at the age of sixteen he enlisted for military service in nearby Utica, New York, adds credence to him being born in the United States NOT Canada. To say that Vickory was born in Toronto and sometime shortly afterward the family moved to Clifton Park, New York, is nothing more than a figment of Mary Thomas’s vivid and misleading imagination, see Canadians with Custer, 2012.
- As far as this writer is aware, Roger Williams (Military Register of Custer’s Last Command, 2009, p.141), is the only author to give Saratoga as Vickory’s place of birth though he does have him under the name of John H. Groesbeck, when no sergeant of that name ever served in the 7th U.S. Cavalry. Groesbeck is listed on the battlefield monument as JNO. VICKORY which is correct, as for the same reason John Stuart Stuart Forbes is shown as J. S. HILEY and Thomas P. Eagan as THOS. HAGAN.
- How and when William Groesbeck knew that his son had been killed with Custer at the Little Bighorn and why he waited over five years to file for an Army pension awaits further investigation.
- John H. Groesbeck (alias John Vickory) – a timeline
- 1840 – United States Census, Clifton Park, Saratoga County, New York – William Groesbeck, wife, Mariah, and three children under ten years old.
- 1847 – John H. Groesbeck born to William and Mariah Groesbeck. Almost certainly at Clifton Park on a date not yet verified.
- 1849 – 7 August, Clark V. Groesbeck (brother of John), drowns age 4 yrs 4 m 9 d and buried in Clifton Park Baptist Cemetery, Saratoga County (headstone)
- 1850 – United States Census, Russia, Herkimer County, New York, nr Cold Brook Post Office – William Groesbeck, 43; Mariah, 32, wife. Children: Emoline, 15, Abraham, 13; Malinda, 8; John H., 3; Nelson, 1.
- 1851 – 17 August, Mariah Groesbeck (mother of John) dies, age 34, buried in Clifton Park Baptist Cemetery, Saratoga County (headstone, see below).
(Above) Sgt John Vickory, described by Private John Burkman "as the handsomest mounted man in the regiment." From the collection of George Kush.(Right) Headstone of Mariah Groesbeck, Clifton Park Baptist Cemetery.
- 1855 – New York State Census, Deerfield, Oneida County – William Groesbeck, 52, widower, Laborer. Children: Emeline, 20; Abram, 18, Laborer; Caroline, 13; John, 8, b. Saratoga County, New York; Nelson, 6; Nemiah, 3. All children born Saratoga County with the exception of Emeline, b. Monroe, New York. The family had been in Deerfield for two years.
- 1860 – United States Census, Russia Township, Herkimer County, New York, nr Cold Brook Post Office – William 52. Children: Caroline, 18; John, 13, Nelson, 11; Nemiah, 9.
- c. 1862 – William Groesbeck (father of John) weds Margaret Woodard, who brings three children into the marriage.
- 1863 – 23 November enlists as a private i Company H, 14th New York Heavy Artillery n Utica.
- 1865 – New York State Census, Williamstown, Oswego County – William Grosbeck (sic), 56, Laborer; Margaret, 30, wife. Children: Nelson, 16; Nemiah, 13; Ida 1 5/12. Stepchildren: Ella, 7; Harrison, 5; William, 3, children Margaret.
- 1866 – 31 July, using the alias John Vickory, enlists in U.S. Army and assigned to Company F, 7th Cavalry.
- 1870 – United States Census, Williamstown, Oswego County, New York – William Groesbeck, 62; Margaret, 36, wife. Children: Ida 8. Stepchildren: Harris (sic), 11; William, 6, Walter, 4.
- 1875 – New York State Census, Williamstown, Oswego County – William Grosbeck (sic), 66, Laborer, Emily, 35, wife. Children: Niamiah (sic), 35, Laborer; Walter, 9; r Ella, 2 3/12. Stepchildren: William Grosbeck (Woodard), 11.
- 1876 – 25 June killed on Last Stand Hill in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Montana Territory.
