Custer Capsules

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

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)

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

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


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.


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


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,


George Armstrong Custer’s Civil War


  • 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


 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


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


 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.


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


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


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


 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


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.


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


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.


[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.




Dr. Edward Dorsch- Liberty, Literature, Lotus, and Libraries


“Nature is not governed by love, as we see everywhere, but by hate, in so far as one eats up the other; and if we try by antipathy to meddle with this rule, if we destroy some of the destroyers, we do ourselves the greatest injury. By the loss of our harvests we were compelled to learn wisdom, and if we have become wise at last we conquer our antipathy to certain creatures and teach our youth the great diplomatic axiom Laissez Faire!” Dr. Edward Dorsch

His contemporaries described Dr. Edward Dorsch as a retiring scholar with flaxen locks and a beard who preferred his books to people, yet he touched the lives of many people as he practiced his medical profession. He equally appreciated and contributed to science and literature, planting lotus seeds and writing poetry. He loved freedom enough to leave Revolutionary Germany and follow its siren song across the Atlantic Ocean to America.

Dr. Edward Dorsch left a legacy  of liberal ideas and scholarship in his native Germany and in his second country, the United States.  He left his medical library and papers to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and his home and a substantial amount of his personal library to his adopted city of Monroe, Michigan.  He planted trees and lotus seeds in his yard and in Plum Creek near the River Raisin for everyone to enjoy. He practiced medicine in Monroe for 37 years, healing the bodies of his fellow citizens while nurturing their minds with books and quietly challenging their spirits with ideas of freedom and equality that he couldn’t experience in his native country.

Germany seethed with conflicting ideas and revolutionary turmoil in Eduard Dorsch’s formative years, and he lived his idealism, which ultimately led to his exile from his homeland. Born on January 10, 1822, in Wuerzburg, Bavaria, Germany, he was the son of Francis L. and Elizabeth Hartung Dorsch. Francis L. Dorsch was a prominent attache of the Bavarian Court who died in 1825, when his son Edward was just three years old.

Although his parents were both Protestant, seven years after his father’s death Eduard’s  mother sent him to the Catholic Institute in 1832, to begin his education. For many years Eduard was the only Protestant pupil at the Institute, but he completed his studies and at age 18, he left to attend Munich University. In addition to his medical course at Munich, Eduard studied philosophy, botany, natural history and related sciences. A deep thinker and accomplished writer,  he crafted and published  poetry and articles, including “Idle Hours of a Munich Student”, which revealed him to be an independent thinker with liberal ideas.

In 1845, Eduard Dorsch graduated from the medical course at Munich University when he was 23, and then the Bavarian government sent him to Vienna to perfect his theoretical knowledge of medicine by practicing in hospitals. When he returned to Bavaria,  along with his medical practice, Dr. Dorsch continued to write articles expressing his ideals that continuously clashed with the conservatism and fundamentalism of the Bavarian government . While he served as surgeon in the South German Revolutionary movement, government officials read his articles expressing his belief in individual freedoms, opposition to slavery, and love of representative government with increasingly narrowed ideological eyes. He resisted government prosecution and escaped to America with his mother and sister.[1]

In the spring of 1849, Eduard Dorsch became a Forty-Eighter,”  one of the thousands of exiled Germans who left their country to build new lives in America. Some sources say he left  voluntarily and others say he was expelled, but in 1849 he came to America with a group of immigrants including his mother and sister. He landed in New York, and shortly afterward married Sophia Hartung, a fellow immigrant, born on June 15, 1827 in Bavaria. The 1850 United States Census shows Edward, 28, his wife, Sophia, 22, and their seven-month-old son Ulrech, who was born in Michigan,  living in Monroe. Ulrech died a few months later, when he was just eight months old.

The 1860 United States Federal Census shows Edward 38, Sophia, 32, and his mother Eliza 61, living in Monroe. The 1870 Census records Edward, 48, living with his wife, Sophia, 43, and his mother, Eliza, 73, and Margarett Hasler, 20, while the 1880 Census has Edward, 58, living with just his wife, Sophia, 52. Sophia died in September 1884 and she is buried by her mother-in-law in Woodland Cemetery, Monroe.  A little over a  year after her death, Edward married Augusta Uhl, the daughter of Frederich and Friedieke Uhl, on November 4, 1885.

In an autobiographical sketch, Dr. Dorsch tells a slightly different version of the other documented stories of his early professional career and immigration to America.  He writes that the Revolution of 1848 raged while he was a young medical practitioner in Vienna, and that he had to see and treat patients in the midst of bloody scenes. Often he awoke to musket volleys that ended the lives of people suspected of opposing the Reactionary Government. By nature and education a liberal, the young doctor abhorred the government and after an outbreak of cholera, he decided his time to escape had come.  He joined a group of immigrants bound for America who needed a surgeon.[2]

Eduard- Edward Dorsch, American Physician


Initially, Dr. Dorsch had planned to settle in Detroit, and he and his wife Sophia traveled from New York City to Detroit to join the substantial community of Forty-Eighters already established there.  Possibly he met Christopher Bruckner of Monroe in Detroit, or he could have corresponded with Christopher Bruckner while still in Germany or New York.[3]

Christopher Bruckner had also been born in Bavaria on August 1805. In 1829, at age 24, he immigrated to New York, making his living as a successful merchant. In 1837, he and his family moved to Raisinville in Monroe County where he bought a farm. After living on the farm for several years, Christopher Bruckner moved his family to Monroe so that his children could attend school. Like Eduard Dorsch, Christopher Bruckner was cultivated gentleman, with a proficiency in languages including German, English, French, and Italian. His love of music attracted musicians and artists, and he had a well-earned reputation for honesty, integrity, and compassion for the poor and unfortunate. Using his influence, he persuaded the Reverend Mr. Halstead and a large colony of Bavarians to move to Monroe and they proved themselves desirable and substantial citizens.[4]

In a significant contribution to Monroe history, Christopher Bruckner persuaded his friend Dr. Eduard Dorsch to settled in Monroe, arguing that there was an important opening for a German doctor in Monroe that he was uniquely qualified to fill. Dr. Dorsch came to Monroe in the fall of 1849, practicing medicine there until his death in 1887.

