WHAT: In a “Legends of the West” auction early this month at Heritage Auctions in Dallas, many items from the Plains Wars and the Battle of the Little Bighorn were included. The encounter with mainly Sioux and Cheyenne warriors that killed General George Armstrong Custer and more than 200 men of the 7th Cavalry in June 1876 continues to preoccupy and puzzle historians and collectors.
Lots for sale included a dress uniform of General William Tecumseh Sherman (presale estimate $50,000) and three Sioux arrows gathered from the battlefield at Bighorn (presale estimate $10,000).
MORE: Sherman’s uniform as General of the Army was unique to him. It included a fancied-up regulation chapeau, a sash and belt with saber as an officer of Artillery, and a 24-button frock coat, adopted from predecessor General Ulysses S. Grant’s coat with two rows of 12 buttons. Add epaulettes of Sherman’s design, bolder and grander than Grant’s.
The three painted and metal-tipped Sioux arrows are fletched with magpie and raven feathers.
SMART COLLECTORS KNOW: Many items came from a respected, known collection. Buyers pay top dollar for certain focused, already vetted lots. Top provenance counts, money-wise.
HOT TIP: One could bank on Sherman’s uniform selling, but the Sioux arrows were wild cards. There was no direct proof (such as DNA) linking them to the battle, but lore and a note of provenance circa 1920s tied them to a member of General George Crook’s column who gathered them following the encounter.
BOTTOM LINE: Sherman’s uniform brought $62,500. The arrows estimated at $10,000 and soared to $93,750. Such is the power of Custer, Bighorn, the fate of the 7th Cavalry, and the stunning loss, which lasts to this day.
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