- 1881 – 27 September, William Groesbeck (father of John Vickory, alias John H. Groesbeck) applies for an army pension, which is rejected on the grounds that the claimant could not provide evidence that his son had been contributing to his support.
- 1887 – 19 February, William Groesbeck dies (Men With Custer, Nichols, 2010, p. 404, see above).
9. 'With Custer’s Cavalry', Katherine Gibson Fougera. First Bison Printing, University of Nebraska Press, 1986. A Review by Peter Russell
With Custer's Cavalry - first edition - Katherine Gibson Fougera. Caxton Printers Ltd, Caldwell, Idaho.
'With Custer’s Cavalry' Katherine Gibson Fougera.
First Bison Printing, University of Nebraska Press, 1986. The critical review below is based on this edition.
- With Custer’s Cavalry, Katherine Gibson Fougera. First Bison Printing, University of Nebraska Press, 1986. Dedicated to the memory of Elizabeth B. Custer
- With Custer’s Cavalry, first published in 1940, is said to have been taken directly “From the memoirs of the late Katherine Gibson, widow of Captain Francis M. Gibson of the Seventh Cavalry, U.S.A. (Retired).”1 However, since these memoirs are not in the public domain,2 it is impossible to tell how much of what we get is what she herself wrote and how much they were edited and/or embellished by her daughter, Katherine Gibson Fougera.
- Written in the first person, the subject matter of this truly fascinating tale continues to be of great appeal to an unsuspecting public thirsting for the intimate knowledge of an Army wife on the American frontier who spent time in the company of no less an iconic figure than Brevet Major General George Armstrong Custer himself.
- Few, if any, other works in this genre have attracted more complimentary reviews or have been cited by as many historians as With Custer’s Cavalry, which has long been acknowledged as “One of the classic Custer pieces.”3
- A short review on the back cover of the first edition tell us that “From her mother she [Fougera] received the essential facts and the spirit of the story she here presents so faithfully and completely.” While this writer has no problem in appreciating the “spirit of the story” he is far less convinced with the veracity and chronology of the “essential facts.” For instance, it is highly unlikely that the wedding of a relatively junior-ranked officer stationed at distant Fort Rice would have taken place with such ceremony at Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory, on 30 August 1874, the very same day that ten saddle-weary companies of the regiment surprised everyone at the garrison by arriving back from the Black Hills Expedition twenty-four hours earlier than expected.4
- That aside, one passage in the text, which immediately caught this reviewer’s attention, is the outrageous statement that “[At the wedding of Francis Gibson and Katherine Garrett]’ Reno and his wife congregated in the corner of the crowded room, the Custer’s with their coterie in another, … ”5 when the much-maligned major was still in the field on escort duty with the Northern Boundary Survey Commission and the mortal remains of his beloved wife, Mary Hannah Ross, had lain buried in the Harrisburg Cemetery, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, since the previous 13th of July!
- An equally obvious howler on the same page would have the reader believe that earlier on this same happy occasion, the bride, gets “… a tassel from handsome Lieutenant Van Riley’s (sic) uniform caught for a second in her hair, …”6 even though Second Lieutenant William Van Wyck Reily would not be transferred to the 7th Cavalry until 25 January 1876. Furthermore, Reily did not join Company F at Fort Lincoln until the 17th of April, that is, one month to the day before Brigadier General Alfred H. Terry’s Dakota Column marched west out of the fort with orders to locate an unknown number of free-roaming, ‘hostile’ Sioux and Cheyenne Indians and escort them to previously designated reservations. An easily certifiable public record shows that Francis Gibson and Katherine Garrett were married several years earlier in Leavenworth County, Kansas.7
- Not content with making two patently false assertions in addition to the date of the wedding itself, Fougera strays yet further beyond the pale by listing Captain Myles W. Keogh among the officer corps present even though it is well documented that this Wild Irish Rover was on the other side of the Atlantic visiting family and friends in his native Emerald Isle.
