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Andrew 1st May 2005 03:18 AM

Swords at the Little Big Horn (Part II)
A new member posted this on the original thread on the old forum:

Originally Posted by George Armstrong Custer
Hi Jeff D,
I wonder if you could direct me to a source for Custer having around thirty swords at the time of his death? Also, I'd be obliged for a source that his favorite was an M1860 sabre by Roby?
You may be interested to know that Custer's M1860 Roby sabre was sold at Butterfield & Butterfield of San Francisco's auction of Custer and Western Memorabilia on April 4, 1995. With an estimate of $30,000-40,000 it made (if I remember correctly) $32,000.

As you'll probably already know, Custer also famously retained an oversized Confederate cavalry officer's straight-bladed, double-edged sword whose owner he had killed in a running fight. The blade on this weapon was engraved 'No me saques sin raison; No me enbaines sine honor' ['Draw me not without cause; sheathe me not without honor']. It had a German 'Solingen' marked blade.


tom hyle 1st May 2005 10:46 AM

Is there a picture of said sword? Sounds Mexican.

Jeff D 1st May 2005 03:19 PM


I have read about the Roby saber a couple times, but, most recently in John Thillmann's Civil War Cavalry & Artillery Sabers On Pg 302; " for students of Roby sabers it may be of interest to note that one of George Armstrong Custer's cavalry sabers was a Roby enlisted model with an 1864 dated blade. It comes with a family provenance and may be seen in a 1995 dated Butterfield and Butterfield auction catalog, which also included a number of other Custer items."

I can't recall were I read about Custers collection of swords and unfortunately most of my books are in storage, If I do remember I will post it.

Hi Tom,
I have seen a number of European broadswords with this motto on them, and most recently on another thread a Caucasian saber.

All the Best.

tom hyle 1st May 2005 03:37 PM

Of course, without seeing the sword, I can only point out that Mexico is closer, geographically, and often undercreditted for its role in US material culture. Also, that straight double edged swords that can fairly be described as oversized seem more common out of Mexico to a later date than out of Europe. The German-ness of the blade can be accepted well enough, although, of course, the Solingen marks have been famously counterfeited for a long time.

Jim McDougall 3rd May 2005 03:52 AM

Hi Andrew,
"Son of the Morning Star" (Evan S. Connell, 1984, p.111) describes Custer's fight with a Confederate officer during the Civil War. Apparantly he killed the officer and took his "unusual double edged sword-its blade engraved in Spanish 'no me saques sin razon- no me envaines sin honor'. " It is noted that the eminent Custer historian Lawrence Frost examined the sword with a jewelers loop, presuming this to be a Toledo blade and looking for markings. He found instead Solingen marking in nearly obliterated letters near the hilt.
It says that the blade was 3" longer than the standard cavalry saber (which was 36" long) suggesting this would have had to be 39" long!!
The author notes that "...he liked swords and apparantly collected them with the innocent pleasure of those who collect cognac bottles and postage stamps.One of these weapons which Mr. Frost acquired , has an unusually short blade with an ivory channeled grip, the pommel consisting of a gold plated lions head with ruby like eyes. It probably was made in England and belonged to one of his ancestors.Then there is a militia officers sword with a mother of pearl grip and a brass pommel in the shape of a knights helmet. It dates from mid 19th c. and was manufactured in Chicopee, Mass. but that is all that Mr. Frost could find out".

It seems I recall the note on his sword collection and did see someplace the comment on thirty swords, but need to dig into the files!! It seems that they were once in the holdings of museum or something to do with this Mr. Frost.

The double edged sword with the familiar 'Spanish' motto were very common in colonial Mexico, and these were typically Spanish cavalry blades for M1769 swords. The blades themselves were shipped to Mexico unmounted and often mounted in sabre hilts of the period. The first one I ever encountered seemed very odd in having a broadsword blade in a sabre hilt, but apparantly these were mounted this way in Mexico in the 1820's and 1830's. The blade owned by the Confederate officer may well have been captured in the Mexican-American War 1846 . The Confederate forces also used many foreign swords during the Civil War, particularly British, but often German and undoubtedly even Mexican weapons. Straight cavalry blades of the 18th century often reached huge length as the dragoons often rode on huge draught horses, and required extra length blades. I once owned a M1788 British dragoon sword with a 40" was a monster!!
As has been noted, the 'Spanish' motto' appeared on many blades mounted worldwide as these were trade blades.

It seems quite familiar about the Roby sabre as well, I'll keep looking.

Best regards,

tom hyle 3rd May 2005 12:25 PM

The attitude toward Mexico on the part of US in the 18th and 19th was considerably different than currently, as well, with Mexico being more Europeanized from an earlier date, thus being earlier more "civilized" than USA (much of both had actually been civilized--city-based--long before White Eyes came along, of course) and being an alternative (to England) source of manufactured goods; importing cutlery from Mexico is mentioned in old accounts and in folklore. Additionally, extensive areas of what are now (or during the US civil war) USA were at one time (not that long before said war), either politically or culturally Mexican/Spanish colonial. Of course one notices this in the enormous country of Texas, but it was also pretty prominant in Colorado, for instance. It is entirely possible the Confederate officer was from an area recently under Mexican rule, or was himself of Mexican descent.

