The Petersburg Constable, Monroe County Deputy Sheriff, and the Monroe Chicken Thief

Tragedy sometimes strikes as quickly as a chicken gulping a grasshopper, and its effects can be as jarring as a rooster crowing at 3 a.m. Gunshots shattered the stillness of a chilly October night in rural Monroe County and decades later families still work to deaden their echoes.

Dilapidated_Barn_on_Hickory_Road,_Milan,_Michigan_-_panoramio
Old barn on Hickory Road in Milan, Michigan.

On the night of October 28, 1929, Petersburg, Michigan Constable Frank William Miller, said goodbye to his devoted wife Alice, and their children. Monroe County Deputy Sheriff James Van Vleet picked him up in the police car, and they sped off into the night pursuing a gang of armed chicken thieves on what they likely considered routine police business. On the same night, Ralph Aldrich of Monroe helped steal some chickens, and made a fateful decision.

 Three Men Meet on a Country Road

Frank William Miller married Alice Emiline Quigley in Blissfield, Michigan, in 1911 .  They had seven children in 12 years.

frankandalicemiller

Miller Family Photograph

Frank William Miller

Frank William Miller was born on April 15, 1889, in Lenawee County. On his draft registration he listed his occupation as a carpenter and the 1920 Census also showed his occupation as a carpenter.

005251406_00132The 1920s Census also showed Frank W. Miller, 32, living on Carey Street in Deerfield with his wife Alice, 32, and their children Marjorie, Doris, and Mary.

James Van Vleet

James Van Vleet was born on February 10, 1884, and he identified his occupation on his 1918 draft registration as a farmer, the same occupation he listed on the 1920 census. James, 36, lived on Railroad Road in Summerfield in 1920, with his wife Beatrice,34, and their children Charles, Maud, Alvin, and Eston.

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Ralph Aldrich

Ralph Aldrich was born on July 25, 1889, and he wrote on his 1919 draft registration that he worked as a laborer. In the 1920 Census Ralph, age 30, said that he was a fireman at an RR Paper Mill. Ralph and his wife Estelle, 30, lived 1232 East Elm Avenue in Monroe with their children Raymond, Beth, and Virginia.

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Chicken Thieves Were No Cackling Matter

On the cool fall night of October 28, 1929, three days before Halloween, a gang of armed chicken thieves of the human instead of fox, dog, or hawk persuasion raided the chicken coops on the Lawrence Keller farm on the outskirts of Petersburg, Michigan and they fled the scene in a speeding sedan.

Chicken thieves were a serious threat in Monroe County farm country in 1929. Reports of professional gangs of chicken thieves circulated in the area and rumor had it that the thieves chloroformed the chickens to keep them quiet enough to be stolen and then carted them off to markets in Detroit, Toledo, or Lansing.  One story even had it that the young wife of a chicken thief gang member had smuggled a hack saw into the prison at Jackson and helped him escape, receiving two years of Probation for her trouble. There were tales of shootouts between chicken thieves and outraged, armed farmers protecting their poultry.

chickens

A story in the Saline Observer reported that Mrs. Ethel Hofstetler of Route 2, Tecumseh, had discovered a way to offset her losses when chicken thieves visited her poultry house making off with 30 ready-to-lay pullets. Mrs. Hofstetler had the foresight to insure her chickens against theft through the Poultryman’s Mutual Protective Association. When the thieves came for her chickens, she eventually received a check for her losses,  the second person ever to receive an insurance check for stolen poultry and the second claim that the Poultryman’s Mutual Protective Association had ever paid.[1]

 Chicken Thieves Clash with a  Constable and Deputy Sheriff

Chicken thieves were taken seriously in Petersburg and the police heard of this latest chicken theft at the Keller farm, they sent Monroe County Sheriff Deputy James Van Vleet to chase them down. Deputy Van Vleet didn’t waste any time driving to Petersburg to pick up Village Constable Frank Monroe and the officers quickly located the the sedan with its chicken thief drivers and captive chickens.

Monroe County Sheriffs Deputy Van Vleet told what happened next in a Monroe Evening News story dated October 29, 1929. He said when the chicken thieves shot at them,” one bullet came through the glass in the back of the car and struck in front of me just above my head. I had the gun, so I gave it to Frank and told him he had better use it. We had fired a couple of shots in the air before that to try to halt the fellows, but it hadn’t done any good.”

Deputy Van Vleet continued telling his story to the Monroe Evening News Reporter. He said that he stopped the car and Constable Miller started to get out.  Just as he stepped onto the running board of the police car, a shot rang out and a 38 caliber bullet hit Constable Miller in the back and plowed through his body, killing him instantly. The chicken thieves sped away, dumping the chickens on the side of the road as they made their escape.[2]

Additional Monroe Evening News articles tell the next chapter in the story. Immediately after Constable Miller’s shooting, dozens of officers, farmers, and citizens scoured the countryside around Petersburg searching for the chicken thieves turned murderers. The searchers rounded up several suspects and the police arrested some of them. Police found several suspects in a Garden City home, cleaning chickens. They admitted to stealing the chickens, but they denied shooting Constable Miller.

Two months ticked by while Constable Miller’s wife and children tried to deal with the daily reality of his death and officers, farmers, and citizens continued to hunt for the person who shot him. The police didn’t find any new suspects and the case remained unsolved for the next two months.

In the meantime, Ohio police had imprisoned Ralph Aldrich on charges of breaking into an Ohio chicken coop. During police questioning, he confessed to shooting Constable Miller, but he didn’t explain why he had found it necessary to kill the law officer. A judge sentenced Ralph Aldrich to life in prison in Michigan State Prison in Blackman Township, Jackson, Michigan. According to her family, Constable Frank W. Miller’s widow Alice was so traumatized by his murder that she refused to discuss it with her family or outside of the family.

A Family Remembers Constable Miller’s Story

The story doesn’t end there  to be remembered as a sad part of Monroe County Depression-Era history and gradually forgotten as the decades rolled on toward the 21st Century.  More than six decades after Constable Miller’s murder, his children and grandchildren worked to have his named included on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington D.C. which honors 20,267 U.S. law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty throughout American history.

Constable Miller’s grandson, Lehr LaVoy, a retired police officer from the Tempe, Arizona police department, visited the memorial on a trip to Washington D.C. and he wondered why his grandfather’s name wasn’t included on the memorial. Lehr knew that his grandfather had been killed on duty, but he didn’t know the circumstances of his death. He and his sister Bonnie Damon had been born in Petersburg, Michigan, but had moved away as adults. Constable Miller’s grandchildren decided that they needed to gather the information they needed to have his name added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.

Bonnie Damon and other family members spent hours and shoe and tire leather and telephone time gathering the data that they needed to prove that her grandfather had been killed in the line of duty so many years ago. They located a coroner’s report and other documentation, including numerous newspaper articles about the circumstances of Constable Miller’s death, enough to prove that his name should be included on the Memorial.

Constable Frank William Miller- End of Watch

Finally, Constable Miller’s son and grandchildren witnessed his name being added to the National Law Enforcement Memorial and participated in the ceremonies honoring the addition of his name.

frankmiller

Constable Frank William Miller

Petersburg Police Department, Michigan

End of Watch: Monday, October 28, 1929

Constable Miller was shot and killed during a traffic stop which he conducted while investigating the theft of poultry from a local farmer.

Resting in Blissfield, Petersburg, and Monroe

Alice Miller survived her husband Constable Frank Miller by 34 years, dying on January 7, 1963 in Toledo. She is buried alongside him in Pleasantview Cemetery in Blissfield, Michigan.

James Van Vleet died in 1939 and he is buried in Pleasant View Cemetery in Petersburg.

The 1930 Census showed that Ralph was a prison inmate at Michigan State Prison, Blackmon in Lansing, Michigan. Ralph E. Aldrich died on April 8, 1955 in Dundee and he is buried in Woodland Cemetery, Monroe.

 Notes

[1] Saline Observer, November 7, 1929, p. 2

[2] Monroe Evening News, October 29, 1929, p. 1

 

Petersburg: A “Good Live Town” and a Tree City, USA

 

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Summerfield, Petersburg with an “H”, and Finally, Petersburg

Summerfield, then Petersburgh with an h, and finally Petersburg with a began as a dream in the mind and ambition of New York native, Richard Peters. His dream of a town with compatible residents grew into Petersburg, a thriving picturesque small Michigan city that map maker and historian George Lang called “a good, live town.”

The Michigan State Gazetteer recorded that people first came to Summerfield (later Petersburgh) in 1824 and established homes and farms with a post office in 1834. By 1860, Summerfield (Petersburg village) had become a post village of Monroe County located on the River Raisin, about 57 miles from Detroit. The Michigan Southern and Northern Indiana Railroads had established branches in Summerfield and post office with W.H. Heath as postmaster served the community. Methodist and Presbyterian Churches addressed the religious needs of the citizens and a 518-volume library helped them improve their minds.

Commercial establishments included three general stores, a hotel, a saw, two flouring and one planning mill and a variety of mechanical trades and professions. The 1860 population was 1,000 people. The 1860 Township officers included Supervisor, George Peters. Clerk, M. B. Davis. (buried in Pleasant View Cemetery, Petersburg) Treasurer, John J. Ellis. Justices of the Peace, W. Corbin, J. Frennain, W. E. Burton, A. C. Lefford. School Inspectors, Jonas Brown, N. D. Curtis. Constables, J. J.Ellis, James Reynolds.[1]

Petersburg was incorporated in 1869 and by 1877, the Michigan State Gazetteer noted a population of 1,500 people and the railroad connections had changed to the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad and the Toledo & Petersburgh Narrow Gauge Railroad. The Gazetteer reported that the country around Petersburg was suitable for raising a variety of farm produce and the River Raisin provided good water power. The commercial concerns included a flouring mill, a woolen factory, a handle factor, a planing mill, a saw mill, a shingle mill, and a cheese factory. There were Methodist and Presbyterian Churches and a school house.[2]

In 1917, George Earl Lang wrote about Petersburg  in his Pocket Road Map, Monroe County, Michigan, noting that Petersburg, named after Richard Peters, one of the early pioneers, was originally platted on August 1, 1836. According to Lang, the pioneer settlement began in 1824, when John N. Wadsworth, Richard Peters, and Elihu Ward first surveyed and settled in Summerfield Township. On March 17, 1826, Charles Peters became the first white child born in Summerfield Township.

According to George Lang, Petersburg was incorporated on March 19, 1869 and reincorporated on February 25, 1895, with a population of 490 people. Located on the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad and the Toledo and Detroit Railroad, Petersburg had recently built stone roads that crossed the western end of the county. The city featured “fine residences, electric lights, four churches, a high school on the Normal list, good state bank, good hotel, restaurant, two garages, confectionary store, grocery stores, dry goods store, clothing store, drug store, shoe store, meat market, a furniture store. A good live town with a weekly newspaper.”[3]

Petersburg’s 2010 population numbered 1,146 according to the 2010 census and it is still in the words of George Lang, “a good live town.”

Richard Peters Transforms Summerfield to Petersburg

richardpeters

Richard Peters dreamed the same dream of countless pioneers eager to sink their axes into trees to clear their own land and built homes, families, and lives. Moving his dream into reality, Richard Peters bought land from the United States government in Michigan Territory and moved there to clear it and establish a home for his family.

He gradually cleared 500 of the 600 acres he bought and helped other pioneers wrest a town out of the trees.  In 1836,  Richard sold some of his land in Michigan Territory to buyers eager to establish a town. In 1836, the settlers called their new town Summerfield, and appointed Richard Peters the first postmaster. Later, town residents changed the name of Summerfield to Petersburgh, which eventually was shortened to Petersburg.

Born on March 13, 1797, in Stamford, New York, Richard Peters was one of the five children of Richard Peters and Susanna Halstead Peters. On February 10, 1820, Richard married Mary Polly Wilcox in Harpersfield, New York. Their daughter Frances was born in 1821 in Harpersfield, their son George in 1822 in New York, New York, and their son John born in 1823 in New York. Their son Charles was born on March 14, 1826 in Petersburg, their daughter Susan was born in 1828,  their son Richard was born in 1829 in Petersburg, and their daughter Mary was born in 1832 in Petersburg.  Richard’s wife Mary Polly died on January 26, 1834 in Summerfield. After Mary Polly’s death, Richard married Orissa Baker and they had a daughter Emeline who was born in 1838. The 1850 Census shows Richard Peters married to Orissa Baker Peters and their 12 year old daughter, Emeline.

The 1827 Michigan census recorded Richard living in Monroe County and the 1830 Census listed Richard Peters as postmaster of Petersburgh. Richard and his wife and children settled in the Michigan woods and Richard cleared land to build a hut and then a log cabin for his family. They enjoyed the company and comfort of their neighbors Morris and Lewis Wells and their families, two miles away. Richard continued to clear his land and hack a road through the dense woods.

A good farmer and a good neighbor, Richard didn’t actively seek office, but the offices constantly sought him, and he accepted some township offices.. He served for ten years as supervisor of Raisinville which in his time included Summerfield, Dundee,Whiteford, Bedford, Ida, London, and Milan. He died on inflammation of the lungs at age 64 on March 5, 1862.  He and Mary Polly and other family members are buried in Wing Cemetery(Petersburg Village) Cemetery.[4]

richardpetersmonument

Petersburg Pioneers

Fred Bork

The Petersburg Sun-December 28, 1951

Fred Bork, born on March 14, 1861, in Germany married Minnie Middlestead on January 7, 1883, and they immigrated to the United States shortly after their marriage.  He and Minnie raised a family of two sons and two daughters, and they operated a farm near Petersburg for 57 years. When she died on January 26, 1944, he lived with his daughter until his death on December 21, 1951 at age 90. He is buried in Pleasant View Cemetery.

