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Little Bighorns General George Armstrong Custer / Taxidermist

Discussion in 'Taxidermy History' started by coonhollow, May 24, 2010.

  1. Custer Facts:

    Aside from President Abraham Lincoln, more books have been written about George Custer than any other Civil War figure.

    Custer’s nickname was Autie. The name came about because he could not pronounce Armstrong as a child.

    Even as a young boy, Custer was enamored with the military. He happily accompanied his father to local militia days where members practiced drills. Sometimes little Autie was even allowed to participate in the drills.

    Prior to attending West Point Military Academy, Custer served a brief stint as a teacher.

    Custer got the coveted appointment to West Point even though his family was widely known as staunch Democrats and the Ohio Congressman who made the appointment was a Republican. It’s believed a constituent recommended Custer in order to keep him away from his daughter.

    Custer almost didn’t make it into the Civil War. While at West Point he was always on the verge of expulsion due to demerits, and he graduated last in his class. He was court-martialed upon graduation for not breaking up a fight.

    Custer started the tradition of standing for the National Anthem while a student at West Point. When the Civil War broke out, he encouraged fellow students sympathetic to the Union to stand during the National Anthem as a show of unity.

    Although his friend Thomas Rosser, a cadet at West Point, and Custer fought on opposite sides during the Civil War, they remained fast friends throughout their lives. Rosser spoke in Custer’s defense when critics attributed the deaths of Custer and his men to Custer’s recklessness and negligence at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

    Appointed Brigadier General of the Michigan Brigade at age 23, Custer became the youngest general in the history of the United States Army

    Custer’s bravery at Gettysburg elevated him to national hero status and forged a bond between him and his men. They knew they followed a commander who could win.

    Custer and his men were instrumental in forcing the retreat of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s forces resulting in Lee’s subsequent surrender. Custer was the lucky officer to receive the enemy’s flag of surrender.

    A prolific writer, Custer published numerous articles for magazines, several books and numerous outspoken letters to the editor

    An avid outdoorsman, Custer was a skilled hunter and taxidermist. His preserved animal specimens and Native American artifacts collected out West were initially displayed at the Detroit Audubon Club.

    Attached Files:

  2. Custer Goes Hunting
    He may have been a hero..or the worst cavalry general ever to wear stars. One thing is certain: he loved the pursuit of game as much as the pursuit of glory
    Article by Jim Merritt. Uploaded on December 31, 1999

    On the plains of Kansas on an April morning in 1867, George Armstrong Custer went looking for sport. Posted to the frontier only a few months before, the 27-year-old commander of the Seventh Cavalry was new to this stark landscape and eager to test his riding and shooting skills against its game. Astride a thoroughbred horse and escorted by a pack of hunting dogs that were his constant companions in the field, he galloped off from the column he was leading to run some antelope.

    The pronghorns soon left hunter and hounds in the dust, but on a nearby bluff Custer spied a big bull buffalo and another chase was on. Horse and bison thundered neck and neck over the rolling prairie. His blood up and yelling like a Comanche, Custer cocked and aimed his revolver at a vital spot behind the shoulder. When unexpectedly the buffalo wheeled, the horse veered to avoid it. Custer grabbed for the reins with his gun hand and accidentally fired, sending a bullet into his mount's brain.

    The horse dropped like a stone and its rider went flying. Although he later admitted that the incident "came very near costing me my life," the golden-locked cavalryman survived with all but his dignity intact. He might have broken his neck in the fall, or been gored to death, but instead the buffalo gave him a beady-eyed glance and sauntered off. Custer was lost and horseless in Indian territory and miles from his command, which a more prudent officer would not have left in the first place. With no real sense of direction he started walking and within an hour saw dust on the horizon. Instead of hostiles, it was the Seventh.