Jeff D 3rd May 2005 03:41 PM

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How frustrating is this! I have a number of Custer books but cannot access them. Unfortunately I read them long before meeting this forum so I did not make mental notes of where the facts came from.

Tom, the contribution of Mexico to American culture is very important, but, perhaps we are getting a little ahead of ourselves. Lets see if the sword can be tracted down. For point of fact I will post a recent aquisition (not arrived yet), it is highly unlikely that its bearer was of Mexican descent. This motto as you know was used on many British swords which the confederates identified with.

All the Best.

George Armstrong Custer 3rd May 2005 05:41 PM

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Firstly may I thank you all for your welcoming and interested response to an enquiry from a new member; it's much appreciated.

Andrew, many thanks for reposting my original message to this new forum location.

Tom, I have searched high and low on the net for an image of this weapon. There ought to be one available, as the sword was in the Smithsonian Institute collection. Apparently it is not now, and I cannot account for its disappearance from that august collection. However, in Lawrence A. Frost's book The Custer Album, there is a good b/w photograph of the unsheathed sword and its scabbard on p. 178. Jim McDougal's reference to the late Lawrence Frost's close examination of this blade in Son of the Morning Star is supported in its conclusions by the caption to this photo in Frost's own book, which declares it to be a German blade. Jim's quotes from the Son of the Morning Star book as to the sabre's relatively large dimensions and heft are reflected in the photo of it in Frost's book. [BTW, the late Dr Lawrence A. Frost was a podiatrist who happened to grow up in Custer's boyhood hometown of Monroe [note: although the Custers moved to Monroe, the future General was born at New Rumley, Ohio]. He became one of the most respected chroniclers of Custer's life and times, with several relevant publications to his name. Frost was also the longtime curator of the Custer room of the Monroe County, Michigan, museum. He lived across the street from members of the Custer family at one point, and before they left town prior to WWII their going away present to Frost was a pair of Custer's cavalry boots. Over the years Frost acquired many more Custer artefacts and manuscripts; after his death, many of these appeared in the Butterfield auction of 1996 referred to earlier.

Jeff, I have been meaning to place an order for the Thillmann volume with our local bookstore for some time now - it has had very good reviews. It correctly describes the Roby sabre from the Butterfield & Butterfield sale of April 4, 1995. I have a copy of the catalogue, as I bid (miserably unsuccessfully!) on the Custer sabre. It contains a good sized color photo of the unsheathed sabre and scabbard. The catalogue description is as follows:

Lot #6: General George A. Custer's Model 1860 Cavalry Saber. Having a 35 inch curved blade, ricasso marked U.S. 1864 A.G.M. The reverse C. Roby W. Chelmsford Mass. Length overall 43 1/4 inches. Condition: Guard and blade show minor wear, some flaking to leather grip, wire wrap loose. Metal scabbard with dark patina overall. See illustration.' Provenance: Acevedo Collection; Charles A. Custer Family Collection. Estimate $30,000/40,000.

It was later some little consolation to me to acquire a duplicate of Custer's Roby sabre, also dated 1864, inspector marked A.G.M. (for Alfred G. Manning), and in better condition than Custer's at auction in London, UK (although, of course, it will never have the aura of having once been wielded by the 'Boy General').

Although I couldn't find an image on the web of the captured confederate sabre from Custer's collection, here is an image of the presentation sword given to Custer at the end of the Civil War by officers of his staff. Specially commissioned and inscribed, it was manufactured by the prestigious company of Tiffany of New York.

I'd be interested to hear of any more information anyone may have relating to swords owned by Custer - and in particular any references to his M1860 Roby.


Jim McDougall 4th May 2005 01:14 AM

I checked p.178 of "The Custer Album" by Frost and viewed the photo of the Confederate sabre discussed, and this is most definitely one of the colonial Mexico blades. I reviewed text and illustrations concerning these blades in "Spanish Military Weapons in Colonial America :1700-1821" (S. Brinckerhoff & Pierce Chamberlain, Stackpole, 1972) and on p.73 it notes,"...the wide, double edged ,hexagonal blade with three fullers is probably the most common blade found throughout the Spanish colonies".
I have a Spanish colonial sabre with three bar hilt and one of these exact blades with three fullers, and the "Spanish motto". It is mounted exactly as shown in Brinckerhoff & Chamberlain p.88 (pl.163) which is captioned as "a Mexican dragoon sabre c.1820". The blade on my sword is 34 1/2" blade.
The blade in the book's example is hexagonal but lacks the three fullers as well as the 'motto' instead marked with Carlos III (Charles III).

In examining illustrations and examples of these swords, it seems those with triple fullers carry the 'motto' and hexagonal cross section, while those that are associated with regulation Spanish swords are hexagonal but do not have the motto. In Brinkerhoff & Chamberlain (op.cit. p.15) it is noted that c.1761 King Charles sent officers to Prussia to study tactics, formations and equipment.

