DescriptionGeorge Armstrong Custer: An Elk Skin Jacket Owned and Worn by Him, and Later Gifted by Elizabeth Custer. The provenance of the jacket is detailed in an undated, but circa 1920s, newspaper interview with its then-owner, a respected Iowa artist named Otto Gerhardt. The jacket was among many Custer possessions put into storage at West Point after the disastrous Little Big Horn campaign. In 1897 Elizabeth Custer decided to remove these items, and one Arthur McCall, an army engineer then stationed at West Point, was assigned to assist her. In appreciation she presented McCall with this jacket, said to have been made for Custer by the Cheyenne, along with matching pants which have since disappeared.
In retirement, McCall lived in Davenport, Iowa, where he became friends with Gerhardt, "an artist who has made considerable study of Indian Wars and especially of the Custer campaign." According to the article, McCall was so impressed by Gerhardt's enthusiasm that he entrusted the outfit to him. Both McCall and Gerhardt were interviewed for the article, which also includes some reminiscences of the Indian Wars era by McCall. The newspaper article is illustrated with a photograph of Otto Gerhardt wearing this clearly-recognizable jacket. Also included with the lot is another newspaper article about Gerhardt from the same time period which establishes his credibility and prominence in the community.
The jacket's whereabouts over the ensuing decades are unknown, but the consignor obtained it from Greg Martin in 1995, at the same time he acquired Custer's signed Bible from Fort Lincoln sold previously by Heritage.
On the whole, the jacket is in very good condition for the type, with light soiling and clear indications of use. Much of the original beading is missing, although traces and outlines indicate its original presence. The beading was largely gone at the time Gerhardt was interviewed about the jacket, when he observed that while it was in storage moths had eaten away the original wool thread by which the beads were attached. Overall the jacket has fine presence for display, and constitutes a rare opportunity for the serious Custer aficionado to acquire a relic with which the General is so closely identified. Custer undoubtedly owned more than one such jacket - maybe even a number of them. But how many have survived?
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