    Custer's Luck
    The misadventure was typical of Custer's luck and reckless physical courage-attributes that during the Civil War had worked for him as the Union's dashing "boy general" (at 24, he had been the youngest brigadier in Army history) and that, for a time at least, would continue working for him as an Indian fighter. The Great Plains would be home to Custer for most of the remaining nine years of his life, and between now and his disastrous defeat and death at the Little Big Horn in 1876 he would spend more time chasing game than he would successfully pursuing Sioux and Cheyenne.

    In those years following the Civil War railroads had begun to penetrate the prairies. Sodbusters and cow towns followed in their wake, but most of the vast grasslands between the Missouri and the Rockies were still the hunter's paradise that Lewis and Clark had known 60 years before. For a cavalryman of that time and place, hunting helped make tolerable an otherwise mean and hardscrabble existence. It was an antidote to the boredom of camp routine and provided the mess with fresh game to leaven a diet of salt pork and hardtack. Hunting was also training-running buffalo, which Custer likened to the "wild, maddening, glorious excitement" of a cavalry charge, challenged his courage and horsemanship, and taking a bead on an elk or pronghorn at 500 yards sharpened his shooting eye.

    For officers especially, hunting was part of a martial lifestyle as old as the profession of arms. The ambitious Custer used it to further his career and cultivate his cavalier image. He wrote about his exploits in the sporting press and organized buffalo hunts for visiting VIPs, while inviting reporters along to cover the spectacle.

    Glory Hound/Hero
    People who knew Custer either loved or hated him, and few figures in American history have remained more controversial. To his legions of detractors, then and now, he was an egotistical glory hunter-rash, immature, irresponsible-whose misjudgments led directly to the debacle on the Little Big Horn and the loss of 268 lives, his own included. Custer was once court-martialed and suspended from duty for a year for abandoning his command in the field to return to his wife, whom he desperately missed. (Libbie Custer and her beloved "Autie" had a passionatrelationship, and as a widow she defended him fiercely for 57 years, until her death at age 90, in 1933.) In official reports Custer wasn't above altering facts to vindicate himself and place blame for his failures on others, and in his hunting tales he was prone to exaggeration. Whether he lied or merely embellished depended on one's view of him: An Army friend said Custer didn't distort the truth so much as magnify it.

    In many ways Custer, who was just 36 when Crazy Horse and his Oglala warriors cut him down on Last Stand Hill, never grew up, but retained throughout his life the energy and headlong enthusiasm of an 8-year-old. His endurance in the saddle was beyond belief. "Iron ass" his men called him, not with affection. He could ride hard from dawn to dusk, then stay up most of the night writing hunting stories and letters to Libbie which could run to 120 pages overflowing with wonder about the world around him. He reveled in the sweep and austere beauty of the plains, a landscape other Army men saw as tedious and threatening.

    Endlessly curious about its wildlife, he kept a menagerie that at various times included a pronghorn calf, a porcupine, a burrowing owl, a badger, a black bear, and a pelican.

    Most of all Custer loved hunting on the plains, and as the Army's most colorful and charismatic officer, he was the natural choice to host a hunt arranged for a Russian royal son and his entourage on a U.S. tour. Staged on the prairies west of Omaha in 1872, the two-day shoot was an extravagant affair supplied with wagonloads of champagne and caviar and escorted by cavalry and infantry, with a band of friendly Brul¿¿ Sioux adding a touch of the exotic. At the center of it all was the Grand Duke Alexis, an affable 21-year-old with muttonchop whiskers and a lust to shoot a buffalo from horseback-a feat he accomplished on the first morning with coaching from Bill Cody, the famed hunter and scout, who also lent him his best horse and gun.

    The young duke was so excited about his kill that he jumped to the ground, whacked off the buffalo's tail, and held the dripping trophy aloft while howling like a steppe wolf. Later, when he expressed doubts about an Indian's ability to down a buffalo with his light bow and arrow, Custer arranged for a demonstration: A mounted Brul¿¿ hunter chased a buffalo into camp and before the Russian's astonished eyes sent an arrow clean through it. That night the Brul¿¿s danced before a blazing campfire while the white hunters feasted on buffalo, elk, deer, antelope, turkey, duck, and prairie dog.