According to a Monroe Commercial newspaper story, in the early 1850s, Dr. Dorsch built an eight room, two story brick house located at 18 East First Street between Washington and Monroe Streets. He installed several parrots in the large bay window in the front and he kept other birds and animals as pets in a large cage in his backyard.  In 1865, the Chinese ambassador gave Dr. Dorsch a ginkgo tree seedling which he planted in his front yard. It survives into the Twenty-First Century with a brass plague attesting to its age and ownership at its base and a living testimony to the purposeful life of the doctor who planted it.[5]

As he settled into life in his new Monroe home, Dr. Eduard Dorsch soon expanded his network of professional and personal colleagues and friends, ultimately practicing medicine in Monroe and Monroe County for 37 years. His listings in the Michigan State Gazetteer revealed some of his career movements.  In the 1856-1857 Gazetteer, he was listed as Dr. Edward Dorsch, Physician & Surgeon, Front Street. The 1860 Gazetteer showed a listing as Dorsch, Edward, physician, First Street.  Dorsch, Schaefer & Co., drugs, groceries, & c. Front, cor. Monroe. In 1863, he was listed as joining Dr. Charles Shaefer and Lina Uhlendorff to form Dorsch, Schaefer & Com, druggists, located on Front and Monroe Streets, and in 1867-1868, Dr. Dorsch and J. Weiss were operating as a druggist company.[6]

In the decades of the 1870s and 1880s, Dr. Dorsch continued to be listed as a doctor and druggist.  In 1877 and 1879, he was listed as Dorsch & Wiess, druggists and he was listed in the same business in 1881. In many of the entries, Augusta Uhl, the future second wife of Dr. Dorsch, was listed as milliner operating a nearby shop on Front Street. [7]

From German Revolution to American Civil War

The Forty-Eighters who had immigrated to the United States before Eduard Dorsch, brought their political and cultural beliefs with them, including the liberal ideas that had forced them out of Europe. Most of them opposed nativism and slavery and they backed up their beliefs with action. In May 1861, shortly after the beginning of the Civil War, a large group of German volunteers joined other Union forces to prevent Confederates from seizing the government arsenal at St. Louis, Missouri. During the entire Civil War, about 200,000 immigrant Germans enlisted in the Union Army, or ten percent of President Lincoln’s total armed forces.

Dr. Dorsch arrived in America with the same anti-nativism, anti-slavery ideals, and although he had previously voted Democratic, just a few years after he arrived in Monroe he became a staunch Republican. On July 6, 1854, disillusioned Whigs, former Democrats, Free Soil Democrats, and people passionately committed to Anti-Slavery, gathered “under the oaks,” at Jackson, Michigan. A force of 1,500 strong, but with no official standing, the group appointed its own officials and devised strategies to combat the spread of slavery in newly admitted states to the Union under the Kansas-Nebraska Act and to abolish slavery in the states where it already existed. The convention attendees in Jackson contended that despite the claims of Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, and Ripon, Wisconsin, their Jackson, Michigan group was the first to formally adopt the name Republican. Dr. Dorsch’s fellow Monroe citizen Isaac Peckham Christiancy attended the convention and Dr. Dorsch did as well. In 1856 and 1860, he edited a Republican campaign paper at Monroe.[8]

In 1860, Dr. Dorsch served as a presidential elector from the then Second Michigan District, supporting Abraham Lincoln at the first Republican Party Convention. In 1862, he accepted the position of examining surgeon for the Pension Office and during his time in office he wrote a research paper demonstrating the course and effects of a bullet on the human body. The Pension Department endorsed his findings and used them for decades. Dr. Dorsch remained Pension Office surgeon until his death in 1887.[9]

Although he didn’t fight in the Civil War, Dr. Dorsch registered for the draft. Dated July 1, 1863, his draft registration listed him as a “very nearsighted” age 41.

Riding the Underground Railroad- The Rebirth of An Idealist


American life held some rude awakenings for Dr. Dorsch beyond language and daily living differences. The often-harsh realities of frontier farm and forest life that surrounded him challenged his philosophical beliefs about experiencing utopian life in the midst of nature. His belief   in the equality and freedom of all people that led him to earn exile from his beloved Germany collided with the American reality of slavery.

Dr. Dorsch stepped into a network of Underground Railroad activity when he chose to rebuild his life in Michigan. Operating primarily between 1810 and 1850, with some parts extending to the outbreak of the Civil War, some historians estimate that the Underground Railroad was the road to freedom for over 100,000 former slaves. In its different sections, the Underground Railroad proved to be as varied as its operators, conductors, safe houses and passengers.  In the Census in 1837, the year that it became a state, Michigan had a total colored population of 379 people, with Monroe contributing 35 souls to that total. The 1860 Census showed that out of a population of 749,104, there were no slaves or slave holding families in Michigan, which highlighted the impact of the Underground Railroad in Michigan.[10]

The attitudes of Michigan people toward slavery and slave owners tended to split along several sidetracks, ranging from indifference to hostility to ardent cooperation in helping slaves along to the main Underground Railroad track to safety. Many slaves escaping from the South who followed the Ohio River escape route into Michigan tended to live free in Michigan or escape into nearby Canada, and very few returned to their owners.