Another example of similar hilt probably earlier, c.1800 is mounted with a hexagonal blade with central panel fullered in same dimensions as the triple fullers, with 'Toledo*Sagaum' inscribed. This is clearly a German product with misspelled Sahagum and familiar flourishes, seeming to be an earlier blade of c.1770's. I think that it seems quite plausible that during the contact with Germany in the 1760's that King Charles may have aligned a degree of production of German made blades in the favored hexagonal section already standard with the Spanish military swords. The central fullering is quite characteristic of German trade broadsword blades, in fact the most prominant supplier of 'kaskara' blades with similar fullering in the 19th c. was Solingen.

I have long suspected that these blades in Spanish colonial swords may well have been German, and the Custer example seems compelling evidence with the markings noted by Frost. Thus far I have not seen evidential German markings, only the 'motto' and the atypical fullers on hexagonal blades.

Concerning the magnificent Scottish baskethilt Jeff has posted, the large block letters with the motto intersected by dots or circles seems to be also characteristic of German made blades. The Scots very much favored German blades, in fact it is likely most blades on the baskethilts were of German manufacture. They were also very enamoured with Spain's reputation for fine swords, and Germany in clever marketing ploy created blades using names from Spains famed makers from early times. A baskethilt of c.1680 carries an earlier German blade with misspelled 'Sebastian' and the typical flourishes seen on German blades, while the makers stamp is Wirsberg mid 17th c.
Sebastian almost certainly refers to Spanish maker Sebastian (H) or (F) ernandez c.1650, but more research needed on that. The point is that Germans were using Spanish markings etc. on blades from 17th c. onward, probably even earlier.

I am familiar with fact that there were British supply lines to the Confederacy via various Caribbean ports, and would speculate that it would seem feasible that Confederate blockade runners may have also entered the Spanish colonial sphere via Cuba. Here it would seem quite possible that blades may have been obtained such as the one on the Confederate officers sabre.
There remains of course the possibility that the blade may have been a heirloom captured during the Mexican-American War 1846.

I do hope that this sword might be eventually found among the Smithsonian labyrinth as it is in my opinion one of Custers more important swords. The others seem as described rather casually collected, however the Roby sabre is no doubt an outstanding example by an important maker.

Best regards,

Andrew 4th May 2005 01:36 AM

Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
Hi Andrew,

Hi Jim! :)

Jeff D 4th May 2005 01:38 AM

Once again I am blown away by Jim's knowledge. It is interesting that WBranner has just posted a blade similar to what you describe as the Custer captured blade. I have one of Frost's publications, but I don't think it is the "Custer Album" I guess I will have to wait until they come out of storage, to see the picture of it.

My basket hilt has a number of interesting features and I will post it on a separate thread when it arrives.

Thanks again All

Andrew 4th May 2005 01:38 AM

Originally Posted by George Armstrong Custer
Andrew, many thanks for reposting my original message to this new forum location.

It was my pleasure, George. Welcome to the forum.

Incidentally, any relation? :)

tom hyle 4th May 2005 11:20 AM

A lot of the welds are pretty obvious on that basket; youse may enjoy checking them out. While we're discussing mis-spellings, any commentary on "Salingen"? "Me Fecit Salingen" is on a sword I have (four times at that); I recently saw a seller say that a similar mark on his sword was from expat(etc.) German smiths working in England in the 17th?

Jeff D 4th May 2005 02:58 PM

Hi Jim, I am not clear on what the hilt of the captured sword is like? Is it a three bar or a boatshell?

Hi Tom, I will post better pictures when the basket hilt arrives, I think it should stimulate some discussion.


George Armstrong Custer 4th May 2005 05:28 PM

Many thanks for your informative post - your rapid accessing of a copy of Frost's The Custer Album is impressive! What do you think of the proposition that if Frost was correct in his reading of 'Solingen' on the blade of the captured sword, then this might still leave it a Spanish colonial blade, but which had had the 'Solingen' added to give it that added cache or kudos of a German blade? I am thinking of something along the lines of the many Scottish claidheamh mor with inferior local blades that are nonetheless marked 'Andrea Farara'.

Another possibility occurs to me. In Connell's Son of the Morning Star , Frost's inspection of the captured sabre is described as discovering 'close to the hilt...a few nearly obliterated letters which he read as Solingen....' What if they are so nearly 'obliterated' that Frost simply misread them? Might they not perhaps be 'Sagaum' or 'Sagahum'? This possibility would certainly tie in with the double edged three fullered blade style.

Jeff - the hilt on the Confederate sabre as shown in the Frost book is a three bar.

On a different tack, I posted regarding Custer's Roby on the Little Bighorn Associates Forum. A response carried the intriguing story below:

Your question is an interesting one. I'll add a little more mystery to Custer and his sabres. I have a copy of a newspaper in Mitchell, SD, dated December 13, 1932, and another undated, at about the same date. There was a court fight over Custer's "sword," which had been found sticking out of the ground. It had been found by a man 25 years earlier when a boy. It stayed in the family until loaned for a school play, got lost, and ended up being sold by an antique dealer, who had in the meantime verified via letter by the swordmaker company (still in business in germany), that the sabre was made in Germany for General Custer (old records verifying that). The antique dealer had the letter, but lost the court fight (the newspaper story), and the sabre was returned to the Kimball, SD resident. It is still in the possession of the family, and I have held it in my hands, and have pictures of it. It looks just like the 1860 cavalry sabre you mention, but has the name of the maker engraved as "C.A. Westmann Dresden," along with "Eisenhauer Garantir I" and "W.K & C."
If you would like, I can download a picture of the sabre and send it via email (don't see how I can do it here). my email address is
If this really was a sabre of Custer's it would have been lost in the Yellowstone Expedition of 1873, and lost on the prairie until found about 1907. The newspaper article says the person who found it (I know his name but the family requests anonymity) was riding on the prairie near Kimball when he noticed a chain protruding from the ground. Pulling it up, he found the sabre attached. Interesting mystery, eh?

