Grave links Tupelo to Custer's Last Stand

By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – In a corner of Glenwood Cemetery lies a connection to The Battle of the Little Bighorn.
On June 25, 1876, a combined force of American Indians fought the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the U.S. Army. Tupelo’s link to that infamous day is William Theo Dugard. In 2001, a tombstone was installed that names Dugard a Mississippi Scout during Custer’s Last Stand.
The Mississippi native moved West with his family and settled in Wyoming. Dugard ran away from home at 12, when he reportedly became one of about 650 men led by George Armstrong Custer.
“His dad traveled a lot and he was the oldest child in the family,” said David Lewis, Dugard’s great-grandson. “Maybe 12 wasn’t that young.”
A resident of Tuscaloosa, Ala., Lewis has searched newspapers and government documents.
In 1929, Dugard signed an affidavit that said, “I informed Gen. Custer that I had seen a small number of Indians and they were going toward the Big Horn Valley, Gen. Custer then said that evry body were supposed to helpfight the Indians and took me with him.”
U.S. Rep. J.E. Rankin wrote the Bureau of Pensions on Dugard’s behalf. It was rejected by the director of pensions because the War Department had no records and “it appeared from his own statements and other evidence on file that he was not an enlisted man but a volunteer scout.”
In 1937, obituaries from Mississippi to Montana recounted Dugard’s exploits, though some included doubts.
The doubt persists. In The Journal of the Little Big Horn Associates, Michael Nunnally, writes, “Unfortunately Dugard was only 12 years old at the time of the battle and Custer had no ‘Mississippi Scouts.’”
The historical record has no shortage of men who claimed to be survivors, and Custer could’ve used them.
“What amazes me is that there were only 650 or so men on the trail to this place and over 1,500 have so far claimed to be the sole survivor,” writes Rod Thomas, editor of Custer Battlefield Historical amp& Museum Association’s journal, Greasy Grass.
Lewis said he remains 80 percent sure Dugard was telling the truth, and he’s 100 percent certain of another thing: “They were great stories.”
scott.morris@journalinc.com