Underground Railroad stations in southern Michigan generally followed Quaker settlements, with Erastus Hussey of Battle Creek, one of the most effective operators.  Lenawee County had 12 stations, Washtenaw and Wayne countries had eight each, St, Joseph, 7, Calhoun, 4, Cass, three and Oakland County, two and one each in Kalamazoo and Genesee County. Its geographical location on the shore of Lake Erie made Monroe a viable station on the Underground Railroad, with freedom enticingly near across a stretch of Lake Erie and the Detroit River to Amherstburg, Ontario, Canada.[11]

In his autobiography, William Wells Brown tells the story of how he helped many runaway slaves escape to Canada while a servant on a Lake Erie steamer, and he continued his activities from  his temporary home in Monroe, Michigan, where he worked as a barber. Other documents mention Monroe as a transition point to Canada, with fugitive slaves escaping along Detroit Avenue from Toledo to Monroe, and taken to Canada in sailboats or transported in sleighs over the ice in winter.[12]

Circumstantial and oral tradition evidence indicates that Dr. Dorsch actively aided the Underground Railroad. Independent, liberal thinker Dr. Eduard Dorsch, believing in individual freedom passionately enough to forfeit his native country, arrived in America in 1849. He continued to live his convictions in his new city of Monroe, Michigan, with a population of 2, 813 people in 1850.  Within five years of his arrival, Dr.  Dorsch became active in the fledgling Anti-Slavery Republican Party. Dr. Dorsch built his home in the 1850s.  and the 1850s were a crucial period in Underground Railroad history. A tunnel connecting the Dorsch home with the nearby Presbyterian Church in Monroe still exists, and historians have noted that Dr. Dorsch offered his home to be used as a station on the Underground Railroad, the tunnel easing the journey of the runaways to the River Raisin, Lake Erie, and Canada.

In his history of Monroe County Michigan, Talcott Wing underscores Dr. Dorsch’s “determined opposition to slavery and love for freedom” which inspired and permeated his writing and most likely motivated the action of a tunnel and other Underground Railroad activities.[13]

Notes from the Practice of a Monroe Physician -1870s, 1880s

A Nineteenth Century Physician’s Office

Dr. Edward Dorsch of Monroe, Michigan, valued education so much that he accepted an appointment on the State Board of Education, serving from July 5, 1872 to November 1878.  He appreciated his own excellent education, and pursued scholarly interests all of his life, using his analytical skills to explore and contribute to solutions to medical problems he encountered in his practice. The scholarly Dr. Dorsch undoubtedly knew a little about the germ theory of disease that Girotamo Fracastoro proposed in 1546, and Marcus von Plenciz expanded upon in 1762. Doctors and scientists had rejected their germ theory in favor of the classic Galen’s miasma theory of disease, but by the late 1850s the work of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch provided convincing evidence that the germ theorists had been correct when they said that bacteria and other organisms and not mists or fetid vapors caused diseases.

Dr. Dorsch revealed his scientific opinion in one of his communications to the Michigan State Board of Health, Dr. Dorsch wrote that he could not find any connection near Monroe between erysipelas (acute infection, often with a skin rash) and puerperal fever (a bacterial infection of the reproductive tract after childbirth.) He said that the Monroe cases were too far apart to affect each other, but he stated that he encountered the same situation in Germany thirty years ago, and that the causes could be the same as they both occurred at the same time.[14]

In another communication published in the Michigan State Medical Society Journal in 1880 citing case histories of difficult labors, Dr.  Dorsch noted that four times he performed perforation on the head of the child- a forceps delivery. All the mothers were primipara (first time mothers), three times on account of a too narrow pelvis, once on account of great rigidity of soft parts. All except the last mentioned recovered immediately, she more slowly. Dimensions of the pelvis not known in any until labor began.[15]

Dr.Dorsch handled over 5,000 obstetrics cases during his 37-year career in Monroe.

Another aspect of Dr. Dorsch’s practice involved lead poisoning, and again, his conclusions stretched ahead of his time.  He addressed this letter, dated August 26, 1877, to Henry B. Baker, M.D. Secretary, State Board of Health.

Dear Sir,

Once in awhile I have seen in my practice cases of paralysis agitans, which had been taken for cholera although other symptoms of poisoning by lead were present. In all these cases investigation showed that the cooking and eating with tin spoons or in earthen or iron vessels with a coat of lead were the cause. Particularly among the poor, I saw iron spoons with a trace of the former glazing of tin which was only lead. Many of these spoons have an English stamp.

The same is the case with milk vessels. They are of iron and having a coating inside of tin (lead), and being in use for years, the children are poisoned systematically, because the acid which cannot be avoided, dissolves the lead salts and the children die by tubercules of the brain, meningitis, fits, and paralytic affections.

Grown persons although resisting longer, must become sick if the glazing of the cooking implements contains two-thirds of lead. A similar danger arises from coffeepots of earthenware or of “composition metal,” from the tin sieves and funnels, etc., and from almost all cooking utensils used by the poor.

I know it will be hard to do anything after the vessels have left the factory and are to be found in trade; but I direct your attention only to these adulterations of tin by the too parsimonious manufacturers, and add that they are almost worse and more dangerous than the adulterations of food and spices so common all over our country.

Yours truly,

Ed. Dorsch, M.D. [16]

His letter prompted further investigation and action in the medical communities in the United States and Canada and inspired doctors to warn the Board of Health and their patients about using worn out tin vessels. He sent the same letter to other publications including the Canada Lancet and the Cincinnati Mechanical News.

Edward Dorsch, Journalist, Poet, Writer, Artist


Besides being a well respected physician, Dr. Dorsch was a talented journalist, poet, writer, and artist. A life-long scholar and student, writing in German, Dr. Dorsch began writing and publishing articles and poems in his student days in Bavaria and Austria which accelerated his immigration to the United States. In 1851, Dr. Dorsch wrote “Short Letters to the German People on Two Sides of the Ocean,” addressing his feelings about the culturally different Germans in his homeland and those in his new country of America.

In 1858, just nine years after he came to Monroe, Dr. Dorsch started a German language paper that he called Unabhangige, meaning non-partisan or independent. The Independent lasted only a few months, but in 1859, Dr. Dorsch built another paper on its ruins called Staats Zeitung, or State Newspaper, which lasted for more than three years and achieved substantial readership. Then bad financial management caused the State Newspaper to discontinue publication.

Dr, Dorsch continued to write, adding plays and satirical works to his literary resume.  He served as a regular correspondent for at least three German papers and he published several volumes of poems. His first book of poems, entitled, “Shepherd’s Songs,” explored the German revolution. In 1875, he published a volume of poems called “Parabasen,” and in 1883 another book called “From the Old to the New World,” political poems dealing with the highpoints of American history since his arrival in his new country.

