Interview With Author John Koster | HistoryNet MENU

Interview With Author John Koster

By Johnny D. Boggs
3/31/2011 • Interviews, Wild West Interviews

Author Koster and researcher Minjae Kim stick to their guns.

Army veteran and former newspaper journalist John Koster has never been one to back away from controversy. In 2010 his book Custer Survivor: The End of a Myth, the Beginning of a Legend (Chronology Books, $16.95) certainly stirred up a hornet’s nest among Little Bighorn scholars and George Armstrong Custer history buffs. A second edition was released before the year was out, but Koster wasn’t backing away from his central claim—namely that one 7th Cavalry trooper, C Company 2nd Sgt. Frank Finkel, escaped the massacre of Custer’s immediate command on June 25, 1876, and lived until 1930.

Finkel’s account first appeared in print in the 1920s, but most historians continue to dismiss him as a fraud, just as most discredit Brushy Bill Robert’s claims that he was Billy the Kid and J. Frank Dalton’s claim that he was Jesse James. Still, Koster insists Finkel was for real. Here he discusses the controversy and Frank Finkel..

‘That there could actually be a Custer survivor is the sort of story no newsman could possibly pass up’

What drew you to Frank Finkel’s claim?
That there could actually be a Custer survivor is the sort of story no newsman could possibly pass up. I wondered if there might have been a real Custer survivor. I knew there had been somewhere between 70 and 200 fakes, and I also knew the evidence had to be stronger than some bogus deathbed confession or thirdhand Indian legend. I’d done a lot of forensic-style investigations in my 40-odd years as a newspaperman, and I kept on a constant watch for anything that could suggest a genuine Custer survivor. Rain-in-the-Face had told a writer named Kent Thomas around 1894 that “one long sword got away” —mila hanska in Lakota means “long knife,” a cavalryman — but Thomas didn’t press him for details at the time.

Did you have a preconceived notion before you began your research?
When I first read Lieutenant Edward Godfrey’s 1892 Century account of the Little Bighorn and its aftermath as printed in The Custer Myth by Colonel W.A. Graham, Godfrey describing finding a dead 7th Cavalry horse at the confluence of the Rosebud and Yellowstone rivers in August 1876. The horse had been shot in the head and was found with a carbine and all the horse trappings except the bridle. Godfrey, who had of course fought at the battle under [Major Marcus] Reno and [Captain Frederick] Benteen, said this was the one chance he knew of to locate an actual survivor, but no one had mentioned the dead horse as far as he knew in 1892 when he wrote the article. More than a century later one of my researchers was trawling through the internet and came up with a letter from Hermie Finkel Billmeyer, Finkel’s widow, in which she said her husband was a survivor, has served in Company C and had ridden a roan. A.E. Brininstool had received an amended letter from Godfrey, written around 1923, in which Godfrey said the dead horse was a sorrel. A roan and a sorrel are both reddish horses with light manes, and of the five companies destroyed under Custer’s command, only C Company—the company Finkel insisted he came from—had ridden sorrel horses. So we have a guy claiming (through his second wife) that he was at the Little Bighorn, claiming he rode a horse of the right color for C Company. I got on the trail.

Custer biographer Jeffry Wert says you make a “solid claim,” but others dismiss Finkel’s account. Why is that?
I think they’re locked into mythology that won’t permit a survivor to exist. The Little Bighorn is famous mostly because it was a big defeat with—supposedly—no survivors. In St. Clair’s defeat by the tribes of the Northwest Territory twice as many soldiers were killed as at the Little Bighorn, but because half of the soldiers escaped, people had sort of dropped it down the memory hole. The Little Bighorn was called “an American Thermopylae”—but it wasn’t. A lot of soldiers tried to escape, and some were found miles from the actual killing ground. Nobody talks about them much, but they existed. So did Frank Finkel.

Is it possible to change a view that has been accepted for 135 years?
You can’t change a lot of people’s beliefs. The other night a very nice old man who wasn’t there gave a talk about the attack on Pearl Harbor and showed that famous photograph of the riddled car with dead civilians inside as evidence of the deliberate strafing of civilians. But the relatives of the dead men in the car saw them killed by an American anti-aircraft shell that missed a target and struck the road and said so. People in Hawaii have known the whole story of years, but we still see the riddled car used as an example of the strafing of civilians. A 90-year-old man who was actually at Pearl Harbor blew the lecturer’s doors off and told him that Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew it was coming, that the whole thing was a set-up that killed a lot of Americans without giving them a fair chance to fight back. That’s the difference between real history and patriotic mythology. Similarly, people who want to believe in a “Sioux ambush” by bloodthirsty savages don’t want there to be survivors—but every serious student of the battle knows that Custer attacked a sleeping village and achieved complete surprise when the battle first started.

Many soldiers’ bodies were mutilated. Charles Windolph said he couldn’t identify Finkel’s body. Daniel Kanipe said he found the body. Explain the discrepancy and why you believe Kanipe was mistaken.
Kanipe was a good soldier in 1876, but when he gave that interview in the 1920s, he was an old man in his 70s with a year left to live. Kanipe also remembered seeing 75 dead Indians in two burial teepees when the Indians actually lost 36 people, including 10 women and children. He remembered Custer turning down a chance to take a breech-loading Rodman cannon—most experts say Custer only turned down Gatling guns, not a cannon, which could have made quite a difference. He saw Custer’s body and said Custer was shot once. Everybody else, without exception, said Custer was shot twice. Kanipe also said Sergeant Edwin Bobo’s body hadn’t been mutilated at all—but since he married Sergeant Bobo’s widow and helped her raise Bobo’s kids, along with their own, I’d prefer to see him as a man of compassion and chivalry and not call him a liar. He meant well in shielding his wife. Nobody else said Bobo hadn’t been mutilated. Kanipe in his 20s was a good steady soldier—in his 70s he was either telling people what they wanted to hear or memory was playing tricks. Windolph suffered in his own memory for the rest of his life because he hadn’t been able to give his best friend a Christian burial. He was still telling his daughter about it in the 1940s. Windolph was the one who really tried to find that body.

Finkel was wounded. Why didn’t he return to the army after he had recovered from his wounds?
I think Finkel may have thought he’d done enough for his $22.50 a month after the Little Bighorn. Desertion was endemic in the frontier Army, and since everybody thought he was dead, he had a great shot at it.

Remember, like Windolph, William O. Taylor and many of the officers, Finkel didn’t hate Indians. He first wife was part Cherokee, and he probably made a pretty good marriage for a drifter, because a lot of people in those days were leery of marrying people with “Injun blood.”

Then, at best he was AWOL. At worst, he was a deserter. And somewhere down the line, his name is changed. Yet when he makes his claims to friends and gives talks, locally at least his story is accepted? Why didn’t it get bigger play, or did it?
Finkel arrived in Dayton, Wash., signing is name as “Finckle”—the spelling on the enlistment form. The 7th Cavalry had him down as “Finkle,” which is the same way he spelled his name until about the turn of the 20th century, when it turned to “Finkel”—yet we know he was the same person based on marriage and land transactions. People who knew him around Dayton remembered him as honest, somewhat reticent and not a windbag or a blowhard. Older people I’ve talked to remember their grandparents saying that you could take his word on anything. Why would a man who owned a square mile of farmland and three houses make up a cock-and-bull story about Custer’s Last Stand? He didn’t care about fame, and he didn’t need money. Most of the other so-called Custer survivors were drunks or, later on, showmen. Their motives were pretty obvious—a few free drinks or a real crowd-pleaser for their act.

Why did Finkel wait some 40 years before making his claim?
Finkel appears to have told a couple people around Dayton that he had been at the Little Bighorn and that it was nothing like what they had been told it was like, but he didn’t go public until a horseshoe game in 1920, when he appears to have told off a couple of loudmouths. He wasn’t eager for the notoriety. I suspect he just blew his stack hearing so much ignorance passed off as truth.

