Canadians With Custer, by Mary Thomas, Dundurn, Toronto, Canada, 2012, $24.99
Historians have dissected the Battle of the Little Bighorn into a multitude of aspects and foci, now including the nationalities of some of the 7th Cavalry troopers. In Canadians With Custer, Ontario journalist Thomas focuses on the 17 Canucks who, for motives ranging from money to adventure, went south of the border to serve in the U.S. Army during the Civil War and in the Indian wars thereafter.
Thomas weaves these individuals into a running narrative of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s activities, from his arrival at Fort Riley, Kan., in 1866 to that final 1876 rendezvous on the Greasy Grass in Montana Territory. Much of the story is a recap of events familiar to Wild West readers, though perhaps a bit less so to lay readers north of the 49th parallel. For more than half the book the only Canadian careers pursued are those of 1st Lt. William Winer Cooke, who got to know George and Tom Custer during the Civil War and rode with them through their Indian campaigns, and two subsequent enlistees, 1st Lts. Donald McIntosh and James George McAdams. More joined up from 1875 on, and each played a role in the drama culminating in that Last Stand, in which Cooke—and his distinctive whiskers—would play a prominent role. Subsequent chapters describe the fates of the survivors and the often-peripatetic dead alike, such as the return of Cooke’s body to his hometown of Hamilton, and McIntosh’s shift at the hands of farmers in the 1920s, followed by a return to the Reno Battlefield in 1995. In any case, Thomas makes her case for the Canadians’ place in the Custer saga.