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Auction Date: September 15, 2013

Lot 3310: Historic Indian Wars Period Jacket and Shirt

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Historic Indian Wars Period Jacket and Shirt Attributed to General Custer the Famous Battle of Little Bighorn with Documentation
Estimated Price: $150,000 - $300,000
Item Views 465 Bid Activity Average
Serial #Historic Indian Wars Period Jacket and Shirt ManufacturerNone ModelNone
TypeOther Gauge Catalog Page136
Barrel Finish Grip
Stock ClassOther RatingSee Condition
DescriptionThis lot consists of two Indian Wars period articles of clothing purportedly associated with the Battle of Little Bighorn and even to Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer himself. The first is a jacket that has been identified as being made out of elk skin and has been lavishly and colorfully embroidered and fringed. The front and back of the jacket are adorned with a triangular pattern of various colored material and embroidered with a floral pattern. The embroidery seems to be of a silk thread. The triangular pattern extends down the sleeves. The triangle inserts appear to be fashioned out of silk and corduroy or a velvet type of material. The upper left side to the back of the jacket has a nearly 3/4 inch diameter circular shaped repair. A second circular shaped repair (nearly 1/2 inches in diameter) is found on the right sleeve. Both of these period repaired holes are reportedly bullet holes. In the included 1958 dated letter from John Dietzen to Col. Raymond Vietzen, Dietzen retells the family history of the jacket: “My father brought the coat back from the West when he returned in 1880. He told my mother, and the story was repeated to me in later years, that he had won the coat in a shooting match from a friendly Indian. The Indian was one of those employed by the U.S. Army for Scout work. He was one of the groups (sic) who trapped and killed Sitting Bull following the death of General Custer. He told my father that the coat had been taken by Sitting Bull from General Custer who was wearing it at the time he was killed…It is impossible to establish an authentic history of the coat. I have only the above family history and my father’s army discharge papers which definitely place him in service at the time of General Custer’s death.” (A copy of Joseph Dietzen’s discharge papers included with this lot confirm that he was in the service at the time of Custer’s death in 1876 are including in the lot. He had five years of service when he was discharged in 1880. But note that the U.S. pursued Sitting Bull for years after the Battle of Little Bighorn before the Chief fled to Canada and would not be killed until 1890, or ten years after Dietzen was discharged from the U.S. Army. Furthermore, Custer was a Brevet Major General of Volunteers but at the time of his death was a Lt. Col. In the regular army.). The son states that his father served with Captain Richard Vance’s Company E, 19th Infantry for five years. In the letter John Dietzen also states that the Smithsonian Institution was interested in obtaining the jacket, “but at that time no money had been appropriated with which they could buy the coat.”. The Smithsonian was of the opinion that the jacket was “made especially for a white chief by the Indians” and the floral designs on the coat represented several Native American tribes. As mentioned in an undated newspaper article, the Smithsonian believed that the bands were of the Apache Indians of Arizona and the floral designs were made by Chippewas and Menominees of the Great Lakes region. The jacket remained in the Dietzen family until 1959 when John Dietzen sold it to Col. Raymond Vietzen, owner of the Indian Ridge Museum in Elyria, Ohio. Vietzen died in 1995 and shortly after his death the museum closed and the museum collection was sold at auction. Vietzen was an avid writer and three of his books are included (Their Fires are Cold, My Life and Philosophy, and The Old Warrior Speaks). Custer was known for wearing a buckskin coat and trousers while serving out West. He owned several buckskin coats. In 1912, Custer’s widow donated one of her late husband’s buckskin jackets to the Smithsonian Institution were the jacket remains today. But did Custer wear a buckskin jacket on the day he died? Many accounts by Indian warriors who fought at the Little Bighorn told of a death of a buckskin clad officer. Many assumed that this officer was Custer, but other officers of the regiment also wore buckskins, including Custer’s brother whose mutilated body was stripped of his jacket. White Bull, the nephew of Siting Bull and one of several men who claimed credit for killing Custer, attested that he shot a buckskin clad officer riding “a fine looking big horse, a sorrel with a blazed face and four white stockings.” Custer was the only officer on a sorrel horse with four white socks and this one detail does suggest that Custer died wearing a buckskin jacket. The historical record is not completely kind to the image of Custer valiantly fighting off Indians in his buckskin jacket as popularized in paintings, books, and nearly 50 movies which retell the tale of Custer’s Last Stand. In 1896, former Seventh Cavalry Captain Edward S. Godfrey is on record stating, “The day was warm and few had on any kind of blouse.” Here, blouse is a Victorian-era term for a coat. (It is of interest that Edward S. Godfrey recalled finding 1st Lt. James Parter’s buckskin blouse in a deserted Indian village several days after the battle. He stated that “from the shot holes in it [Porter] must have had it on and must have been shot from the rear, left side, the bullet coming out on the left breast near the heart.”) Testifying at the Reno Court of Inquiry, Trumpeter Giovanni Martini (John Martin), the only survivor from Custer's company in the Battle of Little Bighorn, stated that Custer had taken off his jacket and tied it to his saddle pack. Custer was seen wearing a privately made blue double breasted bib trimmed in yellow cloth tape with crossed sabers and a “7” embroidered on the points of the collar, a style of shirt that most of the officers of the regiment wore. Martini’s description of Custer’s appearance is verified by Peter Thompson, a Scots-American soldier who was awarded a Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. In Thompson’s own words, “Custer was mounted on his sorrel horse and it being a very hot day he was in his shirt sleeves; his buckskin pants tucked into his boots; his buckskin shirt fastened to the rear of his saddle; and a broad brimmed cream colored hat on his head, the brim of which was turned up on the right side and fastened by a small hook and eye to its crown…This was the appearance of Custer on the day that he entered his last battle, and just one half hour before the fight commenced between him and the Sioux.” Lt. Charles A. DeRudio also attested that Custer was in a blue shirt and buckskin pants. Custer documentarian and film historian Dan Gagliasso has concluded, “The flamboyant former Civil War Hero [Custer] certainly had a buckskin jacket with him that day, as did at least seven other officers who died with his five companies of cavalry on the Creasy Grass Ridge, including his brother Captain Tom Custer, Captain Myles Keogh, commander of I Company, and the regimental adjutant First Lieutenant W.W. Cooke…[But when considering the eyewitness testimony] it now becomes quite doubtful that Custer was the buckskin clad officer shot at the river ford that day” (see, the article Strange Hats and Buckskin Coats in the magazine True West, May/June 2001, Vol. 48, Issue 4). One must draw their own conclusion regarding the history of this jacket based on the documentation! With the exception of his socks and the shoe portion of one boot, Custer’s body was stripped naked. The Colonel’s body was found among a group of about 42 dead men, possibly in a defensive posture. He had a bullet wound in the temple and left side, and compared to the bodies of his comrades, had been mildly mutilated. The second item in this lot attributed to the Indian Wars is a deer skin shirt. This shirt has a simple design pattern in ink or paint on the back and tresses (locks of long hair, appears to be human) at the shoulders. The consignor notes attribute this shirt as the personal property to Rain-In-The-Face. (At this time, there is no documentation to validate the consignor’s claim.) Rain-In-The-Face was a Lakota tribe chief and was among the Native American war

ConditionThe jacket and shirt are fair with the shirt having the sleeves nearly detached from the shoulders. The leather has stiffened from being stored in a very poor climate for many years. The details of the condition sound harsh, but the reality is that it adds up to these two pieces being from the Indian Wars period.
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