What was Finkel’s life like after 1876?
Mostly hard work and thrift. He bought and sometime sold farms and worked part-time as a carpenter. He got married in 1886 to Delia Rainwater, whose father was a prominent early settler in Dayton. Finkel and his first wife had five kids and lost two of them, but the other three grew up to marry and, in two cases, to have kids of their own. There are a lot of Finkel relatives around who grew up hearing themselves called liars when they, in their turn, tried to explain that there actually had been a survivor of Custer’s Last Stand. I didn’t talk to any of them until the book was just about finished, but they helped me out with a number of family photographs and some corrections for the second edition, none of which change the fact that Finkel was telling the truth.

Talk about the roles Chris Madsen and Dr. Charles Kuhlman played in the Finkel account.
Chris Madsen tried to pick the Finkel story apart when he heard about it after Finkel died, but he made a lot of mistakes. Madsen said all the Indians agreed there was no survivor, but he was wrong. Rain-in-the-Face said there was definitely a survivor and that he saw the man in Chicago, a city Finkel is known to have visited. Kuhlman said Finkel’s escape route and knowledge of the battle showed a knowledge of the topography only a real survivor would have known about. He sort of went off the road when he believed that Finkel had actually served as “Frank Hall”—a deserter who went over the hill a year before the 7th Cavalry left for the Sioux War of 1876. Finkel himself may have used that name once to a reporter, or the first wife may have used it when she was afraid he could be arrested for deserter. It’s a matter of record, however, that he told other reporters and his own family that he had served under the name “Finckle.” The second wife muddied the waters terribly, because she must have seen that he gave “Berlin, Prussia” as his birthplace and wanted to distance herself against the tidal wave of anti-German prejudice [during] World War I and the Hitler era. Finkel was actually born in Ohio to German parents who came from Bavaria. The “Prussian” thing was a chance to cash in on the fact that all things Prussian were the rage right after the Franco-Prussian War. Ever see those formal photographs of 7th Cavalry soldiers with spiked helmets? That’s where they got the idea. And that’s where Bismarck got its name—after the chancellor not the battleship.

What do we owe to Finkel’s second wife? And did she hurt or help his claim?
Finkel’s wife kept the claim alive, but by insisting he had actually served under the name “Frank Hall,” she also put some serious tangles in the trail. I personally owe her a lot. If she’d just fessed up and said, “Yes, he told people he was a Prussian, but he was born in Ohio,” somebody else would have clinched the story long before I did.

And if anybody had bothered to check the handwriting on the enlistment form against the signatures on Delia Rainwater Finkel’s probate and had realized they were in the same handwriting, I would have been obviated. Hermie Finkel Billmeyer kept denying over and over that Frank was the “Sergeant Finkle” on the 7th Cavalry roster and the Bismarck Tribune obituary. Obviously, handwritten signatures and height and hair/eye color comparisons more than suggest Finkel was Finkle.

What could Finkel have told us about the Little Bighorn that historians don’t know?
Finkel’s brief description of the Little Bighorn wasn’t what the American public believed in 1920. We have a vignette of him coming out of the Dreamland Theater in Dayton a few years before he went public and telling friend Robert Johnson, “That’s not the way it was at all.” His terse description sounds like what Richard Allen Fox and Doug Scott found in the 1980s—Custer’s five companies were inundated by massive gunfire from repeating rifles and shot to pieces. In a sense, that puts a better face on the fact that a lot of people broke and ran, either outside the perimeter or to the Deep Ravine. They never had a chance against that kind of firepower, and they must have realized it. The Indians themselves were astounded at what they were able to do with all those repeating rifles. When Lame White Man of the Cheyenne shouted out, “Come on! Now we can kill them all!” I don’t think he was as much bloodthirsty as he was amazed.

Explain how Finkel’s signatures prove his story was true.
Finkel’s multiple signatures are just the clincher to a story with a few other facts in his favor: He was known as an honest man. He didn’t want or need notoriety. Comparison of Sergeant Finckle of the 7th Cavalry and farmer Finkel of Dayton indicates he was the same man—6-feet-plus and actually over the height limit for the cavalry, dark hair and pale eyes, an unusual combination, and able to converse both in English and in German. How could farmer Frank Finkel of Dayton have picked a name off the front-page obituary in the Bismarck Tribune and guessed that “Sergeant Finkle” of C Company would be over 6 feet tall and bilingual? Did he really know what color horses C Company rode? Did he know about the massive Indian gunfire—most popular accounts of his time had the Indians using bows and arrows. The handwriting was just the climax of the search. At that point the agnostics’ cracker barrel was closed, and denial became implausible.

On the other hand, naysayers in a court of law would likely come up with handwriting experts who say the signatures aren’t by the same man or hand. How and why do you accept those experts you include in your book?
One of the experts was a psychiatrist with the U.S. Air Force and the prison system and also the author of about 30 books about the Civil War and the frontier. All his sources were handwritten, and he understood forensics. John Ydo studied handwriting at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and with the FBI. Keith Killion was a police detective for 25 years and is now the mayor of Ridgewood, N.J. These guys independently calculated things like the angle of slant and the “arachnographia”—spider writing—when Finkel got older and concluded the signatures were written by the same man, the first pair when he was young in 1872 and the second pair when he was old in 1921. The dying man’s signature from 1930 is also in the same handwriting, and so is a lead-pencil scribble on a postcard from 1914.

A talented forger could have possibly faked the old man’s handwriting from the signatures on the enlistment form—but why? Sergeant Finkle of the 7th Cavalry wasn’t exactly the Lost Dauphin of France or the Grand Duchess Anastasia. There were no crown jewels or hidden bank accounts at stake here. This is a guy who blurted out that he was at Custer’s Last Stand at a rustic horseshoe game. He wasn’t working a scam to inherit Sergeant Finkle’s lost millions, and with $40,000 in the bank, three houses, a prosperous family and a square mile of farmland, he didn’t need anybody to buy him a drink as a Custer survivor. You get the feeling reading the sparse newspaper accounts that he was sorry he’d ever said anything.

Finkel wasn’t the only white man to claim he’d survived the Little Bighorn. What about the others?
You know, it’s not impossible that a few other guys could have ridden through the Indians and just kept going. Nathan Short appears to have made it about 25 miles before his horse fell on him. The Crows found a lot of bodies, and nobody seems to have gone out to look. But the stories that the other survivor claimants told were all pretty ridiculous. A guy named Ridgely told people that Sitting Bull was a half-breed who spoke French and that five troopers, including an old man with a white beard, had been burned alive while Ridgely was prisoner in Sitting Bull’s camp. It turns out that Ridgely had been cutting hay in another part of Montana when the battle took place, and he had a reputation for making things up. Madsen encountered a broken-down old prospector who told him stories about being married to an Indian princess and seeing Custer’s body floating down the river—this guy wanted to get into the Old Soldier’s Home where Madsen was the director. You’ve also got desperado windbags writing preposterous letters to Elizabeth Custer, who had some money. Small-town people are good at spotting phonies, and they knew Frank Finkel was the real goods.

Getting away from Finkel. George Custer: Hero, fool or somewhere in between?
Custer is the most fascinating American figure of his era, because he was such a kaleidoscope of contradictions. He was probably the greatest cavalry officer of the Civil War, not only because of his daring, but also because of his instinct for tactics. He was highly intelligent—he could read French and Spanish, was adept in Indian sign language and was a fine writer with a wonderful sense of the ridiculous. Who else would admit to shooting his own horse by accident while hunting buffalo? He didn’t smoke, he didn’t curse much, and he was habitually sober. On the other hand, he adored his wife, but he was a scoundrel of a husband—and not just with Monahsetah—and he got involved in some very shady business deals. Custer was a poor boy married to a rich girl he could barely support and sometimes cheated on. He liked to take chances. He almost got taken off the case in the Sioux War of 1876 because he testified about the massive corruption in the War Department and the Indian Department—his testimony, incidentally, was very effective—and I think at the Little Bighorn he knew he’d have to pull off a triumph or face an obscure end to a glorious career. His blunder was, quite simply, that he didn’t realize that the Lakota and Cheyenne warriors were sleeping off an all-night dance and that instead of rounding up women and children he was trying to surround a force maybe twice the size of his own and with better weapons. He surprised them, but then they surprised him and shot his command to pieces. He probably died with great courage, but if he had been a consistent man of conscience, he wouldn’t have been there. The Indians had been lied to and swindled for decades, and they were brave men and boys defending their families. They were the real heroes of the Little Bighorn.