Critics evaluated his book of poems “Pastoral Letters to My People,” by stressing his skill in handling words, but contending that the thinker in him overwhelmed the poet. He wrote in German, but he also translated English poets into German to critical acclaim. His botanical drawings were technically and skillfully rendered and used to illustrate scientific works, and some of his paintings are displayed in the Dorsch Library in Monroe, Michigan.

 Edward Dorsch- Botanist and Naturalist


John McClelland Bulkley states in his History of Monroe County, Michigan, that Dr. Edward Dorsch planted pink Egyptian lotus trees along the shores of Plum Creek Bay in Monroe. Talcott Wing in his History of Monroe County, Michigan stated that Dr. Dorsch planted pink Egyptian and yellow American lotus trees in Monroe.

The Ironwood Daily Globe of September 1, 1920, tells one version of the lotus story and how they came to be an important part of Monroe history.

Ironwood Daily Globe- September 1, 1920

Sight Seers Gather at Lotus Blossoming

Thousands Attend Annual Event Each Year

Monroe, Michigan. September 1. Sightseers from all parts of Michigan and Ohio are visiting Monroe to see this city’s annual attraction, the blossoming of the sacred Lotus of the River Nile in the marshes of the River Raisin here. The blooming of the flowers is an annual spectacle in Monroe. The blossoms are a golden yellow set among large leaves for dark green. Acres of the marshes along the river are completely filled with these blossoming plants and a scene of beauty is presented that attracts thousands of visitors each year.  The flowers were introduced 50 years ago by Dr. Edward Dorsch, then local correspondent of the Smithsonian Institute.  He obtained the seed and under his care the lotus beds developed quickly and extensively.  The flowers of the lotus measure from four to ten inches across and are similar in shape to those of the water lily. The leaves are shaped like bowls, smooth above and hairy beneath and are raised high above the water.

Several years ago Monroe feared destruction of its lotus beds, would result as carp in the river were eating the roots of the lotus plants.  Suddenly, however, the plants took on new life.   Either the carp had found other feeding grounds or the lotus roots had become distasteful to them.

Monroe citizen’s declare that this year’s lotus display is the finest in the city’s history.[17]

Another version of the lotus story and a local legend has it that Thomas Whelpley, long-time Monroe citizen and War of 1812 Veteran, planted the lotus seeds in the Monroe marshes after Dr. Dorsch brought them back from Europe. Thomas had a varied career, beginning as a lawyer and then at different times working as a civil engineer, government and city surveyor, and a grower of small fruits and vegetables. He died on September 15, 1881, and his funeral with Masonic rites took place in the Presbyterian Church. He is buried in Woodland Cemetery, Monroe.

Dr. Dorsch turned his keen scientific eye on the natural world of animals as well.  An article in the Detroit Free Press on May 27, 1883 mentioned that Dr. Eduard Dorsch of Monroe donated two bald eagles to the Detroit Zoo and he kept a large bird cages in his front bay window and a cage of small animals in his backyard.

One of Dr. Dorsch’s significant publications is recorded in the Annual Report of the Secretary of the State Horticultural Society, a paper called “Our Friends the Mole, the Toad, The Spider and the Owl.” The paper revealed both the literary and scientific talents of Dr. Dorsch. He introduced his paper by naming some so -called villains of the animal world.

“Gentlemen of the State Pomological Society:  If Mr. Berg at New York has the mission to protect our quadruped friends, the horse and the dog, allow me today to speak to you a few words for the protection of some of our friends in the animal kingdom which prejudice and superstition have considered a long time our enemies, viz., the mole, the shrew, and the hedgehog, the owl and the chicken hawk, the toad and the spider.”

In the remainder of the paper, Dr. Dorsch systematically and with charm and wit pointed out the benefits that the so called enemies of man – the mole, shrew, hedgehog, owl, chicken hawk, toad, and spider – bring to nature and people. In his concluding paragraph he bequeathed a relevant  message to the modern world when he wrote :

“Nature is not governed by love, as we see everywhere, but by hate, in so far as one eats up the other; and if we try by antipathy to meddle with this rule, if we destroy some of the destroyers, we do ourselves the greatest injury. By the loss of our harvests we were compelled to learn wisdom, and if we have become wise at last we conquer our antipathy to certain creatures and teach our youth the great diplomatic axiom Laissez Faire!”[18]

Death Visits the Doctor at His Desk


Death had visited Dr. Edward Dorsch many times in his life, spiriting away his parents, his first wife Sophia, their son Ulrich, and many of his patients. According to his obituary in the Milford Times, death made a morning office visit to Dr. Dorsch on his 65th birthday on January 10, 1887.

The Times obituary said that he owned one of the largest and most complete libraries in the state and that he “was possessed of more than ordinary literary ability, a naturalist of more than ordinary ability, and had a very interesting museum.”[19]

The numerous obituaries in his professional journals stressed the scientific and literary talent of Dr. Dorsch, In the Medical Age, his friend Dr. P.S. Root introduced a resolution that summarized how his colleagues and friends felt about his death.

At a meeting of the medical profession held at the office of Dr. Root, Wednesday evening, the following resolutions were unanimously adopted: Whereas, It has pleased Almighty God, in His inscrutable wisdom, to remove from our midst our associate and brother in the profession, Dr. Edward Dorsch : therefore Resolved, That we learn of his death with sincere sorrow and regret, and embrace this opportunity to express our appreciation of his ability as a physician, and also of his literary and scientific attainments, which were well worthy of emulation . Resolved, that we tender to the family of the deceased our deepest sympathy in their hour of affliction, and that a copy of these resolutions be transmitted to them and furnished the city papers and the Detroit Medical Journals for publication. W.C. West, M D A. I. Sawyer, M. D. G. B. McOallum, M D P. S. Root.M. D. Committee[20]

In a more personal tribute, Dr. P.S. Root wrote of his friend Edward Dorsch:

“His life was the embodiment of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ In his professional intercourse, he was mild, considerate, truthful, as a literary and scientific scholar he had probably few equals in the state. His library containing over 4,000 volumes among which are many rare and beautiful works. He was a man of most exemplary habits and deportment. He was beloved by all who knew him well. His record of practice in obstetrics shows that he attended more than 5,000 cases.[21]

A Legacy of Libraries and Love of Learning


Although many of his contemporaries noted that Dr. Edward Dorsch had a retiring nature and reveled in the company of his books that he read in several languages, he cared about people and they returned his affection.

