Monday, September 22, 2008

Custer's Long Dogs

George A. Custer, 1862, Peninsula Campaign, Virginia. Click to enlarge.

In the past, I have, written a bit about jack rabbits out west as well as coyotes and the use of lurchers to hunt coyotes , but I have yet to talk too much about one of the most famous of American dog men -- George Armstrong Custer.

Custer found particular solace with the dogs. A border-line manic-depressive, Custer found that when he was manic he could go riding and running with them, and when he was despondent, they were perfect company to lie down with.

And Custer did "lie down with dogs," never once feeling a moment of shame as he cuddled up next to them, their large bodies wrapped around his to keep him warm on the cold Plains.

George A. Custer with the Sioux-Ree warrior Bloody Knife
(pointing) and the Crow warrior Curly (standing), with
staghound and greyhound. Montana, Spring 1876.

Custer's dogs were greyhound crosses -- what later came to be called the "American Staghound."

A Staghound, of course is simply a large American longdog -- a cross between two sighthounds such as a Greyhound or Scottish Deerhound, though Borzoi, Saluki, Afghan, or Irish Wolf Hound could theoretically be crossed in there as well. Today, most American Staghounds are multi-generation Staghound crosses.

It's possible that some of Custer's dogs may have been lurchers. A lurcher is a cross between a sighthound (such as a Deerhound, Greyhound or Whippet) and a herding dog (such as a rough collie) or perhaps a larger terrier (such as a Aierdale or Bedlington). If some of Custer's dogs were lurchers, they are likely to have been Greyhound or Deerhounds crossed with a collie or some other large herding dog.

Too much can be made of breed and terminology, especially when talking about historical dogs. Custer was running in the West where dogs were intact their whole lives, found their own mates, and designed themselves as Nature saw fit.

Custer's first longdogs dogs, acquired sometime after the end of the Civil War in 1866 were killed (one in a firearms mishap and the other -- Blucher-- in 1868 at the Battle of the Washita River against the Cheyenne).

Custer got other dogs, and always seemed to have four or five with him, including a pair that reportedly came from Queen Vicotoria through Lord Berkeley Paget, the man who supplied Custer (in 1869) with the revolver he had with him during the last stand at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

The fate of Custer's dogs after his demise at The Litttle Bighorn is not too well documented. Dutch Salmon, who has looked into it, reports that:

"One hound, Cardigan, went to a clergyman in Minneapolis, who later had the dog mounted on display in a public building."

An ignoble fate, I suppose, but if there a noble use for a dog after death, I am unaware of it. Come to think of it, being stuffed and remembered and awed over by school kids is about as good as a dog can hope for after death. Carry on Cardigan!



Heather Houlahan said...

The beefy piebald dog in the first photo has the field marks of the once ubiquitous farm shepherd or farm collie, from which sprang my own working dogs.

But what is the flying-saucer-shaped object on the ground near the dog? If it was a modern photo, I'd say it was a rubber fetch toy of some sort. Any ideas? A hat?

Pam said...

I have a print of Tippecanoe and Prairie Girl, two greyhounds that were sold to a Mr. Lotz after Custer's death. According to a letter from Mrs. Custer to Mr. Lotz, Tippecanoe (white/blue dog) was imported from Scotland and was the grandson of Master McGrath. Prairie Girl was out of a dog and bitch Custer imported from England.

I don't know if either of these dogs were ever bred.

Pam Davis
Onrush Greyhounds

Andrew Campbell said...

Pat: thanks for posting these pics -- I hadn't seen them in a long time. Just one nitpicky point: the second picture is captioned incorrectly. It can't be 1877, because the Little Big Horn was the year before.

The picture is probably from 1873 while Custer was providing a protection detail to a Northern Pacific Rail Road survey crew in 'the Dakota Territories' (which included big chunks of modern Montana and Wyoming). You can make out 'NPRR' on the side of the tent.

thanks again for the vintage pics

PBurns said...

You are right it's not 1877, but I think we are closing in on it as late Spring 1876, as that's the year Curly (or Curley) showed up with the 7th Cav. He was not working as a scout until April of that year, and the battle of the Little Bighorn began on June 25th of that year. The tent was probably a "walk away" from the rail road. I will change the date. THANKS!


PBurns said...

I have NO idea what that thing that looks like a hat is? A baffle to fit the opening of a cannon? A wiiild guess that one. I really have NO idea! I DOES look like its made of rubber!


Andrew Campbell said...

Bravo, sir! While I gather there's still some speculation that the scout standing in the background might not be Curley, you appear to be correct in your dating.



There used to be a book, I think illustrated by Paul Brown (the artist, not the footballer) about Custer's dogs. To the best of my knowledge it was called THE SEVENTH'S STAGHOUNDS or something along those lines. I remember reading it as a kid (ok, 50+ yr ago) but cannot remember anymore about it. The illustrations, however stick in my mind as either Scottish Deerhounds or Irish Wolfhounds.

woofwoof said...

Sir, the second picture has a rifle at GAC's feet. Is that his Remington rolling block.

Thank you.