Why are people still fascinated with what happened at the Little Bighorn?
I think because the “no survivor” myth allows for endless speculation and endless argumentation—and because, when you come right down to it, Custer himself is such a fascinating study in contrasts.

What’s next for you?
I’m a mildly crippled U.S. Army veteran with a honorable discharge and a couple of miniscule medals, none of them for personally strangling Ho Chi Minh. But I had six relatives in World War II, one of them killed in a B-17 over Germany, another on the third ship into Tokyo Bay in 1945. In short, I have a detached perspective. I think I know what actually happened at Pearl Harbor, why the Japanese, who are not known to be stupid, attacked a country they couldn’t possibly defeat, and why nobody warned the Pacific Fleet or the Luzon Army and Asiatic Fleet in the Philippines or the Marines on Wake and Guam in time to head off a catastrophe that was a hundred times bloodier than the Little Bighorn and equally unnecessary. The Army bought 2,000 copies of the Cassilly Adams painting of Custer’s Last Stand and hung them up in mess halls to show the guys how to die fighting “savages” —or maybe to keep the food bills down. There were plenty of heroes in this one too, but I think people will be astounded to find out who the real villains were. Slight hint—some of the relevant translations, never before available in English, are from Russian as well as Japanese and Korean. My spies will not be revealed.

60 Responses to Interview With Author John Koster

  1. jdev says:

    A big question/problem that I have with this survivor story is that Peter Thompson, a real survivor of the Custer companies (whose horse played out) also saw Sgt Finkel after he dropped out of the Custer command. Finkel, according to Thompson, was sitting on a horse watching a third trooper (Watson) who was also a drop out from the column. Finkel then rode back to Custer, Thompson and Watson survived. Where is it is survivor Finkel’s acount account about Watson and Thompson.

    • John Koster says:

      I mentioned the fact that Thompson saw and mentioned Finkel in “Custer Survivor.” Sergeant Kanipe and Sergeant Windolph also place a tall sergeant named Finkle in C Company, so he was obviously in C Company, and Thompson and Kanipe both saw him follow Custer down into the Valley. Finkel’s account was quite terse and 40 years after the event, he probably had other things to think about. Forensically, he was obviously the same person as Sergeant August Finckle. As I understand it, a slug taken out of Frank Finkel has recently been analyzed forensically and appears to be compatible with Finkel’s survivor status, along with more paperwork from the National Archives. The History Channel has an 85-minute documentary, “Custer’s Last Man,” ready for release on May 4 — May 7 with a DVD for sale in June. I haven’t seen it yet but a number of exoerts including John Doerner and Louise Barnett, along with several Indians including John Eagle Shield, a collateral descendent of Sitting Bull, had some really interesting comments as to probable or certain authenticity.

      John Koster

      • Naoki Hioka says:

        Dear Mr. John Koster
        MedicaLingual Inc., Japanese translation and publishing company is very much interested in publishing Japanese translation of your books, especially “Operation Snow.”
        Is it possible you consider a contract with our company?
        I hope you could answer me to my e-mail:

        Sincerely yours,
        Naoki Hioka,
        MedicaLingual Inc.

  2. jdev says:

    Just a follow up to the above. The Finkle story is interesting, but I still have plenty of doubts. Even after 40 years, survivor Finkle should have remembered dropping out of the column and seeing Watson/Thompson. It sounds like he never mentioned this incident. Did he ever mention Kanipe? He should also, in my opinion, have at least remembered being a sergeant, but (as far as I know) always said he was a private. I know (from some experience in criminal investigations) that handwriting evidence, especially short samples, is very shaky and usually does not mean much one way or the other. Also a possible issue with the test on the bullet-What does “compatible” mean”? Did the rifling match or not? Who did the forensics? (I’m asking these rhetorically.) Also, what is the original independent source of survivor Finkle’s height/eye color? As to Windolph, my recollection is that he died around 1950 (not sure) which would have given him plenty of time to meet with survivor Finkle. Anyway, it’s an interesting bit of possible history. Thanks for your efforts.

  3. H. Toburen says:

    Finkle’s story was not that he dropped out, but that his horse bolted and carried him through the Indian lines. After being struck by two bullets and a whap to the head by a bullet that struck his carbine, he was unconscious. Now, I’ve never tried to stay on a galloping horse while unconscious, but it must be pretty tricky. But Indian testimony says they saw a horse leave with a rider slumped unconscious. Thank God for boots and stirrups. I think he would have had to be partly conscious to hang on, but I’m too old to try it.

  4. Larry Yarnell says:

    I watched the History Channel program about this, and the one thing I didn’t see was any reference to scars in the legs, abdomen and forehead. If these wounds were as severe as depicted, they certainly left their mark.
    Surely someone would have asked to see evidence of these events. Is there any confirmation of these wounds?

    • John Koster says:

      The fact that Frank Finkel had a bullet removed by a surgeon in Dayton, Washington, was covered in “Custer Survivor” and had been mentioned in the newspaper clippings in the Finkel File. Anecdotally from Dayton, he walked with a mild limp all his life. The Ohio branch of the Finkel family turned up a first-ever photograph of “August Finckle? in uniform and this will appear in the October edition of “Wild West,” which actually should appear in August. “August Finckle” in 1874 and “Frank Finkel” in 1886 were visibly the same person. John Koster

  5. Rick says:

    They would surely let some escape to carry word that they had takin Custer.

    • Alan Johnson says:

      No. According to Indian testimony, some of the soldiers tried to surrender, plus there were many wounded once the Indians controlled the hill. None were left alive. If they wanted to leave someone to “tell the tale,” they had plenty of opportunity. If anyone “got away,” and I remain unconvinced there was, it’s unlikely it happened because of the charity of any warriors.

  6. J Cowdery says:

    I read the book and I believe that Frank Finkel was in fact an actual survivor because the evidence presented is very solid and matches some of the testimony given by some of the Indians who were there and the findings of other investigations support Finkel’s story. I wonder if anyone will try to pursue this dicovery and try to add it to the history books.

  7. John Koster says:

    Things being what they are, we should probably wait to revise all the U.S. History II books until the economy gets better, but thanks for the kind words and good understanding of the facts as presented. A photograph of Finckle as a young man in uniform surfaced after the performance of “Custer’s Last Man” on The History Channel. “Wild West” will have first dibs on the photograph of “August Finckle” circa 1874 I recently received from the Finkel family in Ohio, and it will be published in the October issue, which tactically appears in August. I thank Greg Lalire and Weider for their responsible research into my research and for the publication of the June 2007 article now widely available on-line. The photo is also slated for the third edition of the book. John Koster.

    • Dennis Gleason says:

      Congratulations Mr. Koster. I followed your duel with a couple of unruly critics over the course of a week or so and am glad to see your’e back in action. I am looking forward to reading your 3rd edition and most likely will pick up October’s Wild West edition as well. A good friend of mine owns one of the oldest bars in the state, “Woodies,” in Dayton, Washington, that dates back to the late eighteen hundreds. If you ever come out to the real West, I’d be honored to hoist a few cold ones with you.

