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 six well-known biographically-based works illustrated below. I highly recommend that, with the exception of Wild Geese of the Greasy Grass, which is very poorly proofread and almost entirely based on often dubious, secondary sources, the three other 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).

'Men With Custer: Biographies of the 7th Cavalry, Edited by Ronald H. Nichols, CBHMA, Inc., New Revised Edition (2000).

'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).

'Wild Geese of the Greasy Grass' Keith Norman. Great Stories Books. First Digital Version - Kindle (2012). NOT TO BE RECOMMENDED.

'Participants in the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Frederic C. Wagner III, McFarland & Co, Jefferson, North Carolina, Second Edition (2016).

  • CONTENTS
  • 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 
  • 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.

  • 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!

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

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

4. 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.
    • Notes:
    • (*) 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

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