Winchester 1894

Thank you for the Winchester Model 1894 “Guns of the West” article by Charles M. Robinson III in the June 2007 issue. I, along with Kevin Tierney, ran the “Save Winchester” campaign. Unfortunately, despite having found a buyer that would keep the factory open and production in New Haven, Conn., Winchester/Olin decided to license the name to Browning, another division of the Herstal Group that owned the failed U.S. Repeating Arms. I still have much faith in the Model 94 and other historic Winchester models. I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for continuing to make sure that the 94 and the other fine arms made for generations in New Haven are not forgotten. I still hold out hope, no matter how remote the possibility, that we will see that fine model again, either as a Winchester product, or from another American manufacturer.

While I am not one to forget the past, I am also not one to dwell on it. So, I have recently launched the return of Merwin, Hulbert & Co. The Web site (www.MerwinHulbertCo.com) is up and we are taking indications of interest so that when the models come to market they will be what the market wants, which is the way it should be.

Michael H. Blank
St. Charles, Mo.

Frank Finkel’s Fate

I recently encountered John Koster’s article “Survivor Frank Finkel’s Lasting Stand” (June 2007 Wild West). I think that this interesting, well-researched bit of history is a valuable contribution to the Old West’s treasury of wild but true stories. I’ve done a lot of military history research and can appreciate the work by Mr. Koster.

Thomas P. Lowry
Woodbridge, Va.

In his zeal to recognize Finkel as a survivor of Custer’s Last Sand, author John Koster makes several bold and erroneous assumptions that do not withstand scrutiny. The author’s thesis is that Frank Finkel was actually August Finckle, who was reported dead with the Custer command. True, both men were of Germanic ethnicity with similar surnames, both stood more than 6 feet tall and both are linked with Company C of the 7th Cavalry. These are tenuous foundations, however, on which to attempt to build a mighty fortress of fact. The facts remain that Frank Finkel was born in Marietta, Ohio (not Berlin, Prussia), that he was born in 1854 (not 1845), that he enlisted under the name Frank Hall (not August Finckle) and that he served as a private and temporarily as a corporal (not as a sergeant). Whether Frank Finkel actually survived Custer’s Last Stand is still debated, but there is no credible evidence that he was Sergeant August Finckle. The best evidence says that he was not.

Douglas Ellison
Medora, N.D.

Allowing the article connecting Frank Finkel with August Finckle is a shoddy piece of editing. Other than height, they share no commonality. August’s body, one of a mid-30s sergeant, was found on the battlefield and ID’d. Frank’s body, which would have been one of a 20-year-old private, was not found by his friends. I am currently aiding a relative of Frank’s in her quest to connect the dots of his life from enlisting under an alias in Council Bluffs to his revelation in Dayton, Wash., some 40 odd years later, which was depicted well in Sole Survivor, by Doug Ellison, whom I have also interviewed. Doug admits that, for now, the story is a “footnote of history”; but an intriguing story nonetheless. We are still searching for links to the 7th that can verify Frank’s story. However, the piece published in your latest issue is poppycock.

Scott T. Dyke
Sahuarita, Ariz.

I have been a reader and subscriber to your magazine for many years, through the graciousness of my wife who purchased the subscription as a gift to me. She has also purchased a gift subscription for our son John, who is a rancher in Montana. I eagerly await each edition of your magazine and sit down and read it from cover to cover. John P. Koster’s article on Frank Finkel’s surviving the Battle of the Little Bighorn (Greasy Grass) and other articles that you publish are, in my mind, the highest quality and caliber of journalistic art and give the reader vivid descriptions and understanding of the events.

John A. Spizziri
Wyckoff, N.J.

John Koster states that “Sergeant Charles Windolph was Finckle’s best friend.” True enough, but Frank Finkel refused several meetings set up to meet with his “best friend” Windolph. Strange. But as a matter of fact Finkel went out of his way to avoid contact with any veteran of the battle who might have asked the question, “Who the hell are you?” In 1921 Frank was invited to be the honorary guest at the 45th anniversary of the battle held at Hardin, Mont. But the old fraud was much too busy; he was painting his house. Frank Finkel told a ton of lies concerning his great escape, including how his galloping horse carried him “unconscious” from the battlefield. Whatever may be said of old Frank, we can safely say he had one helluva horse!