Monroe citizens liked and respected the doctor, including Miss Augusta Uhl. Both of her parents, Frederich Uhl and Fredericka Kortie Uhl, were from Germany and their daughter Augusta was born in the village of Volmarstein in the Province of Westphalia, Germany. Originally wealthy, Frederich Uhl lost much of his fortune when he came to America, so when the family settled in Monroe, Augusta opened a shop in one of the wooden buildings in the main business section of the city. In her shop, Augusta Uhl practiced millinery and sold imported items, real laces and embroideries that the local citizens had never seen before. Soon shoppers seeking more high quality items congregated at her shop, and recognized her as a person of superior taste.

Augusta Uhl was an intelligent and accomplished businesswoman and she soon accumulated a fortune in her own right as well as helping her parents. From 1860 to the 1880s, the Michigan State Gazetteer listed Miss Augusta Uhl as operating a shop featuring fancy goods and worsted embroidery. Years of acquaintance and conversation and proximity of their places of business fostered the friendship of Miss Augusta Uhl and Dr. Edward Dorsch.

A little over a year after Dr. Dorsch’s first wife Sophia died in 1884, Augusta Uhl married him on November 4, 1885. The newly married couple lived in the doctor’s home on First Street for the rest of their lives, filling their home with valuable books, souvenirs from abroad, and specimens reflecting the naturalist tastes of Dr. Dorsch. Iridescent birds from tropical countries flew around their conservatory, including Polly, the South American parrot. The couple had their love of their German heritage in common, often charming visitors with vivid descriptions of the land of their birth. They sought to preserve German thought and German ways as much as possible, while appreciating and practicing American customs.

Augusta Uhl Dorsch had already traveled to Germany several times since becoming an American, and she and her husband planned to tour Europe and visit Egypt. His death ended their plans.

University of Michigan Library

A little over a year after the death of her husband, Dr. Edward Dorsch, Augusta Uhl Dorsch wrote a letter to the Regents of the University of Michigan about the contents of his medical library.

Monroe, Mich., May, 1888

To the Regents of the University of Michigan:


It was the wish of my late husband, Dr. Edward Dorsch, that at his decease, his valuable private library should not be separated, but be given, as a whole, to some educational institution.

Although in his last will and testament Dr. Dorsch has made no request regarding this library, in a conversation we had a few months before his sudden death, he indicated the wish to me that the University of Michigan should be the heir to his books. Therefore, I am convinced that I carry out the spirit of his intentions by giving this library to the State in which the Doctor passed a greater portion of his life, and in whose educational welfare he was always deeply interested.

I ask you, therefore, gentlemen, to accept the Collection upon the understanding that the books composing it shall be kept together and known for all time as the “Dorsch Library.”

Respectfully yours,

Mrs. Doctor E. Dorsch

The Proceedings of the June 1888 meeting of the University Board of Reagents reported that Regent Willett, Chairman of the Library Committee accepted the Dorsch Collection of books into the General Library. The collection contained 1,676 volumes and 136 pamphlets, “many of them immensely valuable.” [22]

The Dorsch Library, Monroe

As they had previously agreed upon, Mrs. Doctor E. Dorsch gave the books in the doctor’s personal library to the struggling Monroe Library to be set aside as the “Dorsch Memorial Library of Books.” Many of the books were deeply philosophical, matching the character of Dr. Dorsch.

For the next two decades and more, Augusta Dorsch herself struggled to find solace in daily life without her beloved companion. She exercised her German housekeeping skills, keeping her house and its contents spotless, especially the cuckoo cuckoo clock who had chimed in so many happier hours. She read books with the same fervor of her deceased husband, and tended her flower garden. She revisited her youthful memories and the cherished daily events of her marriage. She turned to her religion for comfort. Polly, the parrot who lived to be nearly sixty years old was her sole companion and local tradition has it that she would walk him daily in front of her house. Polly’s hoarse croak echoed through the central part of Monroe, a familiar sound to the neighbors of Augusta Dorsch.

Above anything else, Augusta Dorsch vowed to honor her shared vision with her husband to improve their community by donating books and a library building. Focused on these widowhood goals, Augusta Dorsch managed to keep a steadfast heart until her death on May 3, 1914 in her 78th year. Another local story said that Augusta passionately desired to be buried with her husband, so she arranged to be buried on top of him, and then cement was poured over the grave to hold the casket in place. Edward, Augusta, Sophia, Ulrech, and Edward’s mother are buried in Woodland Cemetery in Monroe.

When the administrators of Augusta Dorsch’s estate, Carl Kiburtz and Jesse Root opened her will, they discovered that she had bequeathed the old Dorsch home to the city of Monroe for a library, with the stipulation that the old portraits of herself and Dr. Dorsch would remain on the living room wall where they had been placed after their wedding. Augusta Dorsch also bequeathed Polly the Parrot to the Toledo Zoological gardens where he lived to a venerable age.

In 1916, after two years of extensive remodeling, the converted Dorsch home was opened as a library. The Monroe Courier of March 7, 1916, reported the dedication ceremonies of the library. In his opening address, Boyez Dansard pointed out that the large central room where the books were arranged was also the library where Dr. Dorsch worked in 48 years earlier.

It is easy to imagine Edward and Augusta Dorsch, reunited in a booklover’s paradise, surveying the gathering and the long room lined with bookshelves holding the tools to improve Monroe minds and lives and smiling at each other.