Now, my feeling about this story is that there must certainly have been a sabre discovered to prompt the newspaper story. That this weapon was Custers personal weapon with a provenance to that effect from the German makers can, I think, be dismissed as hyperbole. I would suggest that the sabre in question was more likely to have been lost somewhere in SD by an Indian who had acquired it as a battle trophy. The fact that it was found driven into the ground and connected to a chain suggests that it may have ended up being used to tether an animal. As a German bladed weapon, it would most likely have been imported to the States before or during the Civil War - and certainly before the US manufactured M1872 sabres which Custer's cavalry would have carried into the region were issued. Perhaps it was taken by Indians from a fight such as the 'Fetterman massacre' in the 1860's. In any event, I'm sure you'll all agree that the story of this find is a fascinating one.


Jeff D 4th May 2005 10:54 PM

If it was marked WK&C, it is Weyersburg, Kirschbaum, & Cie. 1883-1930 . Therefore Custer would have had to bought it after the little bighorn.
Could it have been W&C which is Wester & Co. 1820-1890, who were known to import M1840's for the civil war.

The sword you describe sounds like it was bought from a retailer in Dresden, so most likely is an officer's saber. Try to get the photos and post them this could be very interesting!


Jim McDougall 5th May 2005 03:34 AM

Jeff and GAC, thank you very much for the kind words!!

On the possibilities for the Confederate blade, I doubt that the Solingen, if that is what the marking reads, would have been added to the blade to enhance value. Truth is most German blades for trade were quite anonymous in earlier times, and such an addition would have been superfluous. Ironically when the first U.S. M1840 cavalry sabre was proposed, I believe the first ones were actually manufactured in Germany. Ames of course took up the contract shortly after. Many German trade blades of the 19th c. were unmarked.As has been noted, the use of markings and phrases to appeal to intended markets were used as described.
The note on expatriated German swordsmiths is also interesting. Actually the first German swordsmiths in England were brought there by King Charles I and Sir William Heydon in 1629 ("Further Notes on London and Hounslow Swordsmiths" Clement Milward, Apollo XXXXV, 1942, p.93). In the same article, Milward notes that 'Facit London' was added to blades by of one of these workers after he returned to Solingen " increase thier saleability in England". It seems that the blades of Hounslow, and later Shotley Bridge, where most of these German smiths were concentrated, typically marked thier blades as made in Hounslow or London. Most of them Anglicized thier own names as well, one of them being Herman Mohl, descendant of the famed Mole,who produced so many military swords in the 19th century for England, and whose firm was eventually absorbed by Wilkinson.

While ME FECIT SALINGEN seems an unusual spelling, it cannot be discounted as incorrect as spellings certainly do vary, of course in accordance with the literacy of the maker, or possibly this could be a regional spelling ? I do not recall having seen that particular spelling though. The four repititions seems to have certain significance as I have seen blades from Germany which have this same numeric, which is cabalistically associated. Often phrases are punctuated with four crosses, and the four is a very positive number (the 1414 and 1441 'dates' are such numeric combinations and not actually dates at all).

On the Scottish use of German blades, especially 'ANDREA FERARA',
In "Scottish Swords and Dirks" (John Wallace, Stackpole, 1970), the author notes, "...although there was a Ferrara working near Venice in the 16th c. truth is that 99% of Ferrara blades are clearly of 17th or 18th c. date, and are certainly from German workshops- where the name held by the Scots to be an indication of quality was considered good business." p.25

Research and speculation done earlier in the 20th c. also has suggested that there was a Ferrara working in Spain, however this remains legend. My comment on the Scots favor toward Spanish blades finds support in the authors statement on the same page, "...certainly the Gaelic bards used to eulogize on 'Spanish' blades, setting them higher than those produced by clan armourers working under primitive conditions".
This statement suggests the term 'Spanish' as a type of sword rather than actual provenance, and further that these were German blades marked with 'ANDREA FERARA'. It has been suggested as well that this may not be a name at all, but a term suggesting 'good iron (Andrew= possibily 'trustworthy' and Ferara= ferrum, iron). Similarly on later German blades, Eisenhauer =iron cutting.

