Michigan: On June 25, 1876, George Armstrong Custer led his 7th Cavalry in a battle against the Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne. The fight took place near the Little Bighorn River in Montana.
A few days later, an Army burial detail surveyed the carnage. Sgt. Ferdinand Culbertson discovered an American guidon (swallow-tail flag) beneath a dead soldier. He picked it up, folded it and squeezed it into his pocket.
Four years later, Culbertson gave the guidon to Rose Fowler, whose husband was a military man. In 1895, Fowler sold it to the Detroit Museum of Art for $54.
Now, 115 years
Arts plans to
Last Flag this
auction house in New York.
The estimated price it is expected to fetch?
$2,000,000 - $5,000,000
So, why does Sotheby’s think a tattered 19th-century silk flag would sell for that amount?
Their estimate is based on many factors. These include Custer’s iconic status in American mythology, the flag’s witness to one of the best-known battles in American history, and the flag's connection to America's troubled relationships with American Indians.
“It is one of the most famous stories in American history and here you have one of the most important symbols of that story that you could possibly have,” said David Redden from Sothebys. “The guidon represented the soul and heart of what the soldiers were fighting for.”
The 27 1/2-by-33-inch flag is in relatively good condition despite the fact that sections were cut away as souvenirs in the 19th century.
Only one other 7th Cavalry guidon -- the Keogh guidon --survived the battle. It is housed at the Little Bighorn monument. But the flag's condition is so poor that it rarely gets displayed.
And, why would the Detroit Institute of Arts decide to Custer's flag after 115 years of stewardship?
Despite its historical significance, it flag not a work of art. Proceeds from it's sale could be used to purchase something with true aesthetic value.
“It’s a standard-issue military flag,” said David Penney from the DIA. “The only thing distinctive or unique about it is its story, and the fact is, we don’t have the context or expertise to properly display and interpret it. It needs an appropriate home.
But many in nearby Monroe, Michigan are not celebrating. Custer considered Monroe his hometown.
“It’s disappointing news for anyone from Michigan,” said John Gibney from the Monroe County Historical Museum. The museum houses one of the country's largest permanent exhibitions devoted to Custer, who was a bona fide Union hero in the Civil War.
this is Custer,
one of the
produced, so the
this flag could
end up somewhere
where you might
never see it
again is just
Gibney said. "Professionally,
I understand why
wish it were