Michael Nunnally
Memphis, Tenn.

I sincerely enjoyed reading John Koster’s excellent article “Survivor Frank Finkel’s Lasting Stand” and appreciated his new research and approach to this decades-old controversy. But I have to take issue with the statement that Captain Tom Custer’s C Company was a “high morale unit whose soldiers, like the officers, were Custer partisans.” I hate to upset the Custer buffs that might read this, but surviving evidence points to just the opposite. Veterans of C Company, as well as the 7th Cavalry in general, all tend to agree that this particular troop was one of the least disciplined and worst handled within the regiment and the blame was always laid squarely upon the shoulders of Captain Thomas Ward Custer. The result of their disaffection can clearly be seen when on June 25 C Company had the greatest number of known straggler/survivors out of any troop under Lt. Col. George Custer’s immediate command. Koster’s own glimpse of the movements of this company also lend credence to the perception that this unit virtually fell apart during the course of the battle.

Also, the lone cavalryman who may or may not have reached the valley of the Rosebud was identified by some as Nathan Short, another member of C Company; as was Corporal Daniel Ryan, whose post-battle escapades along the Yellowstone River resulted in an official U.S. War Department investigation. But then that’s another survivor story.

George F. Kush
Monarch, Alberta, Canada

Author John Koster responds: Thanks for all the letters about my article. George Kush is substantially correct: C Company of the 7th Cavalry may have been a high-morale outfit when they ordered their contraband hats, but by the time of the Little Bighorn things had clearly started to crumble. As for Michael Nunnally’s letter, Charles Windolph (based on all available records) didn’t know Finkel had been alive until after Finkel was dead, which is when Finkel’s second wife started the whole misguided campaign to prove Finkel had actually escaped under the name “Frank Hall”—a name Finkel never used when he was alive. I found no evidence that Finkel had been invited to the 45th anniversary (he was interviewed by a Washington state newspaper at the time, but I found nothing suggesting an invitation) nor would he have been much interested since his escape wasn’t especially glorious.

None of these would-be debunkers of the “Finckle is Finkel” theory deal with the identical forensics—same height (6 feet 1⁄2 inch), same hair color (“dark”), same eye color (actually, the Old Army listed all light-colored eyes as “gray”). Both men were bilingual in English and German. The absolute clincher is the comparison of signatures between 1872 and 1921, obviously written by the same hand with allowances for age. The gradual shift in the spelling of the name from Finckle to Finkle to Finkel can be seen on marriage documents and land deeds preserved at the auditor’s office of the Columbia County (Wash.) Court-house. Finkel wasn’t a lying windbag like the others who turn up as Custer survivors; he blurted out his role at a horseshoe game. Finkel’s descriptions of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, however brief, are correct. There are no spurious Sioux ambushes or traitorous Sioux scouts in the Finkel version. Face it, world—he was there.

Not So Much Custer

Wild West Magazine should regularly feature articles on popular, famous or even infamous characters, but to devote 39 out of 74 pages to coverage of George Custer in your June 2007 issue does your readers a disservice. Obviously, when you publish an issue with a theme, fans of the selected theme will rejoice, but you alienate those who aren’t especially interested. I do like the new format that does not jump articles.

David Wilson
Via e-mail

The editor responds: Some readers want to know everything about Custer, others don’t want to see his name mentioned again. We shall try to stand our middle ground. As for theme issues, our December 2007 issue had no particular theme, except maybe Merry Christmas. The current issue, on the other hand, has a lot about the Apaches, but you can also read about a black barber, Tlingit Indians and short-lived Cash City, Kan.

Send letters to Wild West Magazine, 741 Miller Dr. SE, Suite D-2, Leesburg, VA 20175 or by email: wildwest@weiderhistorygroup.com.