- On page 4, Katherine Fougera’s year of birth is shown as 1882, which is at odds with the findings of this writer’s own extensive research and endorsed by Margaret Lewis Christensen, who wrote that her paternal grandmother “… took liberties with some dates, at one point subtracting 8 years from her actual age.”8 A much earlier year of birth is supported by a report in the Bismarck Weekly Tribune, 18 October 1876, which informed its readers that
- “A party consisting of Mrs. Col. Benteen and son, Mr. and Mrs. Lt. Gibson and daughter, Mrs. Lt. De Rudio and children …. came up [from Fort Rice] on the C. K. Peck and paid Bismarck a flying but welcome visit.” We are left to wonder how long Fougera expected to get away with such calculated acts of deception and perhaps even more remarkable, with a few exceptions, for nigh on eighty years she did!
- So, what is known about Katherine Garrett Gibson and her only child, the future Mrs Edmond Fougera?
(Above) 'Fort Scott Monitor', Fort Scott, Kansas, 22 November 1870. (Left) Lieutenant Francis M. Gibson (left) with an unknown companion.
Photograph taken ca. 1867 when Gibson was with his regiment in Kansas. Courtesy of U.S. National Park Service Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.
- Katherine Garrett Gibson
- Katherine Garrett, also known as “Kate,” “Katie” or “Katy,” the youngest daughter of Milton and Mary (née Caldwell) Garrett, was most likely born in 1851, though the year “1853” is engraved on the impressive granite headstone which she shares with her husband in Arlington National Cemetery. Sometime around 1845 her father had moved his expanding family from Harpers Ferry, Virginia,9 to Washington, D.C., where he continued in business as a prosperous grazier and bacon dealer. Katherine was raised under the watchful eye of the family’s much-loved, servant Malinda Goins, for whom in 1862 their father received $350.40 in compensation when she was granted her freedom from slavery.10
- Milton Garrett died, age 56, on 17 May 1869 and his wife, at age 58, on 9 January 1879: both are buried in the Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C.11
- In 1866 Katherine’s sister, Mary, known as “Mollie,” had married Donald McIntosh, a Canadian of mixed European and North American Indian heritage who, on 17 August 1867, was appointed a second lieutenant in the 7th U.S. Cavalry. We are told that immediately following the death of her father Katherine developed a persistent cough and it was arranged that she should go and stay with the McIntoshes, who were stationed on the frontier in Dakota Territory.12
- An entry in Rebecca Richmond’s Diary for Wednesday, 16 March 1870, during a visit to her first cousin, Elizabeth Bacon Custer, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, reads: “This evening the following persons happened in: Col. and Mrs. Buel, Capt. (sic) and Mrs. McIntosh and her sister Kattie Garret (sic),” while Miss Richmond had recorded meeting “Lieut. Gibson” at the same post a little over three weeks before.13
- A second diarist, Annie Gibson Roberts, soon to be the second Mrs. Captain George W. M. Yates, Company F, 7th U.S. Cavalry, spent much time socializing with Katy Garrett at Fort Hays, Kansas, during the summer of 1870 which included taking part in a buffalo hunt led by General Custer, and accompanied by a host of other officers, their wives, and a bevy of young ladies. Annie Roberts committed to her diary on 6 July 1870 that: “Miss Garrett and I shot one [buffalo] between us, each of course claiming him, and each escort stood with plenty of proof to back separately in our assertions.”14 Another entry on the same day reads: “Returning to the ambulances we found that Miss [Katy] Garrett’s horse had gotten its forefeet in a hole and thrown her; but she was unhurt and soon mounted again.”15
- Elizabeth “Libbie” Custer, wife of the General, clearly remembered Katherine Garrett being engaged to an officer of the 7th Cavalry in 1870, namely, Second Lieutenant Francis Marion Gibson, Company A, born 14 December 1847 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, son of James and Margaret (née Ruff)] Gibson. Francis “Frank” Gibson was on special duty at the Post of South Eastern Kansas [Fort Scott] in late 187016 and, as stated above, the happy couple were duly married on 19 November that year at St Paul’s Church, Leavenworth City, and held their reception at the Planter’s House,17 not 30 August 1874 as Fougera led us to believe.