Looking at this book and the swords in it really makes me jealous of that beauty you got there Jeff!!!!!:)

GAC, the Custer topic has long been one of my favorites. Actually the Frost book was tucked in a corner of my library I havent visited for a long time...thanks for the wake up call!! :)

All the best,

tom hyle 5th May 2005 08:51 AM

Of course there's no such thing as incorrect spelling; I was trying to humour the normal-os :rolleyes: and being lazy, I supose, as well. 5 Xs in a cross "ME FECIT" over "ME FECIT" 3 Xs overtop of each other (could be another cross of 5 with 2 obscured) followed by a symetric pattern of some crosses stars(?) and a marked-up circle then 5 Xs that make a big X SALINGEN over SALINGEN then another cross of 5 Xs(crosses). The other side seems the same, but is much less clear.
I recently saw a mark much like the running wolf referenced as a Caucasian(? I think; not German, anyway) mark; is the running wolf no longer thought to be the mark of the Ruhr valley smiths? Is this not an early mark? Mind you, I have close to zero idea of "Solingen" etc. as after-market fakery; it would be hotstruck with a counterfeit die at the time of manufacture, truly or fakely (although the precision , size, and locattion of the marks on mine make me think they may have been etched). Certainly many fake Solingen blades are now made for the antique market, especially WWII ones, and I've seen blades sold as new Solingen work that seemed like fakes to me, but also the fame of the Ruhr smiths is an old thing; why else were they brought from here to make that famous English steel-work? And to other places, as well; didn't a number emigrate into Slavic lands, carrying their particular methods with them? I'm given to understand that their fame was the basis of their welcome/invitation.
I remember seeing a machete recently marked "Sheffeeld" I don't think it was English.
The fame of Spainish swords in Great Brittain in general and Scottland in particular is still echoed among their descendants in N America; Spanish swords as the best and as the originator of both spring temper and of the rapier and (thus) of the modern European sword is a common and often adamant folk belief here.

wolviex 5th May 2005 02:17 PM

If we decide to talk not about spanish inscription but about "solingen" one, I would like to confirm Tom's words. There were "MEFECIT SALINGEN" inscriptions indeed:

take a look Claude Blair, European & American Arms, pl. 140 (or 141)


George Armstrong Custer 5th May 2005 08:07 PM

Hi Jeff,
I've emailed Jeff Broome - who posted about the sabre found on the plains of SD - asking him for the photos he offered to send. If these arrive I'll certainly put them up here. You're right - despite the clear nonsense of it being Custer's weapon, there remains an intriguing tale around this sabre and its discovery. If the pictures arrive and are clear enough they will hopefully clear up any doubt as to whether it is marked WK&C or W&C - didn't WK&C go on to manufacture dress swords and daggers for the Third Reich?

Jim, I take your points about the lack of incentive for non-German manufacturers to 'talk up' a blade by adding Solingen to it. As to the import of German M1840 and M1860 sabres, my researches into Christopher Roby & Co., turned up a gem of an article by John D. Hamilton in the January/February 1980 issue of Man At Arms magazine, 'Christopher Roby and the Chelmsford Sword.' Hamilton writes: 'However, as war approached it became evident that there was a dire shortage of edged weapons in the North as well as the South. even well established sword manufacturers such as Ames of Chicopee were unable to initially provide sufficient swords to meet government needs. So desperate was the Union for additional edged weapons that Ames, as well as Tiffany & Co of New York, resorted to importing German cavalry sabres at the outset of the war. For these swords, the government paid premium prices. In December 1861, Roby had little difficulty in disposing of 410 [imported] cavalry sabres that had been on hand.' Roby only geared production to the making of his own M1860 cavalry sabres from July 1863 - at a unit price of $5.75, with 1864's (the year Custer's was produced) production run going up to $6.50 per unit.

As you and Tom note, the Scots did indeed set great store in associations with renowned Continental blades. Wolviex rightly points out the spelling differences amongst faux German blades - and similar discrepancies are mirrored in those found on Scots blades. I've seen examples marked 'ANDREA FA RA RA' ; 'SS ANDRIA SS FARARA SS' ; 'ANDRIA X FARARA' ; 'FARARA SAHAGUN' ; 'FERARA ELVIEHO' ; 'ANDREIA FARARA' etc. etc. etc.

Yes - the Custer 'bug' is an addictive (though fascinating) one!


Jeff D 5th May 2005 08:39 PM

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Through a series of takeovers and purchases they became WKC Stahl & Eisenwaren Fabrik in 1930. They produced blades for many places on the globe including Germany. I look forward to seeing the photo's.


Jim McDougall 6th May 2005 01:15 AM

Outstanding LOL!!! The algebraic equations synopsis of these sword markings and numerics is hysterical!! thank you for the lighter side..they really do get puzzling and frustrating trying to find the intended symbolism.
Good points on the running wolf markings as well. These did end up in so many incarnations in other regions that I think they were eventually simply discarded in their original habitat. The running wolf marks did find use by the German smiths in England at Hounslow and Shotley Bridge in the 17th c. and the same type stylized running wolf became popular with Chechen swordsmiths on shashka blades described in "Chechen Arms" by I.Askhabov, p.57-61. These blades seem primarily 19th c. and are termed Ters-Maymal, with a great deal of speculation on the etymology of that term, however are distinguished by the running wolf marking.

