Custer’s Last Strand Custer scholars and buffs find treasures among Glen Swanson’s Battle of the Little Big Horn relics.

Custer Auction
Glen Swanson collected roughly 50 strands of George Custer’s hair cut from his head during his Civil War career; $10,000. The majority of the auction featured Swanson’s collectibles, sold along with related artifacts, such as this autographed photograph of Brig. Gen. Custer, taken by Mathew Brady around February 15, 1864.
— All photos courtesy Heritage Auctions —

Custer’s Last Strand” made news around the nation after links of the controversial cavalry commander’s curly blond hair sold at the June 9 auction highlighting Glen Swanson’s collection at Heritage Auctions.

Custer Auction
Glen Swanson.

A barber cut the 50 or so strands of hair in 1864, a year after 23-year-old George Custer became the youngest general in the Union Army. George had saved the locks to send as a keepsake to his wife, Libbie, but Confederates captured the envelope among his belongings during the Battle of Trevilian Station in June before he could mail it. He recovered his items on October 9, after a battle jokingly known as the “Woodstock Races,” since Custer and his troops had chased and killed scattered enemy Confederates for miles. 

Custer Auction
Glen Swanson collected the auction’s top lot, Sitting Bull’s Model 1863 flintlock trade musket by Parker Field & Co., and sculpted the bronze of the Sioux chief included in the lot; $130,000.

While these strands of George’s hair hammered down for $10,000, some of the highest prices paid at the auction had ties to the Battle of the Little Big Horn, popularly known as “Custer’s Last Stand,” where Plains Indians annihilated George and some of his 7th Cavalry troops on June 25-26, 1876.

Collectors successfully bid: $75,000 for three Sioux arrows from the battlefield; $24,000 for 6th Infantry Capt. John S. Poland’s July 24, 1876, report of Lakota warriors who returned to Standing Rock Agency after the Big Horn battle, endorsed by Gens. William T. Sherman and Philip Sheridan;  $24,000 for a bound set of Pvt. Theodore Goldin’s firsthand account of the Big Horn battle, which features notations by Capt. Frederick Benteen, including, “This is about the fairest and most exact account of our row with the Dakotas that I have seen.”

The top lot was tied to the Sioux chief who helped destroy Custer’s forces during the battle: Sitting Bull. Hammering down for $130,000, the shortened model 1863 full-length smooth-bore flintlock trade musket by Parker Field & Co. of London, hand-carved with “Sitting Bull” on the butt, was acquired by Capt. Walter Clifford who had escorted Sitting Bull and his followers during their Canadian journey in July 1881 and was in the room for Sitting Bull’s formal surrender on July 20. Sitting Bull’s cousin Black Moon gave the carbine to Clifford.

Custer Auction
Sculpted the bronze of the Sioux chief.

The Custer battle gun history buffs thought would sell high—a Little Big Horn-identified Model 1873 Springfield carbine (serial number 41219) authenticated by Custer scholars Dick Harmon and Doug Scott’s forensic studies—proved elusive, failing to meet the $125,000 minimum. Last year, an 1873 Colt (serial number 5773) positively proven to be used by Custer’s men at the Big Horn battle hammered down at James D. Julia for $400,000.

Growing up 45 miles from Fort Abraham Lincoln, Swanson found himself exploring the Big Horn battlefield. Inspired to learn more by collecting artifacts, the commercial advertising director participated in archaeological studies of the battlefield. Swanson spent nearly 50 years accumulating his collection, documenting many of his relics in his book G.A. Custer: His Life and Times.

Custer Auction
This dress uniform worn by Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman is such a definitive specimen of military history that historian John P. Langellier held back the publication of his book, More Army Blue: The Uniform of Uncle Sam’s Regulars, 1874-1887, to make sure the uniform was featured. A signed portrait of Sherman was also included; $50,000.

Swanson and other collectors earned nearly $1.15 million on their Custer, Civil War and frontier military artifacts.

