Mrs Nash, the Transvestite with Custer’s Seventh Cavalry

George Armstrong Custer and his wife, LIbbie

George Armstrong Custer and his wife, LIbbie

The US Seventh Cavalry will always be remembered for its arrogant and vainglorious leader, Colonel George Armstrong Custer. Once a wunderkind of the American Civil War, Custer would eventually go down in history for his doomed attack against Chief Sitting Bull at Little Bighorn.

The Seventh’s commander, with his flowing locks and buckskin clothes, certainly was a character but he wasn’t the only one to be found in and around the ranks of the regiment… there was Mrs Nash, too.

Mrs Nash joined the Seventh in Kentucky as a laundress and followed the regiment to Fort Lincoln in Dakota. She was an intriguing creature, usually seen wearing a veil or shawl pinned under her chin. People commented on her coarse and stubborn beard, angular shape and awkward gait.

Odd looking or not, she was a good worker – a nurse and a good midwife who was in high demand. When she wasn’t delivering babies, Mrs Nash baked cakes and adjusted uniforms for the officers.

They obviously appreciated her, too, because she was married no less than four times, all but the last being unhappy unions. On one occasion, Nash told Custer’s wife, Libbie,  that her first two husbands had abandoned her and taken all her money. She also claimed that she was from Mexico and had two children, and that prior to moving to Kentucky she had earned a living driving teams of oxen.

All this seemed to be accepted by the women of Fort Lincoln and life was looking up for Mrs Nash, particularly when she wed her fourth husband, a Private Noonan. They lived happily together on Suds Row, close by Fort Lincoln’s parade grounds. However, things took a turn for the worse when Mrs Nash became ill while her husband was away on duty.

Her condition deteriorated drastically. As reported in the Bismarck Tribune in 1879, she asked her friends to see that she was buried without any cleaning and dressing of her body. The friends flatly refused the request and upon the poor woman’s demise soon discovered the reason for their friend’s modesty: Nash was a mister not a missus.

When he returned from his expedition, Private Noonan is said to have lost some of his colour on hearing the news of his wife’s passing. He took to avoiding the other men, the regular games of poker he had once enjoyed were now forgotten as he went on long walks alone.

When one day he entered the fort’s blacksmith’s shop and was accosted by a trooper who loudly wondered why it was that Noonan and his late wife never had children, well that was the final straw for the widower.

The whispers and the nudges had become too much and Noonan decided to put an end to it all. He did so with the help of a pistol and a bullet to his own heart.

The Seventh’s commanding officers breathed a sigh of relief at the news. The regiment had spared itself the ignominy of a lurid scandal. The last thing they wanted was for their soldiers to become a laughing stock.

No, a lowly private could never be allowed tarnish the good name of the regiment in such a way, history saw to it that the only scandal the Seventh were known for was the one caused by their fine, glamorous Colonel’s disastrous leadership at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

About historywithatwist

I am a journalist, author and book editor. I have published five novels - four (Tan, The Golden Grave, A Time of Traitors and Patriots' Blood) set during the Irish War of Independence and Civil War, and the fifth (High Crimes), a modern thriller. I'm a history enthusiast who loves a good yarn.
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26 Responses to Mrs Nash, the Transvestite with Custer’s Seventh Cavalry

  1. Fascinating story and oh so well written !

  2. Jack Durish says:

    I never tire of stories like these. Fact truly is stranger than fiction. Thanks for it

  3. dstroebel says:

    David, where do you find these stories? Very interesting. I look forward to each one.

    Dave Stroebel

  4. Louis says:

    Isn’t that a staple of military history? There always seem to be reports of women fighting alongside the men, sometimes in (reverse) drag and others not treating it as a secret. Custer’s reaction sounds about like him. Thanks for a great story.

  5. Thanks Dave. They’re out there…and more far fetched than anything most of us would ever dare to write ourselves

  6. Pingback: Rescue of a Pilot & Creative Architecture Fr Twitter Jan 5 | Larry Crane

  7. Pingback: Mrs. Nash | We Were There

  8. A really great story, yet again. Thanks David!

  9. Wow David, you’ve done it again. What a fascinating piece of political correctness even back then.

  10. jentheriot says:

    Who would have thought? Great piece David!

  11. roberthorvat says:

    Always a nice surprise when you find something interesting in the archives. Thanks David.

  12. Ron Evry says:

    Stumbled into this story, and found it well-written. However, the revelation of Noonan’s wife being a man actually occurred in 1878, after Custer’s demise. Note this piece from Stanley Huntley’s remarkable run on the Bismarck Tribune. There is a follow up in January 1879 as well, and digging further on there are stories of mediums “in contact” with her.

    • Thank you, Ron. I took my information from the web and from Evan S. Connell’s great book on Custer, The Son of the Morning Star. However, the Tribune page is great. particularly the headline, ‘A Complicated Case’. It’s interesting how understated the story is as reported. Perhaps people were tolerant then. I will amend my article accordingly. Thanks again for bringing my attention to the error. On a similar vein, here’s a story that may be of interest to you

  13. Jane Beach says:

    I was just telling a history teacher about this. I learned about Mrs. Nash when visiting Fort Abraham Lincoln. There is a display case with this information in the room that houses artifacts from the soldiers at the fort. I found your article when looking for the story to pass along to a teacher.

    • I’d love to have gone to that fort, Jane. Cross-dresing in the military is not unique to Mrs Nash.You should readabout ‘Albert Cashier’ aka Jennie Hodgers,who fought as a man in the US CIvil War. I have a piece about Albert here on the site.

  14. Deborah Hoopengardner says:

    I love history

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