Posts Tagged ‘Michael Nunnally’
Compiled By Michael L. Nunnally, 1948-2010
Before the smoke could clear at the Little Bighorn a great number of men claimed to be the only survivor of Custer’s command. The claims lasted from the 1870s well into the 1930s. Over 200 men made claims of being a Custer scout or last messenger but all were proven to be frauds. The newspapers of the day ran hundreds of such stories. Most of the accounts are complete flights of fantasy and offer no documentation to support their claim. Some of the men and their fanciful tales have believers to this day and have entered the realm of Little Big Horn folklore. Here are just a few:
Henry Benner– Benner said he escaped the last stand by riding through Indian lines on Custer’s “fast horse” to Major Reno who was “sixty-five miles away.” The Seventh, he said, was ambushed in a “narrow canyon.”
Charles L. Berg– “Captain” Charles Berg claimed to be the first person to discover the Custer Battlefield, a claim which was made by over two dozen other men and Calamity Jane.
Joe Blonger– Blonger (Belonger) (1847-1933) Claimed he missed the Battle of the Little Bighorn because there weren’t enough horses to go around. He said he arrived on the battlefield after the massacre and questioned the Indian children about what really happened. The Indian children also told him who killed Custer, a secret he only shared with family members. Blonger was good friends with Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Cochise and Wild Bill Hickock. He also scouted with Buffalo Bill. The Apaches called Blonger “Joe straight tongue.” Died 1933 Seattle, WA.
Billy Boutwell– According to Boutwell he and his fellow prospectors witnessed Custer and his men being ambushed in a narrow canyon. Boutwell said his fellow prospectors were killed and he made his way to a small settlement where he was nursed back to health.
William J. Carlyle– Claimed to be the “only living white man that saw the fight” where he witnessed Custer fall with a bullet in his breast. Died in Boston, Massachusetts.
Alfred Chapman- (?-1941) A Buffalo Bill look-alike Chapman claimed he was a scout for Custer and was captured by Indians and forced to watch the slaughter of Custer and his command. Chapman was more of a showman than the rest and appeared as himself in the 1915 silent motion picture Custer’s Last Scout and made numerous appearances at carnivals and fairs signing autographs and showing off the “bullet that killed Custer.” Died Portland, Oregon 1941.
S.B. Clark– Claimed to have been captured by Indians and forced to watch the destruction of Custer and his troops.
Jack Cleybourne– Said he had fought alongside the general at the Battle of the Washita and also the Little Bighorn where he was the only survivor.
Charles M. Davis– Wounded in both legs Davis escaped the last stand and fought his way through the Indians to Reno.
William Theodore Dugard– (1864-1937) Dugard claimed to be one of Custer’s ‘Mississippi Scouts.” Unfortunately Dugard was only twelve years old at the time of the battle and Custer had no “Mississippi Scouts.” During his lifetime Dugard was somewhat of a celebrity in his hometown of Tupelo, Miss., and played organ from the back of a wagon during parades. Buried Tupelo, Miss. In 2001 Mississippi erected a military tombstone with the inscription- “Custer Co. -Mississippi Scouts- Battle of the Little Bighorn .”
Harvey S. Faucett– Learned of the overwhelming number of Indians waiting for Custer and tried to warn him but Faucett’s horse died in the attempt.
Frank Finkel– (1854-1930) Finkel claimed to have escaped the last stand on a fast horse which carried him unconscious through the Indian lines. He then made his way to a remote cabin where he was nursed back to health from his wounds by two mysterious men. Finkel first made his claim in 1920 during a horseshoe tournament. No documentation exist to support his story although he still has his believers. The Frank Finkel Story: Possible Custer Survivor? by Dr. Charles Kuhlman relates Finkel’s claim. The subject of numerous books and articles. Buried Dayton, Washington.
Frank Fleck- Claimed he and 40 other men were left at the river due to “lame horses.” Fleck and his group were cut off and fought their own mini last stand with Fleck being the only survivor. When found wounded he was sent back to where the “women and children were.”
Thomas Frost– Claimed to be part of a relief force sent to rescue Custer.
Raymond Hatfield Gardner– (1845-1940) “Arizona Bill” Gardner claimed he entered Sitting Bull’s camp disguised as a “Canadian Indian.” He tried to warn Custer but was accused of treason by the general. In the 1930’s Arizona Bill had his own radio show in San Antonio, Texas. Documentation signed by Gen. Nelson Miles and Buffalo Bill exists supporting Bill’s tale although some researchers question the authenticity of the signatures. Died 1940, buried Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, San Antonio.
Charles Hayward– In his tale Hayward said he was the last man left alive after Custer and his men were killed and attempted to escape on Comanche but was captured and held prisoner until 1900 when he escaped his Indian captors.