Mrs. Esther Bragg

The Petersburg Sun-Petersburg, Monroe County Michigan-August 1, 1919

Mrs. Esther Bragg

Esther S. Elder was born in Wood County, Ohio, August 29, 1842, and she died at Battle Creek, Michigan, July 24, 1919 at age 76.

In August 1862, she married William Sawyer who was killed in the Civil War. In the fall of 1864, she came to Michigan to live with her sisters. On January 6, 1870,, she married Ezra Franklin Bragg, who had also fought in the Civil War , first in Company I of the 14th Ohio Volunteer Infantry and then in the 1st Michigan cavalry.  They had three children: Viola C.; Irving W.; and Ezra. Esther’s husband Ezra died on October 26, 1889 and he is buried in Leib Cemetery, Monroe County. She is buried in Pleasant View Cemetery, Petersburg.

Calvin Burnham

Talcott Wing wrote a brief biography of Calvin Burnham in his History of Monroe County, Michigan.  Calvin Burnham was born on November 13, 1793 in Montague, Massachusetts.  In 1817, Israel Bliss and his friend Calvin Burnham came to Michigan from Massachusetts. Israel settled in Macon, Michigan and lived there with his family until he died on October 23, 1819. Calvin returned to Massachusetts and married Israel’s sister Lucinda K. on September 26, 1820 at Royalston, Massachusetts. They had three children together before Lucinda died at Montague, Massachusetts on April 7, 1825. Calvin married his second wife Mary Ann Bruce in October 1826 and they had at least nine children together. Calvin brought his family to Blissfield, Michigan in 1839, and the next year they moved to Summerfield where he lived for the rest of his life.  He died in 1874 and he is buried in Burnham Cemetery in Petersburg.[5]

A paragraph in The Monroe Commercial summarized the life of Calvin Burnham of Summerfield in western Monroe County. Calvin Burnham, one of the early pioneers of Monroe County, had recently died at age 81 years. He taught the first English school in Monroe County in 1816. He traveled to Monroe County from Massachusetts on foot, and several years later when he returned to Massachusetts to obtain a wife, he again made the trip on foot. In 1837, he returned with his wife, “and we believe, has lived in the county ever since.”[6]

John J. Ellis- Petersburg Blacksmith and Monroe County Sheriff

Born in Essex County, New York on June 24, 1829, John J. Ellis arrived in Summerfield Township from New York in 1842 with his mother and two younger brothers. At an early age, he had to work to help support his family, so he learned the blacksmithing trade and operated a blacksmith shop in the village of Petersburg. He married Jane Green and they had four children.  In 1876, John Ellis won the election for Monroe County Sheriff and he moved to Monroe. He proved himself to be such a capable sheriff, popular and painstaking, that he won re-election for a second term. People liked him and his work so much that any time a vacancy occurred in a county office, they nominated John Ellis. For years at various times he served as deputy sheriff, constable, and township treasurer. Monroe and Monroe County citizens appreciated John’s care and compassion for others and his willingness to help people in need.

On December 19, 1894, John fell from a load of cornstalks, injuring his spine.  He died on April 4, 1895 and the Blanchard Lodge of Petersburg where he had been a member for 37 years,  helped bury him with Masonic honors. His wife and four children survived him and his two brothers and scores of friends deeply mourned him. He is buried in Woodland Cemetery in Monroe.

Ezra L. Lockwood 

Born in Watertown, Connecticut on June 16, 1831 to Jacob and Maria Scovill Lockwood, Ezra had to rely on himself from the age of 13 when he mother died.  He came to Michigan in the fall of 1850 and worked for Dundee Township and from 1853-1855 he worked in the state of Illinois. On December 29, 1859, Ezra married Jennie Hall and they raised a family of three boys and two girls.

After returning to Michigan in 1855, Ezra formed a partnership with Morgan Parker and purchased the water power and mills in Petersburgh. The two partners operated these mills until 1861 when they ended the partnership. With no capital but their resolve and willingness to work, Ezra and Jennie Lockwood made their first forty-dollar payment on 80 acres of land in Summerfield Township. Ezra and his family were isolated with no neighbors for two miles and trees, brush, and water covering their land. Ezra had to clear the land by hand, cutting the timber from a small parcel to build a house. Water covered many parts of his land and saturated the soil enough so that Ezra had to drain thousands of acres and cut many ditches and drains for the water to find its way to Lake Erie and leave the soil suitable for planting. The largest drain that Ezra created is his namesake Lockwood Drain extending from Western Monroe County to Lake Erie and in some places thirteen feet deep and forty feet wide. His system of drains transformed acres of land that had been covered by water most of the year into productive farms providing good land and a good living for many people.

As he created his vital system of drains, Ezra purchased land from time to time until by 1875 he owned 3,020 acres of land that his hard work transformed from wilderness to a profitable farm. He was the largest cattle breeder in Monroe County, keeping about 200 head on the farm with a butter dairy of 80 cows and he also kept and bred horses and hogs.

Besides maintaining their family and their farm, Ezra and Jenny Lockwood were active in many farmer’s clubs, institutes and conventions at the county and state level and farmers from the county and state congregated to hear their informative talks about farming.

Ezra died in 1909 and he is buried in Pleasant View Cemetery, Petersburg.[7]

 John Otto Zabel

John Otto Zabel, attorney and counselor at law from Petersburgh, was born on October 29, 1856 in Poestenkill, New York to John and Sophia Zabel. His parents moved from Poestenkill to Dundee in 1860 and after that to Summerfield. John worked on the farm during the summer and attended the union school at Petersburgh for two winters. He enrolled in the law program at Michigan University in October 1877 and graduated on March 26, 1879. He was admitted to the Bar in 1879 and opened up his law practice in Petersburgh.

He married Mate Swick Zabel on October 20, 1880 and they had two sons, John Golden and Allen. His son Allen died of tuberculosis at age 21 while he was a law student. The 1900 Census shows his other son,  John Golden Zabel, 18, who listed his occupation as a teacher. John Golden lived to be 87 years old and he is buried in Woodland Cemetery in Monroe.

John Zabel served as president of Petersburgh Village for the years 1883,1887, and 1888 and attorney of the village of Petersburgh for 1884 and 1889. He served on the school board and was chairman of the county committee of the Greenback Party for six years. According to the Adrian Times and Attorney Fred Wood of Tecumseh, John O. Zabel promoted the electric road from Toledo raised $4,500,000 for the new road which would run from Petersburg to Jackson, and from Petersburg to Ypsilanti or Ann Arbor. The contract for building the two roads was let to a New York firm.[8]

John died on April 13, 1935 in Petersburg and he is buried in Pleasant View Cemetery, Petersburg with his wife Mary and son Allen.[9]

Pioneer Petersburg Journalists

As Petersburg grew in population and became more prosperous, its citizens felt the need for a newspaper to spread the village news and publish business and personal transactions. Henry F. Gage & Company established Petersburg’s first newspaper, the Avalanche, in 1871. A year and a half later, fire destroyed the paper. In 1876, J.W. Seeley started the River Raisin Clarion which lasted only six months.  Editor I.D. Boardman introduced The Petersburgh Bulletin on May 1, 1880 and  in 1881 it folded. In 1883 the Weekly Journal debuted but lasted for only four months before it burned. In 1884, O.C. Bacon & Brother reestablished the Weekly Journal, published it for two years, and then sold it to E.A. Gilbert. A.P. Faling began publishing the Petersburgh Sun on October 9, 1891, but around 1898 it merged with the Dundee Reporter to form the Reporter-Sun published in Dundee. Courier Printing Company began publishing the Farmers & Merchants Courier around 1948[10]

Marlin Oscar Hydal

Born on August 31, 1920 in St. Paul Minnesota, Marlin attended Concordia College and married Sylvia Triplett in October 1939 in Hastings, Minnesota. He worked as a printer for the Toledo Blade for 28 years as well as for the Petersburg Sun. He died in 2006 and he is buried in Pleasant View Cemetery, Petersburg.

A Few Petersburg Businesses and Professions, Then and Now

garst lp gaspetersburrg2017

A 21st Century Petersburg Business

Michigan State Gazetteer – 1856-1857

Petersburg. A station in Monroe county, situated on the line of the Michigan Southern Rail Road and on the south side of the Raisin river. It is 20 miles west from Monroe.

Petersburgh Business-1856-1857

Thomas S. Dingman, general dealer. Herkimer & Dingman – general merchandise

Dr. Nelson Dunham, physician.

Dr. Nelson Dunham obituary: (1803-1866), (Deacon John, Joseph, Eleazer, Israel, Ebenezer, Sylvanus), Obituary appeared in the Monroe, MI Monitor on May 2, 1866: Death of Dr. Nelson Dunham. We regret to Announce the death of Dr. Dunham, which occurred at Petersburgh on the 30th ___, in the 63rd year of his age. He came to Monroe county about 30 years ago and settled in Dundee, where he obtained a successful practice as a physician. For several years past he has resided at Petersburgh, but has been much impaired in health. Dr. Dunham has been a prominent and leading democrat, has represented the county in both branches of the legislature and occupied other positions of honor and trust, discharging all his duties as became a faithful and public officer. He has been for many years a consistent member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and died in the Christian’s faith, leaving a wife and one son and many relatives and friends to mourn his death.

Christian Gradolf, hardware and groceries.

Arthur C. Gradolph, one of Petersburgh’s most prominent businessmen passed away at his home here at 11:00 A.m. Wednesday, April 10, 1935, after an illness of five days. Death was due to heart failure. Mr. Gradolph, although in poor health for the past two years had been feeling fairly well lately and was down town several times the first of last week. His death came as a shock, not only to the family, but to the entire community as well.

He was born in Petersburg on May 3, 1871, and aside from seven years spent in the jewelry business in Chicago, had resided here his entire lifetime Mr. Gradolph started in the hardware business in Petersburg in partnership with the late O.H. Russell in 1898. This partnership was dissolved in 1919, the business being conducted under the name of A.C. Gradolph until 1922, at which time Mr. Gradolph’s son assumed partnership.

From that time on the firm name has been A.C. Gradolph & Son.

Mr. Gradolph was united in marriage on June 15, 1895, to Miss Julia Plumadore, and all but four years of their married life has been spent in Petersburg. He is survived by his wife and one son, C.C. Gradolph; one brother, Fred W. Gradolph, of West Palm Beach, Florida; a half-brother, Elmore Zibbell, of Petersburg; one grandson, Robert Gradoph, and one granddaughter, Vivian Gradolph. His only sister, Arvilla E. Ellis, passed away in 1928.

Mr. Gradoph was a member of Blanchard Lodge, F &A.M., No. 102, Russell chapter No 208, O.E.S., the Maccabees and the Michigan Retail Hardware Association. He is buried in Pleasant View Cemetery.

Henry Herkimer of Herkimer and Dingman- He is buried in McIntyre Cemetery, Monroe

Lockwood, saw mill

Morris Parks, saw mill

Oliver T. Rose, general dealer- He is buried in Pleasant View Cemetery, Petersburg

This PDF features more Petersburg businesses and professions:  Petersburg Businesses Then and Now

Some Petersburg Veterans

war memorial

War memorial Perry Park, Saline and East Walnut Streets, Petersburg.  Dwight Burdette

GAR Comrades

Horace Breningstall, broom handle manufacturer of Petersburgh, was born in Dundee on July 18, 1843 to Seth and Lucy Hobart Breningstall. Horace lived in Dundee until 1852, when he moved to Raisinville Township.

When the Civil War broke out, Horace enlisted on May 20, 1861 in Company A of the 4th Michigan Infantry as a corporal. After he was mustered out in June 30, 1864, he reenlisted on March 212, 1865 in Co. I, 5th U.S. Veteran Volunteers as a private and served until March 1866. He participated in the battles of New Bridge, Hanover Court House, Mechanicsville, Gaines Mill, Savage’s Station, Antulaus, White Oak Swamp, Gainesville, Second Bull Run, Malvern Hill, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Wilderness, Spottsylvania, and several others. He developed rheumatism during his Civil War Service because of the hardships of soldiering in the field.

When he returned from the Civil War, he joined the Morgan Parker Post, No. 281 of the Grand Army of the Republic and later became commander. [11]

On July 11, 1868, Horace married Elizabeth Main and they had three children:  Reuben, Susan A., and Phila Addie.

A Republican in politics, he held several Summerfield Township offices and served as postmaster of Petersburg. [12]

Another Petersburg Civil War veteran, Josiah Elder also commanded the Morgan Parker GAR Post for many years. Born in Portage, Ohio in Wood County on January 1, 1848, he enlisted at age 16  in the 179th Ohio Volunteer Infantry at Sandusky. He fought at Franklin, Chattanooga, and several other battles and didn’t receive any wounds in battle.  He did develop erysipelas which affected him the rest of his life and finally destroyed his eyesight by 1926.

