George Armstrong Custer is most famous today for his personal waterloo – the battle of Little Big Horn, but his fame began long before his days in the Dakota Territory and the “Wild West.” He graduated from West Point—albeit last in his class—and took part in the Civil War, where he gained quite a reputation.
On this date in 1877, several months after Custer’s death, and one year after the government ordered all Indians to move onto reservations, the Bismarck Weekly Tribune related this tale of Custer from the New York Sun.
It was about a man with a terrible scar on his face, running from the left side of his forehead to the right corner of his mouth. Where did he get this terrible scar? The man explained that he fought in Virginia for the confederates during the Civil War, and that Custer himself, “that long-hair to dare-devil Yankee General,” inflicted the wound, stating:
“Durn my buttons, but wasn’t it a hot fight! We were all mixed up, bullets flying sabers hacking, men yelling, horses neighing; everybody shouting, and it was a devil’s dance all around.
“…I had seen [Custer] before, and I knew what a fighter he was. I pushed right up to him … I rose in my stirrups and struck at him with force enough to cut clean down to the saddle, but he parried the blow, leaned over, I saw a flash, and the next thing I knew, I had been the in the hospital for two weeks, and the surgeons were trying to look into my boots through this sabre cut across my face.
“…I didn’t bear no grudge again’ Custer for the slash, but he might just as well have put his cheese knife through me as to have given me this ‘X, his mark,’ to lug around. And that’s what ails this old reb, and that’s how I feel.”
Coincidentally, long before he first went to school to become a soldier, Custer worked in a very different line—he was a teacher.
Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker
Bismarck Weekly Tribune, January 31, 1877