George Armstrong Custer Wants to Tell the Story of His Indian Fighting and Camp Life on the Plains, a Lifestyle That Was Quickly Disappearing

"I propose preparing short sketches, from time to time, relating to border life upon the plains in which will be mingled the prominent causes, incidents and results of my late winter campaign against the Indians.”

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A fascinating and intriguing letter about Custer’s personal enthusiasms and his writing ambitions, and also showing how his love of hunting and Indian fighting stood side by side in his mind

The famed 7th U.S. Cavalry was formed in 1866, and its first lieutenant-colonel was the picturesque cavalryman, George A. Custer, who...

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George Armstrong Custer Wants to Tell the Story of His Indian Fighting and Camp Life on the Plains, a Lifestyle That Was Quickly Disappearing

"I propose preparing short sketches, from time to time, relating to border life upon the plains in which will be mingled the prominent causes, incidents and results of my late winter campaign against the Indians.”

A fascinating and intriguing letter about Custer’s personal enthusiasms and his writing ambitions, and also showing how his love of hunting and Indian fighting stood side by side in his mind

The famed 7th U.S. Cavalry was formed in 1866, and its first lieutenant-colonel was the picturesque cavalryman, George A. Custer, who had been one of Maj. Gen. Philip B. Sheridan’s most trusted division commanders during the Civil War. In the late 1860s, the regiment demonstrated its spirit on over forty occasions in contests with the Sioux, Cheyennes, Kiowas, Comanches, Apaches, and Arapahoes. These began with a skirmish near Fort Lyon, Colorado, on April 13, 1867, and ended with the battle on the Washita in the Indian Territory on the November 27, 1868, where Custer, under the cover of night, succeeded in surrounding the native village.

Fort Hays in Kansas became a key Army installation in the Indian Wars, serving as a base of operations for combat forces and a supply point for Fort Dodge and Camp Supply to the south. Sheridan, supported by Lt. Col. George A. Custer and the 7th Cavalry Regiment, used it as his headquarters during his 1868-1869 campaign against the Cheyenne and the Kiowa. Both Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickok served as Army scouts at Fort Hays at points during this period. Custer and the 7th Cavalry continued to operate from the fort when Col. Nelson Miles assumed command in April 1869. Miles led the 5th Infantry Regiment, assigned to protect the railroad as its construction extended west into Colorado Territory.

Between 1867 and 1875, Custer contributed fifteen letters under the apt pseudonym Nomad to the New York-based sportsman’s journal Turf, Field and Farm. Previously available only in a collector’s typescript edition, the Nomad letters offer valuable insight into the character of the Custer, known in the Civil War as the Boy General as he gives expression to his abiding love for hunting, horses, and hounds.

Vivid accounts of days in the field after buffalo and deer alternate with letters that attest to Custer’s passion for Kentucky thoroughbreds and trotters and his devotion to his favorite hunting dogs. Moreover, the letters show Custer as a student of literature who constantly alluded to works of fiction and drama and who loved to quote poetry as he self-consciously honed his skills as a writer.

The Nomad letters also opened the way to controversy since three of the letters written in 1867, as scholar on the American West Brian Dippie’s careful annotations make clear, offer a strikingly different account of Custer’s ill-starred induction into Indian fighting than the accepted version recorded five years later in his memoirs, My Life on the Plains.

Autograph letter signed, from Fort Hayes, August 15, 1869, to New York Citizen Editor Robert Barnhill Roosevelt, who was the uncle of outdoorsman Theodore Roosevelt. “During the coming winter, the usual season of idleness for my branch of the military service, I propose preparing short sketches, from time to time, relating to border life upon the plains in which will be mingled the prominent causes, incidents and results of my late winter campaign against the Indians. While all statements relating to the latter will be based upon fact and will possess historical interest, the sketches will be varied with camp scenes, amusing occurrences, and particularly with descriptions of ‘Field sports’ on the plains–hunting the buffalo, antelope, wolf, deer, and other various kinds of game found during our marches. I address you to know whether sketches of such a character would be considered suitable for the columns of The Citizen, if so upon what conditions, how often required and of what length. About eighteen months ago, I furnished hastily prepared communications for the Turf Field & Farm which appeared over the nom de plume of ‘Nomad.’ The above is the only proposition I have made this season upon this subject.”

A fascinating and intriguing letter about Custer’s personal enthusiasms and his writing ambitions, and also showing how his love of hunting and Indian fighting stood side by side in his mind. There is no evidence, however, that the editor Roosevelt, brother of TR’s father, ever took him up on the offer.

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