Billy Heath– (1848-1891) A Pennsylvania miner, Heath told his family he had survived the last stand and was listed on the battlefield monument as “killed in action.” Other than the same name no evidence exists that supports the fable. The subject of a book, Billy Heath: The Man Who Survived Custer’s Last Stand, Heath claimed to have been nursed back to health by a family named Ennis or Evans who were living in Sioux country. The story is similar to the Finkel tale but Heath’s fable is strictly “family oral tradition” since he left no written accounts behind. Heath died in 1891 and is buried in the Oddfellows Cemetery, Tamaqua, Pennsylvania.
Curly Hicks- Sent to Gen. Terry for reinforcements, Hicks escaped the battlefield by using two dead Indians as a shield. Hicks claimed he was the famed scout for Custer known as Curly.
John C. Lockwood– (1857-1928) Claimed to have survived the last stand. Subject of the 1966 book, Custer Fell First: the Adventures of John C. Lockwood. Lockwood attended the 1926 Little Big Horn battle reunion and passed himself off as a veteran of the fight and appears in several photographs taken at the event. He was later dropped from membership in the Veterans of the Indian Wars Association for “unsubstantiated pretensions.” Lockwood had been a member of the Seventh Cavalry enlisting in August 1876, less than two months after the battle, but had no connection to the regiment at the time of the battle.
John A. Martin– A private in the Fifth Cavalry, Martin claimed he was the last messenger sent by Custer. John D. Martin (Giovanni Martini) of the Seventh Cavalry was the actual last messenger. Records indicate John A. was with the Fifth Cavalry over 250 miles away the day of the battle. John A. Martin is buried Oak Hill Cemetery, Plymouth, Indiana, with tombstone inscription: “Custer’s last messenger.” He wasn’t.
James Mannion– In one of the more outrageous tales Mannion says Custer attempted to lead his troops through a “gauntlet of 2,000 rifles.” His men failed to follow and Custer rode back and again attempted to lead his men through the 2,000 rifles but is trapped and dies with his men. Mannion said he was with Reno at the time although his name is listed nowhere in connection with the battle.
Willie McGee– (1857-?) Claimed Custer sent him and a bugler named Wagner for help during the battle. Wagner was killed and only McGee made it through to “General” Reno. Also claimed to be a Medal of Honor winner. Sentenced to eight years in Sing Sing prison in 1905 for killing his best friend in an argument over how to cook beef stew. During his murder trial a number of newspapers ran sympathetic stories on “Custer’s sole survivor'” which probably helped McGee receive only an eight year sentence for murdering his friend.
John McGrath– was an actual Seventh Cavalry veteran and survived the last stand by riding through Indian lines “disguised as an Indian, on an Indian pony.” Unfortunately McGrath’s enlistment ended in 1872 and he was living in North Carolina at the time of the battle.
Ben McIntosh– Claimed to be the Custer scout “Curley.” In his tall tale “Curley” Ben claimed he carried Custer’s body from the field to Mrs. Custer at Ft. Custer. Also claimed to be known as “Bloody Knife.” McIntosh claimed Custer died in his arms. “Curley Ben” was later sent to prison for raising cash for a fictious Indian school and pocketing the proceeds.
Robert Nixon– In 1927 Nixon claimed he was the first person to visit the Custer battlefield after the battle and saw Custer’s “severed head.”
D.H. Ridgeley– Claimed he witnessed the last stand and watched as Custer’s wounded were “burned at the stake.” One of the first sole survivor claims, his story was printed in the St. Paul Pioneer-Press less than three months after the battle in September of 1876. Ridgeley’s employer soon came forward and said Ridgeley was working for him at the time of the battle.
Ed Ryan– In 1950 Ryan wrote a book Me and the Black Hills in which he claimed to have served in the Seventh Cavalry under Custer. He was said to have appeared on an early Groucho Marx radio show in which he told his tale. The Chicago Daily News and Billings Gazette featured articles on the famous “sole survivor” in August of 1951. Ryan was later exposed to be 65, not the 95 he claimed. His hometown of Custer, South Dakota, labeled him the biggest liar in South Dakota.
Jay O. Spencer– Spencer claimed to have been in Custer’s ‘infantry’ during the battle of the Little Big Horn and survived the last stand by hiding in a nearby log. He applied for a pension over a period of several years but no records could be found of his service in the Seventh Cavalry. Spencer’s neighbor suggested he might have suffered from dementia.
Thomas Stowers– (1848-1933) Stowers was a member of B Company and an actual veteran of the Battle of the Little Big Horn and fought on Reno Hill. But his tombstone in Baxter, Tennessee, is inscribed “Sole Survivor of the Custer Massacre.” Stowers’ family oral tradition says he survived the last stand by hiding under a wagon or inside a large cooking pot.
Frank Tarbeaux- Tarbeaux claimed to have survived the last stand but was later exposed as a fraud. Tarbeaux changed his story to being a scout with Custer and being with troops nearby when the battle happened. This tale was believed by the public. A book written about Tarbeaux, The Autobiography of Frank Tarbeaux, was full of unbelievable adventures.
Charles L. Von Berg– Claimed to have carried messages for Custer and arrived on the battlefield after the battle was over.