In 1867, Josiah moved to Petersburg in 1867 and made his living as a clothier and farmer. On July 4, 1868, he married Miss Emily A. Trombley of Deerfield  and after she died he married Miss Mary A. Lister of Petersburg on September 25, 1890. He had seven children:  four sons and three daughters.

Josiah Elder was one of the charter members of the Morgan Parker GAR Post in Petersburg, a post which once had 45-50 members, and he commanded the post for its last 15 years of active organization. Two GAR members, Cerenus Dewey and John Spaulding survived him.

He died at age 83 on December 23, 1931. He is buried in Pleasant View Cemetery.[13]

Fighting in France – World War II

Harold E. Brockway, was born on August 22, 1925, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Forest Brockway of Petersburg, Michigan. On November 20, 1943, at age 19, he enlisted in the United States Army, 101st Infantry Regiment, 26th Division and joined the fighting in France with his regiment.

On June 22,1944, Harold wrote a poem and sent it to his parents. They trimmed and burnt the edges of the paper, placed it on blue paper on an oak board, sealed it with varnish and hung it on the dining room wall of their house.

Harold’s poem:

Sunset In The Army

Just A dream for the weary and tired,
To see those lights go out at night,
After A day of toil in the field,
With dusty sweat dripping from our brow,

With never A care for the wiler,
We crawl back to bed at night,
With only one thought in mind,
To sleep off the weariness of the day,

And As I look out Over the sleeping,
No greater story has artist ever told,
Than this picture of quiet rest,
For men who know best what it means,

How It stirs my heart inside me,
Until tears well up and nearly would fall,
And a lump rises up in my throat,
To suffocate all of my every thoughts,

There’s A beautiful sunset in the Army,
When All those lights flicker and die away,
And then you hear those forlorn notes of the bugler,
As he signs off for the night.

The Petersburg Sun, Petersburg, Monroe County, Michigan published this story on Sunday December 29, 1944.

KILLED IN ACTION

Harold E. Brockway

Pvt. Harold E. Brockway, 19 year old son of Mr. and Mrs. Forest Brockway, was killed in action in France, November 21, according to a telegram received by his parents from the War Department.

Harold attended Hogel school and Petersburg High School.

Pvt. Brockway leaves besides his parents, two brothers, Sgt. Wayne Brockway of Fort Lewis, Washington, and Lewis at home, three sisters, Lillian, Ruby and Betty, all at home. He is buried in Pleasant View Cemetery.

Harold Brockway’s poem hung on the wall of his parent’s dining room  from 1944 until 1996, and it now hangs in his nephew’s house on the family farm.

This PDF features more Petersburg veterans.

Petersburg Veterans

Petersburg Is A Tree City USA

tree city USA

Petersburg is a farming community whose earliest pioneers appreciated and nurtured trees and forests even as they chopped many of them down to coax a living from the soil. The Tree City USA program began in 1976 as a nationwide movement to provide the necessary framework for communities to manage and grow their public trees.

More than 3,400 communities are committed to becoming a Tree City, USA and meet the criteria of the four core standards necessary to maintain sound urban forestry management. These standards are:  maintaining a tree board or department, having a community tree ordinance, spending at least $2 per capita on urban forestry, and celebrating Arbor Day.

Petersburg with a 2015 population of 1,157 has been a Tree City USA for eight years and one of Michigan’s green farming communities for nearly two centuries.

Notes

[1] Michigan State Gazetteer – 1860,

[2] Michigan Gazetteer – 1877

[3] George E. Lang. Pocket Road Map, Monroe County, Mich. Monroe County Briefly. Monroe, Michigan:  McMillan Printing Co., Geo. E Lang Publications, 1917. p. 32.

[4] Talcott Wing, History of Monroe County, Michigan. New York: Munsell & Company, 1890, p. 484.

[5] Talcott Wing, History of Monroe County, Michigan. New York: Munsell & Company, 1890, p. 127.

[6] Monroe Commercial, Thursday, August 20, 1874

[7] [7] Talcott Wing, History of Monroe County, Michigan. New York: Munsell & Company, 1890, p. 484-485.

[8] Adrian Times, May 2, 1904.

[9] Talcott Wing, History of Monroe County, Michigan. New York: Munsell & Company, 1890, p. 465. Talcott Wing mentions two sons, age 7 and 3 in his biography of John Zabel..

[10] Talcott Wing, History of Monroe County, Michigan. New York: Munsell & Company, 1890, p 495.

[11] Morgan Parker is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Dundee, Michigan.

[12] Talcott E. Wind, History of Monroe County, Michigan. New York:  Munsell & Company, Publishers, 1890, p. 45.

[13] Monroe Evening News, December 23, 1931, Page One, Column Two

The French Colony at Fort Stephenson During the War of 1812: Francis “Hutro” Navarre Emerges from the Shadows

Guest blogger Patrick M. Tucker sheds further light on the role of the Navarre family on the Battle of Frenchtown and its aftermath. This article originally appeared in Northwest Ohio History, vol. 83, no. 1 (Autumn 2015).

by Patrick M. Tucker

Department of Sociology and Anthropology,

University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio

 

Fremont,_Ohio1812

The French colony at Fort Stephenson, now Fremont (Ohio), on the Sandusky River during the War of 1812 was originally from the mixed Odawa (Ottawa) and French village of Presque Isle (now Oregon, Ohio) at the mouth of the Maumee River established in 1807 or 1808 and abandoned in 1836. After 1836, most of the Odawa were removed by the U.S. government to Kansas Territory. Some took the initiative to travel to Walpole Island in Canada to join relatives.[1] And a few, who refused to go to Kansas or Walpole Island, remained in northwest Ohio having moved east to the marshy, wetlands of the Lucas County – Ottawa County border area, out of the path of white settlement. Those French who settled at Presque Isle came predominantly from Frenchtown on the River Raisin and a few from Detroit in the Michigan Territory.

 

The French colony that moved to Fort Stephenson in the winter of 1813 did so to escape the violence and military action of the War of 1812 in the western basin of Lake Erie between Great Britain in Canada, their Indian allies, and the United States. So it is somewhat ironic that during their stay at the fort, their welfare was threatened by Indian hostilities while under the protection of the American government and the Ohio militia stationed at the fort. It is also ironic that they were rescued, not by the Ohio militia, but by Francis “Hutro” Navarre (1759-1840+),[2] a fellow Frenchman, who emerged from the shadows of the fort to save the day. After the war, some of these French families returned to the Maumee River including Francis “Hutro” Navarre and his family, but many others settled below Fort Stephenson to become the first, permanent, white settlers of Sandusky County, Ohio. Navarre and his family who reoccupied their land at Presque Isle became the most famous of the early French pioneers of Toledo, Ohio.

American settlers, both English and French-speaking, living in the Maumee rapids region of Ohio found themselves in a terrible dilemma when Detroit fell to the British and Indians on August 16 during the War of 1812. Faced with fight or take flight most fled the region while few remained. Frenchtown (now Monroe, Michigan) on the River Raisin surrendered to a detachment of British and Indians on August 20, 1812 followed by Port Miami the next day on August 21.[3] While many Canadiens of Frenchtown and Port Miami remained, most of the English-speaking, American settlers, and some Canadiens, managed to escape east to the Quaker settlement on the Huron River (now Milan, Ohio) and Fort Stephenson on the Sandusky River (now Fremont, Ohio), and south to Urbana, Ohio.[4]

riverraisinbattlefield
River Raisin Battlefield, Monroe, Michigan

For those few settlers and traders who remained, the situation became desperate when the battles and massacre at Frenchtown on the River Raisin, from January 18 to 23 in 1813, resulted in the loss of Major-General William H. Harrison’s left wing of the Northwest Army.[5] Some 880 Kentucky regulars and militia under command of Brigadier-General James Winchester met a vastly, superior British and Indian force of 1,800. Some 800 American soldiers (522 captured, 148 killed and missing, 65 seriously wounded, and 33 who escaped) were lost compared to British losses of 24 killed and 158 wounded of some 522 British soldiers and unknown Indian losses.[6] After this battle, civilian non-combatants evacuated the region in record numbers.

One particular evacuation of civilian inhabitants was that of Presque’ Isle, a mixed Odawa and Canadien village, at the mouth of the Maumee River. This was the Indian village of Pontiac’s followers who moved from Missionary Island (Indianola Island) after 1769 and settled at the mouth of the Maumee River by 1795. In 1808, the village situated on a grassy plat contained some 60 log houses (cabins), hewed and white-washed, laid-out in two rows which presented a “cheerful and pleasant appearance” according to Hutro’s son Peter Navarre (1790-1874), the famous War of 1812 scout.[7] The French families, many related by marriage, migrated south from Frenchtown (now Monroe, Michigan) to the Maumee River about 1807 or 1808. Among those fur traders who resided in the village were those of the Navarre, Cavalier, O’Dett de La Point, DeMars, Bissonet, three Momeny (Mominee), Minor (Menard), Gagnier, Druyor (Droulliard), Fountaine (LaFontaine) families, five Devoir brothers, the widow of Steven Jacob and her daughters Julie, Ann, and Monique.[8] Others probably at Presque Isle in January of 1813 were the Jocks or Jacks (Jaquot) and Jeremy (Jereaume) families.[9] Hutro Navarre had moved his family in 1799 from Frenchtown to Presque Isle.[10]

fort stephenson

(Fort Stephenson in 1813 (Created by John Hibbler of Fremont, Ohio. In “Ohio in the War of 1812,” Past Times, vol. 12, March, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center 2013).

Shortly after the American disaster at Frenchtown, about twenty French families at Presque Isle packed their belongings and formed a train of horse sleighs with wooden runners, sleds, and some wagons and headed for Fort Stephenson on the lower Sandusky River some 30-35 miles away.[11] The party was led by Peter Malosh or Maltosh, an Indian trader and American army scout, who knew the Sandusky River territory well, which is now Ottawa and Sandusky Counties (Ohio).[12] While Hutro and his family joined the French migrants to Lower Sandusky; his sons Peter, Robert, James, and Alexis had already joined Winchester’s Kentucky brigade as spies (scouts). Having managed to escape the battles of Frenchtown, the boys joined General Harrison’s Northwest Army, assigned to Captain Gratiot’s company of spies.

The ground well covered with heavy ice and snow made easy and excellent traveling conditions for the sleighs and sleds to avoid the woods and Indians, but not for the wagons. Their first stop on the journey was Locust Point which they made the first day. The following day was particularly hard on the horses as the snow was very deep. The train kept close together with the order of sleighs being frequently changed so that the lead horses that became weary, breaking the way, were rested in the rear. Upon arrival at the Portage (now Port Clinton, Ohio), the horses were exhausted. The following morning Malosh directed the train to follow his tracks, as he pushed on ahead to Lower Sandusky to procure fresh horses for his party. Meanwhile the train proceeded on its third day with reluctant horses stiffened by two days of travel through deep snow crossing the head of Sandusky Bay and entering the river. The weary travelers, and no doubt horses, were delighted to meet Malosh with fresh horses at the mouth of Muskellunge Creek. From here, the French colony made the rapids of Lower Sandusky and the safety of Fort Stephenson. The French families settled in the government barracks at Fort Stephenson, later moving into cabins outside of, but near the fort in the spring of 1813 to plant corn and potatoes on the rich bottomlands of the Sandusky River and adjoining creeks.[13]

During the spring and summer of 1813, the forest and woods near Fort Stephenson were full of hostile Indians. A signal from the fort had been arranged to warn French and English farm families of impending Indian attacks so they could retreat into the picketed garrison for protection by the Ohio militia stationed there.[14]

A war party of Indians lead by an Ottawa chief departed British Fort Malden on the north shore of Lake Erie in bark canoes and landed at the mouth of the Portage River in Ohio on June 1, 1813. They traveled across Marblehead Peninsula and Sandusky Bay to American settlements on Cold Creek in Erie County, Ohio. After traveling a short distance by land up the creek, they attacked three cabins of white families whose men were off working in the fields on June 2. They captured one man and twelve women and children. Traveling back to the canoes it was discovered that one of the women could not keep up due to pregnancy. She was tomahawked, stripped naked, and her womb ripped open and the child taken out. Additionally, three of the children were also butchered for not keeping up with the war party. Upon arrival back at Fort Malden, two or three of the prisoners were ransomed to Colonel Matthew Elliott, and the others by the citizens of Detroit.[15]

John E. Hunt recalled this Ottawa war party returning to Detroit, where he was residing at his brother’s place at the time. He stated:

…one morning I was standing on the porch of his house, when I heard the scalp whoop of Indians coming up the river bank. It proved to be a party of Ottawa Indians. They came up to where I was standing, and to my horror, I saw they had with them a whole family of children from the age of two years to eighteen, the two eldest were girls, in all nine of them. And the scalp they had upon a pole was that of the mother of these children. Owing to her being in a delicate situation, she was unable to travel and keep pace with them, and two young Indians were chosen by Parchan, the Chief of the party, to kill her; which they did, leaving the body stretched upon a log in a horridly mutilated state, when it was afterwards so found by a party of white men, about five miles from Cole Creek [Cold Creek], in Huron County, Ohio, not far from Clyde.[16]

