Time Before Now, October, 1848 – America’s sixth president, John Quincy Adams had died in February at the age of 80. The first ex-president to serve in the U.S. House, he also won a case before the Supreme Court, U.S. v The Amistad, arguing for the slaves. A carpenter, James Marshall, touched off one of the country’s largest western migrations when he found gold at Sutter ‘s Mill near Coloma, California And a pair of watershed moments in New York state were newsmakers. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the first U.S. women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls and the always reliable Niagra Falls quit flowing for a day and a half in March when an ice jam put a stopper in the river upstream.
October 31, 1848
On this day, Boston Custer was born, one of three Custer brothers to die at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Ghost stories and paranormal investigations have haunted the family and some even believe Boston’s Halloween birthday as a bad omen.
The real omen may have been George Armstrong Custer’s poor judgement and penchant for nepotism. In addition to younger brother Boston, the vane-glorious George Armstrong (left) another brother, a brother-in-law and a young nephew went with him to the grave. The reckless general was adored by the Union brass following the Civil War. His hero status allowed him to advance members of his family, to their peril. Custer, however, found it useful to insulate himself with a band of allies known as the “Custer Clan.” Despite a Washington fan club and a bevy of relatives, he was reportedly widely reviled by his troops.
The Custer Clan on the steps of Custer House at Fort Lincoln
Boston, (right) classified as a civilian contractor, was the first to benefit from his big brother’s largess. He had been hired earlier as “forage master,” packer and scout for George Armstrong’s 1874 Black Hills Expedition at a princely salary of $75 a month. Amounting to more than $1,000 a month today, it was five times more than an average soldier’s pay. Just prior to the June day in 1876 that ended his life, he was promoted to the position of guide at an an increase of $100 a month. It was a job he may have been singularly unqualified to hold.
Another brother, Captain Thomas Custer, (right) had been assigned to the ill-fated 7th Cavalry as commander of Company C at the general’s request. Perhaps the real military hero of the family, Thomas was the first American soldier to be awarded the Medal of Honor twice. The first was awarded after the April, 1865, Battle of Namozine Church and the second at the Battle of Sailor’s Creek just four days later.
On the frontier, Thomas had participated in a failed attempt to imprision Chief Rain in the Face. He would meet the powerful Lakota again. It was widely held for years that Rain in the Face had killed Thomas at Little Big Horn. Long denying the rumor, on his deathbed in 1905, the chief confessed he may have killed, not Thomas, but George Armstrong Custer himself.
The third to die, First Lieutenant James Calhoun, was the general’s brother-in-law, married to Custer’s younger sister, Margaret. The son of a wealthy Ohio merchant family, his enlistment in the Union Army in 1864, dismayed his prosperous family.
Blessed with arresting good looks, Calhoun (right) was dubbed “the Adonis of the 7th Cavalry.” Said to be a loyal and devoted husband to Margaret, it was apparently one of his better qualities. His letters revealed his deep and abiding contempt for America’s indigenous people.
The fourth and youngest Custer casualty was Henry Armstrong (Autie) Reed. The son of George Armstrong’s sister, Lydia, he was cszzzzzzzzzzonsidered George Armstong’s favorite nephew. Accompanying his famous uncle from Washington, D.C. to Fort Abraham Lincoln, he was hired on as a herdsman. Counciled by a number of seasoned soldiers to remain behind, it took special permission for young Autie to join the general.
Boston and Autie were reportedly traveling with the pack train when the battle erupted. According to one account, both young Custer and Autie Reed rushed to the battle site at the first sound of gunfire. Another report, however, claims the two left ahead of the fighting to deliver more ammuntion to the general. Both died with Calhoun on “Last Stand Hill.” Had the pair remained with the pack train, the pair most likely would have survived, as did most of the pack train personnel.
A sixth shirt-tail member of the Custer Clan also survived. Myles Moylan,(right) another Medal of Honor winner, was married to the brother-in -law James Calhoun’s sister, Lottie.
As commander of the 7th Cavalry’s Company A, he was assigned to the controversial Major Marcus Reno, (right) who was court marshaled and later exonerated for his part at the Little Big Horn. Court marshaled a second time, for misconduct at Sturgis, South Dakota’s Fort Meade, this time Reno was convicted. A century later his great nephew successfully had his conviction overturned.
Boston Custer and young Autie Reed were laid to rest in Michigan. Medal of Honor winner, Thomas Custer and brother-in-law, James Calhoun, were both buried at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery in Kansas. Luckily, a middle brother and life-long civilian, Nevin Custer, died a prosperous farmer in Ohio at age 78.
So, where the in the world are all the ghosts? They’re back in North Dakota at Fort Araham Lincoln’s historic Custer House. Not the original; a reconstruction of a reconstruction, it was rebuilt in 1874 when the general’s first quarters burned to the ground.
Rumors of hauntings at the Custer House today
That’s just not a problem for spirits who often return to a location rather than a particular structure, according to followers of the paranormal. It’s not clear just how many departed souls are currently occupying the vintage house and surrounds.
Several accounts claim both the general and his devoted wife, Elizabeth, (right, age 18) are thought to be present. Well traveled spirts, for sure, since both the General and Elizabeth are buried 1,600 miles away in the U.S. Post Cemetery at New York’s West Point Military Accadamy. A feminine specter dressed in black, eerie whispers and footsteps going bump in the night, however, have all been reported on numerous occasions in the former Custer digs.
And if the fort’s creepy reputation was not enough, the North Dakota Park Department annually holds its “Haunted Fort” events several weekends in October. Thrill seekers can put it on their to-do list for next year. Go to hauntedfort.com or parkrec.nd.gov/fort-abraham-lincoln-state-park.
Who knows, maybe it’s all true – if you believe in ghosts. And if you don’t, it still makes a good story.
The Monroe County Historical Musuem, 106 E. First Street Monroe, Michigan, was the Custer family hometown. The museum maintains one of the nation’s largest exhibits on General Custer, tracing his career from his school days there to West Point, the Civil War and the Battle of the Little Big Horn. The exhibit includes other members of the Custer family, many who were part of the Monroe community until WW II.
The building itself sits on the original site of the Bacon homestead, the family of George Armstrong Custer’ wife, Elizabeth Bacon. The musuem is open 10 to 5, Wednesday through Saturday. For more information and current admissions, go to co.monroe.mi.us or call toll-free 1-888-354-5500.
© Text Only – 2021 – Headin’ West LLC – All photos – public domain or fair use.
*Head On West strives for historic accuracy and uses a number of sources considered reliable. When research differs on significant facts, the various points of view will be cited.