Resources and Books
Boyes, William – No Custer Survivors: Or, the Unveiling of Frank Finkel. Booklet/pamphlet, 16 pages – Self published, 1977. Out of print. Boyes strips away the Finkel claim as nothing more than pure fable. At only sixteen pages a much sought after collectible by LBH enthusiasts.
Brininstool, E.A.- Was there a Custer Survivor? Hunter-Trader-Trapper magazine, April 1922. Brinistool researched a number of sole survivor claims and believed them all fraudulent. Also, Chapter 11 of Troopers with Custer;: Historic incidents of the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
Clarke, Donald Henderson- The Autobiography of Frank Tarbeaux. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1930. “The Great Adventurer’s” account of his days in the wild west hobnobbing with Custer, Hickock, Jesse James, Oscar Wilde and Calamity Jane by his side. Pure fiction. One of the first outlandish stories to be published in book form.
Dippie, Brian W.- Sole Survivor Liars. True West Magazine, May-June 2001, pg.55. Dr. Dippie’s humorous look at a sole survivor convention.
Doran, Robert E.- The Man Who Got to the Rosebud. Research Review: The Journal of the Little Big Horn Associates, pg. 11. El Paso, TX: Winter 2002, Vol. 16, No. 1. Researcher Robert Doran’s argument on the Nathan Short-Rosebud saga.
Ellison, Douglas W.- Mystery of the Rosebud. Self published, 2002. Ellison’s excellent expose on the Nathan Short fable. The small booklet picks apart testimonies on a number of so called eyewitnesses who claimed to have viewed Short’s body.
Ellison, Douglas W.- Sole Survivor: An Examination of the Frank Finkel Narrative. Aberdeen, South Dakota, North Plains Press. 1983.
Koster, John- Survivor Frank Finkel’s Lasting Stand. Wild West Magazine, June 2007, pg. 40. Frank Finkel rides again. More on the king of sole survivors.
Kuhlman, Dr. Charles- The Frank Finkel story: Possible Custer Survivor? (edited by Michael J. Koury) Bellevue, NE: The Old Army Press 1968.
Nunnally, Michael L.-I Survived Custer’s Last Stand! Booklet/pamphlet 39 pages-Moonwolf books, self published, 2006. A listing of a number of “sole survivors” and other bizarre claims.
Nunnally, Michael L.-Sole Survivor: Fakes, Frauds, Impostors and the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Research Review: The Journal of the Little Big Horn Associates, pg. 25. Rockville, MD: Winter 2007, Vol. 21, No.1.
Ryan, J.C.(edited & compiled by)- Custer Fell First: the Adventures of John C. Lockwood. San Antonio, TX: The Naylor Company, 1966. Lockwood’s fantasy account of being Custer’s last messenger and also seeing the general killed.
Early History of the Custer Battlefield
and Park Superintendents, 1893 – 1958
by Michael L. Nunnally
In the years following the 1876 battle, the Custer Battlefield began a rich history of its own. The battlefield languished for a number of years until 1893 when A.N. Grover was appointed as the park’s first superintendent and guardian. Grover and a number of his early fellow superintendents faced a number of hardships in the wild and remote area of Montana. Lack of running water, shelter and the haunting isolation were the most common complaints. A great deal of praise must go to these early superintendents, known among the Crows as the “ghost herders,” and their families for their contributions to the National Park Service. Most of the information contained here comes from Don Rickey, Jr.‘s History of Custer Battlefield published in 1967. Dr. Rickey served as area historian at the park from 1955 to 1960.
1876: The Battle of the Little Bighorn.
1877: Reburial of soldiers and removal of officers.
1879: Cordwood monument built on Custer Hill. Custer Battlefield becomes a National Cemetery.
1881: Burial of Fort Phil Kearney dead on Custer Hill. Granite monument erected on Custer Hill.
1886: The Tenth Reunion of the battle drew a handful of notables including Capt. Frederick Benteen and son, Capt. Thomas McDougall, Dr. Porter, Capt . Edward Godfrey, Curley and Gall.
1890: Marble markers placed for locations of U.S. Troops.
A. N. Grover: July 11, 1893 to April 24, 1906. The first park superintendent A.N. Grover was a retired military man. With his wife and daughter in tow Grover assumed the first superintendent job at the battlefield in 1893 and was faced with extremely harsh living conditions residing in a tent until a temporary house could be built. Upon arriving at his new position Grover learned that the superintendent’s chief duty appeared to be keeping a fragile peace between local ranchers and local Crow Indians who were constantly at odds with each other over cattle herds which roamed free in the area and the timber which bordered the battlefield on the Little Bighorn River. Cattle had to be constantly herded off the national cemetery and the problem continued to plague a number of subsequent superintendents.
1894: Stone house built for custodian storage.