Hunt also recalled, after Harrison’s army reoccupied Detroit, these Native Americans made their appearance with a flag of truce to sue for peace. Parchan, their leader, was with them and among the spectators was a Mr. Snow, the father of the captive family, who joined the army to avenge the death of his pregnant wife. Some soldiers were placed as a guard around Snow to prevent his killing some of the Indians.[17]

greer farm
Geer Farm

Another Indian war party was sent later in June of that year from Fort Malden, this time to the lower Sandusky River near Fort Stephenson . Here, they murdered a white, farm family of four, possibly the Geer family, which consisted of a husband, wife, son, and daughter.[18] Albert R. Cavalier (1806-1895),[19] who made the winter trip with his family as part of the French colony, was in Fort Stephenson at the time as a young boy, when this second war party searched the woods for isolated, American farm families and gathered intelligence on Fort Stephenson for the British. While there Cavalier’s father and mother died and were buried on a farm known today as “The French Burial Grounds,” which was located down the hill from Fort Stephenson in.[20] His recollection of the Indian hostilities adds amazing details not found in Harrison’s letter to British General Vincent in November of 1813, and the whimsical item reported in the Historical Register of the United States.[21]

On that day, June 29th or 30th in 1813, George Shannon, the son-in-law of Elizabeth Whitaker, and a man named Pomeroy were at work on the flats below the fort gathering some vegetables. Isaac Futy kept guard as a lookout for Indians. The work party was startled when they heard the crack of two rifle shots, fired almost as one, by Indians which wounded both Shannon and Pomeroy. Instantly, Futy returned fire as the three made for cover on the Sandusky River bank. The Indians then proceeded to a house near the place, where an American family named Geer resided. This family consisted of two elderly people and a son and daughter. On hearing the alarm, the son and daughter fled into a cornfield nearby to hide, but were met and killed by the Indians. The Indians then followed the father and mother to the river and killed them just as they were getting into a small boat or scow to escape by crossing over the river.[22]

Francis Navarre, after hearing the first shot by the Indians, scaled the pickets of Fort Stephenson, rifle in hand, and ran down the river toward the scene of the trouble. Navarre discovered two Indians chasing an Ohio militia soldier who was running for the fort. He fired and killed the closest Indian, squatted out of sight, reloaded and shot the other Indian. Upon returning to the Fort, Navarre, who was familiar with Indian habits and culture, told the Ohio militia detachment and other spectators that if they would send a party down the river, they would not find the bodies of the Indians. Instead, the packs of the two Indians would be found with his rifle balls in them. Navarre shot them in such a manner that the balls passed through their breasts and lodged in the blankets they carried on their backs. He further stated that the military detachment would find that the farm family had all been killed.[23]

The detachment sent from the fort found Navarre’s words to be true. They found the family and two soldiers murdered and scalped. Shannon, Pomeroy, and Futy were discovered in their hiding places under the river bank which was then bordered by thick brush. Shannon survived, but it appeared that Pomeroy and Futy died of their wounds, as their bodies were brought back to the Fort. Cavalier learned these facts at the time by talk among the men and women in the fort. He saw six persons killed and scalped when they were brought into the fort. The alarm and sight of the mutilated bodies made an indelible impression on Cavalier that he could never forget.

One week before the battle at Fort Stephenson on August 01-02, 1813, the French colony and other civilians were moved by government wagons to Upper Sandusky, and remained there until peace was declared in 1814, then returned to Fort Stephenson and the lower Sandusky River. The French families who did not return to the Maumee River after the War of 1812 settled below the fort in what would become Rice Township, Sandusky County, Ohio. Many of their descendants still live in Sandusky and Ottawa Counties of Ohio today.[24]

peter navarre
Peter Navarre, famous scout, and one of Francois Navarre’s sons. Monroe County Historical Society

François “Hutro” Navarre was a most extraordinary, French, fur trader and hunter in Upper Canada and the American Old Northwest Territory of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He is little known in the region’s history, unlike his son Peter Navarre the famous War of 1812 scout, who is proclaimed the founding-father of Toledo (Ohio) and the first president of the Maumee Valley Pioneer and Historical Association.[25] He witnessed the transition of the frontier during colonial, territorial, and state periods of history in his eight decades of life. He chose, or was forced to choose, the life of a frontier trader, hunter, and trapper despite his birth in a wealthy and politically-important French Catholic family of Detroit, whose fortune steadily declined under British rule after 1760. Navarre was a tough, frontier back-woodsman. His actions at Fort Stephenson and with the assault and battery of a Monroe County deputy sheriff in 1820, almost killing him, suggests he was a man not to be trifled with.[26] His disposing of dead Indian bodies after shooting them in a specific and precise manner leaving a musket ball in their back-packs was his signature and warning on the frontier, at least to Native Americans, that he was in the area and they should leave immediately or suffer the consequences.

The few historical records on Hutro suggest he was illiterate and spoke only the French language and various Algonquian-Indian dialects. A loner unto himself and his family, Navarre left one of the faintest footprints traceable in the history of the region. He was truly a shadowy figure occasionally fading-in and fading-out of the historical record. His life is like a kaleidoscope of still pictures leaving those who encounter him wondering who he was. Navarre was part of that great mass of humanity called the “common man” (including woman) who lacked historicity, the ability to become immortal via the historical record.

Acknowledgments

Special thanks and appreciation to Nan Card, Archivist, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential

Center, Fremont, Ohio and G. William Cutcher and his son Glenn Cutcher both of Vermilion, Ohio. The Cutchers are descendants of the Couture family on their father’s side and the Rivard dit Lacourière family on their mother’s side originally from Frenchtown on the River Raisin.

Endnotes

[1] The Ottawa relinquished their last two land reserves at the mouth of the Maumee River with the Treaty of February 18, 1833 at the mouth of the Maumee River. Several individual allotments or grants were made to individual Ottawa who decided to remain and become part of the local white population. By 1836, these individuals were selling their land grants and moving to Kansas Territory. Charles J. Kappler, “Treaty with the Ottawa, February 18, 1833,” in Indian Affairs, Laws and Treaties. 2 vols. Senate Document 319, 58th Congress, 2nd Session (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1904), vol. 2, 392-94; William E. Peters, Ohio Lands and Their Subdivisions. 3rd Edition (Athens, OH: The Lawhead Press, 1930), 336-37. 

[2] Hutro was born François-Marie Navarre, one of nine children of Robert Navarre (1701-1791) and Marie Lothman-Barrois (1719-1799), and reportedly a descendant of Anthony of Bourbon, Duke of Vendome, who became King of Navarre in 1554. Anthony’s son, Henry III of Navarre, was crowned Henry IV, King of France. Robert Navarre was born in the parish of Villeroy, diocese of Meaux, and province of Brittany in France, and was the first French Sub-Intendant and Royal Notary of Fort Ponchartrain (Detroit) in New France appointed in 1729. Hutro married either Marie-Louise Gouet or Godet dit Marentette born in Sandwich (Windsor, Canada) or Marie-Louise Panât Campeau born in Vincennes, Indiana on February 26, 1781. Together they had twelve children between 1782 and 1806. See Christian Denissen, Genealogy of the French Families of the Detroit River Region, 1701-1936, ed. By Harold Frederic Powell and Robert L. Pilon, 2 vols. (Detroit: Detroit Society for Genealogical Research, 1987), vol. 1, 845-46; Christian Denissen, comp., Navarre, or Researches After the Descendants of Robert Navarre, Whose Ancestors are the Noble Bourbons of France and Some Historical Notes on the Families Who Intermarried with Navarres (Detroit: F. Ebry & Co., 1897), 9-10; Cyprien Tanguay, Dictionaire généalogique des familles canadiennes depuis de la foundation de la colonie jusqu’ã nos jours (Québec, Canada: Eusèbe Senécal, 1871-1890), vol. 6, sect. 1, 141; Peter Navarre, Peter Navarre Memoirs, small manuscripts collection no. 16, Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, Toledo, Ohio; and Dennis M. Au (personal communication, December 31, 2008).

[3] “Extract from an Original Journal of Charles Askin in the Canadian Archives,” in Documents Related to the Invasion of Canada and the Surrender of Detroit 1812, ed. by E. A. Cruikshank, (Ottawa, Canada: Government Printing Bureau, 1912), 243-47; “Return of Arms and Stores found at the River au Raisin, August 20, 1812,” in Cruikshank, Documents Related to the Invasion of Canada, 176; “Deposition of Antoine Saintecomb, February 22, 1858,” “Deposition of Antoine Saintcomb, February 22, 1858, Frenchtown, Monroe County, Michigan,” Alexander D. Anderson, Administrator of John Anderson vs. The United States, in Reports of the Court of Claims, Submitted to the House of Representatives, During the Second Session of the Thirty-Seventh Congress 1861-62, 2 vols. (Washington City: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1862), vol. 1, Report no. 278, 3-4. ; Sandy Antal, A Wampum Denied: Procter’s War of 1812 (Ottawa, Canada: Carleton University Press, 1998), 112-13, 140; “Lewis Bond’s Journal of the War of 1812,” in Document Transcriptions of the War of 1812 in the Northwest, ed. by Richard C. Knopf, 10 vols. (Columbus, OH: Anthony Wayne Parkway Board, 1957-1962), vol. 10, part 1, 188.

[4] John Anderson, A Short History of the Life of John Anderson, transcribed from the Michigan Historical Collections by Richard C. Knopf (Columbus, OH: The Anthony Wayne Parkway Board, n.d.), 35; Hezekiel L. Hosmer, “Amos Spafford, Perrysburg, April 11th, 1843.” in Early History of Cleveland, Ohio with Biographical Notices of the Pioneers and Surveyors, by Col. Charles Whittlesey (Cleveland: Fairbanks, Benedict & Co., 1867), 347-352; Hezekiel L. Hosmer, Early History of the Maumee Valley (Toledo: Hosmer and Harris, 1850), 26-27; Emily Foster, ed., The Ohio Frontier: An Anthology of Early Writings (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1996), 133-35.

[5] “Battle of Frenchtown,” Weekly Register 4, no. 83 (April 3, 1813): 81; Antal, A Wampum Denied, 161-83; Ralph Naveaux, Invaded on All Sides (Marceline, MO: Walsworth Publishing Company, 2008), 106-259; G. Glenn Clift, Remember the Rasin! (Baltimore: Reprinted by Clearfield Co., Inc., 2002 [1961], 62-91; Dennis M. Au, War on the Raisin: A Narrative Account of the War of 1812 in the River Raisin Settlement, Michigan Territory (Monroe, MI: Monroe County Historical Commission, 1999[1981]), 46-112.

[6] “Winchester to the Secretary of War, Malden, January 23, 1813,” and “British Official Account, Adjutant General’s Office, Quebec, February 8, 1813,” both in  Weekly Register 4, no. 79 (March 6, 1813): 9; Weekly Register 4, no. 83 (April 3, 1813): 81. Only fifty-eight names of dead Kentucky soldiers are recorded for January 22 in claims filed against the U.S. government for various reasons by their heirs (“Kentucky Troops Killed at the River Raisin, Jan. 22, 1813,” Manning Collection Series, Record Group 217).

[7] Hosmer, Early History of the Maumee Valley, 4.

[8] C. W. Evers and M. A. Leeson, Commemorative, Historical and Biographical Record of Wood County, Ohio. 2 vols. (Chicago: J. H. Beers & Co., 1897), vol. 1, 363; Ottawa County Genealogical Society (Ohio), The History of Ottawa County, Ohio and Its Families (Marceline, MO: Wadsworth Press, Inc., 1985), 230; François LaFontaine, Detroit to Jean-Baptiste Beaugrand, Foot of the Rapids [Maumee River], June 21, 1810,” Beaugrand Family Papers, box 1, folder 1, Rawson Family Collection LH 115, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Fremont, Ohio. Don Sorby, Sorby/Simmons and Relevant Families, at <RootsWeb, Ancestry.com> accessed October 18, 2014.

Both Hutro Navarre and his sons received 800 acres and Albert R. Cavalier and Joseph Le Cavalier dit Ranjard (deceased) received 80 acres as individual allotments of land at the mouth of the Maumee River based on the Treaty of February 18, 1833.

[9] G. William Cutcher, 1812-1813 Refugees from Frenchtown, n.d.; Mrs. A. D. Elwell, History of Erie Township [Ottawa County, Ohio], read before the Ottawa County (Ohio) Horticultural Society, n.d.

[10] Martin Nadauts [Nadeau], Monroe, Michigan to Lewis Cass, Secretary of War, Washington City, December 24, 1833,” in Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs (1824-1881), Microcopy 234, Michigan Superintendency (1824-1851), Roll 421 (1832-1835) (U.S. National Archives, Washington, DC, 1959). Frames 0272-0274.

[11] The Two Miles Square Reserve, located on both sides of the Sandusky River at the rapids and now within the city limits of Fremont (Ohio), was a strategic location reserved to the United States at the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. During the War of 1812, Americans built Fort Stephenson in June of 1812 on an acre of land on the river’s west side. In August of 1813, a youthful Major George Croghan and his badly outnumbered troops successfully defended the fort against a British and Indian force of about 1,300 men. See George W. Knepper, The Official Ohio Lands Book (Columbus, OH: The Auditor of State, 2002), 55; Fort Stephenson,” Touring Ohio at <http://www.touring-ohio.com/history/fort-stephenson.html> accessed Nov. 1, 2014.

[12] Paul Cavalier, personal communication, July 13, 2000. Peter Malosh or Maltosh was probably Pierre Meloche, a member of the Jean-Baptiste Meloche (1741-1820) family of Detroit and Sandwich (now Windsor, Canada).