  8. John Koster says:

    Mr. Gleason: The honor, I assure you, will be mutual. First I need to get to the Columbia County Courthouse and see if the “marriage book” signed “Finckle” was in Frank’s handwriting or the clerk’s handwriting. The Homestead Claim from 1886 that John Reznikoff analyzed for “Custer’s Last Man” turns out to have been one of many that were written by the clerk, not Finkel. The only authentic “Frank Finkel” signatures I’ve seen are from 1921 and 1930. Those match. Reznikoff was correct in that the 1886 “signature” was not by the same man, but it was a clerk’s signature, as Cindy Harris from the Columbia County Courthouse has confirmed. As I stated in “Custer Survivor,” most land transactions were written out and also signed by the clerks.

    • Dennis Gleason says:

      Mr. Koster, you mentioned that Frank Finkel and his first wife, Delia Rainwater, had five children, two of which died. Is it possible that his signature might appear on one or perhaps all of the birth certificates?
      If that is a possibility, then you might have another comparison or two from the late 1880’s to examine.

  9. John Koster says:

    This just in — the analyzed bullet turned out to be inconsquential. I await further opinions on the handwriting — my experts concur that 1884 was not written by the same person as the 1872 enlistment, the 1921 probate, and the 1930 last will and testament — and that all three of these were written by the same person.

    • Dennis Gleason says:

      Mr. Koster, you mentioned that Frank Finkel and his first wife, Delia Rainwater, had five children, two of which died. Is it possible that his signature might appear on one or perhaps any of the birth certificates?
      If that is a possibility, then you might have another comparison or two from the late 1880’s to examine.

      One other thing. I retired after thirty one years of service with the state of Washington a couple of weeks ago. The last twenty-one as a Shift Lieutenant (Shift Commander) at the Washington State Penitentiary, one of the toughest prisons in the country. I live less than thirty miles from Dayton, Washington and would be more than willing to help you with any research that you may require. As a Shift Sgt. and Shift Lieutenant, I have probably investigated over eight thousand incidents during a twenty six year span, such as fights, assaults, riots, rapes, homicides and every other type of mystery in between. Just a thought.

      • John Koster says:

        Mr. Gleasom

        Thanks for a generous offer, Your skills are impressive but there may not be any viable targets. I just re-checked some of the documents in “Custer Survivor” and even the marriage certificate was signed by a clerk. I suspect that the only documents where personal signatures exist are those we have in the book. You’re more than welcome to look if you have some spare time. Mary Byrd at the Dayton Depot might also be able to help. I asked the staff at the Columbia County Courthouse to send me copies of any Finkel signature that appeared authentic or would have required Finkel’s personal signature, and that’s what I came up with — the probate had multiple signaturees, the last will and testmant had one that was shaky but looked similar. and a 1814 postcard from the family was a scrawl in lead pencil that wasn’t clear enough for analysis but looked similar. We know of course that these three all came from Farmer Frank Finkel. If there are others it would be great to see them. Incidentally, somebody in Ohio reportedly has kept some of Farmer Frank’s old letters — post-military — and I have asked to see photostats of those too. What would be really great, as per John Reznioff, the autograph specialist who appeared on The History Channel, would be one or more signatures from Finckle the soldier. The signatures from 1872 are clearly those of an Ameriican. Prussian signatures are in the Roman aplhabet but the script is different — much tighter, and with a right- to-left angle of slant sharper than an American. A couple of MLS librarians, one who attended school in Germany, confirm that the 1872 enlistment signer August Finckle was American, and that his signature is “literarate, but not much more than literate.” Frank Finkel didn’t spell very well based on his one postcard to his daughter Theresia, so that description fits. Reznikoff, by the way, now understands that the 1886 homestead claim he looked at for The History Channel was also signed by a clerk from Walla Walla. Two of my police experts from the book, a new police expert and the psychiatrist I quoted in the book agree that (1) Reznikoff was right in saying that 1886 was not a Finkel signature but that (2) 1872 (August Finckle) AND 1921 ( Delia’s probate) were writtern by the same person.

      • John Koster says:

        CF — Below, for the Frank Finkel postcard, I meant 1914, not 1814.

  10. Jim Groom says:

    Mr. Koster,

    When Frank died was a medical examination done on his remains? It would seem to me that his medical files would indicate the wounds that he claimed to have endured at the hands of the Sioux.

    Also I can’t wrap my head around his enlistment in the Army. He was just a pup and yet the enlistment docs for the 7th Finkle said he was nearly 29 and from Germany. At least that is what I remember from the TV show. Would not the enlistment officer have noticed that the kid before him was certainly not 29?

    I’m just curious and not trying to be argumentative.

    Jim Groom
    Grass Valley, Ca.

    • John Koster says:

      Six-foot-one “August Finckle” signed the enlistment form with distinctively American handwriting — which closely matched the handwriting samples of six-foot-one Frank Finkel from Dayton Washington. (The sample analyzed by John Reznikoff was actually written by a clerk from Walla Walla, which got into the loop by mistake through The History Channel team, as Reznikoff told me personally later.) You can see the actual samples in “Custer Survivor” and judge for yourself. His complexion is listed as “dark” and with the amount of facial hair people sported in those days and his farmer’s tan, he may very well have looked 20 — but he was an American and not a Prussian.
      The Prussian State Archives in Berlin report that no Prussian officer named August Finckle or Finckel ever served in the Franco-Prussian War, and the name would not have been ‘hoffahig’ in any case.”Finckle” means “little finch,” and no Prussian officer could have had such a name because it would have invited ridicule. There were two men named August Finckle who passed through U.S. Immigration at the appropriate time, but they were both still alive at the turn of the century and obviously had not been killed at the Little Bighorn. The fact that Frank Finkel had a bullet taken out of his torso and that he had a scar on his forehead and walked with a limp were common knowledge in Dayton.

      • Alan Johnson says:

        First of all, thanks for the book. I consider it a valable new addition to my library on the Northern Plains wars. Your argument is well developed, but I remain unconvinced. I don’t see the signature comparison as the “smoking gun” that you imply, but that is no discredit to your fine work. My mind remains open. As a Montanan with an intimate knowledge of the terrian involved, I still find it difficult to believe someone would make a trek all the way to Fort Benton, on the Missouri, from south of the Yellowstone. The area involved was wilderness at the time. The area of central Montana supposedly traversed is some of the driest territory in the state. And there were spots of white civilization, Countryman’s (Columbus), Benson’s Landing (Livingston), that were closer on the Yellowstone. The Yellowstone is the biggest river in eastern Montana, joined by substantial tributaries. At that point it would be a difficult ford in any season. A trek across the Yellowstone, through the Mussellshell country, up through Judith Gap and skirting the eastern side of the Little Belts and Highwood Range to get to Fort Benton seems very unlikely.

        But you do tell an intriguing story. I’ll be on the lookout for the photos you mention.

      • Joe Kelly says:

        You shot yourself in the foot with this one. First what is the appropriate time? Second what ships passenger list were these 2 men on and how did you track these 2 men from before 1876 on a ships list to 1900? That is some work there. I can assure you there were plenty of Augustus Finckles that came through before 1876, is a beautiful site for taking apart fakes like Frank Finkle of Ohio. Seems you only used the US census for your research. You forgot to check city directories and tax list and your Frank Finkle can be found in 1876 and he was not on the banks of the Little Big Horn River.See I mentioned on another web site 2 men that fit Sgt Augustus Finckle that came to the US prior to 1876. I will not publish any more facts till the story is ready to expose the fake Finkle and it will be done for free on a Little Big Horn website not to make money. It will be done to restore the honor of Sgt Augustus Finckle KIA June 25 1876.

  11. Jim Groom says:

    One more quick question. Sergeant Windolph in his interviews stated that he tried to find the body of his friend Finkle, who was the tallest man in the regiment. Just how tall was Frank Finkle suppose to have been? It would seem likely to me that a record or reference to his size would be found somewhere. If Windolph’s Germain was indeed the tallest of over 600 men I would imagine that some record of his size might be found. It is also worth mentioning that Windolph did not find Finkle’s body and considering his height it would seem rather easy to find an unusually tall man among the troopers.

