Two Canadians who fought at Little Big Horn
Posted by: Richard Brezet (ID *****5603) Date: June 25, 2005 at 15:11:17
From Nova Scotia's largest daily newspaper - a story about 2 of the 10 Canadians who fought with Custer.
Saturday, June 24, 2005 - The Halifax Herald by BRIAN MEDEL < email@example.com > / Yarmouth Bureau
YARMOUTH - Gen. George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Cavalry troopers rode into a Sioux ambush and the annals of history 129 years ago today. Custer's defeat at the battle of the Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876, resulted in the deaths of more than 260 soldiers. With him were two men from Yarmouth. One survived. The other died - with his boots on.
Richard D. Saunders was born in 1853 in Yarmouth. He was a stonemason until the summer of 1875, when something happened. He either needed more excitement in his life or was compelled for some reason to leave Yarmouth.
He no doubt took a steamer from Nova Scotia to Boston, where he enlisted Aug. 16 in the U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry. He was a member of 'F' Company, which stood with Custer until the bitter end, as Crazy Horse and his warriors encircled them.
All of this information about Saunders would have continued to exist in relative obscurity if not for Arthur Thurston, the late Yarmouth historian, writer and Civil War authority. More than a dozen years ago, he was skimming old copies of Yarmouth newspapers for bits of shipping news when an obituary caught his eye. In December 1876, six months after Little Big Horn - Custer's Last Stand - a death notice stated: "We regret to report that Richard Saunders died at Little Big Horn River with Custer's command on June 25, 1876. He is survived by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Saunders of Deerfield, Yarmouth County."
Mr. Thurston was intrigued and made some inquiries. He dug deeper and learned that James Harris was the other Yarmouth man.
Harris was a house painter who signed up in Boston on Sept. 21, 1875. He survived Little Big Horn and was discharged from the army on Sept. 20, 1880 at Fort Yates, Dakota, having served out his five-year enlistment.
What possessed two men to set sail from Yarmouth to join up with the cavalry at a Boston recruiting station? Given their ages when they enlisted - Saunders was 22 and Harris 21 - they had probably listened spellbound to stories about the adventurous lives afforded many Yarmouthians during the Civil War.
"Yarmouth was a town almost on a war footing," Mr. Thurston told this writer nearly 10 years ago when we first talked about the subject. "Almost everybody was involved in (Yankee) blockade-running."
Union warships would do their best to keep supplies from entering southern ports, or cash crops from leaving, but the most trouble in the form of fast ships came from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
"They operated out of Saint John," Mr. Thurston said of the Yarmouth blockade runners. "They would buy materials from Boston factories, take them back to Saint John and then use a faster ship to take them from Saint John to some of the southern ports like Beaufort, Wilmington and Charleston.
"They were usually paid in English gold," Mr. Thurston said. Southern cotton crops were sold in the U.K. He said Custer's men from Yarmouth "heard so many stories of adventure" that they likely couldn't resist looking for some of the action.
In all, 10 Canadians stood with Custer at his Last Stand. Harris and Saunders were the only Maritimers. "Most were largely westerners and Ontario (residents), who enlisted in places like Chicago or in Minnesota - closer to the action," Mr. Thurston said.
Another little known part of Canadian history.