[13] “Narrative of Albert Cavalier, Sept. 5, 1878,” Rutherford B. Hayes Papers (2 vols,), vol. 1 – Lower Sandusky (1810-1814), 4 pp., Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Fremont, Ohio; “Narrative of Albert Cavalier, Sept. 6, 1878,” in History of Sandusky County, Ohio with Portraits and Biographies, by Homer Everett (Cleveland, OH: H. Z. Williams & Bro., 1882), 119-20, 569-70; “The French Train and Its Harrowing Journey Across Frozen Lake Erie,” Local History of Northwest Ohio Research Files, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Fremont, Ohio; and Evers and Leeson, 363.

[14] “Narrative of Albert Cavalier, September 5, 1878,” 1; Everett, History of Sandusky County, Ohio, 119-20, 569-70.

[15] “General [William H.] Harrison, Headquarters, Fort George to Maj. Gen. Vincent, Commanding the British Forces at Burlington Heights, November 3, 1813,” in Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections, 40 vols. (Lansing, MI: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co. State Printers, 1874-1929), vol. 15, 437; Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin, “An Ethnohistorical Report on the Wyandot, Potawatomi, Ottawa, and Chippewa of Northwest Ohio.” in Indians of Northwest Ohio, comp. and ed. by David A. Horr, (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1974), 305; W. W. Williams, ed., History of the Firelands (Cleveland: Leader Printing Co., 1879), 492-93. The cabins were located on Pickerel Creek where access was gained through Cold Creek. The pregnant woman tomahawked was a Mrs. Snow.

[16] Thomas Dunlap, “General John E. Hunt’s Reminiscences,” Transactions at the Annual Meeting  of the Maumee Valley Pioneer and Historical Association, held at Toledo, February 22, 1877 (Toledo, OH: Blade Printers and Paper Co., 1877), 33; Richard J. Wright, ed., The John Hunt Memoirs, Early Years of the Maumee Basin, 1812-1835 (Maumee, OH: Maumee Valley Historical Society, [1978]), 26-27.

[17] Dunlap, General John E. Hunt’s Reminiscences, 33; Wright, The John Hunt Memoirs, 27. According to Hunt, Parchan died a most miserable death, having fallen into a fire in a “drunken scrape”, and burned his right arm so badly that he died a lingering death at Tonedoganie’s Village, about 12 miles above Maumee City (Ohio).

[18] “Annals of America, Part 6,” The Historical Register of the United States (1812-1814), vol. 2 (August 1, 1813):113; Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections, vol. 15 (1909):437.

[19] Albert R. Cavalier was born October 8, 1806 on the River Raisin in the Michigan Territory. His parents were Joseph Le Cavalier dit Ranjard/Rangeard (ca. 1782-1813) and Marie-Louise DeMars (ca.1785-1813). He was christened February 25, 1807 at St. Antoine Church. After the death of his parents in 1813, Albert lived with Mrs. Jacob or Jaco, an aunt, at Fort Seneca until he was 15 years old, when she married Jacob-Gabriel O’Dett de La Point, who settled on a farm eight miles below Fremont, Ohio. He then lived with Thomas DeMars, Sr., until he was age 19. Albert married November 24, 1828 to Mary-Louisa (Eliza) Momeny (1811-1881) in Portage Township, Sandusky County, Ohio. They lived along Big Mud Creek north of Fremont, Ohio, where they raised ten children – six sons and four daughters. Eliza died in 1881 and Albert remarried to Mary Ziegler Alpool and lived in Oak Harbor, Ohio. Later they moved to Bowling Green, Ohio. Albert died Aug 23, 1895 at Bowling Green, Wood County, Ohio, and his funeral service was in Oak Harbor (Ohio) and burial was August 25, 1895, in the family plot in Brier Hill Cemetery, Rice Township, Sandusky County, Ohio. See “Narrative of Albert Cavalier, Sept. 5, 1878,” 1; Paul Cavalier, Les Cavaliers: The Genealogy of the Cavaliers and Their Related Families 1600-1984 (Unpublished manuscript, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library, Fremont, Ohio, n.d.), 7; “Albert R. Cavalier,” Ancestry.com, Find a Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database online], Provo, Utah, USA.).

[20] Don Sorby, “Sorby, Simmons, and Relevant Families: Pierre Momeny (1785-1836), June 25, 2012, at <http://www.ancestry.com&gt;.

[21] This incident was told by Cavalier in a written statement on September 5, 1878, found in the archives of the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Ohio. Cavalier’s interview with local historian Homer Everett is dated September 6, 1878 and reprinted in his History of Sandusky County, Ohio published in 1882. Both versions are essentially the same with the exception of some minor editing by Everett in the published version.

[22] “Narrative of Albert Cavalier, September 5, 1878,“2; Indian Murders in the Vicinity of Fort Stephenson Previous to the Battle, which Demonstrates the Dangers to the Early Settlers Along the Sandusky River, at the Time,” Sept. 6, 1878,” in Everett, History of Sandusky County, Ohio, 119-20. The location of the farm was where the Lake Erie & Louisville Railroad shops stood in 1882. In 1821, Shannon was a grand juror for the May term of the Sandusky County Court in Ohio, and in 1822 appeared on a tax duplicate for Sandusky Township.

James Whitaker (1756-1804) was made a white prisoner of the Indians in 1774 or 1778 in western Pennsylvania and Elizabeth (Foulke or Foulkes) Whitaker was captured in 1776 or 1780 near Fort Pitt (now Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), both were brought to the Wyandot Town at Sandusky where they remained living as adopted Wyandot. James bought Elizabeth from the Wyandot for a keg of rum and they were married in 1781 at Detroit. Upon their return to Sandusky, they were given 1,200 acres on the Sandusky River below Fremont, Ohio, as a wedding present. The Whitakers established a chain of trade stores or trade posts throughout northwest Ohio. James Whitaker died of accidental poisoning in 1804 at Upper Sandusky (Ohio). See the Sandusky Star-Journal (Sandusky, Ohio), vol. 12., no. 15, p. 2, December 15, 1920; The Sheboygan Press (Sheboygan, Wisconsin), Mar. 23, 1967, p. 20.

[23] Ibid.

[24] At Mud Creek, north of Fremont in Ottawa County, La Prairie Church was built and some French from this colony are buried in the church cemetery. In later years, La Prairie Cemetery was abandoned, and to this day Bay Township has no cemetery (Ottawa County Genealogical Society, The History of Ottawa County, Ohio, 230.

[25] On the notoriety and fame of Peter Navarre, see Alfred A. Cave, “Pierre Navarre,” American National Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 1999), N:B251-A252; William Bridgewater, “Pierre Navarre,” Dictionary of American Biography, vol. 6, ed. by Dumas Malone (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1933), 395-96; Dan L. Thrapp, “Pierre Navarre,” Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography (Glendale, CA: The Arthur H. Clark Co., 1988); John Sugden, Tecumseh’s Last Stand (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985); Au, War on the Raisin; Ralph Naveaux, Invaded on All Sides: The Story of Michigan’s Greatest Battlefield Scene of the Engagements at Frenchtown and the River Raisin in the War of 1812 (Marceline, MO: Walsworth Publishing Co., 2008); Maumee Valley Pioneer and Historical Association, Prospectus of the Maumee Valley (Toledo, OH: Vrooman and Anderson Printers, 1905); Benson J. Lossing, Pictorial Field Book of War of 1812 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1868); Larry R. Michaels and Robyn Hage, Peter Navarre, War of 1812 Scout: The Man Behind the Legend (Toledo, OH: Bihl House Publishing, 2002); Hosmer, Early History of the Maumee Valley; John M. Bulkley, History of Monroe County, Michigan: A Narrative Account of its Historical Progress, its People, and its Principal Interest (New York: Lewis Publishing Co., 1913); and Clark Waggoner, History of the City of Toledo and Lucas County, Ohio (New York: Munsell & Co., 1888).

[26] Patrick M. Tucker, “Criminal Cases of the Michigan Territorial Courts, 1796-1836: The United States of America v. Francis “Hutro” Navarre in 1820,” Northwest Ohio History 81(1) (Fall 2013):40-52.

Custer Capsules

Newspaper items about George Armstrong Custer and his family, friends, and admirers and people whose lives he impacted.

custerwithdog
Custer with dog. The Peninsula, Virginia, during the Civil War. Library of Congress.

 

General Custer’s Father at Detroit

(Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Friday, August 7, 1891)

He Views the Pictures of the Battle Where His Son Was Killed

Detroit, Michigan -August 7

A tall, venerable looking man stood on the platform of the cyclorama of the Battle of the Big Horn yesterday afternoon and gazed long and earnestly upon the canvass.  The old man was feeble, and as he leaned upon the ropes for support, the hot tears coursed each other down his furrowed cheeks. The other spectators in his vicinity eyed him with mixed looks of sympathy and curiosity.  Presently a crowd of survivors of the Sixth Cavalry which was commanded by George A. Custer during the War, came up the stairs.  Just as the cyclorama lecturer began to tell in his monotone how Custer, his brothers Tom and Boston, and his brother-in-law Lieutenant Calhoun had been slaughtered at the Big Horn by the Sioux, the old man turned to go as though the narrative had no special interest for him, when one of the veterans seizing his hand exclaimed, “Why, old man God bless you!”

Turning to his comrades, he ejaculated, “Boys, this is George A. Custer’s father!”

Instantly the white-haired patriarch was surrounded by boys in blue, who fairly struggled for the privilege of grasping his hand.

“I was with your son,” said one, “when he made the raid out of Winchester and broke through Early’s line.”

“I was with him in the First Cavalry,” said another, “when Tom his brother was shot in the mouth.”

“I remember that engagement very well, “ replied the old man. “Tom brought the red necktie home that he wore that day, and I’ve got it still.  The blood is on it yet.”

There were tears in the eyes of many of the crowd that saw General Custer’s cavalry introducing themselves to the General’s venerable father.  The latter is now 84 years old.

 libraryofcongresslibbiecusterLife on the Western Frontier Described with Vividness by General Custer’s Widow

(Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 20, 1892)

Mrs. Elizabeth B. Custer, the widow of the late General Custer, the dashing cavalry officer who lost his life on the western frontier in 1876, lectured to a fashionable audience of women in the parlors of the Home for Destitute Children, near Sterling Place, near Flatbush Avenue yesterday afternoon.

Her subject was Garrison Life, and she treated it with all the breeziness of one who has been there, not as a sightseer, but as a member of the camp who has shared its hardships and shared its homely, but nonetheless genuine pleasures.

A neat floral decoration in the shape of ferns and calla lilies rested on a table to the side of the speaker, and a bunch of exotics grew in a vase that was placed on the piano a short distance away.

Previous to the lecture, Mrs. Alexander S. Bacon, sang a delightful solo, “Springtide”, by Becker, and was generously applauded.

Mrs. Custer was then presented and warmly greeted. She is a pleasant-faced woman with a thoughtful, intellectual expression and speaks in a high pitched, clear cut, voice that possesses considerable charm for the ear. She is of medium height and wore a tight fitting black cloth dress with plain collar and cuffs.

After picturing with vividness, the habitations of the garrison, Mrs. Custer took up the charms of camp life and discussed them.  Chief among them were letters and newspapers written weeks and months before. Post offices are not as convenient to garrisons as they are to the residential sections of a city, and the journey is often attended with grave dangers.

The manly sergeant who after a ride of hundreds of miles would reach camp with letters from home and friends, was lionized, smiled on, and prayed for. The horse, no less than its rider, was made the subject of many compliments, and the recipient of sugar and sweets. Then again, the excitement over the news of the papers, at least a few weeks old, was very pronounced.  The simplest items were read with as much care and attention as the most important happenings in city life would be in a city of our splendid proportions.

After the mail, a piano which had reached camp was the next best entertainer. The waltz which Mrs. Custer played and which the soldiers dubbed the $5,000 waltz because $5,000 had been spent on her musical education down to the one-fingered playing of a veteran, there was thrown into a mass of melodies, not fruitless by any means, but good enough to help beguile away the ennui that many hours brought forth.

When particularly frosty weather set in, and the cold was so great that one could scarcely keep his own voice loud enough to hear it, the soldiers swathed the legs and body of the piano in old coats and mufflers in order to keep in its melody and direct it to the tympanum of their ears.

Soldiers can furnish a variety of songs in camp. The Yankee will sing and ditty and a Southerner a plantation song, while the Englishman will turn a neat ballad and the Irishman warble some of the less entrancing notes of a fair day strain. Church services in camp were quite as much, if not more entertaining and attractive than any diversion.

She concluded her very entertaining lecture with a few hints on the feminine haberdashery of the camp, which was simple in the extreme.

 Custer House Torn Down

(The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 11, 1902)

The House erected by General George A. Custer I Topeka, Kansas in 1868  is being torn down to make room for a modern residence. The walls of one of the rooms are decorated with notes and figures made by Custer while planning his campaigns against the Indians.

Custer Servant Dies

(The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 27, 1912)

Cincinnati, Ohio – April, 27. Mrs. Eliza Davison, a Negro slave, who accompanied General George A. Custer through the Civil War and his Indian campaigns, until just before he was killed in the massacre of the Little Big Horn, died here yesterday.

