McWilliams, David

Place of Birth: Edinburgh

Date of enlistment: 29 August 1871

Age given at enlistment: 22

Rank: Private

Company: H

Location on 25 June 1876: Wounded en route to LBH



Name, date and place of birth not yet verified. For details of his military service consult: (i) ‘Military Register of Custer’s Last Command,’ Roger L. Williams, The Arthur H. Clark Company, Norman, Oklahoma, 2009, p. 206.  (ii) ‘Men With Custer – Biographies of the 7th Cavalry,’ Edited by Ronald H. Nichols with Daniel I. Bird, CBHMA Inc., 2010, p. 268.

Wounded en route to Little Big Horn

  • David McWilliams,* a teamster, had blue eyes,  brown hair,  a fair complexion, and was 5′ 5 1/2″ tall.
  • One of the original enlisted men in the newly-organised 7th Cavalry, having joined the regiment at Fort Riley on 10 September 1866 and assigned to Company H. Appointed corporal 6 March 1867 but reduced to private 17 August 1867.
  • Was in the Washita Campaign (1868), the Yellowstone Campaign (1873), and the Black Hills Expedition (1874).  On 6 June 1876, while out hunting, he accidently shot himself with a revolver through the right calf, the ball exiting from back of the foot.  As a consequence was left at the Powder River Depot and did not participate in the battle.  The accident happened on the west fork of O’Fallon’s Creek,  Montana Territory. He was transported to Fort Abraham Lincoln on the steamboat Far West.
  • Re-enlisted in regiment on 19 October 1877 and discharged from Fort Meade, Dakota Territory, on 11 March 1882, a private of good character, for disability on the grounds of an “old gunshot wound lower right leg contracted in line of duty, disability 1/2.”   Died from an overdose of laudanum on 19 September 1882,** leaving a widow, Annie, and a son, James, born May 1875 at New Orleans.  Buried in Fort Meade National Cemetery.  His widow married Max Goetze.

Fort Meade National Cemetery. Author's photograph

  • Note (*): No record could be found for a David (Daniel) McWilliams being born in Edinburgh – Register of Baptisms (1845-55) and Census of Scotland (1851 & 1861).  His true identity therefore must remain uncertain.
  • Note (**): Geoff Topliss writes … David McWilliams died of an overdose of laudanum on September 19th 1882 at Fort Meade. He was perhaps 31 years old. His death was adjudged a suicide but there is reason to question the verdict. Throughout history opium, or drugs derived from it,  formed the only effective treatment for pain until the early 20th century. Laudanum, ten per cent of opium mixed with ninety per cent alcohol and spiced with either cinnamon or saffron, was freely available and actively marketed as a universal painkiller and ‘pacifier.’  Doctors routinely prescribed it for anything from diarrhoea to tuberculosis.  More to the point, it could be bought over the counter without prescription. Drops of it were even given to babies to ensure they slept through the night. What few knew at the time was that it was massively addictive, hallucinogenic and fatal if taken in too large a dosage. McWilliams perhaps became addicted to laudanum after he was wounded.

A late 19th century 'advert' for Laudanum (Editor's collection).

  • Alternatively of course, he could have been using it recreationally.  The 7th Cavalry’s Captain Thomas French was at that time busily engaged in killing himself by consuming copious amounts of both opium, and brandy (effectively creating his own laudanum internally) and there were other instances of soldiers killing themselves, probably unintentionally, by opiate use in the frontier army.
  • Sturgis Weekly Record, Friday,  29 January 1915 – DEMISE OF MRS. GOETZE
  • Mrs. Max Goetze, aged 69 years, another pioneer lady of this vicinity, died at the home of her son, James McWilliams in Sturgis last Friday morning at 10:30. She has been in feeble health for years, but the direct cause of her death is given as pneumonia. The funeral took place Monday forenoon and the services were conducted by Rev. Fr. O’Rilley (sic), of the Catholic Church at Spearfish.
  • Interment took place at the Fort Meade cemetery beside her late husband*** who preceded her some years ago and will be remembered by pioneer residents as a member of the Seventh Cavalry band.
  • Note (***):
  • Sturgis Weekly Record, Friday, 27 February 1903 – DEATH OF MAX GOETZE
  • It will be a great surprise to many of the readers of the Record to learn of the death of Max Goetze, death coming early Wednesday morning. Pneumonia was the cause.
  • Deceased was about 54 years of age. He joined the 7th Cavalry at St. Louis in 1871, and was in G Troop. He was with Custer in the Black Hills in 1874. After his discharge in the 80s he took up a ranch a few miles from Sturgis, and farmed continuously until a few months ago, when he was given a job as driver of ambulance at the post. He held it faithfully and well until a few days ago, when he caught a cold and pneumonia followed.
  • He was a good musician, having been in the 7th Cavalry band, and also with local bands.
  • Funeral will be held today and his remains will be interred at Fort Meade with military honors, he being a member of the Regular Army and Navy Union.

Headstone for Max Goetze at the Post Cemetery - Fort Meade - Sturgis, South Dakota (Courtesy Scott Nelson).

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