W. H.H. Garrett: April 25, 1906 to March 24, 1909.
Oscar Wright: March 25, 1909 to July 27, 1910. In 1910 Superintendent Wright set a stone marker for Lt. Porter whose body was never found. Wright had no evidence on the location of Porter’s death and simply chose a random spot for its location. Wright also set stone markers for Lt. Hodgson and Lt. Sturgis. Numerous questions from tourists made Wright realize that an official version of the battle was needed. “…a definite and accurate account of the Custer massacre…is desired at this place, as it would explain to visitors the facts connected with this historic event…I find nothing official in this office to guide or instruct a Superintendent intelligently along this line.”
G.W. Thomas: July 28, 1910 to June 15, 1912.
James McGowan (Acting): June 16, 1912 to July 18, 1912. McGowan acted as interim superintendent until Daniel Dommitt arrived to take over the position.
Daniel Dommitt: July 19, 1912 to December 13, 1913. Dommitt was a retired military man who had served in the 1876 campaign and had first viewed the battlefield several days after the battle when he arrived with the Terry-Gibbon column. Like his predecessors he complained of the hardships and isolation of the park and was at constant war with relic hunters and vandals who were constantly at work chipping away at the stone makers and monument. The Custer marker had to be replaced several times and a large number of other markers were severely damaged and had to eventually be replaced. Several photographs taken at around this time period show the severity of the problem.
Eugene Wessinger: December 20, 1913 to August 22, 1929. During his sixteen year tenure at the park Wessinger dealt with a number of problems including the continuing problem of vandalism to the stone markers which were being chipped away as souvenirs at an alarming rate. In 1915 Wessinger recommended to his superiors that “…a neat iron fence, high enough to keep anybody out, be paced around the markers of Custer’s last stand.” In a letter to Elizabeth Custer in 1924 Wessinger stated that the summer attendance at the battlefield was “about 10,000 people.” In December 1923, Senator Walsh of Montana introduced a bill in congress calling for the building of a structure for the comfort of the public.
Ever anxious to please the increasing tourists, or perhaps as a diversionary action to stop the vandalism of the markers, Wessinger began the practice of seeding the battlefield with empty cartridge shells which were taken from the Ft. Custer firing range. The practice continued for a number of years. In 1924 Gen. Charles King sought to have former Private Theodore Goldin appointed as the park superintendent but his action was blocked by General Edward Godfrey who believed Goldin had made several deliberate false statements about his role in the battle. During Wessinger’s administration the battlefield hosted two of the largest events in the park’s history, the 1916 celebration and the 1926 event which celebrated the park’s 50th Anniversary.
1925: Mrs. Thomas Beaverheart, the daughter of an Indian named Vehoenxne who was killed in the battle, made a request for a marker for her father to be placed upon the battlefield. The request went unanswered.
1926 Fiftieth Anniversary: No other event in the park’s history attracted such a large crowd and gathering of actual participants than the 1926 Anniversary and reunion. The crowd was estimated at over 50,000 people for the three day event. Both soldier and Indian veterans of the battle gathered for one last meeting of the famous battle. Former Sioux warriors shook hands with former cavalrymen led by Gen. Edward Godfrey. Also in attendance were scores of veterans and Indians from other Indian wars and battles. Some of the more notables in attendance were: Army veterans of the battle– Charles Windolph, Gen. Edward Godfrey, W.E. Morris, William Slaper, Peter Thompson, Theodore Goldin and Daniel Newell. Indian veterans of the battle: White Bull, Shoot Walking, Young Hawk, Little Moon, Red Tomahawk, Wm. Wolf Moon, Two Moon, White Moon, Big Beaver, Black Crain, Bob Tail Horse, Powder Face, Big Nose, White Horse, Black Whetstone, Chief Little Wolf, Beaver Heart, Dog Friend, Pine, Hollow Wood, Limpy, Sun Bear, Kills Night, Just Walks. Also: L.A. Huffman-post photographer for Miles, Thomas LeForge-scout. The 1926 event also featured the reburial of a soldier christened the “unknown soldier.” A bizarre footnote to the event was the appearance of W.C. Lockwood, a man who had posed for years as a veteran of the battle. Lockwood managed to acquire a veteran’s badge and appears in several photographs standing with veterans of the battle.
Joseph Morrow: December 2, 1929 to January 22, 1930. Morrow was unable to endure the isolation factor of the area and resigned after one year.
Alex Naylor (Acting): January 23, 1930 to August 3, 1930. Naylor was appointed on an interim basis to feel the vacancy created by Morrow.
1930: The Ft. Phil Kearney burials located on Custer hill were moved to the Custer Cemetery.
Victor A. Bolsius: August 4, 1930 to June 8, 1934. Notable achievements during Bolsius’s tenure included the planting of 13 trees in 1931 and 25 red cedar and 150 blue spruce trees in 1933. Although trees had been planted in preceding years it was under Bolsius that the Custer Cemetery took on its present day tree-lined appearance.
1931: The iron fence requested under Wessinger’s administration was finally erected on Custer Hill.
1932: Lt. John J. Crittenden’s body which had remained buried where he fell during the battle was moved to the cemetery to make room for a road to accommodate the growing number of tourists.