    On a second hunt, held a week later in Colorado, Custer wowed Alexis with his horsemanship, using only his knees to turn his mount at full gallop while firing his pistol both right- and left-handed. The admiring duke exclaimed that his friend rode like a Cossack. Approaching a herd of buffalo, Custer and Alexis were leading a large party that included soldiers, civilians, and Custer's boss, the volatile General Phil Sheridan. When Custer got it in his head to show Alexis how the Army fought Indians, he yelled out orders to attack the herd as if it were a band of redskins. Alexis and Custer led the charge, blasting with their six-shooters and dropping one buffalo after another. Everyone fired with abandon as the herd panicked. With bullets zinging around him, Sheridan threw himself to the ground while cursing these two boy-men in invective recalled by one eyewitness as "a liberal education in profanity." When at last the shooting ended, Alexis had downed a dozen buffalo, which were promptly butchered and placed on ice for shipment back to St. Petersburg. Bursting with joy, the young royal grabbed Custer in a bear hug and planted a kiss on the cheek of his comrade in arms.

    Into the Black Hills
    The year following Alexis' hunt found Custer operating on the northern plains out of Fort Abraham Lincoln in Dakota Territory. The Seventh Cavalry spent the summer in the vanguard of a 1,900-man force protecting survey crews plotting the course of the Northern Pacific Railroad. General Alfred Terry, the regional commander, predicted the expedition would be a "big picnic," and so it proved. Although the cavalry twice skirmished with war parties, the Indians mostly left the bluecoats alone.

    Custer had ample opportunity to hunt, both for sport and to keep the expedition supplied with meat. He led hunting parties almost daily, and game was so plentiful that they seldom ventured out of sight of the wagon trains. In a letter to Libbie written after a month in the field, he boasted, "I have done some of the most remarkable shooting...and it is admitted to be such by all." His bag: forty-one antelope, four buffalo, four elk, seven deer, two wolves, and a fox, plus geese, ducks, prairie chickens, and sage hens "without number."

    A taxidermist on the expedition taught his craft to Custer, who took to it with his usual zeal. As he reported to Libbie, "I can take the head and neck of an antelope, fresh from the body, and in two hours have it fully ready for preservation." He was especially proud of the job he did on the carcass of a huge bull elk he killed with the help of his greyhounds. After Custer wounded the elk, the dogs pursued it into the Yellowstone River and tore into it. Custer watched from shore, anxious that one or more of his canine corps might be killed in the melee, and was relieved when his second shot dropped the elk for good.

    Although Custer doesn't name her in his later account of this elk hunt, the greyhound that led the charge was probably his favorite, a bitch named Tuck. In one of his endless letters to Libbie he asked, "Did I tell you of her catching a full-grown antelope-buck, and pulling her down after a run of over a mile?"

    Tuck was one of some 40 hunting dogs Custer owned at this point in his life, and he treated them all like members of his extended family. Back home at Fort Lincoln they had the run of the Custers' big frame house-tracking mud on the floors, leaving prints on the bedspread, stealing and wolfing down meat intended for the Custer table. Libbie tolerated her home being turned into a kennel and cast a bemused eye on her husband's penchant for sleeping with his dogs: "I have seen them stretched at his back and curled around his head, while the nose and paws of one rested on his breast."

    A visitor recalled Custer's hounds following their master wherever he went on the post: On the spur of the moment he would throw himself on the ground and instantly come to resemble "a human island, entirely surrounded by crowding, panting dogs." When one of his hounds died in a hunting accident, Custer was moved to pen an elegy to his "Poor Maida, in life the finest friend / The first to welcome, foremost to dn Dakota Territory. The Seventh Cavalry spent the summer in the vanguard of a 1,900-man force protecting survey crews plotting the course of the Northern Pacific Railroad. General Alfred Terry, the regional commander, predicted the expedition would be a "big picnic," and so it proved. Although the cavalry twice skirmished with war parties, the Indians mostly left the bluecoats alone.