[1] In 1815, the Congress of Vienna created the German Confederation, an association of 39 Central European states, with the goal of coordinating the economies of separate German-speaking countries and replacing the Holy Roman Empire.  The German Confederation collapsed because of the rivalry between Prussia and Austria, the 1848 Revolution, and the inability of its members to compromise. The Revolutions of 1848 that erupted in the German Confederation and the Austrian Empire expressed popular discontent with the mostly autocratic political structure of the 39 independent states of the German Confederation. For the most part the middle class was committed to liberal ideas, the working class wanted radical improvements to their working and living conditions, and the conservative aristocracy who ultimately prevailed, wanted to preserve the status quo.

[2] University of Michigan Board of Regents, June, 1888 Meeting. p.233

[3] John Andrew. The Germanic influence in the making of Michigan. Detroit, Mich.: University of Detroit, 1927. Chapter 29, The Profession of Medicine, p.265.

[4] History of Monroe County, Michigan.  John McClelland Bulkley. p. 316, Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1913. Christopher Bruckner died in 1871 and he is buried in Woodland Cemetery.

[5] Monroe Commercial, Wednesday, January 26, 1916.

[6] Michigan State Gazetteer, 1856-1857;   Michigan State Gazetteer, 1860;   Michigan State Gazetteer, 1863;  Michigan State Gazetteer, 1867-1868;

[7] Michigan State Gazetteer, 1877;   Michigan State Gazetteer, 1879;   Michigan State Gazetteer, 1881;

[8] Michigan, a centennial history of the state and its people. Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1939. Chapter 19, Political Parties, 1835-1860, p. 309.

[9] Proceedings of the First Three Republican National Conventions, 1856, 1860, and 1864.

[10]        The Civil War Homepage, 1861-1865

[11] Michigan, a Centennial History of the State and its People, Volume 1, Chapter 26, The Underground Railroad in Michigan, p. 352-360.

[12] Ohio Archeological and Historical Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 3, S.S. Knabenshue, 1887. p. 400.

[13] Talcott Wing, History of Monroe County, Michigan, p. 432.

[14] Annual Report, Michigan State Board of Health, Volume 5, p. 349.

[15] Transactions, the State Medical Society, for the Year 1880

[16] Detroit Lancet, Volume 1 1878 . Dr. Kedzie made a brief report, giving an account of experiments and tests for detection of lead in tin utensils in common use, having examined quite a number of specimens. He found about three-fourths of all the specimens examined contained lead in considerable amount. These examinations were brought about by a communication from Dr. Edward Dorsch, of Monroe, Mich., which had been referred to Dr. Kedzie as Committee on Poisons, etc. Dr. Dorsch detailed some cases of lead poisoning from the use of tin utensils. The test which Dr. Kedzie gave for this adulteration is quite simple. Place a drop of nitric acid on the tin to be tested, and evaporate to dryness; then add a drop of iodide of potassium. If lead is present, there will be a yellow coloration. If it is not present, the spot will remain white. Dr. Kedzie will examine the subject further and report at a future meeting.

[17] Ironwood Daily Globe, September 1, 1920, p. 1

[18] Annual Report of the Secretary of the State Pomological Society, Vol. 4, 1875.  Dr. Dorsch, “Our Friends the Mole, the Toad, the Spider and the Owl.

[19] Milford Times, January 22, 1887, p. 6

[20] Medical Age, Volume 5, 1887 

[21] The American Lancet, Volume Eleven, 1887, p. 59.

[22] University of Michigan Board of Regents, June Meeting, 1888. p. 233.

William Clark Sterling, Sr., and Sterling State Park

Commodore William Clark Sterling. (Photo Credit:  Lo Marie

Many pioneers settling along the banks of rivers running into Lake Erie, including the Detroit River and the River Raisin, considered the marshes at their mouths obstacles that needed to be removed or at best, ignored because they were not tillable or habitable land. William Clark Sterling of Monroe, Michigan viewed the marshes at the mouth of the River Raisin as hunting and marine assets that could be utilized and should be preserved. His passion for hunting, sculling, and yachting impelled him to work to preserve the marshes that eventually were included in the park that Monroe citizens named for him, Sterling State Park.

The only Michigan state park on Lake Erie, Sterling State Park is located in Frenchtown Charter Township in Monroe County, north of where the River Raisin empties into Lake Erie. Although it is dedicated to marshland, the park includes a beach, a boat launch, shore fishing and over six miles of biking and hiking trails.

 Timeless Marshes Before William Sterling’s Marsh Time


Seventeenth Century Coeur de bois, French runners of the woods, and Eighteenth Century voyageurs explored and utilized the marshes between the River Raisin and the western end of Lake Erie, marshes that the Native Americans had hunted and fished for generations. The Coeur de bois and voyageurs also hunted the marshes for food and fur bearing animals and fished their waters. As Nineteenth Century farms and villages and cities spread throughout Monroe and Monroe County, many settlers considered the marshes and wetlands obstacles, but a few hunters and fishermen appreciated what the wetlands had to offer.

In 1849, a year before William’s birth, Harvey M. Mixer, a friend of William’s father Joseph Sterling, worked as a buying and shipping agent for the lumber business, visiting Monroe at least three times a year. He discovered the pleasures of shooting in the marshes surrounding the mouth of the River Raisin in Monroe and he always brought his gun with him. Every fall, thousands of ducks, geese, and swans flocked to feed on the wild rice and wild celery growing throughout the marshes. Harvey Mixer reported seeing no other human except occasionally a Frenchman pushing his dugout through the wild rice. He didn’t hear gunshots for days. He also reported excellent shooting on the margins of the marsh, and that in one afternoon he and a friend bagged 73 English snipe. He said that on the high ground in Monroe back a few miles from Lake Erie, quail, wild turkey, partridge, and other game birds were abundant.

