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William M. Caldwell, 7th Cav B Company 1876-7


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Let me introduce William Millard Caldwell. He was my father's paternal grandmother's uncle. What I know about him (according to my uncle) is that he was a mule skinner. Then there's the claim that came from somewhere about him being the sole-survivor, which is an erroneous claim that somehow made it to his obit.

What I have for you is a scan of a document that is currently in my sister's possession that was created by Pennsylvania author M. I. McCreight, also known as Tchanta Tanka. It is a picture of William Caldwell shaking hands with Chief Eta Wasta. This was found in my grandfather's home after he died, along with the obituary. I contacted the Friends of the Battle of Little Bighorn Battlefield years ago and got the scan below from the book Hammer, Kenneth M. Men With Custer: Biographies of the 7th Cavalry Crow Agency, Montana: Custer Battlefield Historical Museum Association, 1995. The pension record came from a family search that I performed.
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A little lightroom tweaking brings out more of Eta Wasta's face for the first time.
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  • 2 months later...

I was very excited when I came across your post. William M. Caldwell is my great, great grandfather. I have been researching my family history and therefore William since 1982. This is the first time I have ever seen a picture of him. The claim about him being the sole survivor of the Custer massacre goes back to his obituary published on the front-page of the Clearfield Progressive in 1913 which stated that he was one of two men to carry a message back from General Custer to General (actually Major) Reno. Actually, the message was carried back by Giovanni Martini to Captain Benteen. Though William was part of the 7th Calvary, he was not with the regiment on the day of the battle. He was on detached service at the Powder River base camp. William had only enlisted a short time before the conflict and was therefore one of a number of raw recruits. The raw recruits did not have horses and therefore were left at the basecamp. As was common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, newspapers often got their information for publication from other newspapers and it was not unusual for a story to change paper to paper. As to how the story came about in the first place, I suspect that William had inflated his own role at the time of the battle once he returned to Clearfield county and perhaps interacted with M.I. McCreight (William's father lived in DuBois).

 

I would be extremely interested in learning what else you or your sister, if anything, know about William or the Caldwell family in general. I especially would love to get a good quality copy of the image that you scanned and posted here. Please feel free to email me: bslynch@me.com. I have a lot more information about William, his service with the 7th, and his family in general.

 

Brian

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