- In a letter to his mother, dated 12 April 1873, Second Lieutenant Charles W. Larned, also in Company F, listed Mrs Gibson among the ladies with the regiment at Yankton, Dakota Territory, shortly before the departure Colonel David S. Stanley’s Yellowstone Expedition of that year.18
- Francis Gibson, who had been promoted to first lieutenant on 11 July 1871 and transferred to Company H, served two spells of Reconstruction duty in the defeated Confederate States, the first in Tennessee and the second in Louisiana. He was with his company in the Yellowstone Campaign (1873); Black Hills Expedition (1874); the Battle of Little Big Horn (1876); the Nez Percé Campaign (1877); and appointed captain with effect from 5 February 1880 when he took over command of Company M, though he didn’t arrive at Fort Meade, the regiment’s new headquarters, until 18 October. Francis Gibson was retired on disability 3 December 1891 and served as Deputy Commissioner of Street Cleaning in New York City from 1895 to 1912. He died, age 71, on 18 January 1919, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.19
- One unverified source says that Mrs. Francis Gibson was a member of the 1926 50th Year Commemoration National Executive Committee although, if correct, like Elizabeth Custer, who was represented by her niece, Mrs. Mae Custer Elmer of Brooklyn, she almost certainly did not attend the ceremony at the Battlefield. Katherine Garrett Gibson died on 17 July 1934 and was interred at Arlington next to her husband.20
Kate Garrett Gibson with daughter Katherine. .
Courtesy of U.S. National Park Service Little
Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.
Katherine Gibson. photograph purported to have been taken in 1882 at the Washburn Studio. However, in 1882 she would have been almost nine years old based on actual date of birth. Courtesy of U.S. National Park Service Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.
- Katherine Gibson Fougera
- Francis and Katherine Gibson’s only child, Katherine, was born at Fort Lincoln on 11 December 1873,21 where her father had been on detached duty with Company F since the previous 11 September and temporarily in command of Company L from 2 November.22 Not Fort Meade, South Dakota, as habitually stated by Fougera throughout in her adult life.
- Perhaps the most compelling evidence that destroys Katherine’s bogus claim to have been born in 1882 can literally seen in a rather faded family group photograph taken at Fort Riley, Kansas around 1888, which clearly shows a vivacious teenager commensurate with her true age.Young Katherine was sent to France and educated at the Couvent de l’Assomption in Paris. While still at school she began writing short stories, the first of which was published in the London Review. Upon her return to America she settled in New York City and before long started contributing articles and short stories to newspapers and magazines.
- Katherine married Frederick T. Lewis, a wine merchant, son of James Lewis and Margaret Cross, in Manhattan, New York, on 12 June 1900.23 Their only child, Frederick Gibson Lewis was born the following year.24 In June 1905 the family was living in West 95th Street by which time Katherine had already reduced her true age by three years. Frederick Lewis, senior, died in Manhattan on 24 September 1915.25 The records of death show his marital status as “Unknown,” which may suggest he was estranged from his wife at the time of his demise.
- January 1920 finds Catharine (sic), a newspaper journalist, having reduced her age by a further five years and claiming to have been born in South Dakota, living in West 84th Street, Manhattan, with her recently widowed mother, Kate Gibson, and son, [Frederick] Gibson Lewis, a bank clerk.26
- On 29 September 1926 Katherine tied the knot for a second time when she married Edmond Marcel Fougera, a 43-year-old widower, 27 son of Edmond Charles Fougera and Kate Ten Eyck.28 The bride matched her age with that of her much younger husband and gave the Black Hills [Fort Meade], South Dakota, as her place of birth.29
- Edmond Marcel was a grandson of Edmond Fougera, who came to America from Chaillon, France, in 1849, and opened a drug store in Brooklyn.30 During the 1930s and ’40s he played an active role in the pharmaceutical business which flourishes to this day, though no longer a family concern, under the name of E. Fougera & Co., a division of Fougera Pharmaceuticals Inc.