Custer’s Cook is Dead

(Toledo News-Bee, June 2, 1921)

George Gee, a Chinese, who was a cook in the Seventh Cavalry at the time of the Custer Massacre, was buried recently by a post of the American Legion at Sitka, Alaska.  When Custer went to his death on the Little Big Horn, the Chinese cook was detailed to remain with the regiment’s baggage and thus escaped death at the hands of the Sioux.

 

Texas Soldiers Leave for Montana

(Havre (Montana) Daily News Promoter-June 15, 1926)

(El Paso, Texas, June 15, A.P.)   The Seventh Cavalry will entrain at Fort Bliss tomorrow for the Crow Agency in Montana to take part in the semi-centennial anniversary of Custer’s last stand, June 24, 25, and 26.

Fifty years ago the Seventh Cavalry was wiped out when attacked by an overwhelming horde of Indian warriors.  The new Seventh Cavalry will meet tribesmen on the hill which was the scene of this now famous battle and ride with them side by side down the slopes to the Indian War Veteran’s National Cemetery.

A monument to the dead soldier’s will be dedicated and a symbolic hatchet buried at its base. This will be followed by the passing of the peace pipe between the chiefs and cavalry officers. Colonel Fitzhugh Lee will be in command of the Seventh Cavalry which will include 16 officers and 235 enlisted men. They are routed by Dalhart, Texas to Denver.

Mrs. E.B. Custer, Widow of Indian Fighter is Dead

(Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 5, 1933)

Heart Attack Fatal at 90

Mrs. Elizabeth Bacon Custer, 90, widow of General George A. Custer, famous Indian fighter, who with his immediate command was annihilated at the Little Big Horn, died yesterday in her apartment at 71 Park Avenue, Manhattan, of a heart attack.

At her bedside were two nieces, Mrs. Charles Elmer, of 14 Clark Street, and Mrs. Lula Custer of Monroe, Michigan, and Mr. Elmer. For many years, almost to the end of her long, eventful life, Mrs. Custer kept vividly alive the memories of the early days in the West and defended the memories of her husband in the three books she wrote on his experiences, Boots and Saddles or Life with General Custer in Dakota, Tenting on the Plains, Following the Guidon.

A controversy over the famous battle in which Custer and more than 200 men were killed raged for years afterwards. Pioneers who were in contact with Custer have maintained that the “full truth” of the battle would never be told while his widow lived. It is doubted now that any additional revelations at this late date will be of value.

Mrs. Custer was born in Monroe, Michigan, the daughter of Judge Daniel S. Bacon. She was married to General Custer in 1864. After their marriage, she trod the unfrequented path for women, that of open campaigning, She personally attended her husband on some of his most daring expeditions against the Indians. Finally at Ft. Abraham Lincoln, Bismarck, North Dakota, she waited while her husband joined a huge expeditionary force. Three wouthseeks after the massacre, a slow moving steamer brought the tragic news to the fort.

Chief Sitting Bull’s Granddaughter

(Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 19, 1937)

chiefsittingbull
Chief Sitting Bull

Waste Agidiwihn

Waste Agidiwihn is sorry that she ever mentioned that she is the granddaughter of Chief Sitting Bull, who led the Sioux Indian massacre of General George A. Custer’s Cavalry in Montana in 1876.

A few days ago she confided in a fellow student at Williamette University who immediately wrote the story for the school newspaper. “It irks me she said, to have people look at me as though I were not normal.  Everyone wants to meet me now. I have even received proposals of marriage from people whom I have never seen.  I never knew people could be so crazy. Some people believed I lived in a teepee and that I learned to speak English at college. I am just as much normal American as they are.

“I am taking archery here, but I never shot a bow and arrow before. I sure could use a six shooter back home, though.”

Waste, known to fellow students as Evelyn Walsh, is a senior studying social service work.  Her home is on Fort Peck Reservation.  She is the eldest daughter of the eldest son of Sitting Bull.

She is proud of her race and regards Indians as “real Americans who are really intelligent.”

Sitting Bull was described by many historians as a renegade, but to his granddaughter he was the greatest general of the North American continent.

The Granddaughter of Sitting Bull

(Southside Virginia Sentinel, November 9, 1939)

Salem, Oregon. Although her grandfather was Sitting Bull and her ancestors were lords of the great plains and brought down a mighty buffalo with every arrow, Evelyn Welsh had to enroll in college to learn to shoot a bow and arrow. She is Waste Agidiwihn, known to her classmates at Willamette University as Evelyn Welsh. Her Indian name translated means “Bring Pretty” and indicates that she must do something to bring honor and distinction to her tribe. Miss Welsh, an Indian princess in her own right, came to the university from Culbertson, Montana, where she spent her childhood on a large ranch and learned to ride in shoot. The attractive little miss is prominent in school activities and has held a number of campus offices.

Apache Linked to Custer Trap

(Traverse City-Record Eagle, December 11, 1940)

Memphis, Tennessee (Dec. 11. U.P.) Sitting Bull was a glory-grabbing Indian politician and it was Geronimo who plotted the downfall of General George Armstrong Custer, according to Jack Perry, veteran student of Indian lore.

History may credit Sitting Bull with the massacre, Perry said, but Geronimo, an Apache chief, was the creator of the trap in which Custer made his last stand.

My information came from Geronimo himself, Perry said. Sitting Bull was a politician and like a politician he got credit for the crushing defeat of Custer while somebody else did all of the work. Geronimo wouldn’t talk about it much, but from what he told me I could tell he was one of the leaders in the plot. They said they had planned the trap for a year before springing it.

Perry, who is one-fourth Cherokee Indian lives in Long Beach, California. His colorful career in the Old West included services as an outrider for the U.S. Cavalry at the age of 13, and later as a Texas Ranger.  While he was a peace officer in Arizona, Perry became acquainted with Geronimo.

“I had been sent to arrest him and about 21 braves because they had deserted a show,” Perry said. “Geronimo took a liking to me and gave me a riding blanket. I’ve still got this and a leather lunch basket he gave me.”

Perry’s adventures have included cow punching, but the job he liked best was that of an outrider. His duties then were to establish contact between cavalry headquarters and companies of cavalrymen who were out in the wilderness policing the Indians. One day he stumbled onto a band of Comanche Indians who captured him. “They fed me well,” he said, “and treated me alright. After nine days they let me go.”

They Died With Their Boots On

(Benton Harbor News-Palladium, December 29, 1941.)

Monroe- The premier of the motion picture “They Died With Their Boots On” depicting the career of General George Armstrong Custer, was shown here Sunday. Seven members of the Custer family residing here attended the performance. Brigadier-General Custer, slain in the Battle of the Little Big Horn, attended school and married here.

Errol Flynn Plays General Custer

(Benton Harbor News-Palladium, January 10, 1942)

errol flynn

Custer’s last stand is an epic of the old west, but the rest of Custer’s life is a Michigan story. As shown in They Died With Their Boots On, the new Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland film opening Sunday at the Liberty, George Armstrong Custer’s adventures were intimately concerned with his native state.

He made a name for himself in the Civil War at the Battle of Gettysburg depicted in the film by leading a series of charges by gallant Michigan regiments. Thrown back time and time again, they kept up the fight under his inspirational leadership and finally turned the tide of battle.

After the Civil War ended, Custer like so many brilliant young officers of the Union Army, was retired. A peacetime Army had no use for the vast number of officers developed by the war. Young General Custer settled down with his wife in their native Monroe, Michigan, to live a life of peace.

It was from the same Monroe that Custer had gone before the Civil War to become the most discipline-proof cadet that West Point had seen in years.

According to the film, the most famous song of Custer’s Seventh Regiment, the Gary Owen, was taught to the General in Monroe by an English soldier who was a Union veteran. When the regiment rode forth in battle on the Little Big Horn, the song Custer learned in Monroe, sped them on their way.

George Custer was only 37 when he died.  Life in Monroe had bored him. In order to get back into active Army service, he accepted colonel’s rank. He was sent to the most dangerous territory in America, Sioux Country. The Indians called him “Long Hair.” The tribute they paid him in his last stand shows the esteem in which he was held, even by his enemies. Every man killed in the battle was scalped – except Custer.

General Custer after 45 Years

custer1873
Lt. Colonel Custer, 1873

(Detroit Free Press, June 27, 1921)

It has been remarked that George Armstrong Custer’s chief contribution to the history of his country was his personality. Such a statement looks like a truism, but in his case it was more peculiarly true than in most. An operose, impetuous spirit, his tepidity, his dash, his verve, has passed into legend while there are still people living in these states who thrill to the memory of the day when Custer fell, who remember the clash of opinion that arose before his gallant blood had cooled.

The forty-five years that have passed since June 25, 1876, have not settled the argument.  Was Custer’s death with his three brothers, his nephew, and all of the old fighting Seventh Michigan Cavalry , due to mis-wisdom, an untutored impetuosity, or were the trap and the barbarous slaying inevitable?  How much of the mistake can be placed on the two commanders under him, Benteen and Reno, and was the natural indignation of the country justified?  The exact facts are obscure, for we are unwilling to accept the only evidence which came from an Indian.

The significant thing now is that Custer’s story is not allowed to die – it is too romantic, too fraught with the perilous spirit of the frontier days which have rapidly dimmed and receded. The story has been woven into pageants, it has been vividly acted before the camera in its own historic setting. Today, out in Hardin, Montana, it is being commemorated again, re-enacted with Indians, some of whom are from the fierce tribe of Sitting Bull. Tamed now and submissive, forgetting the hot rage of the warrior, they are acting for the pleasure of the conqueror and perhaps for the lost glory of their tribe, scenes which were part of the destructive tide that swept them from their last entrenchments in the badlands of the prairie.

What history will do with Custer a hundred years, hence it is impossible to judge; it is probably that no matter what the historian of the future makes of his case he will be handed along in the legends which gave the thrill to cold facts as the perfect cavalry type, the temerarious General of Horse. The nation will remember him as Edward Clark Potter has pictured him when in that significant moment during a lull in the Battle of the Little Big Horn, he spurred forward from the line, and hat in hand, his golden curls flowing from a head thrown back, he stood for a moment surveying enemy lines. His striking uniform, his youth, his daring, combined to make him a glorious, a charmed figure.

The nation will remember him too, however much they may doubt his judgment, as the general who immensely brave, immensely daring, overpowered twenty to one, stayed with his men and died fighting in place. They will honor him as the Sioux honored him, Sitting Bull’s warriors who killed him but held his body inviolate because he was a warrior of whose prowess they stood in awe.

Two Cavalry Commanders – George Armstrong Custer and Thomas Lafayette Rosser, Sr.

The Civil War shaped the friendship of West Point roommates George Armstrong Custer of the Union Army and Thomas L. Rosser, Sr, of the Confederate Army, and continued to impact their lives after the Civil War. On opposite sides in the Civil War, General Custer and General Rosser created and crossed cavalry paths, often fighting in the same battles, and occasionally encountering each other face to face. Both were dashing Cavalry officers and their contemporaries often compared them to each other. General George McClellan and others that he served under described George Armstrong Custer as shrewd, analytical, calm under pressure, brilliant, intelligent, and ambitious. Others called him gallant, and still others called him reckless.

Thomas Lafayette Rosser also distinguished himself as a cavalry officer and his superior officers described him as calm under fire and able to mold raw recruits into effective cavalry fighters. He made a significant impact, harassing Union forces, capturing supplies, and never avoiding a fight. Thomas Rosser was such a successful cavalry officer that General Sherman ordered one of his marked for success officers, George Armstrong Custer, to do what he could to curb his former roommate.[1]

The two cavalry officers were present at the first and last battles of the Civil War.

Both traveled West in search of career advancement, and met again during the Indian Wars in Montana and both cavalrymen forged controversial careers, with Custer commanding the 7th Cavalry and  General Rosser serving in the Spanish American War. Their deaths were also a study in contrast.  General Custer’s life ended in the Indian Wars at the Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876, while General Rosser died in Virginia on March 29, 1910.

George Armstrong Custer and Thomas Lafayette Rosser- Opposite Friends

George Armstrong Custer, Union Army

custerbirthplace

Custer birthplace in New Rumley, Ohio

Born in New Rumely, Ohio, on December 5, 1839, George Armstrong Custer, or Autie as he pronounced his middle name as a child,  was the son of Emanuel Henry Custer, a farmer and blacksmith, and Marie Ward Kirkpatrick Custer. He had two younger brothers, Thomas and Boston,  a sister, Margaret, a brother Nevil, and several older half-brothers and sisters from his mother’s side of the family. His half-sister Lydia Ann, 14 years older, served as his surrogate mother when Marie Custer died, and they were as close as mother and son. They were so close that after Lydia Ann married David Reed and moved to Monroe, she urged her father to send Autie to Monroe to take advantage of the good schools not found in New Rumley. At age 14, Autie came to Monroe to live with the Reeds and attended the New Dublin School, returning to Ohio to spend the summers.

Autie didn’t take school seriously, finding it more fun to play practical jokes and fish in the River Raisin with the other boys. He did meet one girl who would play an important role in his life. The story goes that one day while Libbie Bacon, the daughter of Judge Daniel S.Bacon who lived on Main Street, was swinging on her front yard gate, she saw him run by and shouted a hello. Then overcome by shyness, she ran into her house.

