DescriptionImportant Presentation Knife Given To White Swan, Crow Scout Who Survived His Wounds Suffered At Little Bighorn. A very well-made knife, with horn and mother of pearl handle and Sheffield blade, in the form of a small Bowie, and accompanied by its original leather sheath. On one side of the blade is etched "My scout and friend White Swan", while on the other side is etched a large "U S" surrounded by 16 stars.
White Swan enlisted in the Indian Scout Detachment of the U.S. Army's 7th infantry in April of 1876. In early June the 7th infantry joined up with the large expedition under the command of General Alfred H. Terry, whose mission was to return renegade Indians to the reservation. Terry's force included Custer's 7th cavalry, to which White Swan was attached on June 21, 1876. As Custer's command approached the Indian encampment along the Little Bighorn, he instructed White Swan and Half-Yellow Face to go over a nearby ridge and see what was going on in the camp. The two scouts started toward the ridge, but upon seeing that Major Marcus Reno's force was involved in a fierce battle at the near end of the camp, they attempted to join his troops. However, before they were able to cross the river, White Swan was seriously wounded. The scouts took refuge in a thicket and were under heavy attack when the warriors suddenly departed to attack Custer's detachment, allowing White Swan to reach the relative safety of Reno's position on defensible high ground. Part of White Swan's right hand had been completely shot away, and he also suffered wounds to his right thigh and knee. But after a long recuperation he was able to resume scouting in 1877. He continued to scout for the Army until 1881, when he retired to the Crow Agency in Montana. White Swan would become rather well-known as an Indian artist who executed a number of paintings depicting his exploits as a warrior and scout. He died in 1904, and lies buried in the Custer Battlefield National Cemetery.
While it would be gratifying to speculate that this presentation knife was given to him by Custer, the timeline simply will not support that attribution, since White Swan served only a short time with Custer, and did not join his command until they were in the field. Undoubtedly it was a gesture of appreciation by one of the other officers whom he served during his last four years of scouting.
The knife is 9.5" long, with a blade length of 4.625". The ricasso is stamped Alexander and Sheffield. The hilt has a nickel plated cross guard and a shaped horn grip with the obverse enhanced by three circular mother-of-pearl inlays and a mother-of- pearl pommel mount. The scabbard has a German silver throat and drag, the throat lacking its stud, a common fault in scabbards of this vintage. The leather portion has gold leaf decoration including the letters "N.Y." separated by the federal shield logo of the Alexander Company.
While presentation swords of the Civil War and Indian Wars era are relatively plentiful, presentation knives such as this one are seldom encountered. Doubtless it was selected as a more appropriate weapon, ceremonial or otherwise, for an Indian Scout. It is a wonderful artifact from an important player in the events at Little Bighorn, with terrific display presence.
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