[Fort Custer, Montana Territory. N.d., but before 1884]. Watercolor on paper, 12 1/2 x 22 1/2 inches, signed "L. Fiedler" at lower right. Minor toning, minimal wear, tiny marginal repair at top left corner. Near fine. Matted. Item #WRCAM55224
A striking and rare contemporary bird's-eye view of Fort Custer in Montana, executed in watercolor by a U.S. cavalryman who served at the fort. Established in 1877 by the United States Army during the Indian Wars, Fort Custer was located between the Big Horn and Little Big Horn rivers, south of present-day Hardin, Montana. Named for the ill- fated Gen. George A. Custer, who was killed at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876 (just about fifteen miles away), the eponymous fort was constructed to withstand and subdue the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Crow tribes in the area. Lieutenant Colonel George Pearson Buell oversaw the construction of the fort, commanding four companies of his own Eleventh Infantry and numerous additional contract laborers. Fort Custer is here presented on an elevation, with the fort consisting of a large parade ground encircled by barracks, officers' quarters, paths, stables, and other buildings, including a large windmill and water pump station at top right. The fort was built without a surrounding wall, and that is how it is shown here, and the artist is quite adept at his depiction of the many one and two-story buildings of the fort. Several dozen armed troops are depicted conducting drills around an American flag hoisted high above the parade ground, while a smattering of other troops are scattered around the camp. One soldier next to a horse and a dog at middle- right is shown blowing a bugle. The fort had quarters fit to accommodate up to ten companies and stables enough for six cavalry units. By the time Fort Custer was completed, most of the hostile Native Americans in the area had been relocated to reservations and their threat had been all but neutralized. However, the fort did continue to supply troops for various Plains campaigns, including the 1878 Bannock War and the 1887 uprising at the Crow Agency. The fort was also home to the famous Buffalo Soldiers from 1892 until the fort closed in 1898. Today, all that remains of Fort Custer is a monument. The talented artist, Leopold Fiedler served in various western U.S. infantry and cavalry units between 1866 and 1885. His name appears on lists of men having served at Fort Davis in Texas around 1885 and those being admitted to a Soldiers' Home in September 1888. On the latter list, Fiedler is noted most recently as a member of Company D of the Third Cavalry. Prior to that, and according to a pension application filled out by Fiedler on July 3, 1888, he also served with Troop D of the 2nd Cavalry; this unit was stationed at Fort Custer between September 30, 1877 and May 1884. Fiedler must have executed this watercolor at some point during that time period, while serving at the fort. The picture was featured at the Kennedy Galleries in 1974, appearing in the January 1974 issue of THE KENNEDY QUARTERLY, and was later exhibited at a show called "Pride of Place: Vernacular Architecture in American Folk Art" at the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City from September 1986 to January 1987. Since then, and until last year, it has resided in the notable folk art collection of Arthur and Sybil Kern. "When a cavalry post to guard against future outbreaks by the Sioux was built by Colonel George P. Buell in 1877 at the junction of the Big Horn and the Little Big Horn Rivers, it seemed inevitable that the fort would be named for the commander in the disastrous encounter with the Sioux and Cheyenne near that site less than a year earlier. There were no further hostilities from the Sioux in the area, however, and so soldiers stationed at Fort Custer had plenty of time to construct the elegant-looking little mansarded houses, and keep the grounds picture-book neat. Indeed, the greatest excitement that ever occurred at the fort happened when a band of Sioux stole the horses belonging to a group of Crow who were participating in a theatrical performance at Fort Custer. The play ended abruptly while the cavalry and Crow gave chase" - KENNEDY QUARTERLY. A marvelous depiction of a little-known yet famously-named western fort. Richard Upton, FORT CUSTER ON THE BIG HORN 1877-1898... (Glendale, Ca.: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1973). Kennedy Galleries, Inc., THE KENNEDY QUARTERLY. Vol. XIII, No. 1 (New York. January 1974), p.60, plate 29.