    Thank you

    • John Koster says:

      August Finckle was six-foot one-half inch with dark hair and grey eyes. Frank Finkel was described by his second wife at the age of 70 or so as being six feet even with blue eyes, Friends in Dayton say he was about six-foot-two with blue-grey eyes. This would jibe with the theory that he enlisted at 18 — he could have grown an inch or two and older people generally shrink about an inch. (George Washington measured at six-foot until his sixties, died at six-foot-three at age 69.) He almost certainly wasn’t 29 because the older-man photographs on the porch show a man in his later 60s, not in his late 70s. Frank Hall, the guy Finkel’s second wife insisted he had been, was five-foot-seven and would have been 90-plus in those porch photos. He had also deserted a year before the Little Bighorn. I think we can forget Frank Hall. Incidentally, Hermie lied to Frank — she presented herself as never having been married but Scott Cross of the Oshkosh Public Museum now says there is evidence that she was actually a widow with a stepson when she married Frank. Frank’s descendents couldn’t stand her.

  12. David Engand says:

    What if Frank Finkel’s story could be further collaborated? The History Channel special said that Finkel took a shot to the ankle and one to the abdomen. When they exhumed Jesse James’ grave they found a .36 cal. slug in the chest area which was consistent with his Civil War wound, and a larger .45 cal. slug in the head region, consistent with his murder wound to his head. Why not exhume Finkel’s body and there should be a slug in the abdomen area which would be consistent with his story? While it wouldn’t prove he got the slug at the Little Bighorn beyond a shadow of a doubt, it would add credence to his story. Thank you.

    • John Koster says:

      The slug was taken out around the turn of the 20th Century but the scar on the forehead was visible to people in Dayton. I doubt the family would want to go through an exhumation — they have asserted since the 1920s than Frank Finkle was a survivor and they recognized “August Finckle’s” handwriting on the enlistment form as Frank Finkel’s signature. The height and the fact that the handwriting is American and not Prussian are also pretty conclusive.

  13. Joe Kelly says:

    Funny this Finkle photo just showing upfor Johns 3rd edition. There were only 2 photo studios by Ft Lincoln I hope it has the correct backmark. Western cavalry post Civil War Photographs are offered for sale on Ebay all the time. I bet its not signed by old Frank. Why didnt Frank produce this photo he had made to prove his case, his family would have mailed it or had a copy made but no they didnt. I suggested on Amazon reviews of Kosters book over a year ago that a photo would soon show up. Ive been doing my own research on the Finkle fraud and found some very intersting material on Soon to be published. The real Sgt Finckle was KIA at LBH and he was ID by 3 soldiers one in his company and another officer who knew him well and rose to the rank of General. A fellow NCO from C Troop id Finckle.. Windolph being a privaate would have had litte interaction with a NCO in the 1870 army and he was in a different troop. The 7th cavalry was split up years prior to Little Big Horn doing reconstruction duty and Windolph was not with C troop.Visit Little Big Horn Battlefield today. Part of it is called Finley Finckle Ridge thats where the 2 NCO’s bodies were discovered and to this day its still named for them. Its called Stolen Valor taken a brave NCO who died with his men and making him into a deserter. Last note Finkle turned down all offers to attend 7th cavalry reunions. The reason is obvious he would have had his lying head beat in by the true survivors. Over 23 men from C Troop (Finckles) survied Little Big Horn, some with the pack train a fewstrgglers and some at the Powder River Basin Camp,many were left alive to identify this imposter.

  14. Todd says:

    You seem to have some major wood going for John…what gives???

  15. Joe Kelly says:

    Todd, Do your own research, join the Little Big Horn Associates, post on their board, you have true historians there not sci fi writers. I have no respect for John. As for your wood comment keep that to your sodomite friends. Sgt August Finckle died at the LBH with his men. To take his honor away by making him a deserter who came out in the 1920’s as a survivor is Stolen Valor. Do some tours in the sandboxand loose some friends then have some one say that your friend didnt die in Iraq but escaped and made a new name for himself
    its the same as what the fake Frank Finkle did. As a16 year 3 combat tour wounded veteran and descendant of a soldier KIA at LBH the Finkle story is insulting to all the men who died there. I wont do your research. Have at least 100 Custer battle books in your Library so you can debate another LBH historian. Just dont watch the bogus history channel that calls Ice Road Truckers, and Swamp People and Ax Men a history subject. Then has a show about some liar who was exposed many times. Know C Troops chain of command on June 25th 1876. Capt Tom Custer was the troop commander but was acting as staff position that day leaving the troop to Lt Henry Harrington. Know that Sgt Kanipe was sent back as a messenger to Benteen as Sgt Finckle was next in line but his horse was falling behind, it was beat to hell so Kanipe was chosen to ride to Benteen, read Kanipes report that the only reason he lived was that Sgt Finckles horse was played out so he Kanipe was the next Sgt in line and took the message. Then we are lead to beleive that Finckle broke out of the Sioux and Northern Cheyenne lines as his horse had great strength and he made it throught the lines. His horse was already played out. 4 other C troop horses dropped out and these men made it back. Finckles body along with his horses body was identified by 2 men in his company and by Captain Godfrey who was a Medal of Honor Winner but whats a Medal of Honors winners word who was there on June 25th and id the body, to John Kosters word. Koster is on his 3rd edition making money off a gallant soldier who was KIA. I took up debunking the Frank Finkle lie after Mike McNunally passed on last year. He exposed over 200 so called survivors of Custers fight on the Little Big Horn. Really read about the Yellowstone region which was filled with hostile indians by the thousands, but the Fake Frank Finckle finds a cabin occupied by 2 white men in Sioux land that was not burned to the ground and occupents killed as they did to every other trespasser on their land. Read the VA files on Finkles claims put in by his wife turned down every time. My ancestors claim was approved first time as he died at LBH with his troop(F). His widow married Sgt Curtis and he raised Kellys 3 kids. I have a great deal of research on Frank Finkle of Ohio the fake Custer survivor. At this time Im in the middle of writing a book on Sgt Major Walther Kennedy 7th Cavalry KIA at the Battle of the Washita, and under going monthly surgeries at the 23rd st VA hospital in NYC from injuries in Iraq, but once thats done I will lay some amazing Finkle facts on the table as to 1876 and where he was and it wasnt in the 7th Cavalry at LBH. Im a Life member of VFW Post 8867 Brick NJ just down the road from Koster. He has been invited to the Post to go over Finkle facts but he declined. Yes he insnt a combat vet but I can sign him into the post as a guest. Also Koster was invited to the little local chat meetings that some of the members from the LBH Association has in NYC but he hasnt accepted. One last thing, Frank Finkle the fake survivor was invited to two, 7th cavalry veterans reunions he never chose to attend. He didnt attend the 50th in 1926, which was the biggest reunion ever held. Know this that 23 other members of C troop survied the Battle Of The Little Big Horn. Fake Frank had plenty of men who would have known him. He wrote in his first article in the 1920’s his whole troop was wiped out. That is a outright lie. One of the other fake survivors made the mistake of going to a reunion and no one knew him which would have been the case with the fake Finkle. Vets dont take to kindly to bogus sobs who tell lies about their unit. There already has been one book written exposing Frank Finkle as a liar, but I will no longer post books dates publishers, do your own research. But you can find it on

  16. Todd says:

    You come across as a bitter old SOB. Lets work on this , ok?

  17. Joe Kelly says:

    All you can come back with is another snide one line comment you are ignored from here on out. Your ignorance of LBH is amazing.

  18. Joe Kelly says:

    Todd, I mean Jon sick and nice try on the LBH Associates site with your Dave Alexander private message job your IP is marked targeted. Got to love the Garden State.

    • scott sharp says:

      Mr. Kelly, you seem to forget that there were eyewitnesses, to a white man, covered in blood, escaping! The American Indians witnessed this escape. Why do you have a problem with the warriors. Are they phonies too? Cheyenne warrior- Wooden Leg, saw a white man with his face covered in blood on a runaway red horse. Just because a man doesn’t show up for a reunion, does not make him a fake..Just being a combat vet does not make you an expert on American Indian History. But thank you for your many years of military service.

