Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Trans-Gender Person in Custer’s Old West

Custer's Last Stand

     Custer's Seventh Cavalry had its secrets.  The thrice married Mrs. Nash joined Custer’s Seventh Cavalry as a laundress.  She always wore a veil, and is described as “rather peculiar looking.”  In 1872 she married a private named Noonan.  The couple lived together on “Suds Row”, east of the Fort Lincoln Parade grounds.  While Noonan was away on a scouting expedition, his wife died.  When her friends came to prepare the body for burial, they discovered that the much married laundress and popular mid-wife was not a female.  The news was reported to Custer’s wife Elizabeth (“Libbie”) Custer, who was much amazed.

     The Bismarck Tribune subsequently reported: “Corporal Noonan, of the 7th Cavalry, whose “wife” died some weeks ago, committed suicide in one of the stables of the lower garrison.  It was reported some days ago that he deserted, but no one this side of the river had seen him.  It now appears that the man had kept himself out of the way as well as he could for several days.  His comrades had given him a sort of cold shake since the return of the regiment from the chase after the Sioux, and this, and the shame that fell on him in the discovery of his wife’s sex, undermined his desire for existence, and he crawled away lonely and forsaken and blew out the life that promised nothing but infamy and disgrace.  The suicide was committed with a pistol, and Noonan shot himself through the heart.”

For almost one hundred and fifty years, Custer has been a Rorschach test of American social and personal values. Whatever else George Armstrong Custer may or may not have been, even in the twenty-first century, he remains the great lightning rod of American history. This book presents portraits of Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn as they have appeared in print over successive decades and in the process demonstrates the evolution of American values and priorities.

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