You might not think that an entire town can be sold at auction, but in fact it can. Especially when the town has only two residents (who lived together), a single home, and immense historical value. Garryowen rests near the Little Bighorn River, most notable for being the final battlegrounds of General George Armstrong Custer and his men — who were all slaughtered there after picking a fight with Native Americans they could not possibly win.
Chris Kortlander bought the town near the Little Bighorn Battlefield all the way back in 1993 after a wildfire destroyed his Malibu, California property. It measured 7.7 acres.
Kortlander said, “The only thing I had were the clothes on my back.”
(Or so the story goes — but we’ll take that with a grain of salt since you have to make some big bucks to live comfortably in Malibu, and that probably means a decent pack of insurance).
After the death of his first wife from breast cancer, Kortlander needed the money — and his own health was also failing.
At auction, the first bid stood at $250,000. Kortlander probably had a mild heart attack since he had previously placed the property on eBay for a whopping $7 million only one year earlier. The “economy” of the two-resident town was built around a combined gas station and convenience store, which were also up for auction. A historical manuscript collection written by Elizabeth Bacon Custer — George’s wife — was also at auction.
Elizabeth had written at least three books describing what it was like to be married to a man like Custer, and it’s these books that likely contribute to the fascination historians still have over the man who died over a century ago.
Assistant Museum Curator at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center (Cody, Wyoming) Lynn Houze said, “Libbie went on a mission to salvage his good name and to refurbish his reputation.”
But interestingly, Kortlander had a love letter that was written to Custer by a woman who was obviously not his wife. A translation of this letter was unavailable for publication. But according to Kortlander, it represents evidence of a historically significant affair.
Garryowen is also a nickname for the doomed 7th Cavalry Regiment that Custer led into battle that fateful day. This name was adopted because of the Irish tune after the same name used for the march.
The 7th Cavalry was historically important even after Little Bighorn (of course the soldiers were fresher in subsequent years). The 7th participated in World War I and II after transitioning to become part of the 1st Cavalry Division. They continued the fight in the Korean War as well. Then the Gulf War. And then the War on Terror. Oh, they are busy little bees.
During the Indian Wars, the 7th fought took part in the Yellowstone Expedition, The Black Hills Expedition, Yellowstone, the Nez Perce War, the Crow War, the Ghost Dance War, and various skirmishes along the Mexican Border.