      • Joe Kelly says:

        Mr Sharp in every account of the escaping soldier he was hunted down and killed or shot himself. Now again whey do you think a part of Little Big Horn battlefield is called Finley Finckle Ridge? It called that , because thats where Finley and Finckle were identified by a Sergeant in their own Troop(C Troop) Sgt Kanipe and Lt Godfrey who later won the Medal Of Honor. Both of their horses were indentified dead with them. Finleys horse was even identified by its name Carlo. Now buy any good book on Little Big Horn and you will see that Finley Finckle Ridge is where most of C Troops men were found. Now another thing why does not the fake Finkle 7th survivor ever mention that Lt Harrington was in command of C Troop. He just mentions Capt Tom Custer. Tom Custer was attached to Headquarters. Harrington lead C troop during most of the LBH expedition.Why does the fake Finkle never mention other soldiers in his troop other sergeants(his bunkies)? How when we know that the Real Sergeant Finckles horse was played out before going into battle how did that played out horse carry him through indian lines? There is to much evidence to point to the man as a total fake and its a disgrace to the Sgt Augustus Finckle who was KIA June 25 1876 to let this story continue. Oh and for your info I have Wooden Legs book and just about every other indian account of the Battle. It was Sioux indians who in 1877 were now scouting for the army took soldiers to the skeleton of the soldier who escaped the longest distance. Read Walt Cross’s book on that account. So dont accuse me of calling indians phonies cause I can promise you I have more money invested in Cheyenne and Sioux accounts . Why dont you call up LIttle Bighorn Battlefield Museum a nice Sioux man will answer the phone and ask him what he thinks about the fake Frank Finkle.

  19. jdev says:

    I am not an historian, just a near-retiree with a casual interest in the Little Big Horn. Before anyone starts to jump and holler if I misstate anything below, Let me be clear that I find Koster’s argument interesting, and would not care if there was a LBH survivor, but the bottom line is that the evidence set forth in support of Finkel being a survivor is slim at best. I will get to Finkel’s actual story in a minute. First take a look at the hard evidence that is set out. This comes down to the alleged fact that a bullet/ball of undetermined origin was taken from his body years later (which means exactly nothing), that survivor Finkel’s handwriting may resemble Sergeant Finkle’s (anyone who has been involved in any court case involving handwriting-and I have-knows that it is impossible to state with certainty that short samples of handwriting ever match each other-the expert opinion in such cases usually depends on who is paying who) and that survivor Finkle allegedly had the same unusually tall height and eye color as the Finkle who was at LBH. (This, as far as I know, is not proven. Family remembrances are not proof. What is needed to establish this is a 1920s equivalent of a driver’s license or medical report of survivor Finkle’s-something that is objective proof, but which-again, as far as I know- is lacking)

  20. jdev says:

    Computer illiterate that I am, I clicked the wrong button, so my text here is divided into two segments. To continue-there is no real hard evidence for survivor Finkle’s story. As to the story itself, it must be remembered that the real Sergeant Finkle who was at LBH was ironically one of the few enlisted soldiers whose movements are somewhat known that day. As I said in earlier emails above, two other soldiers (Thompson and Watson) dropped out of the Custer column due to fatigued horses. They saw Sergeant Finkle, who also had dropped out of the column due to a tired horse. Thompson and Watson stayed behind. Finkle let his horse recover, then went back to Custer. This is somewhat collaborated by Sergeant Kanipe of Finkle’s own troop, who was sent back with a message and survived. Kanipe wrote that Finkle’s horse was falling behind and that he (Kanipe) yelled for Finkle to catch up. Kanipe also said that but for Finkle’s tired horse, Finkle would have got the message and Kanipe would have been among the dead. Now survivor Finkle said nothing about any of this ever. I can understand after 40 years or so forgetting such things as some of the names of men you worked/served with. But a hugh barrier for me is that survivor Finkle claimed to have been a lowly private, The real Finkle was a sergeant who was 3rd or 4th senior man in the company. There is no way Finkle years later could have forgotten that. As the lawyers say, “False in one thing, likely false in all things.” To cap it all off, Sergeant Finkle’s body was IDed after the battle by Kanipe. (Joe Kelly above states that a lieutenant and another soldier also IDed the body, but I can not find their testimonies.) An argument here is that another soldier who was a friend of Sergeant Finkle’s failed to ID the body, but Kanipe had the run of the battlefield and the other soldier did not. People may not realize that all the dead were not on a single hill-they were spread out over a very large area. My take on the survivor Finkle story is that he wasn’t trying to perpetrate a fraud, but likely saw a casualty list somewhere, saw a soldier with his own last name on it and in later years talked too much and it evolved to the point it has. If survivor Finkle was perpetrating a fraud, he would have done more research and realized the LBH Finkle was actually a sergeant. In my opinion, none of the claim put forth in support of survivor Finkle being an actual survivor would get past the early proceedings in a court case, the claim would be thrown out of court. One last thing-maybe there is another account, but what i saw of Wooden Leg’s account has a soldier trying to escape, but who is killed or commits suicide. Overall, I respect Koster for his arguments, but this story IMHO just doesn’t hold up if you spend a couple hours looking at the primary sources.

  21. charles collazzi says:

    Just wanted to sent a note lauding your fantastic book. I have always been intrigued by Custer at LBH and the possibility that someone had survived the battle. History and accepted historical fact(s) leave much room for error.
    Thanks for the enjoyable read.

    Charles L. Collazzi

  22. Joe Kelly says:

    Mr Koster Sgt Augustus Finckle died with C troop 7th Cavalry on June 25 1876. Part of the battlefied is called Finley Finckle Ridge as its where these 2 C troop NCO’s bodies were identified. Finley horse carlo was even identified. Frank Finkle of Ohio was a hoax. He can be found in 1876 and not on the banks of the Little Big Horn but thats for my research to be poted on the Little Big Horn forums. Good day Sir.Now sone new person can post after me saying oh its a great book and the game will go on. I wont quit as a combat veteran I will not let Sgt Finckles career and history be destroyed.

  23. Pete C. says:

    Mr. Kelly,
    Winston Churchill once said that a fanatic can be defined as “someone that won’t shut up and won’t change the subject”. I believe that those words can definitely be applied to your posts on this topic.

    I am not sure that I am totally bought into the fact that Frank Finkle survived the battle at Little Big Horn. I would like to thank all of the sane posters for providing me with additional facts about that battle that I certainly didn’t know prior to reading the books mentioned and reading the posts this afternoon.

    One point that I would ask all of the posters to remember is that even with modern after action review methods and processes it is incredible how much varience there is in eyewitness accounts of any single battle or small unit action. Soldiers fighting side by side may describe the same event in entirely different terms.

    The part of the story that I find most plausible is actually how a soldier twice wounded could “escape” the battlefield by riding through the “indian lines”. Put simply I don’t believe that the battle progressed as an “orderly battle” with lines on each side fighting for objectives as much as it was barely organized chaos on both sides.

    If Custer did receive a serious wound early in the battle and was incapicacitated the entire battle starts to make more sense. The cavalry command lost not only the initiative but also their only possible advantage of cohesion of action once Custer fell. The various companies essentially became independent actors and troopers, squads, companies were overcome piecemeal through overwhelming odds and the inability to mass firepower which was the key to survival as proven by Benteen and Reno.

    The Native Americans that were on the field were no more organized as a “fighting force” than the now leaderless cavalry. The terrain dictated their movements and approaches. As described in many accounts of the battle the arroyo’s and small bits of cover attracted the warriors by the dozens. Individual leaders seeing the cavalry command fragmented took advantage of these terrain dictated gatherings of warriors to provide even greater local numeric and firepower advantages than is understood by simply discussing total numbers of fighters on each side.

