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Custer in the News
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Gloomy Sunday Wings of Death Brush Wives of Seventh's Officers

(The Billings Gazette, Saturday, May 27, 1961) Morning Edition

A pall of gloom and foreboding hung over the fort.

It pressed heavily on officers' wives, on women in Laundress Row. It increased the anxiety, and fear each had felt the last few weeks.

They'd felt it ever since May when the Dakota Column and its Seventh Cavalry unit marched from the fort. Even Elizabeth Custer, wife of the Seventh's commander, couldn't shake off the depression.

Hostile Guns

Her face paled and her lips tightened at the news in late June that hordes of hostiles had joined Sittings Bull's forces against whom the column marched.

She remembered the steamboat that stopped at Fort Abraham Lincoln's landing in late May.

Its freight was Springfield rifles piled high on its decks. It was en route to Indian trading post upriver. Her lips twisted in a bitter line as she thought of the Seventh's arms -short range carbines that fouled after the second firing.

It was after that she'd had the dream - the one that kept coming back. Just this Sunday morning, the 25th of June, the terrible figure in her dream loomed in her mind's eye again - the naked red warrior brandishing long yellow locks.

The day was hot, but she shivered. She turned from the window looking out on the empty parade ground and battered, weatherbeaten buildings of the fort.

Perhaps, she thought, some of us could find comfort in each other's company. She invited the officers' wives to her home for the afternoon.

Anxiety in each heart and on each face was not lifted. The group sought solace in hymn singing until the pianist sounded opening chords of "Nearer My God To Thee".

A sob broke from the women gathered in the Custer parlor. "Not that one, dear," an officer's wife said hastily.

They had more than a week to wait for news. But the time was not without its rumors and hints of disaster.

Two Crow Scouts with Gen. Gibbon's forces when Custer's battlefield was discovered Junes 27, rode into Fort Abraham Lincoln four days after the fight.

Horned Toad was the spokesman. "Speckled Cock," he said, gesturing toward his companion, "and me. Indian scouts. Just come. Rode ponies many miles. Ponies tired. Scouts fired. Custer shoot self at send. All dead. Speckled Cock and me good Indians. No lie".

Elizabeth Custer heard the scouts and ran screaming from the room. The scouts said no more. Army authorities, according to historian David Humphreys Miller, squelched the report.

But the worst was yet to come. Anxiety of the women at Fort Lincoln reached a fever pitch when they heard the Far West's whistle as the steamboat docked at Bismarck around 11 p.m. July 5.

Fearful Waiting

They waited and waited. Anxious

Anxious groups formed. Officers' wives, soldiers' wives waiting for word. Each afraid to voice her fears.

Then around midnight and still without news, they separated and went to their homes.

About 7 a.m. July 6 the news became official.

Capt. W.S. McCaskey and Lt. C.L. Gurley, fort officers, and Dr. J.V.D. Middleton, surgeon, began the task of breaking news to the widows.

Lt. Gurley went to the rear of the Custer house. The maid, Mary Adams, answered his knock. As he stepped into the house Mrs. Custer came from her room.

In the parlor where she and the yellow-haired general had entertained gay groups of officers and their wives, where he had romped with his dogs, where he had written his letters, his articles - in the parlor with her maid and the general's sister, Margaret, wife of Lt. James Calhoun, Elizabeth Custer heard the news.

Her face turned as white as the canvas-covered walls of the Custer parlor. Indian relics given Gen. Custer by various chiefs decorated the room, mute mockeries for the awful moment.

She stared unbelieving. Then swayed and put a slim white hand on the general's writing desk to steady herself.

The shadow of fear hovering over her so many weeks had fallen. On her heart - and on the hearts of the 25 other women at Fort Abraham Lincoln.

(The Billings Gazette, Saturday, May 27, 1961) Morning Edition

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