Harvey A. Olson: June 9, 1934 to July 14, 1938 Under Olson the park’s first pamphlet was printed (6 pages) and Battlefield Ridge road was graded. Olson encouraged William White 85, an Indian Wars veteran, to conduct tours of the battlefield for tourists. White had been a soldier under Gibbon and assisted in the burial of the Custer dead. A non-paid position his salary was funded by the sale of Marquis’s books and tips from tourists. White’s interpretation of the battle turned out to be less than accurate and his age limited him as a guide.
1938: U.S. Army grades Battle Ridge road graded.
William O. Mickle: July 15, 1938 to April 8, 1939 Charley Reynolds marker erected.
Fulton Grigsby: April 9, 1939 to November 21, 1940.
Harold Montague: December 22, 1939 to November 30, 1940.
Edward S. Luce: January 6, 1941 to May 1, 1956. Major Edward S. Luce was an actual veteran of the 7th Cavalry having served from 1907 to 1910. Prior to arriving at the battlefield Luce spent several months in training at the Arlington National Cemetery and in 1941 he became the first National Park Superintendent. Perhaps no other superintendent was more qualified for the job than Edward Luce who had a deep interest in the battle. “During Major Luce’s early years in the 7th Cavalry,” former park historian Don Rickey, Jr., said, “he spent much time working up the history of the regiment as a troop clerk in regimental headquarters.” Luce’s passion for the Custer fight earned him the reputation as an authority on the battle and in 1938 he published, Keogh, Comanche and Custer. His wife, Evelyn Luce, also a gave a large amount of her time in administrative duties at the park. A number of noteworthy achievements and events happened under Luce’s leadership.
1941: Horse Cemetery-while laying a new drain pipe on Custer Ridge workers uncovered a number of horse bones, part of the battle debris buried long ago by cleanup details from Fort Custer.
1943: Nye-Cartwright Ridge discovery.
1947: Robert Utley hired as seasonal guide.
1949: Custer Battlefield handbook written by Luce and Evelyn published and sold for 15 cents.
1949: Edgar J. Stewart served as seasonal interpreter. Dr. Stewart would later write Custer’s Luck, considered by many scholars as one of the more comprehensive studies of the battle.
1951: The 75th Anniversary of the battle. The last surviving Sioux warrior from the battle, Dewey Beard (Iron Hail), attended the event. Jacob Horner, the last surviving 7th Cavalryman of 1876, was expected to attend but ill health forced him to cancel.
1952: New visitor center opens on June 25.
1954: Battle Ridge road paved.
1955: Don Rickey, Jr., becomes area historian. Author of History of Custer Battlefield.
1958: Wooden marker placed on the battlefield indicating where Lame White Man was killed.
Sources and suggested reading:
Brust, James, Brian C. Pohanka, Sandy Barnard- Where Custer Fell. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2005.
Rickey, Jr., Don – History of the Custer Battlefield. Old Army Press, 1967.
Swanson, Glen- Custer and His Times. Swanson Productions, Inc., 2004.
Upton, Richard (Editor)- The Battle of the Little Big Horn & Custer’s Last Fight. El Segundo, CA., 2006.
Utley, Robert – Custer and Me. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004.
Utley, Robert – Custer and Me. Article. True West magazine, May/June 2001.
Custer in the Movies
By Michael L. Nunnally
Hollywood has attempted the Custer/Little Bighorn saga a number of times usually with disastrous results. Facts have never really mattered to tinsel town and early movies were full of fictitious characters and absurd situations. Several attempts in recent years have been quite good but one major problem lies in the fact that Hollywood has always felt compelled in making George Armstrong Custer either a hero or villain. A true historical bio has never been accomplished. His image in more recent years has been based on the political climate in America rather than any actual historical facts. The battle scenes in the first Custer movie, Custer’s Last Stand filmed in 1909, were later used in several other silent movies on the subject. Custer’s Last Stand featured in a number of early TV shows including the Twilight Zone, Have Gun Will Travel, Branded and many others. In 1967 Custer appeared in his own TV show Custer starring Wayne Maunder. Much of the information contained here comes from two excellent articles by Custer film historian Paul Gagliasso. I don’t claim this list is a definitive list but rather a good starting point into the subject at hand. Corrections or additions are welcome.
d (director) w (writer) c (cast)
The Badlands of Dakota Universal Pictures 1941 B&W When Wild Bill Hickok (Dix) steals saloon keeper Bob Holliday’s (Crawford) girl trouble begins. Featuring an array of Western legends including Hickock, Calamity Jane and George Custer (Addison Richards). Entertaning Western.
d Alfred E. Green w Gerald Geraghty
c Robert Stack, Ann Rutherford, Richard Dix, Francis Farmer, Broderick Crawford, Andy Devine, Addison Richards
Bob Hampton of Placer Bob Neilan Productions 1921 B&W Based on the novel and character created by Randall Parrish. The adventures of Bob Hampton (Kirkwood) with General Custer (Dwight Crittendon) on the Little Big Horn. A very young Howard Hawks served as asst. director. Filmed in Montana and Arizona.