Custer Auction
Presented to Custer by the United States Volunteers in 1863, this first model Manhattan .22 caliber revolver (serial number 5720) was gifted to “Captain Jack” Crawford, the poet scout, by Custer’s widow, Libbie; $28,000.
Custer Auction
Custer’s chief of scouts during the Little Big Horn campaign, Charles Varnum wore this 7th cavalry outfit. The highlights included his cavalry officer’s 1879-pattern, 14-button frock coat (shown), Model 1881 dress helmet and Model 1872 dress saber; $19,000.
Custer Auction
Found on the Little Big Horn battlefield, this wedding ring was worn by 7th Cavalry Lt. Donald McIntosh who was killed during the battle. His wife was named Mollie. Her sister Katherine married Francis Marion Gibson, who survived the battle and identified his brother-in-law’s remains; $15,000.
Custer Auction
The top-selling lot linked to Frederick Benteen was a bound set of Pvt. Theodore Goldin’s firsthand account of the Big Horn battle, featuring notations by Benteen, which was published in The Army Magazine’s June and July-August 1894 issues (detail shown). Goldin served in Lt. Donald McIntosh’s Company G during the battle and earned the Medal of Honor for his valor in fetching water while under fire; $24,000.
Custer Auction
Theodore Goldin, visiting the Little Big Horn battlefield in 1926.
Custer Auction
Benteen wore this campaign hat during the 1874 Black Hills Expedition through the 1876 Battle of the Little Big Horn; $9,750.
Custer Auction
A Civil War-era image of Benteen, wearing his 10th Missouri Cavalry pin, signed “F. W. Benteen Capt. U.S.A.” and dated “’65,” hammered down for $4,600.
Custer Auction
Benteen’s Lemaire military binoculars could be the same field glasses the 7th Cavalry captain used during the disastrous June 1876 battle; $20,000.
Custer Auction
A collector successfully bid $75,000 for these three Sioux arrows from the Battle of the Little Big Horn, reportedly picked up from the battlefield by “Batiste” (possibly Baptiste “Big Bat” Pourier, with George Crook’s column) soon after the fight.
Custer Auction
John S. Poland, 6th Infantry captain, sits above Lt. Charles Varnum in this detail of an 1873 photograph showing Lt. Col. George Custer with his officers. Varnum survived the Big Horn battle. Historians have used a July 24, 1876, report by Poland to reconstruct battle events. Based on interviews with Lakota warriors who returned to Standing Rock Agency after the battle and endorsed by Gens. William T. Sherman and Philip Sheridan, the report hammered down for $24,000.
Custer Auction
This crucifix was discovered on the site of Sitting Bull’s Hunkpapa village along the Little Bighorn River; $16,000. Myles Keogh’s body was reportedly not mutilated during the Big Horn battle because of an icon he wore around his neck. Also purchased was an early 1885-dated cabinet photo of Sitting Bull by D.F. Barry; $3,600.
Custer Auction
Sitting Bull.
Custer Auction
George Custer’s Tiffany hardwood cane with sterling silver ferrule and decorative head was given to him by his best friend, actor Lawrence Barrett (shown above), who Custer had met in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1866; $13,000.
Custer Auction
Custer’s cane.
Custer Auction
The only crossed-sabers insignia yet found at the Little Big Horn battlefield hammered down for $9,000. They were discovered near the “line of timber,” where Maj. Marcus Reno’s men were grievously beset during the retreat on June 25, 1876, and at the site of the Indian encampment.
Custer Auction
Custer with an elk.
Yellowstone Expedition photographer William Pywell snapped the iconic image of Custer with an elk he had shot, hence the incorporation of the elk horn with inset teeth in this inkwell with a base inscribed, “To William Pywell from G.A. Custer 1873.” The top of the hinged lid features a carved dog at rest, resembling dogs that accompanied the expedition sent to survey a route for the Northern Pacific Railroad along the Yellowstone River; $12,000.

On The Trail Of Custer

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Meghan Saar

Meghan Saar is the editor of True West, the world’s oldest, continuously published Western Americana magazine. She has worked in niche publication content development since 2002, and she has a B.S. in Journalism and Creative Writing from the University of Arizona—Tucson.