I may be stirring up something covered long ago, but I just watched a History Channel program about Frank Finkel and his claim to be a survivor of Custer's batallion at Little Bighorn. (Of course we know that there were many survivors of Little Bighorn - the men under Reno and Benteen, not to mention those on the Indian side.)
The program featured two authors: John Koster, who wrote Custer Survivor: The End of a Myth - The Beginning of a Legend (2010), and Douglas Ellison, author of Sole Survivor: An Examination of the Frank Finkel Narrative (1983).
Have any recognized historians or serious students of Little Bighorn read, compared and analyzed these two books and expressed opinions about the Finkel story?
Flinkel claimed his carbine was damaged & a splinter from the stock is what hit him between his eyes. The carbine found next to the dead horse was undamaged, so it couldn't have been Finkel's.
The Indians claimed somebody riding a white horse got away. Finkel easily could have said "That was me" to bolster his story. He didn't. He said it couldn't have been him because he was riding a roan. The fact that it was a white horse is intriguing, tho. Usually guidon bearers, trumpeters (which is what Cavalry called what everybody else called 'buglers') and the like rode white horses, & they were usually the only ones in the company who rode white horses.
They kept talking about Custer's 'battalion.' There wasn't a battalion-organized regiment in the US army in 1876 & there hadn't been since the reorganization of 1869. He had 5 companies of the 7th. Cav units were not called 'troops' until the 1890s. Reno & Benteen had 4 companies. The 10th company--all cavalry regiments had 10 companies, A thru K, no J--was in New Orleans. Since it was not under Custer's direct control, it had the lowest desertion rate of any company in the 7th, & it was also the only intact company after the battle.
The number of enlisted men in a cav company was set, by law, at 64, so if the 5 companies were at full strength--which they weren't--there would have been 320 EM with Custer. Actually he had only about 250, but I believe there were only about 200 bodies found. That could mean there were survivors--like Finkel--who simply said "I've had enough" & went over the hill, some captives taken alive & tortured to death, & men who managed to quit the field but died of their wounds before they could be found & rescued.
Frank Finkel had a slug removed from his thorax by a surgeon many years after the battle and residents of Dayton say that he walked with a limp for his entire life there. John Koster.
If it were me, having taken a bullet from the most famous Indian battle of the west, that slug would have been encased as a family heirloom. And if it were, there would be a good chance that it could be matched to one of the casings found at the battlefield. I wonder what happened to that slug.
John Koster wrote an article that was published in the June 2007 issue of Wild West Magazine.
Over 200 men have claimed to be a battle survivor, last messenger or viewer of the battle. The link below lists a few of them.
A humorous account of a sole survivor convention, written by Brian W. Dippie was published in the May-June, 2001 True West Magazine.
He probably got out of the fight pretty early. He was hit twice early on & the Indians were coming out of the coulees like you'd thrown a rock in a hornet's nest. If he stuck around for more than the initial onslaught there's no way he would have gotten out alive. Most of the immediate attackers were afoot & wouldn't have tried to chase him. He was probably hit in the first few seconds of the attack, when the Indians were firing furiously to unhorse as many of the soldiers as they could.
The big thing is, the Indians weren't particularly good shots. Nelson Miles commented one time that if the Indians had known what a rear sight was for, those wars would have been a lot longer & bloodier. They were depending on a volume of fire--and there were enough of them that they could put out a volume of fire. A lot of 'em had repeaters, but probably not Henrys. There were only abt 12,000 Henrys made, the last ones in 1865. The Winchester '66, which used the same action as the Henry & the same double-ended firing pin, had been in production nearly 10 yrs by the time of LBH. By the time Winchester quit making 'em, they'd turned out nearly 190,000.
What Finkel sees before a piece of his carbine stock puts blood in his eyes is what looks like all the Indians in the world coming straight at him. He''s hit twice in probably the first 2 or 3 seconds, then he gets hit with that piece of carbine stock & can't see. He bogs his spurs & his horse does the rest. It doesn't like what's coming at it, either.
All very good comments. And I agree with Richard that there will always be people on each side of this controversy.
What I was wondering was whether any trained historians had commented on the Koster/Ellison theories.
Personally, it seemed to me that the Finkel story hung together pretty well, except for the names and identification issue. I'm afraid I can't agree with Koster that the F's in the two signatures are identical. To me, they don't even look very similar!