Sometimes history can be partial to the truth, in part because it focuses on what certain historians find most important and what people are most interested to know. That’s probably why we focus so much on George Armstrong Custer and his alleged ineptitude during the final days before the Battle of the Little Bighorn, instead of what members of his family likely thought most important: for them, the tragedy was no less than a personal holocaust.
History often forgets that George wasn’t the only Custer to die that day.
Not long after the catastrophic defeat, George’s parents Emanuel and Maria received word of his death. But that wasn’t all. You see, George’s little brother Tom Custer was also present at the battle, and also died that day. He was five years younger than George and had attained the rank of captain. Unknown to most, he was the most highly decorated soldier during the American Civil War. To the U.S. Army, he was a gifted servant with a lot of potential. He has his older brother to thank for taking it all away.
It gets even worse.
Another younger brother, Boston Custer, was among those slaughtered that day. He was known as “Boss” to those in the 7th Cavalry, and supervised the horses.
Emanuel and Maria were also told of their 18-year-old grandson, Henry Armstrong Reed. He is thought to be the youngest soldier serving the 7th Cavalry at the time of his death. He was the son of Lydia Custer and David Reed.
To make matters even more personally devastating, their son-in-law James Calhoun had joined the 7th as well. At the time of his death, he had been married to Margaret Custer for only four years, and is responsible for providing historians with one of the most accurate and personal accountings of the 1874 Black Hills Expedition we have.
That so many of the Custer family members perished that day seems unreasonable, but historians point out that they were family-oriented people. They held family gatherings whenever the opportunity presented itself, even if they had to be organized at the military fort.
When they received news of the deaths, Emanuel was 70 and Maria was 69. They surely heard of how the soldiers who died at the Battle of the Little Bighorn were mutilated after the defeat.