In the fall of 1853, when William Sterling was about three years old, Harvey M. Mixer sent his schooner West Wind to Monroe with a cargo of iron for the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad which was then constructing a line from Monroe to Chicago. Harvey Mixer chartered the West Wind back to Buffalo with a cargo of corn, but he added his own imaginative touch to the cargo. A crowd gathered when the West Wind anchored at her dock to admire the numerous ducks that Harvey had trussed on the rigging to advertise the results of his three days of autumn shooting. The number of ducks so inspired Harvey Mixer’s friend, John L. Jewett (known as Jack) that the next year he and some other mutual friends George Truscott and J.H. Bliss of Buffalo all traveled to Monroe for the autumn hunting season. They found lodgings with Joe Sears, who had a house on an island in the middle of the marsh large enough to accommodate their boats, decoys, and provisions and they hunted, enjoyed some of the finest bass fishing in the country, and they discussed how they could make their hunting and accommodations permanent.


When the group of hunters returned to Buffalo, they conferred and J. L. Jewett. J.H. Bliss, George Truscott, A.R. Trew, and H.M. Mixer decided to buy the facilities at the Monroe piers located directly across the channel from the government piers and the shooting ground to establish a clubhouse and hunting preserve. A few years earlier, the Michigan Southern Railroad had built two or three state of the art steamers to connect the eastern end of the line with Monroe piers with Buffalo. The railroad had built docks, warehouses, elevators, machine shops, and a large hotel. The men decided to lease the property with permission to use the docks and other buildings as long as they lasted.

In 1854, the group of sportsmen organized a hunting club that they christened the Golo Club, with officers John L. Jewett, president; J.M. Sterling, vice-president; H.M. Mixer, secretary and treasurer; and directors George Truscott, J.H. Bliss, and A.R. Trew. The founders of the Golo Club decided to adopt the name that one of their French marsh guides had bestowed on a duck with peculiar markings that they occasionally shot in the marsh.  Some club members called the duck which had a black back, glossy black wings tipped with white, and a black head and about the size of a redhead, a whistler because of the loud whistling noise it made in flight. Their French guide called the whistler a Golo and the club members adopted the name for their club.

The Golo Club didn’t have title to any of the marsh lands, but the members operated under permits from the United States government to occupy the lighthouse reserve where the clubhouse stood and they obtained leases and shooting privileges from the old French settlers. People respected the club as a private reserve, but its members didn’t prohibit other hunters from shooting in the marshes. By the 1865 hunting season, the Golo Club members and their friends averaged about forty ducks a week, over 3,000 ducks for the 1865 season. They shipped ducks in specially made baskets to customers and friends in New York Cleveland, and Detroit. By this time, Joseph M. Sterling was the only surviving original club member, and although he didn’t shoot extensively, he performed other valuable services for the club.

By 1866, Harvey Mixer’s business kept him mostly in New York, and he sold his share of stock to General George A. Custer, who had returned to Monroe at the close of the Civil War. After the U.S. Army ordered General Custer and his command to Texas, he sold his stock to Honorable H.A. Conant of Monroe. The Golo Club existed for a few more years, but members moving to other places, deaths, and the loss of the club house in a violent wind storm caused its demise.[1]

William Clark Sterling, Sr. Follows in His Father’s Business Footsteps

William Clark Sterling Sr. was born on September 17, 1849 in Monroe to Joseph Marvin Sterling and Abby Clarke Sterling. The 1870 United States Federal Census shows William Clarke Sterling living in Monroe with his father Joseph, 51, his mother Abbe E., 45, his sisters Mattie E. 22, and Emma, 10, and his brothers Joseph 18, Frank, 16, and Walter, 13.  He listed his employment as a clerk in an office.

On February 21, 1871, William Clark Sterling married Ada E. Calhoun in Monroe. Ada, the daughter of Erastus and Lucinda Calhoun, was born in New York in 1854, and she came to Monroe with her parents at the age of 12. She and William had four children:  William C; Abbie L.; Nellie L, and Ada Mae. The 1880 United States Census recorded William married to Ada and living in Monroe with their children: Willie, 8; Abby, 6; Nellie, 5; and Ada M, age 3. Ada died on April 25,1894 in Detroit, at age 40 and the 1900 Census showed William, age 50, a widower, living in Monroe with his daughters Abbey, Ada and Nellie.

Early in his life, William Clark Sterling, Sr., followed in his father’s business footsteps. In 1847, Joseph Marvin Sterling began using steamers to ship coal packed in hogsheads and barrels for blacksmiths to Monroe, paving the way for employment for his sons and the Sterling Manufacturing Company. In the fall of 1848, Joseph built his first coal shed in Monroe, stocking it with forty tons of blacksmith and grate coal estimated to last more than a decade. Business steadily increased until by 1860, nearly two hundred tons were used in Monroe. By 1865, Joseph’s coal total had increased to 400 tons, and by 1870 over 1,200 tons were sold and burned. The tonnage had increased to nearly 3,000 tons by 1880 and the receipts of coal at the Monroe station for 1888 amounted to over 500 carloads or nearly 10,000 tons.

As the years passed, William Clark Sterling, dealer in coal, wood, salt, hay, straw and ice handed these transactions at the same location his father Joseph Marvin Sterling had built his first coal sheds in the fall of 1848. William Clark Sterling along with his brothers and father was instrumental in incorporating The Sterling Manufacturing Company in January 1888, with a capital stock of $10,000. In 1887, the incorporators had begun building their plant, consisting of a saw, shingle, lath, and planing mill with engine power and yard room. The Sterling Manufacturing Company operated as general contractors and builders and eventually built over 30 houses in Toledo, besides a large number in Monroe and Wayne counties. The Sterling Company docks with the pole dock of F.S. Sterling & Company provided the only Monroe landing for boats drawing over seven feet of water.[2]

 William Clark Sterling, Sr. Grows up to Love the Marshes

During William Sterling’s growing up years in Monroe, he noted his father’s activities in the Golo Club and the fowling and fishing in the River Raisin marshes. Hunters came to the marshes in increasing numbers every year to shoot canvas backs, redheads, mallard, and teal. Market hunters in Monroe marshes sold wild fowl by the hundreds for 25 to 50 cents each. Hunters pushed both fall and spring shooting to the limit and year by year, the numbers of water fowl that early hunters had watched stretch in thick ropes across the sky, dwindled to thin strings and swirls.

