Dandy


Custer acquired his two favorite horses, Vic and Dandy soon after assuming command of the newly formed 7th Cavalry. Vic, the Kentucky thoroughbred was his battle horse. Vic, because of his speed and quickness became Custer's choice for the fast charges and maneuverings of battle. It was Vic that carried his General into battle on the 25th of June 1876. Libbie Custer and others claim that was killed on Custer Hill, along with his master, perhaps used as a breastwork after being mortally wounded during the fight. Others have listed Vic as a "prisoner of war," emerging from the battle under the ownership of Walks-Under-The-Ground.

Where was Dandy during the battle? Dandy was with the extra mounts kept with the pack train. Therefore, it is assumed that Dandy survived the battle on Reno Hill. Much of what became of him after the return to Ft. Lincoln is revealed to us by Libbie Custer in her book, Following the Guidon.

She states that Dandy was acquired by Custer during the Wichita campaign in Kansas during the winter of 1868 and 1869. Apparently the 7th Cavalry was to be outfitted with new horses for the upcoming campaigns. Five hundred horses were sent to the 7th, and as Libbie tells it, the horses were paraded before General Custer's tent for review. Custer spotted a spirited bay horse that he had selected out of the group, and after trying the horse, decided to purchase the horse from the government, for his personnel use. The horse was described as being of good blood, though not perfectly proportioned, and a little on the small side. The name Dandy was supposed to have been bestowed on the animal because of his spirited manner, and the "proud little peacock airs he never forgot except when he slept." Dandy soon proved that Custer had a keen eye for horses. Dandy endured the harshest cold of the plains winters, and even adapted to the lack of forage in the snow covered plains by digging for grass and eating the bark of the cottonwood trees. This ability to survive in this manner separated the sturdier Indian ponies from the grain fed army horses who would often whither away and die under these conditions. he also survived the dehydrating heat and lack of potable water that often occurred during the dry season. In other words, Dandy was a "trooper." Another characteristic of Dandy was his manner of movement. According to Libbie, he "never walked, but went ...with a little dancing trot that was most fatiguing" to the rider. Many cavalrymen hated this type of mount, that would bounce them along for mile after dreary mile. However, the General, likewise indefatigable, saw this as a sign of alacrity and endurance, which Dandy clearly showed on many a long march. Also, no matter how bad the conditions or how long the march, Dandy was blessed with an unwavering good disposition, never exhibiting erratic behavior. Dandy's possessed an air of competitiveness that did not allow him to march behind another horse. He had to be in the front of the column, and was at times difficult to keep abreast of other horses. It was customary when on the march to tether the horses during the night, less they stray or be frightened away by the enemy. Dandy was so devoted to his master that he would often not be so restricted and would graze at will, but keeping within the areas of Custer's tent. Dandy also passed another important test, he got along well, often playfully, with Custer's ubiquitous stag hounds.

Dandy was about five years old when acquired. He maintained his energetic style for many years, but age finally began to creep upon him. Libbie stated that the General, preparing for the 1876 campaign, stated "I must take an extra horse this summer in addition to Vic, for Dandy must be favored a little; he begins to show a little let-down in strength." She goes on to say that Dandy was wounded during the stay on Reno Hill. Specifics of the injury were not given.

After the battle, Dandy was sent to Mrs. Custer in Monroe, Michigan, and she in turn gave the horse to Custer's father. "The horse, so identified with the three sons he had lost, seemed to be a wonderful comfort to him." Mrs. Custer had some trepidation about "father Custer" riding Dandy as the former was well into his seventies, and the latter still had some of his bouncing gait. However, whether Dandy had gotten settled in his old age, or whether he exhibited some innate sense of respect for the elder Custer, he "let him(father Custer) mount leisurely, an seemed instantly to tame down in gait and manner. Dandy and his new rider hit it off quite well, and soon it became a custom for the two to appear in the local parades and ceremonies. They once led the grand procession at the Michigan State Fair. Father Custer would allow no one to feed or groom his horse, and as time went on, the "in consequence of too many oats the graceful proportions of youth were fast losing themselves in a real aldermanic outline." Libbie quotes Father Custer as saying in a serious moment, "I don't know how I could have lived without that horse. He's been a comfort to me for thirteen long years."

Then one day, no whinny of greeting met Father Custer as he undid the stable door. "For the first time in all his twenty-six years Dandy was ill." In spite of the attempts of two veterinary surgeons to save him, he died, constantly under a vigil by the entire family. Dandy was apparently buried in an orchard on the farm.


return