  3. Comanche

    I’m going to dispel popular two misconceptions about Comanche up front. He was not General Custer's horse, nor was he was the only surviving cavalry horse at the battle of the Little Bighorn. Several others who survived the battle were confiscated by the Indians. Many of the surviving horse’s value to the Indians was not as great as many believe. The cavalry horses diet was much different the plains Indian horse diet, which was primarily the plains grasses. The cavalry horses often wasted away on the grass diet only (maybe I should be on it for a while!).

    There can be no doubt that Comanche is the most famous horse in western history. His date of birth is not known. He was bought by the U.S. Army in 1868 in St. Louis, and sent to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He was a 15 hand bay gelding, thought to be part mustang and part Morgan. Captain Myles Keogh bought him for $90 to use as his personal mount. Captain Keogh usually rode his horse Paddy on marches, while Comanche followed with the other extra horses. Comanche was the horse Captain Keogh rode into battle, being fresh because he was only mounted before the fighting began.

    Comanche was wounded by either arrow or bullet in several battles prior to the Little Big Horn. Each time the gallant steed soldiered on during the battles and was treated after the fighting had ceased. Comanche was a quick healer. Captain Keogh was very proud of his brave horse who continued to go into battle despite sustaining so many wounds.

    On June 25, 1876, General Custer led the 7th Cavalry into battle at the Little Big Horn River. Captain Keogh rode Comanche into the battle known as Custer's Last Stand. They were fighting the Sioux, Cheyenne, and other tribes, who obtained their most famous victory over the US Army. Seriously wounded for the fourth time, Comanche was found two days after the battle, standing beside the body of Captain Keogh and the others in his command. Comanche was found with many wounds, very weak and barely able to stand. Comanche was shipped by the steamer, Far West, in a sling to Fort Lincoln to recover.

    Comanche received the honorary title of Second Commanding Officer and was retired from further service. Comanche was officially retired and it was ordered that no one would ever ride him again. His only duties were to be lead in the front of official parades occasionally, by being led with Cavalry riding boots being reversed in the saddle stirrups honoring the fallen Cavalrymen. Comanche was allowed the run of the post grounds, becoming a favorite to all. Allegedly he acquired a taste for beer due to all of the toasts made to his heroism and valor in battle.

    Comanche’s military record ended at his death in 1891, it is believed he was twenty nine years old. Lewis Dyche, a well-known Kansas taxidermist mounted Comanche and the gallant horse was exhibited at the Worlds Fair in Chicago in 1893. Comanche currently resides at Kansas University , where he was recently renovated and is on display.


    Attached Files:

  4. George

    George The older I get, the better I was.

    I never was a fan of Custer and figured, like The People that "he had it coming". There's a grand misconception to this day that he was a "general". Though he wore two stars during "The War of the Insurection" (Yankees called it the Civil War), he wasn't a "real" general, but a brevet general. That meant that when the conflict was ended, his actual rank was reduced. . General James McClellen knew a star when he saw one and gave Custer all the accollades his ego could take. He became the darling of the early American newspapers and paperback novels. After the war however, McClellen was relieved of command and Custer was demoted to Lieutenant. As all "up and coming" generals of the day, U.S. Grant knew his enemy when he saw him. Sensing Custer was after the Presidency, he decided to send him to the netherlands of America. When General Phil Sheridan was assigned to replace McClellen, he, too, bought into Custer's pomposity.