- At the time With Custer’s Cavalry was published Katherine was still married to the much younger Edmond and presumably felt she was left with no other choice than to falsify the dates and sequence of events to keep her true age a secret not only from an unsuspecting husband but a wide circle of friends and business associates. It is this writer’s opinion that this ongoing act of deception is the real crux of the matter and is chiefly responsible for the shortcomings of this otherwise excellent little story.
- Edmond Fougera died 29 December 1953 in the Sherman Square Hotel, New York and ten days later was buried in the Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn.31
- For many years Katherine Fougera, who had been an active member of several women’s clubs and patriotic societies, was president of Section 14, New York Branch of the Army Relief Society, succeeding her mother who was one of the founder members of that organisation. She died, at a given age of 85, on 25 April 1959 in Manhattan,32 which matches perfectly with her true year of birth. For reasons unknown her mortal remains were not laid to rest in the Fougera family plot in Green-Wood Cemetery until 19 July 1960.33 There is no headstone to mark her grave.
An albumen photograph, mounted on card of Gibson and Whitside families., circa 1888 produced by unknown photographer. Courtesy of National Park Service, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. LIBI_00015_00644, “Families of Francis M. Gibson and Samuel M. Whitside on Porch of House,” circa 1888. Young Katherine Gibson is sitting on the right at the top of the steps next to her father.
Katherine Gibson was educated at the Couvent de l’Assomption, Paris. Confirmation of the year she was enrolled could not be obtained from the records.
Courtesy of the Archives of the Religious of the Assumption.
Army Relief Society Garden Party I May 1911 on Governor’s Island New York.
From left to right: Mrs F. D Grant; Mrs U. S. Grant III; Mrs Francis M. Gibson; General F. D. Grant. Courtesy Library of Congress, George Grantham Bain Collection.
- A Web of Deceit?
- While this reviewer has no hesitation in accepting that much of the source material used by Fougera, verbal or written, was almost certainly based on real events, the desire to conceal her true age inevitably necessitated a chronological repositioning of her mother’s adventures on the frontier, which were supplemented by small nuggets of information of questionable value to suit her personal agenda.
- The temptation has been resisted to list all that is judged to be contentious and consequently the offending incidences observed below are limited to those which are most likely to be of interest to fellow students of the Battle of Little Big Horn and the celebrated 7th United States Cavalry.
- Chapter I, ‘By Train to Dakota’, pages 13-35. The reader is left in no doubt that Katherine Garrett’s story begins in May 1874. She also attributes the wearing of an “atrocious all-enveloping crepe veil” as the main cause of her developing a persistent cough almost immediately following the death of her father. This is the reason given for her travelling from her home in Washington, D.C. to spend time with her sister Mollie and husband at Fort Lincoln, which is situated on the west bank of the Missouri River, directly opposite the then fledgling town of Bismarck, Dakota Territory. Clearly this is patently untrue as Milton Garrett had died in May 1869 and it is incredulous that an attractive and spirited young woman like Katherine would wrap herself in mourning clothes for five long, uncomfortable years before reaching the decision to spread her wings and visit her sister on the frontier.
- Chapter III, ‘First days at Fort Lincoln’, pages 66-84. On her first morning at Fort Lincoln, Katherine meets two women, one of whom introduces herself as: “I am Mrs. Yates.” As illustrated above the first meeting between these two women had taken place at or near Fort Hays, Kansas, almost four years earlier when Mrs. Captain George Yates was still Miss Annie Gibson Roberts.
