Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Custer's Dogs

General George Custer had his faults, but one characteristic makes him more likable. Custer loved dogs. He owned as many as forty and took them with him everywhere. Historian Brian Dippie wrote that Custer’s dogs “accompanied him on hunts and campaigns; they arranged themselves at his feet, rested their heads on his lap, shared is bed and his food, got under foot, made nuisances of themselves, but never lost their special place in his affection. They were like people to him.” His dogs adored him, too. When Maida, one of his favorites, was killed during a buffalo hunt, Custer wrote a rather bad, but very heartfelt, poem to her. During the Black Hills expedition in 1874, Custer wrote to his wife that his dogs surrounded him and that his favorite, Tuck—a tall, light-colored deerhound—slept at the head of his bed. On June 12, 1876, two weeks before Little Bighorn, Custer again wrote: “Tuck regularly comes when I am writing, and lays her head on the desk, rooting up my hand with her long nose until I consent to stop and notice her.”

Photo from
Custer and Bloody Knife (pointing) in 1874. The dog in the foreground is Custer's favorite deerhound, Tuck.
Several dogs including Custer’s beloved Tuck broke away from the pack train and followed their master into the famous battle. Indian witnesses claimed that Custer was easy to spot among the fray because of the tall, light-colored dog that stayed at his side until the last moments. The Cheyenne warrior Wooden Leg recalled a dog on Custer Hill, and soldiers saw a dog on a distant rise, but none was seen again. Tuck was not listed among the casualties. We will never know for sure what became of her or her renegade companions.