    It would seem to me in such a chaotic environment and given the suddenness of the terrain that it wouldn’t be miraculous or even very surprising for a single semi concious soldier on a wounded, adrenalized horse to “escape” the battle and leave the battlefield wounded but alive.

    I am very much looking forward to the 3rd edition of the book and the additional pictures that will support the claims in the book and again I sincerely do appreciate all of the people that have shared their knowledge of the battlefield and the events surrounding it in this thread and related posts.

    Finally a note to Mr. Kelly. The stolen valour act was found to be unconstitutional and for good reason, freedom of speech is a fundamental right and you cannot steal valor it is the possession of the person that performed the act. Medals can recognize it, graves can commemorate it but it belongs only to the individual that “did the deed”. In short you aren’t protecting anyone’s “valour”. You are simply trumpeting your own “expertise” and fundamentally drowning your own excellent points in verbal vomit that blunts the impact of your valid points and drives people from the discussion.

  24. jdev says:

    Thanks for your comments. Modern archaeology, coupled with Indian accounts, makes it fairly certain that the battle deteriorated fairly quickly into a rout and was not the Last Stand of legion. The generalized possibility that a soldier could have escaped in theory does not, however, add any weight to the specific survivor Finkle story, which has to be evaluated on its own set of alleged facts. As a smaller observation, survivor Finkle’s story has him leaving (as I understand) early in the battle before the real rout started.

    While I see no need to repeat the comments I made earlier, there are a few additional comments that might be worth considering and/or further cut against survivor Finkle’s story.

    1. I have since learned that another person who IDed Sergeant Finkle’s body on the battlefield was a surviving lieutenant named Godfrey. He said Finkle was shot by numerous arrows. This makes at least two known persons who IDed the body.
    2. The present story about survivor Finkle is nothing new. Many people may not realize it has been public since around the 1920s in more or less its present basic form. While the fact that several generations of LBH professional historians have rejected it is not decisive, it is not something to disregard either.

    As I said above, I have no ax to grind about whether a soldier survived the battle or not. I am convinced, however, that reasonable investigation (with some reaonably critical questions and observations) into the survivor Finkle’s story has to lead to the conclusion that the Finkle who as at LBH did in fact die there.

    Again, thanks for your comments.

  25. Benjamin Fox says:

    I believe that too many people simply want to accept the stories of the past that there were no survivors at Little Bighorn. Granted, it makes for interesting history to say that the Indian warriors won that battle, taking out 100% of their enemies. Although, having read John Koster’s book; I’m convinced that his investigations determined otherwise and he backed it up with facts that in my opinion are understandable and believable. Koster’s review and investigation is complete, professional, and convincing. Did Koster re-write history? No, he did not. He clarified something that was inaccurate in history. There’s a difference. His unwillingness to accept what everyone has always believed, and in the face of skeptics, his determination to set out and discover the truth gives us a different view of the Battle at Little Bighorn. I have read his book and I have reviewed the facts that he has presented. I’m convinced that John Koster has this right. There was a survivor from this battle in American history!

  26. cindy says:

    I just watched the rescreening of “Custer’s Last Man”. Did anyone do any genealogical research on Frank Finkle? The show stated that he was born in about 1854 in Washington Co., OH to German immigrants. I have done some minor research and found Frank Finkle in the 1860 & 1870 Washington county census records (1860 with both his parents, Peter and Magdaline, 1870 with his mother surviving), the 1880 Columbia county, OH census working in a saw mill. The 1890 federal census burned in Washington D.C. so no records there but then you find him living in 1900 in Columbia Co., Washington with his wife, Delilah and 2 sons. If he in fact did survive the battle of Little Big Horn did he return to Ohio to work in a saw mill? I thought that the show stated that he went directly west after finding out that he was the “sole survivor”. The handwriting difference was obvious from the beginning and Frank and August Finkle were two different people. There are a lot of holes in Mr. Finkle’s story but enough “history” that could have been learned between 1876 and 1920. I hope that someone will look at the genealogical evidence and either prove or disprove Mr. Finkle’s claims.

    • Benjamin Fox says:

      Cindy……. It doesn’t sound as if you read Koster’s book, Custer Survivor. You’re obviously interested in the subject, so if you haven’t read it, I would encourage you to do so. In the book you will find 1872 and 1921 handwriting samples of Finkle. These are clearly written by the same person. There are also samples from 1914 and 1930 that although have some differences, are very suggestive that they were written by the same individual. Koster claims that it is the myth that there was no survivor, which makes it difficult for others to accept anything but. I agree with his statement, and I also have not seen anything that significantly overshadows the facts that he has brought forth. No matter what side of the fence you’re on with this, the undisputed truth is that this is an incredible story in American history. I listen to all the facts with an open mind and have read the book. Having done so, I’m convinced that there was in fact a survivor.

  27. Don Walker says:

    I’m afraid I don’t have a conclusion but I watched the TV show and didn’t see any explanation of the rifle found with the dead horse. The rifle was said to be in good condition. Why would he have left it behind in dangerous country? If I may digress, I wonder if anyone can tell me where to find rosters of the Seventh in the Custer era. I had a great uncle who enlisted as a bugler in the 1st Pa Hvy Arty in the Civil War and, in 1866, enlisted in Co. A of the 7th. He served until discharged as a Sgt. in 1871. His name was James Henry Biesecker of Fayetteville Pa.

  28. John Koster says:

    One person talked about the undamaged carbine. Three others said they heard about a carbine but did not see it. It disappeared.
    The signature John Reznikoff examined on the TV show was indeed not Frank Finkel’s signature. The signature Reznikoff examined came from a clerk in Walla Walla and was, signed on Finkel’s behalf as was customary in those times. It was NOT Finkel;s own handwriting. The enlistment and probate signatures shown in the book, as Ben Fox says, are clearly in the same handwriting.
    In other notes, the book I talked about at the end of the interview above, “Operation Snow: How A Soviet Mole In FDR’s White House Triggered Pearl Harbor” is now in print. The FBI did the handwriting on this one….They confirmed it.

  29. Andy Himes says:

    I really loved the special as I had never heard of Frank Finkel’s account before. Not having read the book yet, I would like to offer the following:

    I reject the authenticity of Frank Finkel’s claims for the following reasons:

    1. Nobody has ever produced any credible proof of what name he actually used to sign up in the Army in the 1st place.

    2. Finkel says he signed up under the name of Frank Hall. Great! Then there should be a signature of Frank Hall somewhere. There isn’t one. I’ve got signatures of Frank Finkel and August Finkel. Well, who cares? Finkel never said he signed up under August Finkel. He said he signed up under Frank Hall. That’s the signature I want to see. If Frank Finkel’s story is to be believed, then there must be a signature in the U.S. Army’s records. Period.

    3. The U.S. Army does not recognize Frank Finkel or even Frank Hall as serving in the U.S. Army much less a participant in LBH.

    4. His silence for 40-50 years is glaring.

    5. Frank never referred to himself as Sargent to match August Finkel’s rank.

    6. The History channel special specifically mentioned that Frank Finkel never claimed to have shot his horse so the horse found shot dead some 70 miles away cannot be linked to Finkel.

    7. There is no credible forensic evidence on Frank Finkel’s body linking him to LBH

    8. The claim that the good samaritan that took care of him for 3 months in Indian country is simply too fantastic to believe and in fact sounds utterly ridiculous. Furthermore, if he did indeed carve the initials of the man that died of TB onto the gravestone, was that ever found? And oh by the way, even if it was found it would still prove absolutely nothing.

    9. Not going to the 50th anniversary in 1926? I found it highly unlikely that a man of Finkel’s age would pass up an opportunity of a lifetime to exercise old demons knowing it would be his last chance to reconcile his past.

    I will read the book because I think it’s interesting and I certainly must concede the handwriting is a compelling piece to this puzzle and interesting but as a former Fraud Investigator I remain dubious of the authenticity.