- Chapter IX, ‘The Buffalo Hunt’, pages 144-157.This is one of the more misleading anecdotes, or at least I’ve found nothing to suppose it is not apocryphal, as it would seem highly unlikely that Katy Garrett should be thrown from her horse during a buffalo hunt with Custer on two quite separate occasions in different parts of the country – “My horse, untrained for bison hunting, shied violently and, leaping to one side, threw me to the ground, where I held a smoking revolver.” This description surely is not too dissimilar to the version of the buffalo hunt so graphically recorded in Annie Roberts’ 1870 diary.
- Chapter X, ‘Fort Rice’, pages 158-172. Katherine is taken by sister Mollie from Fort Lincoln to Fort Rice, during early July 1874, for a week’s visit to meet [for the first time] Mrs. Frederick Benteen, wife of her husband’s company commander. This completely ignores the fact that on 19 July 1870 Annie Roberts noted in her diary: “I spent the evening up at Mrs. Benteen’s ….. Katy [Garrett] came up from camp while I was there.”
- Chapter XIII, ‘A Garrison Wedding’, pages 188-199. Three inconsistencies in the account of the guests at the wedding reception have already been raised but the reference to the flowers is no less intriguing: “Frank’s flowers, ordered weeks ago from St. Paul, arrived at the eleventh hour so frosted from the sudden drop in temperature that they were beyond resuscitation.” A report in the Bismarck Tribune, 9 September 1874, would appear to challenge this, it reads: “To say that it was hot, would give no idea of the weather for the past week – 106° in the shade and ice out, would more accurately describe the situation.” There is nothing to therefore to suggest that the weather on 30 August 1874 at Fort Lincoln would have been cold enough to cause such damage though, of course, it is quite likely to have been the case in Leavenworth County, Kansas, on 19 November 1870, where the marriage ceremony had actually taken place.
- Chapter XV, ‘Back to Dakota’, pages 213-236. Reminiscing about Fort Lincoln in the summer of 1875 Katherine Garrett recalls that: “Mrs. Nash suddenly died,” which is truly remarkable as it is historical fact that this mysterious Mexican-born laundress, “wife” of Corporal John Noonan, Company L, proved to be male and did not expire until 30 October 1878, that is, over three years later! At the time of Mrs. Nash’s death Frank Gibson was away on recruiting service and Katherine did most likely remain at Fort Lincoln: “…dividing my time among the Yateses, Charlotte Moylan and the Custers. The General, by the way, taught me cribbage.” Not in the autumn of 1878 he didn’t!
- Katherine moved to Fort Rice in late August, or early September 1875 where she felt exposed to danger during the times when only a handful of men were left guarding the post. She tells of her habit of keeping a kerosene light burning on nights she was alone for fear of being attacked by Indians who, on one notable occasion, were “passing the stockade by the hundreds both day and night.” It is possible that she confused these ‘friendly’ bands travelling to the newly created Standing Rock Indian Reservation to receive their annuities for more ‘hostile’ brethren, but this event did not occur until late November by which time Companies H and M were back at Fort Rice, and Lieutenant Gibson was there on special duty of Post Adjutant, Treasurer and commanding the Detachment of Indian Scouts.
- Chapter XVII, ‘Winter – 1876’, pages 245-262. The reader is informed on the back cover of the oft-told story that it was a wife’s premonition that spared Lieutenant Francis M. Gibson from the same fate that overtook General George A. Custer and five companies of the 7th Cavalry. At her insistence, Gibson declined an offer of a transfer that would have placed him in the Battle of Little Big Horn, but he was on the scene immediately after it. This is based on the claim that: “About this time an officer at Lincoln was assigned for duty at Washington. This, of course, left a vacancy at Lincoln. General Custer wrote to my husband asking him if he would like to be transferred to join him.”
- Initially, so we are told, the Gibsons were eager to get away from Fort Rice but on reflection Katherine had a sudden change of heart when overcome by an acute feeling of foreboding when she recalled the night that she had seen the huge Indian village passing so close to this remote outpost and was determined that “my husband must not join Custer’s personal command,” to which he reluctantly acquiesced.
