Native Village
Youth and Education news
September 2010 Volume 1

DIA's flag from Custer's Last Stand could raise millions
Condensed by Native Village

Only two flags survived the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn. One was purchased by the old Detroit Museum of Art in 1895. They paid $54.00 for it. Later, the flag was passed to the museum's successor, the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Come this October, Sotheby's in New York will put the tattered and stained "guidon" -- a swallowtailed flag -- up for public auction. It's estimated value: $2,000,000 - $5,000,000. 

The DIA never displayed the flag and are selling it to reduce their warehouse holdings and costs.  Under rules governing the art museum world, profits be used to acquire more art.

The guidon is, in many respects, the rarest of historic artifacts., but Graham Beal says the high price Sotheby's put on the flag even surprised him.

"But they felt strongly that this was a powerful enough story," the DIA museum director said, "which of course is what you're buying with a historical object."

In the Battle of LIttle Bighorn, Gen. George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Cavalry attacked the Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne. During the battle, Custer and most of the Cavalry perished.

The Sioux and Cheyenne scoured the battleground for victory tributes, like flags and battle standards. The guidon the Detroit Museum inherited was hidden under a corpse. It was discovered three days later by Sgt. Ferdinand Culbertson, part of the burial party.

Four years later, Culbertson gave it to Detroit friends who later sold it to the DMA.

The guidon is in recognizable, but not great shape.  One gold star has been snipped out, as well as a little rectangle elsewhere.

"There are stains," Penney says, "though our conservators are convinced this is the result of colors running, not blood."

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