d Marshall Neilan w Marion Fairfax
c James Kirkwood, Wesley Barry, Marjorie Drew, Dwight Crittendon, Pat O’Malley, Noah Berry
Bugles in the Afternoon Cagney Productions 1952 Technicolor A scouting part led by Schaffer (Milland) into Sioux country supplies General Custer (Sheb Wooley) with much needed information on the hostile Indians.
d Ray Rowland w Harry Brown, Daniel Mainwaring
c Ray Milland, Helena Carter, Hugh Marlowe, Barton McLane, George Reeves, Sheb Wooley
Campaigning With Custer Bison Motion Pictures 1913 B&W (Lost film) c William Clifford, Sherman Bainbridge, Val Paul, Clarence Burton
Chief Crazy Horse U-I 1955 Technicolor Crazy Horse (Mature) leads his tribe against Custer at the Little Bighorn. Low budget treatment with cheesy last stand. Standard Hollywood stuff. Captain William J. Fetterman makes an appearance. James Millican plays Gen. George Crook and had also played Custer in 1951’s Warpath.
d George Sherman w Franklin Coen, Gerald Drayson Adams
c Victor Mature, Suzan Ball, John Lund, Ray Danton, David Janssen, James Millican
Crazy Horse Turner Pictures 1996 color Made for TV movie about the famous Sioux warrior. A very good attempt.
Written by Robert Schenkkan who played Captain Thomas Weir in 1991’s Son of the Morning Star.
d John Irvin w Robert Schenkkan
c Michael Greyeyes, Ned Beatty, John Finn, Peter Horton, Wes Studi, August Schellenberg, Daniel O’Haco
Custer’s Last Fight Bison 101 1912 B&W The only surviving copy ends in the middle of the battle. Some of the battle sequences are known to have been used in other movies. Filmed in the hills near Malibu using the famed 101 Ranch and ranch hands as extras. Francis Ford (Custer) served as both star and director of the movie. Grace Cunard played Mrs. Custer. Re-released in 1925 as Custer’s Last Raid. Ford was the older brother of famed director John Ford and in later years appeared in a number of the younger Ford’s pictures in walk on parts. Francis Ford later appeared in another Custer picture, 1941’s They Died With Their Boots On, directed by Raoul Walsh. Ford appeared in an astonishing 479 motion pictures and is best remembered as the sick old man who gets out of bed to watch the town’s big fight in The Quiet Man directed by brother John.
d Francis Ford w Richard V. Spencer
c Francis Ford, Grace Cunard, William Eagle Shirt, V. Barney Sherry
Custer’s Last Raid This 1925 movie was the same movie as Custer’s Last Fight released in 1912 (above).
Custer’s Last Scout Bison Motion Pictures (as 101 Bison) 1915 B&W (Lost film) Alfred Lorenzo Chapman toured the country making personal appearances at carnivals and fairs signing autographs and telling his extraordinary story of witnessing Custer’s Last Stand. Hollywood recognized a good tale when they saw one and cast Chapman as the ‘scout’ in the movie based on his incredible story. Listed as Scott Chapman in credits. One of Hollywood’s early attempts at the Custer saga. Clifford had starred in Campaigning With Custer two years before and stock footage from that movie could have been used in Custer’s Last Scout. No copies are known to exist. Check your attic. Directed by Henry MacRae who directed some of the first Tarzan pictures.
d Henry MacRae w (?)
c William Clifford, Marie Walcamp, Scott Chapman
Custer’s Last Stand Selig Polyscope Company 1909 B&W (Lost Film) Believed to have been shot in Selig’s Chicago studio it is considered the first movie on the Custer/Little Big Horn story. Some later Custer movies may have contained stock footage of the battle scenes taken from the movie. Film no longer exists.
d Francis Boggs
c Hobart Bosworth, Bett Harte, Fran Walsh “The cast includes three Sioux who were present at the actual event in 1876 that the film is based on. The producer had hoped to gain historical information from them, but said later that “the most we could get out of them was that the fight was over so quickly that they could remember little about it.” The Internet Movie Database (IMDb)
“American Film Institute Catalog of Film Beginnings 1893-1910 erroneously credits Tom Mix in the cast of this film; it’s a Selig West Coast production made before Mix came to California and before he entered films.” IMDb
Custer’s Last Stand Stage and Screen 1936 B&W Another of Hollywood’s earlier attempts on the famous last stand. A gold prospecting Indian attempts to warn Custer (Frank McGlynn, Jr.) of danger. Starring William Farnum who was the brother of Dusty Farnum, who played Gen. Custer in 1926’s The Flaming Frontier. Elizabeth Custer (Ruth Mix) makes an appearance.