- The absence of such a vital piece of documented evidence as Custer’s correspondence lends weight to the theory that this story germinated with the benefit of hindsight after the tragic events of 25 June 1876 had unfolded on the bluffs above the Little Big Horn River; perhaps even influenced by a similar account of a premonition that appeared in Captain Edward S. Godfrey’s Century magazine article which was published in 1892.
- Fougera’s narrative truly transcends into the realm of fantasy when we are told that the transfer was made by young Jack Sturgis to whom Lieutenant Gibson said: “It will mean so much to you being at Lincoln with your parents,… ,” conveniently overlooking the fact that his father, Colonel Samuel D. Sturgis, commanding the regiment, had been on detached service at the Cavalry Depot, St Louis, since 1 October 1874 and did not return to Fort Lincoln until 20 October 1876!
- Chapter XVIII, ‘The Custer Massacre’, pages 263-285. On page 263 Katherine recounts the poignant scene set on a stiflingly hot evening in early July 1876 when a group of wives had gathered on a porch at Fort Lincoln singing “Annie Laurie,” the song of the Crimean War, but later hearing the news brought in by the Indian scout, Horned Toad, that every man of Custer’s immediate command had been killed. As far as I am aware neither her mother nor, indeed, any other of the Fort Rice wives was within twenty miles of the regiment’s headquarters that day!
- Later in this chapter we learn of Katherine’s sister, Mollie, battling her way from Fort Pierre in a stagecoach through ice and snow to Fort Meade to arrive just in time for the birth of baby Gibson, who supposedly weighed just two and a half pounds, even though by that time her niece would have been fully nine years-old!
- Lastly, on page 283 it reads: “… as the months rolled by, my lady-mother’s letters not only grew more insistent regarding a photograph [of the baby], but she was becoming vaguely alarmed.” Mary Caldwell Garrett died on 9 January 1879, which further reduces Fougera’s claim of being born in 1882 to an absurdity.
Memorial Stone of Francis M. Gibson and Katherine Garret Gibson, Arlington National Cemetery.
A bronze plaque affixed to the back of the gravestone attests to Mrs Gibson’s service as Chaplain of the Andrew Jackson Chapter, New York, of the National Society United States Daughters of 1812.
Katherine Gibson Fougera (Date unknown).
- While this reviewer found With Custer’s Cavalry both compelling reading and a fascinating little tale, for the reasons stated above and more, feels it a great pity that this undoubtedly talented author allowed personal vanity to cast a shadow over her mother’s story, which should have earned Paul Hutton’s “Custer classic status” comment on the faithfulness of its content rather than by a carefully woven web of deceit. The fact that the afore-mentioned memoirs are not currently held by any known archive reinforces this writer’s belief that, at best, this story is based on the unreliable memory of a woman in old age many years after the events so graphically described and, if hard evidence did exist, it has been deliberately withheld from the public domain.
- In the final analysis, one is left to speculate if Katherine Garrett Gibson was a party to this elaborate deception or whether her daughter was the sole villain of the piece. First and foremost, Fougera was a newspaper journalist, not a historian, who I submit consciously delayed publishing this account of her mother’s life on the Frontier until every person featured in the story, not least Elizabeth Bacon Custer (to whose memory the book is dedicated), was dead.
- 1. Caxton Printers Ltd, Caldwell, Idaho.
- 2. Katherine Garrett Gibson’s papers were deposited in (a) The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument Archives (The Inventory, which contains 96 items, was received 14 December 1942 by E. S. Luce, Superintendent, Custer Battlefield National Cemetery, Crow Agency, Montana) and (b) The Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University (Seventy-two photographic images, including a group of mounted photographs prepared as illustrations for With Custer’s Cavalry. This material is available for research). No memoir or diary was deposited in either of these archives.
- 3. Hutton, Paul, author of Phil Sheridan and his Army (back cover of the First Bison printing of With Custer’s Cavalry, University of Nebraska Press, 1986).
