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At least four C Company troopers dropped out with “horse troubles”—two with blown horses, two probably from cowardice —but Sergeant Finkle was with C Company when the company reached the stream.
What happened then is the source of endless debate. suggests that George Custer stopped at the river and moved back into three defensive positions.
Prussian soldiers were in greater demand than they had been in the days of Baron von Steuben, and Frank cashed in.
Keeping his own birth date on January 23, he updated his age from 18 to 27 and was shortly telling gullible troopers of the 5th and later the 7th Cavalry, like his German-born buddy Charles Windolph, that he had been an officer in the Prussian army.
Peter Finkle died in 1868, and some of the older sons, including Frank, left a farm that was too small for six men and went to look for work. Army in 1872 was an admission of economic incompetence if you were a native-born American as Frank Finkle was, and a lot of young men signed up under assumed names, but Frank Finkle went the government one better—he assumed a name that could help him win prestige and promotions.
Down on his luck in Chicago in January 1872, Frank Finkle did what a lot of young men did if they were “too proud to beg and too dumb to steal”—he enlisted. He Germanized his name still further by calling himself “August Finckle” and put down his birthplace as “Berlin, Prussia,” and his occupation as “clerk.” The year before “Finckle” enlisted, Prussia had scored a double-edged victory over Louis-Napoleon and over the new Republic of France.
The powder keg of graft blew up when the Sioux refused to sell the Black Hills in 1875 and many of the younger men left the agencies to join “the Sitting Bull Sioux”—Hunkpapas and other so-called hostiles whom Army officers called “self-supporters.” George Custer, who had gotten himself in trouble in Washington testifying about the potentially lethal post trader swindle, had to do some fast talking to win back a role in the campaign to force the Sioux back to their agencies.
The three boys were out of arrows when Foley panicked and shot himself in the head with his own Colt .45.“I was riding close to Sergeant Finkle,” Sergeant Daniel Kanipe remembered in 1924. I answered back, “Come on, Finkle, if you can.” He dropped back a bit….If Sergeant Finkle had not dropped back a few minutes before, he would have got the orders [to bring up the ammunition pack train]—and I would not be telling this story.” Sergeant Kanipe, the next to last man to see the Custer brothers alive, was sent back with orders to speed the pack mules and their 24,000 rounds of Springfield ammunition forward, leaving his buddy Finkle and his struggling horse to follow the Custer brothers down to the river.After the discovery of the final pieces of the puzzle, with information from published books, it is clear that Frank Finkel was what he claimed to be—the only known white survivor of the five companies that followed Lt. George Armstrong Custer to the banks of the Little Bighorn River in Montana Territory on June 25, 1876. The census taker spelled the name “Finkle” in 1860, continuing the drift from the Germanic “Finckel” to the Americanized “Finkel” that occurred through Frank’s long life.