Growing up under the tutelage of his father Joseph, William became a passionate hunter. In 1878, he began buying the nearby marshland for as little as 30 cents an acre because more than most people he understood the value of wetlands to humans as well as wildlife.

For the second time in half a century, a group of sports shooters organized to regulate their shooting, only this time in Syracuse, New York, instead of Buffalo, with different participants.  On May 30, 1881, a group of 24 gentlemen from the United States and Canada gathered in the Globe Hotel in Syracuse, New York, to conduct some important business that would profoundly affect the Monroe marshes.

The men organized the Monroe Marsh Company, elected Howard Soule chairman and H.G. Jackson secretary and agreed to purchase about 5,000 acres of marsh lands. Like his father had done in the Golo Club, William Sterling joined the Monroe Marsh Company and worked to preserve and improve the wild fowl hunting and fishing and pass down the privilege to future generations. He came a member of the Monroe Marsh Company in 1901 and remained active in the Company for years.

William Clark Sterling, Sculler and Commodore

In 1869, rowing clubs from Toledo, Detroit, Saginaw, Milwaukee, and Erie, Pennsylvania, formed the Northwest Amateur Rowing Association. Monroe had more than its share of enthusiastic young men eager to participate in races, but no available racing shells. The only possible candidate was a lap -streak boat about twenty feet long called the Kate Johnson, which had a checkered past. During the Patriot War, Kate Johnson, the daughter of William Johnson had used the boat to carry provisions to her father who hated the Canadian government. Both the Canadian government and the United States government had offered a reward for his capture because he and his men had burned the Canadian steamer Sir Robert Peel. The boat had been presented to Joseph Marvin Sterling, William’s father, and he had kept it and treasured it since then.


Several young men from Monroe obtained the boat from Joseph Sterling and fitted her out as a double scull. Organizing under the name of the Independent Boat Club of Monroe, they entered the revamped boat against the modern racers in the first regatta of the Northwestern Amateur Rower’s Association at Toledo, Ohio, on July 8, 1869. William C. Sterling and William Calhoun were the crew. The two Williams attracted an enthusiastic crowd that cheered them on in Toledo, and although they didn’t win the regatta, they generated enough enthusiasm to convince its citizens that Monroe needed a rowing club.

Interest in rowing continued to grow and in February 1871, the Floral City Boat Club organized and purchased a six-oared lap streak they christened “The Atlanta.” In 1873, a newly formed club “The Amateurs” joined the Floral City Boat Club in a regatta on the River Raisin, pitting their new four-oared lap streak “The T.N. Perkins, against “The Atlanta.” The Perkins won the victory flag.  On July 22, 1874, the Floral City crew won the Northwestern Regatta at Toledo. William Sterling rowed on several crews and participated in and won races and regattas for the Monroe teams.


When the Monroe Yacht Club was organized, and incorporated on May 27, 1887, William Clark Sterling was named its first Commodore and his brother Joe C. the treasurer. The schooner Emma G. is named on the list of Monroe Yacht Club vessels and Joe C. et al is listed as the owner.[3]

 Sterling State Park

William Clark Sterling died on August 26, 1924, and he is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Monroe. Rowers, yachtsmen, and other Monroe citizens remembered William Clark Sterling’s efforts to conserve and intelligently manage the River Raisin marshes, and in 1934, ten years after his death, a group of Monroe citizens worked to preserve 115 acres of marshland north of the River Raisin as a park named in his honor. It was officially dedicated and named Sterling State Park in 1935. The only Michigan park on Lake Erie, Sterling State Park is considered a gateway park, since it is often the first stop for out of state visitors.[4]

For decades, pollutants from the Detroit River were deposited in the region of the park, killing huge numbers of fish and wild life and making the western part of Lake Erie unsuitable for water activities like swimming and boating. In the late 1990s, the Environmental Protection Agency declared the park area and the Detroit River and western end of Lake Erie an area of environmental concern because of the level of pollutants in Lake Erie and the River Raisin, with the level of PCBs in fish from the area increasing 87 percent from 1988-1998.

Much of the pollution resulted from the industrial growth of the River Raisin delta and Lake Erie, including a nuclear power plant to the north and the largest industries including a Ford plant and the coal-burning Monroe Power Plant to the south both severely impacting the area ecosystem. In 1997, Ford completed its environmental dredging project in the River Raisin, removing about 25,000 cubic yards of toxic PCB- contaminated sediment from the River Raisin.

In 2001, the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge included Sterling State Park as its southern border, allowing the park to receive federal funding for a $12 million-dollar renovation project. The remodeling included miles of public wetland a six-mile system of paved walking and biking paths, many lagoons and marshes furnishing habitat for wildlife and birdlife, and a 47-acre camp ground on the higher ground of Lake Erie overlooking the widest section of beach in the park. The renovation included upgrading Sterling Marsh Trail, which loops for three miles around the park’s largest lagoon, passing a tower, observation deck and interpretive area dedicated to viewing wildlife.

The lagoons attract many different varieties of water birds, among them great blue herons, mergansers, Canada geese and smaller shorebirds. Slender white egrets, standing more than 30 inches high, stand sentinel in the lagoons beginning in late March and staying until mid-November and great blue herons fish in seclusion.


It’s not difficult to imagine William Clark Sterling standing on shore admiring them.



[1] History of Monroe County Michigan: a narrative account of its historic progress, its people, and its principal interests. John McCelland Buckley,  Chicago:  Lewis Publishing Company, 1913.  p. 459-463.

[2] History of Monroe County Michigan: a narrative account of its historic progress, its people, and its principal interests. John McCelland Buckley,  Chicago:  Lewis Publishing Company, 1913.  p. 459-463.

[3] History of Monroe County, Michigan. Talcott Enoch Wing,. New York:  Munsell & Company, 1890. pp. 406-414.

[4] Michigan Trail Maps. 0