The spelling variations on these German blade markings really does prove interesting, and in degree seem consistantly inconsistant :) I could not recall seeing the Salingen spelling, and Michel thank you for finding that reference in Blair!! It drives me nuts when I cant find the reference I'm looking for.:)

George, nicely done on the Roby article in "Man at Arms". Again, could not place that reference to the importation of German blades, and that was the exact source I needed. That was an excellent article, and good to re-reference it from the dusty archives !! (1980? was that really 25 yrs ago?yikes)

It is always amazing to see how swords and blades from such diverse provenance can be so inherently linked historically through long standing trade and political associations. Here the discussion of a Confederate sword captured in the Civil War leads to reviews of centuries of German blade industry and trade with England, Spain and Scotland.
I really appreciate you guys keeping things going with references along with excellent observations. Thanks very much :)

All the best,

Jeff D 17th May 2005 02:31 AM

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Hi All,

GAC has forwarded me these photo's sent to him of the "found" Custer sword. This sword looks like an Imperial German officer's sword, or more unlikely a M1850 staff and field with a later German blade, can't tell from the pictures. Anybody any guesses?


Jim McDougall 31st August 2007 11:10 PM

Although this thread is now over two years old, and I doubt if GAC is still around, I wanted to add some new information that those so inclined might find interesting. Before adding that I would like to note on the last post from Jeff, the hilt does look like the U.S. M1850 officers, and the blade appears to me to be one of the German M1889 Imperial officers pattern blades just as Jeff suggests.

I have been here in Montana at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and visited the museum. There in a glass case is the huge sword we were discussing in this thread! The caption lists the sword as having been taken from a Confederate adversary by Custer just after he killed him during a running fight. This event is alleged to have taken place during the Battle of White Oak Swamp (Virginia) in August 1862.

In the resources I have consulted there is no mention of such an event involving Custer taking a sword in combat, though Robert Utley in "Cavalier in Buckskin" describing him on p.30 notes he wore "...a heavy sword, trophy of an earlier exploit, hung from his belt".

The sword is indeed extremely large with the heavy double edged dragoon type blade actually being about 37" long. With the heavy three bar brass hilt probably at least 6 " long that makes this imposing weapon pretty huge. While I could not examine the sword up close, the markings are incredibly crisp and clear except for the obscured script described at the forte of the blade. It is unusually high quality for this very familiar type of blade which was produced in large numbers in Solingen for the Spanish market. It seems that the script marking was indicative probably of special order, as obviously most of these had only the 'Spanish motto' over the central triple fuller blade and were typically narrower.

It seems unclear whether Custer actually obtained this sword as described, and it would seem quite possible that the usual 'romanticizing' of later writers may have inadvertantly 'created' this provenance. In another reference I saw with a photo and description of the sword, it is noted that the sword was given to Custer by someone in his command. This is supported by Custer's wife who wrote later in her book "Boots and Saddles" where she notes " of the sabres was remarkably large, and when it was given to the general during the war". In further text she notes, "...the sabre was a Damascus blade, and made of such finely tempered steel that it could be bent nearly double. It had been captured during the war, and looked as if it might have been handed down from some Spanish ancestor. On the blade was engraved a motto in that high flown language which ran " do not draw me without cause; do not sheath me without honor".

Naturally the 'sabre' was a straight dragoon broadsword and the blade had nothing to do with Damascus. It seems clear though that the term itself was construed to indicate it was of high quality. The note that it was captured during the war makes no mention of her husband making the capture.

Regardless, the sword blade itself is breathtaking, one of the highest quality I have seen of these Solingen blades, and I wanted to share this update on where it is actually located. According to the acquisition records, which I was able to view, the sword has been here since 1943 (accession #19, cat. #163 last catalogued in 1960).

All best regards,

Jeff D 1st September 2007 07:02 PM

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What a surprise!!!

I have just gotten back from Calgary Alberta and a visit to the Glenbow museum. I took a number of photo's of this sword and I was going to post it here, what are the odds Jim would have just resurrected this thread?

Here is the saber and the info card seen. This is a strange one, with a British 1821 cavalry officer's hilt and what appears to be a M1860 U.S. cavalry blade. I was able to get a photo of the riccasso and make out that it is a Solingen blade unknown maker name (anyone make out any of the maker's letters).

Sorry about the poor photo's you know how museums feel about photographs.

All the best and thanks Jim for the update.

Jim McDougall 2nd September 2007 04:34 AM

Hi Jeff,
I knew I could count on you to respond!!! :) We have always seemed to share the same interests and it was great to be able to bring up this thread on the Custer sword. It also seems that these swords have a great deal of mystery due to the legendary tales attached to them.
The sword you have posted is intriguing also, especially the Lakota tradition about its being captured at the Little Big Horn. While it is known that Custer ordered all sabres to be left at Powder River I believe, it seems that one Native American account notes that there was a single 'long knife' there, without further description. So I suppose it is possible, much as with these iconic battles including the Alamo, the mysteries will never be solved.

It is not surprising to see the Solingen blade on the M1821 British hilt which would have been quite likely in Canada, although it seems if would be regimentally marked. Many of these Solingen cavalry blades were used for U.S. sabres, especially the M1840. It also seems that there are numerous instances which illustrate Native Americans had cavalry sabres, but the use seems ceremonial and these had elaborately decorated cases, and of the examples seen, they appear to have British hilts. Since the Sioux tribes moved across the Canadian border so frequently, it would seem plausible that these swords might have come from these regions. In other cases where U.S. troops did use swords, a number of them were captured as well.