In 1856, Autie graduated from McNeely Normal School (Hopedale Normal or teacher’s College) by a blonde whisker, and he taught school in Cadiz, Ohio for a time. Deciding that teaching school didn’t excite him, he applied to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York and with the help of influential friends he gained admission as a cadet.

custerwestpoint

Both Autie Custer and his Texan roommate Thomas Lafayette Rosser excelled in horsemanship and cavalry training, but most of the required subjects didn’t interest or inspire Autie Custer and he collected demerits and poor grades. He graduated last in his class of 34 cadets on June 24, 1861, as a second lieutenant.[2]

Thomas Lafayette Rosser- Confederate States of America

Thomas Lafayette (Tex) Rosser, was born on October 15, 1836, the son of John and Martha Melvina Johnson Rosser, at Catalpa Hill, a farm in Campbell County Virginia. When Thomas was 13, his family moved to a 640-acre farm in Panola County, Texas. John had to stay behind in Virginia to wrap up some business affairs, so Thomas led a wagon train carrying his mother and younger brothers and sisters to their new farm, about forty miles west of Shreveport, Louisiana. Thomas continued his education in Texas and did well enough for Texas Congressman Lemuel D. Evans to appoint him to West Point, the United States Military Academy, in 1856.

Committing himself to the West Point program, Thomas settled in with his roommate, George Armstrong Custer and they soon became friends as well as roommates. Although Thomas completed his course of studies at West Point, he resigned two weeks before his June graduation date because his adopted state of Texas had seceded from the Union on February 1, and joined the Confederacy on March 2, 1861.

George Armstrong Custer’s Civil War

Graduating as a second lieutenant, George Armstrong Custer was commissioned into the 2nd U.S. Cavalry Regiment and assigned to drilling volunteers in Washington D.C. He participated in the First Battle of Bull Run part of the Manassas campaign in July 1861, and after the battle continued to work on building up the defenses of Washington D.C. In 1862, he and the 2nd Cavalry fought in the Peninsula Campaign and by April he had gone to the 5th Cavalry Regiment and took part in the Siege of Yorktown from April 5 to May 4, 1862. Serving as an aide to General George B. McClellan, Lt. Custer learned to anticipate vital information, and concisely and accurately report it to General McClellan. For his part, General McClellan noted that Captain Custer remained calm in battle and described him as a “reckless gallant boy.” [3]

The “reckless gallant boy” captured the first Confederate battle flag of the Civil War while successfully leading an attack with four companies of the 4th Michigan Infantry across the Chickahominy River above New Bridge in May 1862. He fought in the Maryland Campaign in September and October 1862, participating in the  Battles of South Mountain, Antietam, and the March to Warrenton, Virginia. In 1863, serving as an aide to Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Pleasonton, commander of the Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac, Custer participated in the movement to located General Lee in the Shenandoah Valley which would soon be known as the Gettysburg Campaign. General Pleasanton promoted George Armstrong Custer to brigadier general of volunteers, commanding the Michigan Cavalry Brigade of Wolverines, making him at age 23, one of the youngest generals in the Union Army.

Brigadier General Custer played an important role in the Battle of Gettysburg’s third day cavalry battles. On July 3, 1863, two cavalry battles took place- one happened about three miles east of what came to known as East Cavalry field and the other occurred southwest of the Big Round Top Mountain, sometimes called South Cavalry Field.

At the East Cavalry Field, Major General J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate cavalry attempted to reach the Federal rear and take advantage of any opening that Pickett’s Charge created. The Union Cavalry under Brigadier General David McM Gregg and Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer halted the Confederate advances.[4]

In 1864, Major General Philip Sheridan reorganized the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac, and General Custer who now commanded the 3rd Division, and his Wolverines operated in the Shenandoah Valley. In May and June, General Sheridan and Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Custer took part in the Overland Campaign which included the Battle of the Wilderness, Battle of Yellow Tavern, and the Battle of Trevilian Station. By the end of 1864, they had defeated Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s army in the Valley Campaigns of 1864.

After defeating Confederate commander General Jubal Early, Generals Custer and Sheridan made their way back to the main Union Army lines at Petersburg to join the Union siege of that city and spent the winter there.  In April 1865, General Robert E. Lee began his retreat to Appomattox Court House, with the Union Cavalry close behind. General Custer’s division blocked General Lee’s retreat in its final days and the Confederates gave Custer and his men the first flag of truce. Custer witnessed the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House and General Philip Sheridan gave General Custer the table that the Confederates used to sign the surrender as a gift to his wife, a gift which included a note praising Custer’s gallantry.[5]

General Thomas L. Rosser’s Civil War

thomaslafrosser

In June 1861, Thomas Lafayette Rosser resigned from West Point and traveled to Alabama to join the Confederate Army. He began the war as an instructor for the Washington Artillery in New Orleans and commanded the Second Battery of the Washington Artillery in the First Battle of Manassas. At Manassas, he shot down a Union observation balloon, earning a promotion to captain for his actions.

On June 26, 1862, Captain Rosser was wounded at the Battle of Mechanicsville, but he recovered and received a promotion to colonel of the 5th Virginia Cavalry. In August of 1862, he commanded the advance of Jeb Stuart’s expedition to Catlett’s Station and he participated in the Second Battle of Bull Run fought on August 28-30, 1862. At the Second Bull Run, Colonel Rosser captured the orderly and horses of Union commander John Pope.

In September 1862, Colonel Rosser fought at the Battle of South Mountain where his Cavalry and John Pelham’s artillery delayed the Union advance. At Antietam, Colonel Rosser and his men protected Robert E. Lee’s left flank and in March 1863 at the Battle of Kelly’s Ford, Colonel Rosser again was wounded.

After the Battle of Gettysburg, Colonel Rosser received a promotion as brigadier general of the “Laurel Brigade,” and participated in the Battle of the Wilderness from May 5-7, 1864. He was wounded again in June 1864 at Trevilian Station, a major cavalry battle, and in November 1864, he was promoted to major general for distinguished service in the Shenandoah Valley. In January 1865, he and his men raided New Creek, West Virginia, seizing a many prisoners and supplies. During the June 1864 to March 25, 1865 Siege of Petersburg he commanded a cavalry division and he and his men participated in the Appomattox Campaign of March 29- April 9, 1865.

He and his command evaded the Union troops at Appomattox, but Major General Rosser and his men were captured on May 4, 1865, near Staunton, Virginia.[6]

Generals Custer and Rosser Encountered Each Other…

They met at Buckland Mills, Trevilian Station, Tom’s Brook, Gettysburg, and finally, Appomattox.

The Battle of Buckland Mills, in October 1863, involved Union and Confederate Cavalry, including General Custer and General Rosser. After one Union raid, General Rosser left General Custer a message:  “You have disturbed me at my breakfast. You owe me one and I will get even with you.”

General Rosser allowed his former college roommate to cross the creek, and then invaded the campsite while the Union troops brewed coffee.  It took General Custer a day to collect his scattered men.

At Trevillian Station, on June 11-12-, 1864, General Rosser was again wounded, but his brigade captured many prisoners and an ambrotype of Libbie Custer from his former West Point classmate and friend, George Armstrong Custer. Both Generals Custer and Rosser participated in the Shenandoah valley campaigns, and each equaled each other in bravery and bravado.

On October 9, 1864, at Tom’s Brook, Virginia, General Custer and General Rosser and their cavalry troops faced each other once again. General Custer and his Union cavalry made ready to charge across the field as the entrenched Confederates waited to battle them. General Custer rode out in front of his command where both the Union and Confederate soldiers could see him. He removed his broad-brimmed hat in an upward-downward sweep, and then he and his men resoundingly defeated the Confederate cavalry. After the battle, General Custer chased General Rosser’s troops for more than ten miles, a chase that Custer’s men dubbed the “Woodstock Races.” General Custer also captured General Rosser’s private wardrobe wagon. General Rosser immediately sent his old friend a note:

Dear Fanny,

You may have made me take a few steps back today, but I will be even with you tomorrow. Please accept my good wishes and this little gift –  a pair of your drawers captured at Trevilian Station.  Tex

After he shipped General Rosser’s gold-laced Confederate grey coat to his wife Libbie, General Custer replied to General Rosser’s note:

Dear Friend,

Thanks for setting me up in so many new things, but would you please direct your tailor to make the coat tails of your next uniform a trifle shorter.

Best Regards,

G.A.C.[7]

George Armstrong Custer’s Civil War

Battles-Campaigns

  • First Battle of Bull Run
  • Peninsula Campaign
  • Battle of Antietam
  • Battle of Chancellorsville
  • Gettysburg Campaign/Battle of Gettysburg
  • Overland Campaign- Battle of the Wilderness, Battle of Yellow Tavern, Battle of Trevilian Station
  • Valley Campaigns of 1864
  • Siege of Petersburg
  • Appomattox Campaign

Thomas Lafayette Rosser, Sr.’s Civil War

  • First Battle of Manassas (Southern Name for Bull Run)
  • Seven Days Battles
  • Battle of Beaver Dam Creek
  • Second Battle of Manassas
  • Battle of South Mountain
  • Battle of Sharpsburg
  • Battle of Kelly’s Ford
  • Battle of Hanover
  • Battle of Gettysburg
  • Battle of the Wilderness
  • Battle of Trevilian Station
  • Battle of Cedar Creek
  • Battle of Tom’s Brook
  • Siege of Petersburg
  • Appomattox Campaign

Their Wives Were Both Named Elizabeth

Elizabeth Clift Bacon Custer

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 Elizabeth Bacon Custer was born April 8, 1842 in Monroe, Michigan, the daughter of Judge Daniel Stanton Bacon and Eleanor Sophia Page Bacon. Elizabeth “Libbie” Bacon experienced much tragedy in her young life. Her brother Edward died in 1848 while still a baby. Her two younger sisters died at only one year old, Sophia living from 1845-1846 and Harriet living from 1848-1849. Then Libbie’s mother, Eleanor died in 1854 when Libbie was only twelve years old. Sorrow drew Libbie and her father Daniel closer and he was protective of her.

One of the first times that Autie Custer saw Libbie Bacon, she was swinging on her gate and as he ran by, she shouted a hello. Autie formally met Libbie Bacon at a Thanksgiving party at Boyd’s Seminary, a Monroe school. By this time, Libbie had grown into a stylish and beautiful young woman, intelligent and accomplished. She spoke French and wrote well, and could converse fluently with her many suitors. Autie fell immediately in love, but winning Libbie and her father over proved to be a challenge. Rumor had it that Libbie hadn’t been overly impressed with Autie Custer at their first meeting, and Judge Bacon was one of Monroe’s leading citizens compared to Autie’s father, Emanuel Henry Custer, a blacksmith.

As George Armstrong Custer continued to win battlefield fame and promotions, Libbie and her father Daniel increasing approved of him. Fourteen months after they formally met, George Armstrong Custer and Elizabeth Clift Bacon were married on February 9, 1864 in the First Presbyterian Church of Monroe. For their honeymoon, Libbie followed her husband to the front lines because she didn’t want to be separated from “her Autie.” Libbie wrote books about her experiences following her husband on his campaign trails.[8]

Elizabeth Barbara “Betty” Winston Rosser

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Elizabeth Barbara “Betty” Winston Rosser, was born March 6, 1844 in Hanover County, Virginia. She, too, married her husband, Thomas Lafayette Rosser, during the Civil War. The Rossers had six children:  Sarah Overton Rosser Cochran, Thomas Lafayette Rosser, Jr., William Winston Rosser, John Pelham Rosser, Elizabeth Florence Rosser and Marguerite Rosser Eliott.

Judging by her ideas and recipes that she published in a mother’s manual that she wrote in later years,  Betty Rosser accompanied her husband on many of his military assignments while caring for her growing family.[9]

After Appomattox- Custer and Rosser Go West and Reunite

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 George Armstrong Custer remained a major general in The United States Volunteers until they mustered out in February 1866. In May 1866, he and Libbie returned to Monroe and he threw himself into peacetime concerns. He thought about running for Congress.  He added his ideas to the public debate over how to treat the American South after the Civil War, arguing on the side of moderation. He didn’t join the Grand Army of the Republic which had a reputation of being overly partisan.  Instead, he headed the Soldiers and Sailors Union, considered more moderate. In July 1866, General Custer was appointed as a Lieutenant Colonel in the 7th Cavalry Regiment.

In September 1866, Colonel Custer and his wife Libbie accompanied President Andrew Johnson on a train journey called “Swing Around the Circle”, with the goal of winning public support for President Johnson’s Southern policies. Lieutenant Colonel Custer denied newspaper charges that President Johnson had promised him a colonel’s commission in return for his support.

From October 18, 1866 to March 26, 1867, Colonel Custer served on frontier duty at Fort Riley, Kansas and he scouted in Kansas and Colorado until July 1867, and then he participated in Major General Winfield Scott Hancock’s Cheyenne Expedition. After the Hancock campaign, Lt. Colonel Custer was arrested and suspended to a year at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas for abandoning his post to visit his wife. Since Major General Philip Sheridan wanted Custer for his winter campaign against the Cheyenne, he returned to duty before his one-year suspension had expired, rejoining his regiment on October 7, 1868. He spent the next year on frontier duty, scouting in Kansas and Indian Territory, establishing Camp Supply in Indian Territory to use as a supply base for General Sheridan’s winter campaign. On November 27, 1868, he led the 7th Cavalry Regiment in attacking the Cheyenne encampment of Chief Black Kettle at what was called the Battle of Washita River, named the first substantial United States Army victory in the Southern Plains War and instrumental in forcing much of the Southern Cheyenne onto reservations.