d Elmer Clifton
c William Farnum, Rex Lease, Reed Howes, Jack Mulhall, Frank McGlynn, Jr., Ruth Mix
Custer of the West Cinema/Security 1967 Super Technirama A fat Custer fights Hollywood Indians. Shaw, sporting a bad wig, is totally miscast as George Armstrong Custer. Shaw’s then wife Mary Ure plays Elizabeth Custer. Dreadful stuff. Writer Bernard Gordon and the production department did very little research into the actual event. The worst of the Custer films and a terrible Western to boot. Filmed in Spain. Did I mention it was dreadful?
d Robert Siodmak w Bernard Gordon
c Robert Shaw, Robert Ryan, Jeffery Hunter, Mary Ure, Ty Hardin, Lawrence Tierney “Fairly ambitious bio of famed general suffers from script that doesn’t quite know how to characterize him.” Leonard Maltin
The Flaming Frontier Universal 1926 B&W One of the earliest attempts on Custer’s Last Stand and the Pony Express. Supposedly filmed with a staggering $400,000 budget in 1926, the 50th Anniversary of the Custer fight. Shot in California with Umatilla and Cayuse Indians as extras. Several veterans of the Battle of the Little Bighorn attended the New York premiere among which was 85 year old Brig. Gen. Edward Godfrey. Elizabeth Custer declined an invitation.
d Edward Sedgwick w Charles Kenyon, EdwardJ. Montagne
c Hoot Gibson, Ann Cornwall, Dustin Farnum (Custer)
The Glory Guys Levy-Gardner-Laven 1965 color An Indian hating army general with political aspirations leads his men against overwhelming hordes of Indians. Sound familiar? Filmed in Durango, Mexico, this was a thinly veiled version of the Little Bighorn story. The fort was later used for Chisum.
Written by a young Sam Peckinpah.
d Arnold Levin
c Tom Tyron, James Caan, Slim Pickens, Senta Berger, Harve Presnell
The Great Sioux Massacre Columbia/FF 1965 Eastmancolor Major Reno (Cotton) and Captain Benteen (McGavin) are court-martialed after Custer’s Last Stand. Standard Hollywood treatment of history. Actor Phil Carey (Custer) played Capt. Keogh in 1958’s Tonka. Average at best.
d Sidney Salkow w Fred C. Dobbs
c Joseph Cotton, Darren McGavin, Phil Carey, Nancy Kovack, Julie Sommars, Michael Pate
Little Big Man Stockbridge/Hiller/Cinema Center 1970 Technicolor Based on Thomas Berger’s novel in which the sole white survivor of Custer’s Last Stand tells his life story. Filmed near the actual battlefield on the Crow Reservation in Hardin, Montana. Custer and his soldiers in the movie appear as the bad guys. Unlike the character in Berger’s novel Penn’s Custer is a racist fool with no redeeming qualities and as ridiculous as any character in Blazing Saddles. The battle scenes are well done although Custer’s attack on the village is closer to Reno’s valley fight which isn’t shown. Chief Dan George was nominated for best supporting actor. “General, you go down there…if you got the nerve!”
d Arthur Penn w Calder Willingham novel Thomas Berger
c Dustin Hoffman, Martin Balsam, Faye Dunaway, Chief Dan George, Richard Mulligan, Jeff Corey
The Plainsman Paramount Pictures 1936 B&W Wild Bill Hickok (Cooper) attempts to stop an Indian uprising started by gun-runners. Buffalo Bill and George Custer (Miljan) throw in their support to Hickock but this DeMille movie lacks a good script.
d Cecil B. DeMille w Courtney Ryley, Frank J. Wilstack
c Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, James Ellison, Charles Bickford, Helen Burgess, John Miljan
“About as authenticate as Blazing Saddles but who cares–it’s still good fun.” Leonard Maltin
Red Tomahawk A.C. Lyles/Paramount 1967 Technicolor Deadwood, South Dakota goes on the alert after Custer’s defeat on the Little Bighorn.
d R.G. Springsteen w Steve Fisher
c Howard Keel. Joan Caulfield, Broderick Crawford, Scott Brady, Wendell Corey, Richard Arlen, Tom Drake
The 7th Cavalry Producers-Actors Corporation 1956 Technicolor An army captain who missed the Little Big Horn battle tries to redeem himself by volunteering for burial detail. Capt. Benteen (Michael Pate) and Maj. Reno (Frank Wilcox) make an appearance. Filmed in Mexico.
d Joseph H. Lewis w Peter Packer, Glendon Swarthout
c Randolph Scott, Barbara Hale, Jay C. Flippin, Frank Faylen, Denver Pyle, Harry Carey, Jr.