Thanks for answering Jeff and especially for sharing the photos of this sword.

All the very best,

Jeff D 7th April 2008 11:52 PM

Hi Jim,

I recently came into possession of a Little Bighorn Associates Research Review Volume VIII Fall Number 3. There is an Article by Lawrence Frost Pg 4-8. I think you may find it interesting as this appears to be where Mr Connell obtained his information.
I will quote it here;

' General Custer's famous straight saber was not buried with him. The sword was lent to the national Museum by Mrs, B. Elizabeth Custer in 1912 and was described and illustrated in National Museum Bulletin 163.

This saber, which is now a part of the Elizabeth B. Custer collection at the Custer Battlefield National Monument, is 37 inches long with a blade 1-1/2 inches wide. The weight of the saber is two pounds, eight and three-quarters ounces. The weight is emphasized because of the story Whittaker told of the use of the blade by Custer and in which "men said that hardly an arm in the service could be found strong enough to wield the blade, save Custer's alone"

Comparing Custer's blade to the light cavalry saber Model 1860 - in vogue at that time, the light cavalry saber had a 34 5/8 inch blade that was one inch wide, and weighed one pound and six ounces. This gave Custer an advantage of nearly two and one-half inches in length and a blade 50 per cent wider. The heavier Custer blade was a pound and nearly three ounces heavier than that carried by his men. In the National Museum's description of Custer's weapon it is referred to as a Spanish cavalry saber.

A year or two after the museum at the Custer Battlefield had been opened, Major Edward S. Luce permitted Colonel Brice C.W. Custer and the writer to examine the saber in detail for it was on exhibit there at the time.

This long, straight double edged weapon was indeed heavy and cumbersome to handle. I attempted the various thrusts, cuts and parries, having been accustomed to the light dueling saber used in fencing competition, and found the heavy weapon unwieldly and very tiring to the wrist. It was a cut and thrust weapon made for a powerful man.

One must remember, however, that the movements of cut and parry were quite wide in Custer's day, and the moulinet on attack was the accepted method of making a saber cut. One had to have strong wrists and shoulder muscles to accomplish this movement with any degree of security and certainty. The added weight of the blade gave it a certain authority on either attack or defense.

Using a power glass, and search as we might, there was no evidence that this weapon was a Spanish or Toledo blade as it has been described by some. The engraving on it was in Spanish, but that proves nothing. The engraving might have been in Latin or French but that is no positive association with a country. On the forte of the blade, near the hilt, were some obscure, well-worn letters that formed an incomplete word. I have since misplaced my notes but read into it "Solingen," a well-known German sword-maker. I could be wrong.

This is not the only cutting weapon Custer left to posterity. Colonel Brice C.W. Custer had two of the General's sabers. Both were the 1860 model, light cavalry saber. One blade was stamped "USA" near the hilt, and on the other side, "ACMP", with some fancy scrollwork below. Both now belong to Colonel George A. Custer III.

Colonel Charles Custer, Colonel Brice Custer's brother (both grand-nephew's of general Custer and his nearest lineal descendents), has a saber that belonged to his great-uncle Autie. It is 41 inches long, and is stamped "US--1864--A.G.M. C. ROBY, W. CHELMSFORD, MASS." The scabbard is 36 3/8 inches in length. I have not examined this saber but have seen both of Brice's.'

Mr Frost goes on to list a number of other swords with out much detail. It is interesting to note that the Roby saber was originally attributed to Autie Custer (edit: Autie was Armstrong Reed not Custer, GAC's nephew) rather than George?

Jim McDougall 8th April 2008 03:56 AM

Thank you so much Jeff! It is great to see this topic again, and I really appreciate the update. By coincidence I found some of my notes taken when I was at the Little Big Horn last summer, and was just looking them over yesterday! We must be on the same wavelength!! :)

It is interesting about the comments on the heft of the sword, and on the sword combat techniques of the times. The M1840 dragoon sword issued to U.S. cavalry was 'affectionately' called 'the old wristbreaker', presumably from the not always present strength required for the movements described.

It always seemed odd to me that these heavy Spanish broadsword blades were mounted on Mexican sabres in the 1820's and onward into the 19th c.

While at the museum at Little Big Horn, the curator kindly showed me the acquisition documents listing its arrival there in 1943 (the number 163 showed as well), with the next cataloguing in 1960. I wish I had been able to handle it, but it would have been complicated to access the enclosed display case.

It seems there was another case of one of these heavy Spanish colonial broadsword blades was captured in the Mexican-American war by a Texan in combat, and is now in a museum near Los Angeles. I believe the sword belonged to a Mexican officer named Colonel Najera, but that is all I can recall at the moment. This event simply supports the fact that these blades were certainly mounted on many Mexican officers swords at this time.

Thank you for posting this update Jeff!
All the best,

Chris Evans 8th April 2008 12:36 PM

Hi Jim,

Yet again a terrific and extremely informative thread!

Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
It is interesting about the comments on the heft of the sword, and on the sword combat techniques of the times.

