Men With Custer NOT from the UK

  • The aim of this new page is not only to complement but also to challenge some of the factual content to be found in the four well-known biographically-based works illustrated below. I highly recommend that 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 many readers appear to assume. 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), though the value of his 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 United Kingdom, will be well received by visitors to this website irrespective of their level of knowledge of the Battle of Little Big Horn and the Plains Indian Wars. New entries will be added on an irregular basis as and when the opportunity arises. 
  • 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. Private Garrett H. Van Allen (real name Gerrit Houghtaling Niver), Company C
  • 2. First Lieutenant Donald McIntosh, Company G
  • 3. Private James Thomas (real name Thomas James Stowers), Company B
  • 4. Private Ernest Wasmus, Company K – to be published shortly
  • Note: With the exception of Hammer, all three other publications benefited significantly, directly or indirectly, from the findings of my meticulous research over many years 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. Williams is essentially aimed at the more serious student, while Wagner, which can be read online, is generally less comprehensive and restricted to those who were in the field during the Little Big Horn campaign.

1. 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).  She 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.

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 fairly 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 seems to exist 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), a direct descendant of Red Jacket.  John McIntosh was the ‘Clerk in charge’ of a HBC post but never rose to the higher rank of ‘Factor’.
  • Church records: The Catholic Church Records of the Pacific Northwest, Oregon City (1984) – baptisms on 18 September 1842 – show Donald (McIntosh), aged 6, and John, aged 3. 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 above), not 37 as the 1838 year of birth would suggest, which only adds to muddy the water.

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 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.

Headstone of Thomas James Stowers, Odd Fellows Cemetery, Baxter, Tennessee.

Thomas Stowers in later life. Photograph courtesy of the late Michael Nunnally.

  • 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.  I was slightly amused to see a dove of peace appearing on an old soldier’s headstone!

4. Private Ernest Emil 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.

  • The remarkable story of Ernest Emil Wasmus  and his unaccountable disappearance on 31 March 1890 will be posted here shortly.

& The Small Print

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