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    Fascinating Personal Recollections of an Army Veteran Present in Major Reno's Contingent at the Little Big Horn...and More! In 1929, at the age of 79, William P. Zahn sat down and wrote 18 remarkable pages detailing his career and experiences in the Old West: My Own Life History and Hardships I Have Conquered, 1850-1929. Although he suffers from an occasional lapse in spelling, the account is basically articulate and quite riveting. Early on he declares, "...I claim to be the only Indian-war veteran living west of the Missouri River, and who for three long years followed Gen. George A. Custer, accurences (sic) that happened then, I will tell further in my story." He writes of his early upbringing in a log cabin in Indiana in the 1850's, and recalls the outbreak of the Civil War (although he erroneously dates it to 1860). He describes watching the passing of Abraham Lincoln's funeral train through Indiana in 1865. In 1870 he joined the U.S. Army, and vividly describes the trip by train to Sioux City, Iowa, from which point he spent a month boating up the Missouri River to his post, Fort Rice. There he soldiered for two years, serving as part of the guard detail for surveyors preparing to extend the railroad westward from the Missouri River into Montana. He then was part of the company that "marched up the river" to the site where they were to build Camp Hancock (now Bismark, North Dakota). In the fall of 1873, he was transferred to Fort Abraham Lincoln in "Dakota Territory," where he began his lengthy service under Gen. George Armstrong Custer. He vividly describes one incident "(They were) to go on an expedition out to the Yellow Stone River in Montana, to where Glendive is now located. I can recall of a battle with the Indians, where Custer lost two of his men, and several wounded, the grounds now known as Baker Battlefield. After two months of Indian fighting out on the Yellow Stone we arrived back at Fort A. Lincoln." There he stayed until July, 1874, when word came from Custer that he was taking my company on an expedition to the Black Hills, so on the eve of July 1st we were issued new rifles, and provisions, and on the morning of the 2nd we were following Custer to the Hills." The expedition proved uneventful, however, and on August 22, 1875 Zahn left the army. "I still have my discharge papers carrying the signatures of Gen. Geo. A. Custer and the officers who were serving under Custer," he wrote. He became a hired hand at Fort Yates, and "it was there that I witnessed the signing of the Black Hills Treaty in the year of 75-I also seen (sic) the "chiefs," John Grass, Mad Bear, and Bears Rib, touch the pen, with which they signed their names." In May, 1876, word came that Custer was preparing another expedition west and, as work was scarce, Zahn signed on a muleskinner. He describes marching out of Fort Lincoln "on the 12th or 14th of May, as we left the Fort the band struck up the familiar old tune, 'The Girl I Left Behind Me'." He describes how they neared the Little Big Horn on June 24, when Custer divided his column. Fortunately for Zahn, the wagon train went with Major Reno, so he escaped with his scalp! In the afternoon of the 24th, they "could see smoke and dust and hear the cracking of the rifled" as Custer was wiped out. Reno also saw heavy action, but he had left the wagon train safely behind the zone of battle, so Zahn never actually saw combat. But he does observe then Generals Crooke, Terry, and others were only 30 miles away when the catastrophe occurred. They were moving up to support Custer on the 26th, he writes, but "instead, disobeying orders, (Custer) attacked on the 25th and got defeated. 261 men fell, 5 citizens, 4 scouts, 14 officers, and 238 enlisted men..." Curby, a Crow scout and messenger, carried the news to General Terry on the 17th. Terry promptly moved into the area of the battle, taking on board Reno's wounded and the surviving officers, who went back by boat on the Missouri. Zahn and the wagon train went overland, of course, arriving back at Fort Lincoln on July 30. "The only one left out there was my personal friend General George A. Custer and his command." He describes Feno being sent to Fort Snelling to be court-martialed for cowardice. Zahn then adds that, "I forgot to state that in March, 1875, I was sent from Fort Lincoln, along with Tom Custer (brother of General George A. Custer) to arrest and capture Chief Rain-in-the-Face. The store where he was arrested still stands in Fort Yates. I was a personal friend of this famous chief, and stood guard over him when he was a prisoner at Fort Lincoln." He goes on to describe his life over the next few years, including "watching the boat that paddled down the Missouri River carrying Sitting Bull and his band of warriors after his capture in Canada." He worked at Fort Yates and describes the famous Chief's incarceration there over a several year period. He then ranched in the area until 1890. "On Dec. 15, 1890, word came that Sitting Bull had been killed (he describes the events). "...On the morning of the 16th, I drove down to Ft. Yates, where the dead had been brought. There that night I and several others sat up with the dead police, and I also seen (sic) Sitting Bull lying in state at the Government Hospital. The slayer of the Chief is still living, I am a personal friend of the two. Red Tomahawk-the slayer and Sitting Bull the Chief." (Accompanying this lot is an original snapshot, c. 1929, of the author with Red Tomahawk. It is believed to be the only surviving photo of Red Tomahawk as a "civilian." Zahn goes on to describe coming across in 1893 the transport of a band of warriors and the "log cabin where Sitting Bull was slain" to the Chicago Worlds Fair for exhibition! He was taken along as an interpreter, and worked at the Fair, "(talking about) the Sitting Bull cabin, and interpreted for the famous Chief Rain-in-the-Face who was telling of the Custer fight and other battles where he was leader." He then ranched for awhile, and concludes, "Accurences (sic)) that happened from 1900 to 1929 are of no interest to me. I think I have told of my history, the most important parts of my frontier life. Other happenings I do not wish to remember." His account is remarkable, both for its detailed content and for his inimitable style! His account was part of an extensive archive about the Sioux collected by a school teacher named William P. Lemon. Much of that archive, including this booklet, was auctioned by Bonham's in June of 2003 (lot 3492). The notebook measures 7" x 8.5", and is in very good shape except for the first page bing separated from the spine. Zahn's handwriting is excellent, and the text is clearly legible. An amazing glimpse into these storied events.



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    Auction Dates
    April, 2005
    13th Wednesday
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