- 4. The Bismarck Tribune, 9 September 1874 reported such a mundane event as “ Gibson at Ft. Rice left for the east Tuesday” [2 Sept.]” but made no mention of such a grand occasion as a gala wedding that had supposedly taken place just three days before its previous issue because it simply hadn’t happened!
- 5. Fougera, Katherine Gibson, With Custer’s Cavalry, 1986, p.197.
- 6. Fougera, p.197.
- 7. Kansas Marriages, 1811-1911.
- 8. Roberts, Annie Gibson, A Summer on the Plains with Custer’s 7thCavalry: The 1870 Diary of Annie Gibson Roberts, edited by Brian C. Pohanka, p.42. Schroeder Publication, 2004.
- 9. Present-day Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.
- 10. In addition to Malinda (“Mammy Lindy” – Fougera, p.15), Milton Garrett received compensation for her two children, Rose Goins ($350.40) and George Goins (£328.50). (Lumbee Indians and the Goins Family: Washington, DC Early Records)
- 11. Congressional Cemetery.
- 12. Fougera, p.22. “… it was a radical change from the torrid May weather hanging soggily over the Potomac.” Donald McIntosh was stationed in Kansas.
- 13. Richmond, Rebecca, Diary 1870–Fort Leavenworth. III – The Diary, February 19, 1870-March 24, 1870.
- 14. Roberts, p.63.
- 15. Roberts, p.68.
- 16. U.S., Returns from Military Posts, 1806-1916, Kansas, December 1870.
- 17. Fort Scott Daily Memoir, Fort Scott, Kansas, 22 November 1870.
- 18. Darling, Roger, Custer’s Cavalry Comes to Dakota, 1989, p.26, n.16.
- 19. Nichols, Ronald H. (Editor) with Bird, Daniel I., Men With Custer: Biographies of the 7th Cavalry, CBHMA, Inc., 2010, p.140.
- 20. Memorial 23828624 Arlington National Cemetery. A bronze plaque affixed to the back of the gravestone attests to Mrs Gibson’s service as Chaplain of the Andrew Jackson Chapter New York of the National Society United States Daughters of 1812.
- 21. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007.
- 22. Returns from Military Posts, 1806-1916, Fort Abraham Lincoln, November 1873.
- 23. New York Marriages, 1686-1980. Her name is shown as “Kate.”.
- 24. [Frederick] Gibson Lewis enlisted in Company B, 71st Infantry, New York Guard, 21 May 1918.
- 25. New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1948.
- 26. United States Census, 1920 – Manhattan Assembly District 9, New York. Frederick, known as “Gibson,” married Margaret Macdonald Loudon, from Glasgow, Scotland, daughter of William L. Loudon and Margaret Macdonald, in Manhattan, 23 October 1926. (New York City Marriage Records, 1829-1940). Their only child, Margaret, the future Mrs. Christensen, was born in 1931. Frederick Gibson Lewis died 24 November 1954. ‘Matter of Gibson’, Surrogate’s Court of the City of New York – 7 Misc. 2d 510 (N.Y. Misc. 1956).
- 27. Edmond Fougera’s first wife, Lenora Rebecca Kline, died 4 March 1923 at King Edward Hotel, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, at age 50; cause of death was myocarditis with a contributing cause of broncho-pneumonia. She was buried 7 March 1923 in Toronto. Apparently, Lenora was either moved or not interred at this time as she has a second burial date, i.e., 18 April 1925 at St James Cemetery & Crematorium, Toronto. An undertaker’s note says the relatives never claimed the body!
- 28. Not related to the Captain Tenedor Ten Eyck associated with the Fetterman Massacre.
- 29. New York City Marriage Records, 1829-1940.
- 30. Pharmacy Times, 1 August 2008.
- 31. Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York – Section 91, Lot 23731.
- 32. New York State Health Department, Genealogical Research Death Index, 1957-1963.
- 33. Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York – Section 91, Lot 23731.
- This review is an updated version of the article published in The Custer Association of Great Britain’s annual journal, The Crow’s Nest, for membership year 2017.