In 1873, the United States Army sent Lt. Colonel Custer to Dakota Territory to protect a railroad survey party from the Lakota, and the Seventh Cavalry fought the Lakota for the first time on August 4, 1873, near the Tongue River. In 1874, Custer led an expedition to the Black Hills and announced the discovery of gold, creating the Black Hills Gold Rush.

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After Appomattox, Major General Thomas Lafayette Rosser didn’t have as many options as his West Point roommate George Armstrong Custer. He unsuccessfully tried various jobs and business endeavors until 1869, and then like so many other people seeking to rebuild their lives after the Civil War, he headed west. He found a position with the National Express Company and quickly worked himself up to superintendent. Later General Rosser became the chief engineer of the Northern Pacific and Canadian Pacific Railroads.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported a perspective on the rebuilding of General Rosser’s career. The report, dated Sunday, July 17, 1898, told the story this way: The surrender of Lee left Rosser penniless, and with a wife and children to support, he was glad to accept a humble place in the construction corps of the Northern Pacific Railroad. There Custer, quite by accident, ran across him.  Seeking out the chief engineer of the road Custer asked, “There is a man named Rosser under you as a construction boss?”

“Yes, the engineer replied, “and he is one of the best men I ever had. Is there anything wrong about him?”

“No, said General Custer, but he was at West Point with me and afterward a major general in the Confederate Army. Can’t you give him something better than what he is doing?”

“Why I have been looking for such a man,” the engineer said.

And so Rosser, through Custer’s kindly offices was made second in command of the engineer corps. When  a few months later he became the Chief, he made such shrewd use of the opportunity the position afforded him for speculation and investment that today he is easily worth a half a million dollars.[10]

General Rosser had enough drive and ambition to gain a toehold in the railroad industry through his own efforts. Establishing himself in the railroad growth industry of the mid-Nineteenth Century seemed a natural next step in his career. Building railways across the vast prairies and steep mountains of the west offered as much travel, adventure, and challenges as navigating Gettysburg and galloping on to Appomattox. Thomas Lafayette Rosser proved to be as skilled a railroad man as he had been a cavalryman, working his way up from the beginning bottom to roadman, scout, chief surveyor and soon, Chief Engineer of the Northern Pacific Railway. His choosing of the crossing of the Red River at Fargo, North Dakota, and the land speculation profits he is supposed to have made, was the beginning of the personal fortune he had worked so long and hard to accumulate.

As General Rosser supervised the surveying of the Northern Pacific Railroad line west through Montana, the Native Americans watched the instillation of the shining rails with resolve to protect their homeland as hard as the rails. When the Native Americans began to attack, General Rosser fought back, carrying a rifle, a brace of pistols, and saddle bags full of ammunition when traveling the line. Eventually, he enlisted the help of the United States Army, reinforcing the tradition of collaboration between the military and the major Nineteenth Century corporations, the railroads, and reconnecting with his old friend General George Armstrong Custer.

When General Custer and his 7th Cavalry stepped in to protect the building of the Northern Pacific Railroad circa 1873, he and General Rosser reunited at some point. Their meeting in a camp on the Northern Pacific line must have been as much of a reunion between old friends as a military operation to protect the railroad from the Sioux. The air around the evening campfire of the two generals probably resounded reminiscences of the cavalry campaigns of the Shenandoah Valley and events after Appomattox. The two generals, former roommates, former enemies, worked together to ensure that the shining railroad ties would reach all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

In June 1876, along with the rest of the United States, General Rosser struggled to absorb the events of June 25-26, 1876. His friend General George Armstrong Custer and 268 of his 7th Cavalry men had been killed with 55 wounded, near the Little Bighorn River in eastern Montana Territory.  General Custer’s two brothers, a brother-in-law, and a nephew were also counted among the dead.

In the midst of mourning his old friend, General Rosser felt impelled to counter the attacks against General Custer ranging from Ulysses S. Grant, the United States President to some of his own relatives. General Rosser wrote a letter to the Chicago Tribune, blaming the disaster at the Little Big Horn on Custer’s subordinates, especially Major Marcus Reno. General Rosser said: “ I feel that Custer would have succeeded had Reno with all the reserve of seven companies passed through and joined Custer after the first repulse. I think it quite certain that General Custer had agreed with Reno upon a place of junction in case of a repulse of either or both of the detachments, and instead of an effort being made by Reno for such a junction as soon as he encountered heavy resistance he took refuge in the hills, and abandoned Custer and his gallant comrades to their fate.

As a soldier I would sooner today lie in the grave of General Custer and his gallant comrades alone in that distant wilderness, that when the last trumpet sounds I could rise to judgment from my post of duty, than to live in the place of the survivors of the siege on the hills. “[11]

Major Reno’s threat of a lawsuit forced General Rosser to retract his attack on the Major’s part in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, but General Rosser had used his military skill to unintentionally highlight the controversy surrounding the demise of General Custer and his men.

General Rosser Survives

 rosser1After the death of General Custer at the Little Big Horn, General Rosser moved on to survive some controversies of his own making. In the spring of 1881, his stint as chief engineer on the Northern Pacific Railroad led to a position as a trouble shooter and problem solver on the portion of the Canadian Pacific Railroad north of the border, partially because of his connections and influence in the railroad sector. General Rosser had worked through creating a railroad problems with the Northern Pacific, being responsible for selecting town sites and crossings, so he seemed to be a good choice for the fledgling Canadian Pacific Railroad.

In May of 1881, General Rosser and his boss, Alpheus B. Stickney’s men turned prairie sod near Portage La Prairie to open the season of creating new towns to support their railroad and new settlement. General Rosser and Alpheus Stickney soon discovered that creating new towns could be worth reported profits of $130,000 between them during their brief careers with the Canadian Pacific Railroad. General Rosser was believed to have altered the preliminary survey of the line in Saskatchewan to bring it through Regina where he had money invested.

The local press, especially in the places where Canadian Pacific Railroad decisions dashed hopes of profitable speculation, extensively and thoroughly reported the activities of General Rosser and Alpheus B. Stickney and the money they were making. The in depth reporting ended General Rosser and Alpheus Stickney’s careers as railway entrepreneurs. William Cornelius Van Horne replaced Alpheus Stickney and one of his first actions was sending a telegram to General Rosser, announcing that he was fired. General Rosser declined to be fired, and left town on urgent business. Cornelius Van Horne persisted, and eventually General Rosser sued for malicious prosecution, asking for $100,000 and ending up with a settlement of $2,600. Returning to Charlottesville, Virginia, General Rosser farmed and experimented with a succession of business ventures that never seemed to get off the ground.[12]

By the 1890s, General Rosser had earned the distinction of “prominent living Civil War Veteran” and American Patriot. In 1898, he was a trainer of recruits for the Spanish American War, drilling young cavalry recruits in a camp near the old Civil War battlefield at Chickamauga in northern Georgia. Honorably discharged on October 31, 1898, he again returned home to Virginia. When he died on March 29, 1910, he was Postmaster of Charlottesville, Virginia. He is buried in Riverview Cemetery in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Both Generals Leave Controversial Legacies

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General George Armstrong Custer

After his death at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, General George Armstrong Custer became more famous that he had been during the Civil War. His wife Libbie had gone with him on many of his frontier expeditions and she published several books about him, including Boots and Saddles, Tenting on the Plains, and Following the Guidon. She characterized her husband as a tragic military hero who sacrificed his life for his country, and for the most part, the public saw his life the same way. President Theodore Roosevelt lavished praise on General Custer, which pleased his widow.

Others disagreed with General Custer’s actions, including President Ulysses S. Grant, who said in the New York Herald that he considered the massacre “unnecessary.” General Phillip Sheridan also criticized his general’s last military actions. His legacy is controversial into the 21st Century.

General Thomas Lafayette Rosser

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An elderly Rosser (circa 1905)
Source: Thomas Rosser Cochran, Jr. & Ann Cochran Culley

In Canada, General Rosser has a mostly unrecognized legacy. In the crucial summer of 1881 he shaped Canadian settlement patterns and created towns, and facilitated the expansion of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Even though he had a financial interest, he pushed the rails westward and helped Canada grow and prosper. In the United States, he is remembered in Civil War history as an excellent Confederate cavalry soldier, but more often he is recalled as the roommate and friend of General Custer.

 Both of Their Wives Wrote Books

Libby Custer

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 After the Little Big Horn, Libbie Custer, her sister-in-law Margaret and the other widows sold what possessions they could, packed a few cherished items, and made the long journey back east. Libbie returned to Monroe and stayed with Erasmus Boyd, her former school principal. Although reporters besieged her, she remained in seclusion for a time, but eventually she began a campaign of her own that made her husband more famous that any of his exploits as a cavalryman.

Remaining a widow, Libbie Custer wrote several books about her life with her famous husband, including Boots and Saddles, Life with General Custer in Dakota; Tenting on the Plains; and Following the Guidon. She traveled the world, writing and lecturing about her husband, portraying him as a hero and an example of courage, leadership, and patriotism for American boys. Because of her efforts, this image of her husband remained firmly in place for nearly fifty years. Libbie lived to be 90 years old. She died in New York City on April 4, 1933 and she is buried beside her husband at West Point.

Betty Rosser

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In 1895, Mrs. Thomas L. Rosser wrote and published the Housekeepers’ and Mother’s Manual.  In the preface of her book she explains her attitude toward her husband and home and hints at the nomadic nature of her life with General Rosser, a life resembling Libbie Custer’s travels with her husband.

Preface

In compiling and writing ” The Housekeepers’ and Mothers’ Manual ” I have done so in the face of many contingencies, and the knowledge that there are already many excellent cookery books published ; and in addition to the cookery books, cooking schools giving advantages in that department of house hold work unknown thirty years ago.

Cooking schools, while a long-felt need and of inestimable benefit and help to those who enjoy the opportunity of attending, can never be as far-reaching as a good cookery book or housekeepers’ and mothers manual, nor can they have an abiding place upon the pantry shelf as a friend in need— an ever-present, ready, reliable reference, giving, as it were, heart to heart advice, help and explanation in the various methods of domestic work, and cannot meet the multitudinous needs of a family covering the ” Seven Ages of Man,” catering to the appetites of the sick and infirm, as well as giving aid and succor to the well, by appeasing hunger and thirst ; giving hundreds of reliable hints for the household, and many remedies for relieving ailments of all kinds ; inestimable advice and suggestions about the nursery, the sick room and the dairy, as well as all other departments found in a well-organized house and home ; and as such a friend I have tried, after thirty years’ experience in housekeeping in the North, South, East and West, to make this book.

The burning question of the day in America has never been of wars or rumors of wars ; the political situation—tariff reform, the unifying of gold and silver, the deportation of John Chinaman, nor woman suffrage —but ” women as cooks.” This is the momentous question that, through the appetites, appeals to the hearts of the millions of Americans for civilized man cannot live without cooks, especially when good meals lubricate business as well as ensure health, happiness, and sobriety.

Memories in Monroe

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On June 4, 1910, Libbie Custer stood with President William Howard Taft when the equestrian bronze sculpture of her husband titled “Sighting the Enemy,” by Edward Clark Potter was dedicated in downtown Monroe. Over the years, it has been moved three times and it now stands at the southwest corner of Elm Avenue and North Monroe Street near the River Raisin.

Custer’s sister Margaret married James Calhoun who died at the Little Big Horn.  She is buried in Woodland Cemetery in Monroe along with David and Lydia Ann Reed and George Armstrong Reed, and Boston Custer. Thomas Custer is buried at the Ft. Leavenworth National Cemetery, Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas and so is James Calhoun. General Custer is buried at West Point. Libbie’s parents are buried near the entrance to Woodland Cemetery.

Notes

[1][1] T. O. Beane, Thomas Lafayette Rosser, Soldier, Railroad Builder, Politician, Businessman (1836 – 1910). MA Thesis, University of Virginia, 1957, 23 .

[2] Jeffry D. Wert, Custer:  The Controversial Life of George Armstrong Custer. New York:  Simon & Schuster, 1996, p. 15.

[3] George B. McClellan. McLellan’s Own Story:  The War for the Union. New York, Charles L. Webster, 1887, p. 365.

[4]Mount Up – Cavalry Operations of the Gettysburg Campaign.

[5] Gregory J.W. Urwin, Custer Victorious, the Civil War Battles of General George Armstrong Custer. University of Nebraska Press, 1990.

[6] Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sunday July 17, 1898, Famous Generals, p. 30.

[7] Riding with Rosser: Memoirs of Gen. Thomas L. Rosser, C.S.A., Shippensburg, Pennsylvania: Burd Street Press, 1997.

[8] Louise Barnett, Touched by Fire:  The Life, Death, and Afterlife of George Armstrong Custer. New York:  Henry Holt and Company, Inc. p. 22.

[9] Riding with Rosser: Memoirs of Gen. Thomas L. Rosser, C.S.A., Shippensburg, Pennsylvania: Burd Street Press, 1997.

[10] Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sunday July 17, 1898, Famous Generals, p. 30.

[11] From a letter by General T. L. Rosser, to the Chicago Tribune (July 8, 1876). (Also cited in Boots and Saddles)

[12] General Rosser’s Legacy, by Ken Storie, Gimli, Manitoba. Manitoba History, Number 56, October 2007.