    • jdev says:

      Andy Himes-You and I are on the same wavelength here. I don’t buy into the “traditional” image of the valiant Last Stand, but that does not mean that all revisionist history about it can stand up to critical scrutiny. There is no objective hard evidence for Finkle being a survivor and his story on its own merits has serious flaws when compared to the known facts. Your listed comments above are good ones. I would add at least the following;

      1. Why wouldn’t survivor Finkle mention the incident with Kanipe (cited in my earlier comments above)?

      2. What objective evidence is there that survivor Finkle was even taller than average height. I would not accept anything other than something like a 1920s driver license for this.

      3. Sergeant Finkle’s body was actually IDed by 2, if not 3, soldiers after the battle.

      4. Sergeant Finkle was actually 3rd or 4th in command of his company. Survivor Finkle claims to have been only a private. This is a huge issue cutting against his credibility and nobody, as far as I know, who supports his story has given any explanation.

      • John Koster says:

        Finkle’s comments as filtered through his second wife are not verbatim. She claimed to be a spinster but had been married before, claimed his first wife had known nothing when Finkle’s survivor role was mentioned in newpapers and the first wife’s obtiuary…etc. Important to remember: Finkle was NOT obsessed with Custer’s Last Stand and his role was not at all spectacular. But it looks like he was there. The book will answer MOST of these questions.

    • John Koster says:

      Let us know what you think after yoiu see the signatures in the book from 1872 and 1921. The signature in the documentary was written by a clerk in Walla Walla, Washington in the 1880s and was NOT in Finkel’s handwriting. Frank Hall’s signature is very elegant and entirely different, as was his height and age. As to the reunion: Finkjel’s first wife was part Cherokee and, like Reno Hill survivors Charles Windolph and William O Taylor, he probably saw the whole thing as a land-grab that backfired and took no pride in killing Indians. They both said so in their memoirs. Fred Benteen said so in Graham’s book “The Custer Myth.” Windolph and Benteen both won the MOH and Taylor took the time to study the whole battle in retrospect. He said the was was forced on the Indians. He was there and we weren’t…

  30. christopher brown says:

    I find the arguments in favor of Frank Finkel compelling, but the vehemence of both sides in this debate seems rather disproportionate. One wonders why all the accusations and name calling over a matter that isn’t going to be settled until some solid, indisputable evidence comes along (and then I doubt the issue will be put to rest). In my humble opinion, the fact that armchair historians get so worked up over this subject is the best reason I can think of for Frank Finkel’s long silence. I mean, I was at Woodstock, but darned if I’m going to say so. Too bad historical figures aren’t endowed with our sense of logic. If only they’d done what we think they should have done, Custer would have died of old age and Sitting Bull’s face would be on the dollar bill.

  31. christopher brown says:

    Just some additional comments. Frank Finkel doesn’t seem to have made much of a deal about what happened to him. There’s no knowing what his exact comments were, since apparently no one wrote them down at the time. What he may or may not have said is second- or even third-hand information from people who might have had a greater interest in proving his claim than Frank himself did–and in fact the memories of old men, including those actual survivors who left their accounts, are always suspect. Also, having known a few veterans of WWII, I find that those who went through the worst of it are the least likely to talk about it–until some know-it-all who wasn’t there decides to hold forth on “what it was like.” If Finkel went through what he supposedly went through, based on what we know about post-traumatic stress syndrome, the discrepancies in his retelling aren’t surprising–are they?

    • John Koster says:

      Excellent points. In researching my latest book, OPERATION SNOW: HOW A SOVIET TRAITOR IN FDR’S WHITE HOUSE TRIGGERED PEARL HARBOR I found that the suspect’s brother had self-published a book which he felt showed his brother Harry Dexter White was “a loyal American.” In fact, the book by Nathan White included a verbatim HUAC transcript which gave clear evidence of Harry Dexter White’s treason. White’s Soviet contact, Vitalii Pavlov, praised him for getting the United States into a war with Japan, just as he was ordered to do, to save Stalin from fighting a two-front war. THAT book has never been tranlated into English, and I somehow suspect it never will be….In interviewing U.,S.Pearl Harbor survivors, I never met one who didn’t think the Pacific Fleet had been set up and that FDR knew the attack would happen, (He did, but only a few days before. FDR was NOT the prime instigator.) In other newspaper accounts, all the same guys could talk about was how surprised they were…Some reporters tell the people what the editors want them to. Some Finkle accounts may have been the same type of reporting. Forensically, Finckle and Finkel were pretty obviously the same person. The rest is perspective. Some people want the Little Bighorn to be Thermopylae. Others want Custer to be a moron or a monster. Facts don’t fit either desire…so people get mad….

  32. christopher brown says:

    I think that the moment anyone begins to recount an event, that event becomes to one degree or another fictionalized. No matter how objective we try to be, each of us visualizes through a filter of personal experience. We give meaning where there is none, we create heroes and villains according to current values, we promote or denegrate causes often for the sake of contrariness–and most of all we want the point of view we espouse to be the “right” one. Those who turn Custer’s men into brave American heroes are no more correct than those who paint plains Indians as nature’s noblemen. Most of us don’t understand our own motives, let alone those of people long dead, and since people in any era tend to lie to make themselves look good, the accounts they leave behind have to be considered suspect. By the way, I have two degrees, I was in the Navy, I once held a survey drawn by George Washington himself, I’ve read history voraciously all my life–and I’m not an authority on any subject. To declare something probable based on evidence is reasonable; to declare it a certainty is idiotic.

  33. christopher brown says:

    Just curious. Has anyone ever speculated on why the Indians didn’t finish off Reno and then turn on Terry? According to all reports, they had the manpower and the weapons. What I suspect, though I have no way of knowing, is that the Indians lacked organization–and that fact, in the end, is what defeated them. Tecumseh’s confederation had the same problem–you couldn’t shoot a deserter, so when the warriors decided to go home, they went home. In my view, Native America was doomed the moment that first Indian saw an iron cook pot. After that, it was shuck the old ways as quick as they could find a trading post. I think this conclusion is born out by the fact that Custer’s command was mostly killed with white man’s firearms.

    • John Koster says:

      The ndians were not aiming at a comprenhensive massacre. They were defending their families from a surprise attack. Once the active threat was neutralized, they saw no point in throwing away more warriors and hunters.

  34. christopher brown says:

    I’m not sure that I disagree with you, but I could see a point in going after the rest of the soldiers, who were clearly on the attack. Having turned back Crook and wiped out Custer with so little loss, you’d think the consolidated tribes might have felt themselves capable of one more stunning victory. I suppose in the end the outcome would have been the same, but without an authoritative command structure, I’m surprised that the hotheads didn’t prevail. But then again, perhaps the Indians knew from the start that their time was passing and further resistance was hopeless. Hard to say.

  35. John Koster says:

    Calling all bluffs! If anybody has photographs showing an alternative Sergeant Finckle who doesn’t resemble the man in the book or the film, a letter from Berlin stating that there was a Prussian dragoon officer named Finckle in Wilhelm I’s army, the name and address of any indignant Finckle relative now living and seething in Germany, or any government documents showing Frank Finkel somewhere other than the 7th Cavalry in 1876, send them to either “Wild West” in Leesburg, Virginia, or the Battlefield Dispatch in Morrisonville, NY. Critics claim these exist. Let’s see them! Outside of that, it looks like the end of the trail…People who want to get published in history need documents, not opinions. A couple of people sent in one-star reviews for my latest book, OPERATION SNOW, where they claim the American traitor Harry Dexter White was NOT a Soviet agent and had nothing to do with triggering Pearl Harbor. The FBI confirmed that Harry Dexter White was a Soviet agent in 1950, his KGB handler who adored him said so (in Russian) in 1996, and White’s state papers show him trying to make sure that FDR didn’t negotiate a stand-down with Japan– as FDR actually attempted to do on the advice of his military commanders.. Facts don’t matter to some critics. Let’s see those Finckle documents and photographs we’ve all heard about at “Wild West” or “Battlefield Dispatch,” honest publications edited by professionals or genuine experts. The rest is silence.

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