    Many generals of the time hated Grant and found Custer's bravado and headline making "back East" to be just the ticket to replace Grant. Sheridan placed him in any front to make headlines and Custer played it to the hilt. He flaunted his golden locks and, much like the McCartha of a century later, managed to always be in the lead. From the Bad Lands, Custer led a trail of death and destruction down the Montana border into the Powder River basin. Newspapers were grasping for every tidbit they could get and Custer's name stayed in the headlines. After a wholesale slaughter of an Indian village in the southeast corner of Montana, Custer was hungry for the "final conclusion". Knowing this would be his finest hour, he stupidly and callously split his cavalry unit into three groups with his intentions of a pincer movement with him charging down the center to apply the coup de grace. In the ensuing Battle of Greasy Grass Creek (Easterners were told it was the Battle of the Little Bighorn), Custer's ego wouldn't let him perceive that the Northern Cheyene had been befriended and supported by the Lakota (Sioux to Easterners). Instead, he met his Waterloo and Indian stories had himbeing killed early on in the conflict and not as the "last one standing" or "Last Stand" as protrayed. The only person who might have told the entire story was Chief Crazy Horse, but he was captured and murdered by an overzealous guard while in captivity.

    Custer might well have been a "taxidermist" but everything he took had to be "the best". Revisionist history paints a much more grandiose picture than he deserves.

    After his death, what pieces of bones and flesh that were left unscattered across that fateful hillside were gathered up and shipped back east. If you ever get to West Point, make sure you go to the grave yard. You won't be able to miss the huge memorial around his gravesite. Even though he'd graduated at the bottom of his class and been courtmartialled the day that he graduated for not breaking up a fight, West Point ceded to the times and to political pressures and created a grand tribute to a loser.
  5. PA

    PA Well-Known Member

    Actually, Comanche had some problems long before the "restoration" . There was a water leak that caused a flood of the mount in 1985 that needed to be repaired by Tom Swearingen, a taxidermist at the University of Kansas Museum. Tom told me a bit about it when I met him at a SPNCH meeting at the Field Museum in 1990. The horse actually didn't seem to be tanned at all - more like dried rawhide and it wasn't shaved down much. Tom said, if I remember correctly, that the rawhide allowed him to stretch the hide where it had shrunken up, and if it wasn't for the flexibility, repair would be next to impossible. I searched google and actually found a short article on it in a newspaper. see http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2199&dat=19860405&id=Sj4yAAAAIBAJ&sjid=XuUFAAAAIBAJ&pg=4969,1061192

    The mount was made by Lewis Lyndsay Dyche who apprenticed under Hornaday and created the cyclorama at the Worlds Columbian Museum in 1893 in Chicago. It was moved to Kansas and forms the central theme at the museum. A great book was written on him The Dashing Kansan: Lewis Lindsay Dyche : The Amazing Adventures of a Nineteenth-Century Naturalist and Explorer
    by Peggy Sullivan, 1990. It is a good read.

    As a side note, Tom actually sculpted some of the new Deer Forms that appeared in the last few J. W. Elwood supply company catalogues, but by that time the company couldn't compete with the Wasco's, McKenzie's, and Vandykes that had sealed the market.
  6. George

    George The older I get, the better I was.

    PA, are you telling us that Comanche was DRY PRESERVED? And it's lasted 134 years. Imagine that.
  7. NDNHunter

    NDNHunter 2007 World Chamionships, Reno

    Here is a good link to the some Lakota versions of the battle and the history of that time. My Mothers Grand father was a decoy whom Custer chased into the valley just before he got Siouxed, lol.


  8. Old Fart

    Old Fart Active Member

    Comanche has been RE restored by Terry Brown of Museum Professionals. Terry has been promising to submit an article on the restoration to Breakthrough, but I don't think he's had a chance to write it yet.
  9. G. Cline

    G. Cline New Member

    There is an article about Comanche in Breakthrough Magazine but I cannot remember the issue but I believeit is from a few years back. probably mid nineties.
  10. Fran M

    Fran M New Member

    It's in Issue #52,Page 32 "Great article"