The Scarlet West Frank J. Carroll Productions 1925 B&W (Lost Film) Cardelanche (Robert Frazier), an Eastern educated Indian, returns to his people and is rejected. He saves a cavalry detachment and is promoted to captain and falls in love with the post commander’s daughter (Clara Bow). When his people massacre Custer Cardelanche realizes he can no longer live among the whites and returns to his people leaving his love behind. Elizabeth Custer (Ruth Stonehouse) is the only real person portrayed in the film. No copies of The Scarlet West are known to exist. Ruth Stonehouse was one of the few women involved in the actual business end of the film industry at the time–she co-owned Essanay Films studio along with actor ‘Gilbert M. ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson’ and businessman George K. Spoor and made over 100 films for the company.
d John G. Adolf w Anthony Paul Kelly
c Robert Frazier, Clara Bow, Robert Edeson, Walter McGrail, Ruth Stonehouse
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon RKO/Argosy 1949 Technicolor Retiring cavalry officer must deal with Indian uprising. Beautifully written and acted Ford film with all of the Ford ingredients including real Indians. Not really a Custer movie but at one point in the movie Wayne’s character Capt. Brittles talks about the deaths of Custer, Tom Custer, Myles Keogh at his wife’s grave.
d John Ford w Frank Nugent, Laurence Stallings
c John Wayne, Joanne Dru, John Agar, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., Victor McLaglen, Mildred Natwick, George O’Brien, Arthur Shields
Sitting Bull UA/W.R. Frank/Telvoz of Mexico 1954 Eastmancolor A cavalry officer befriends the legendary Sioux leader (J. Carroll Naish) after the massacre of Custer (Douglas Kennedy ) on the Little Bighorn. Average grade B Hollywood western. Sidney Salkow went on to direct another Custer movie 1965’s Great Sioux Massacre.
d Sidney Salkow w Jack de Witt, Sidney Salkow
c Dale Robertson, Mary Murphy, J. Carrol Naish, Iron Eyes Cody, Douglas Kennedy John Litel
Son of the Morning Star Republic Pictures 1991 color Made for television account based on Evan Connell’s bestseller book on the Battle of the Little Bighorn. As near to fact as Hollywood has ever come to the actual event and the only Custer picture to show the principal characters. Both the Custer and Reno fights are well done. Script written by Harrison Ford’s then wife Melissa Mathison. An excellent attempt at the real event. “Tonight we go home by a road we do not know.”
d Mike Robe w Melissa Mathison
c Gary Cole, Rosanna Arquette, Stanley Anderson, Rodney Grant, David Strathairn, Michael Medeiros, Edward Blatchford, Tom O’Brien, Terry O’Quinn, Nick Ramus, Tim Ransom, Dean Stockwell, Robert Schenkkan
They Died with Their Boots On Warner 1941 B&W Dashing Errol Flynn as dashing George Armstrong Custer and his death at the Little Bighorn. Custer sacrifices his command to stop Crazy Horse (Quinn) and a corrupt Indian agent (Kennedy). Of little historical value and rather silly but loads of fun and incredibly charming. Flynn considered this his favorite movie role. Filmed in the rolling hills of Warner Studio’s back lot of Lasky Mesa in Agoura, CA. All American Indian athlete Jim Thorpe appears as an extra. The flame that lit the candle for thousands.
d Raoul Walsh w Wally Kline, Aeneas Mackenzie
c Errol Flynn, Oliva de Havilland, Arthur Kennedy, Anthony Quinn, Sidney Greenstreet, Charles Grapewin, Gene Lockhart, Hattie McDaniel, Francis Ford.
“Studio head Jack Warner was a notorious spendthrift who didn’t like the expense of sending a film company out to a distant location. Still, no film had more influence on the public’s perception of Custer than this 1941 epic, until the cynical ‘Little Big Man’ came along in 1970.” Paul Gagliasso, Old West Journal, Winter 2000
Tonka Walt Disney 1958 Technicolor Disney’s story of Comanche, the noble steed of Capt. Keogh (Phil Carey) and sole survivor of Custer’s Last Stand and his many adventures. One of the first movies to portray Custer in a negative light which was quite surprising coming from Uncle Walt. Movie tagline: The Untold Story Behind the West’s Strangest Legend. d Lewis R. Foster w same
c Sal Mineo, Phil Carey, Jerome Courtland, Rafael Campos, H. M. Wynant
Warpath Paramount Pictures 1951 Technicolor John Vickers joins the Seventh Cavalry seeking revenge for his fiancée’s murder. Filmed on the Crow Reservation, Hardin, Montana. James Millican (Custer) later played Gen George Crook in 1955’s Chief Crazy Horse.
d Byron Haskin w Frank Gruber
c Dean Jagger, Edmond O’Brien, Forrest Tucker, Harry Carey, Jr., James Millican (Custer).
Custer in the Movies list compiled by Dan Gagliasso, LBHA Research Review, Volume V, No. 2, Summer 1971 Errol Flynn’s Custer & The Test Of Time by Louis Kraft, Research Review, The Journal of the Little Big Horn Associates-Vol. 13, No. 2. Summer, 1999 Following The Custer Movie Trail. By Dan Gagliasso. Old West Journal, Winter 2000 The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) Leonard Maltin’s 2007 Movie Guide. Penguin Books. Silver Screen: greatest silent film about Custer by Dan Gagliasso. Greasy Grass, Vol. 16, May 2000 Custer: the Man, the Myth, the Movies by John Langellier. Stackpole, 2000. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102962/usercomments Son of the Morning Star comments