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Custer's Last Flag Could Fetch $5 Million

It was 134 years ago today, June 25, that George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Cavalry fought and were overwhelmed by Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne at Little Big Horn River. There were no survivors among those who fought under Custer's direct command and very few artifacts remained on the field. But one relic, a cavalry guidon, or swallow-tail flag, was hidden under the body of a dead trooper and discovered three days after the battle by Sergeant Ferdinand Culbertson, who was assigned to a burial party.


New York will sell this flag in October in a sale titled: October 2010: Custer's Last Flag: The Culbertson Guidon from The Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Since 1895, the delicate silk flag has been preserved at the Detroit Institute of Arts. It had been given by Culbertson to Charles and Rose Fowler of Detroit in approximately 1880 and was purchased from Rose Fowler Reidel by a public contribution in 1895. The flag carries an estimate of $2 to 5 million and proceeds from the auction will be used by the museum for future art purchases. The guidon will be unveiled to the public in September.

"This immortal battle flag represents the spirit, the bravery and the tragedy of one of the most dramatic moments in American history," commented David Redden, Vice Chairman of Sotheby's. "Battle-worn and bullet-torn, the Culbertson Guidon conjures the ferocity of that terrible battle."

"The Detroit Institute of Arts has been a steward of this flag for more than 115 years," said Graham W. J. Beal, DIA director. "In 1895, the flag fit in with the wide range of artifacts collected and displayed at that time. It remains, without doubt, an important historical treasure, but has long since ceased to meet current criteria as a work of art. It makes sense for us to sell it for the benefit of the collection." According to an article in the Detroit News, the museum has not revealed any information on what objects might be bought instead. The flag itself will hopefully find a home in another museum's collection.

For more information on rare flags, check out our recent piece on the

Stars and Stripes as folk art.