Not wishing tp derail the discussion, but there is something not quite right with Lawrence Frosts comments re the weight of the sword and its usage.

Comparing Custer's blade to the light cavalry saber Model 1860 - in vogue at that time, the light cavalry saber had a 34 5/8 inch blade that was on inch wide, and weighed one pound and six ounces.

I am not familiar with the sword to which he refers, but think that it must have been a dress sword rather than a combat weapon. My Ames 1862 has a 1 wide by 33 1/2"long blade and weighs 31oz out of the sheath. All the cavalry sabres that I have seen weighed around 2Lbs, sometimes quite a bit more and sometimes a bit less, but not by much. Even the straight bladed English officers 1854 pattern sword weighs in at 1Lb 11oz, yet it was a rather light weapon.

In fact, the 1Lb 6oz weight quoted seems suspect because that is the weight of a decent dueling sabre, or a heavier than average small sword. I just cannot see how a 1"wide bladed sword could be that light.

In any event, I don't think that cavalry weapons of that era were wielded in a manner similar to that of the much lighter fencing sabres that came later from Italy and which influenced military usage in the last quarter of the 19th century


Jim McDougall 8th April 2008 01:23 PM

Hi Chris,
Your very kind words are very much appreciated, and I am extremely grateful to Jeff for bringing this thread back to life, as well as his support with it when it first ran.
I agree that Frost's comments seem a bit misaligned, but it seems he was more a writer than an authority on weapons. While it has been some time since I've handled any of these, it does seem that the M1860 was indeed shorter and a bit lighter than the M1840, but would have had to be more substantial weightwise than he described.

The M1840 was always called the 'old wristbreaker' by the troopers of the time, and to me this was probably as much from improper means of use as it was its size and weight. It seems well known that the sword was actually more of an excess accoutrement by the 1860's and I have read that sword wounds were remarkably rare in the Civil War. It seems that in medical reports the few sword injuries reported were more blunt force trauma than the expected deep cut wounds. This was primarily because of lack of proper maintainance of the swords (lack of sharpening), and probably improper training.

The problem with the Custer sword was in its blade length it seems to me, as it was a dragoon type broadsword blade of a form intended for entirely different use than the techniques used by latter 19th century cavalrymen.It would be easy to see how a blade of such heft used contrary to its intended design would be unwieldy and seem extraordinarily heavy as a result.

I agree with your observations on the weight, and especially in noting that fencing techniques with the later popular sport weapons had little, if anything to do with the manner these military weapons were used. In England, the swords used for practice were typically obsolete cavalry sabres (such as the M1821 light cavalry sabre with bowl hilt and altered blades).
I think a classic example of the exception in American swordsmanship was General George Patton, who was indeed a brilliant fencer, favored the use of the sword, and designed what has always been considered a magnificent sword, the M1913 (known as the 'Patton' of course). These swords, though huge and heavy, actually were incredibly well balanced, and relatively easy to wield.

In true irony, these nearly perfectly designed swords came as the obsolescence of the sword had become firmly established, and these never saw combat. Strangely many of them were cut down to be used as trench knives during WWII.

Thank you again Chris, and for the excellent observations!
All very best regards,

Jeff D 8th April 2008 02:48 PM

Hi Jim and Chris,

I measured a some of my sabers a couple years ago and got these numbers:

M1840 Total length 41.75"
Blade length 36"
Width of blade at Hilt 1.25"

M1860 Total length 41"
Blade length 35.25"
Width of blade at Hilt 1"

M1872 Total length 37.5"
Blade length 32"
Width of blade at Hilt .75"

Unfortunately they are not accessable now for weighing.
John Thillman in Civil War Cavalry & Artillery Sabers on Page 23 gives the typical length for a M1860 blade as 34 1/2 to 35 inches. I think the example you had might be a little short. I will see if I can find some references to weights later tonight.

All the Best

Jeff D 8th April 2008 11:22 PM

Hi All,

I was able to find the Regulations of 1861:

For the light Cavalry saber the weights are as follows.
Weight of the sword or saber complete (Saber and scabbard) = 3 lb. 7 oz.
Weight of finished blade= 1 lb. 6 oz.
Weight of scabbard= 1 lb 4 oz.

It appear that Mr Frost was using the finished blade weight from the regulations rather than the total saber weight which is around 2 lbs as Chris noticed (the alternate is that he was using the weight of a M1872 which would be close to his weight but not used by anyone). In any event his numbers would appear wrong, an excellent observation.

Back to the original topic, I wonder how Butterfield and Butterfield linked the Roby saber to the General rather than his civilian nephew (also killed at Little Big Horn)? I wonder if it would have fetched $32,000?

All the Best

Chris Evans 9th April 2008 01:07 AM

Jim and Jeff,

You two are providing us with truly amazing material - Great contribution and do keep it up. It is rewarding to read the learned responses that this thread elicited from the participants.

Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
The problem with the Custer sword was in its blade length it seems to me, as it was a dragoon type broadsword blade of a form intended for entirely different use than the techniques used by latter 19th century cavalrymen.It would be easy to see how a blade of such heft used contrary to its intended design would be unwieldy and seem extraordinarily heavy as a result.

Right on and well stated.


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