The Story of the Calhoun Family & Gen. Armstrong Custer


James Calhoun
Frederick Calhoun
Miles Moylan

“They were touched by the Gods, never to walk among men again.”

Frederick and James Calhoun were born in Cincinnati into a family of wealth, prestige and privilege. Well educated and cultured they were groomed to one day inherit a prosperous business house and expected to expand the family fortune. This was a merchant family with business interests reaching from New York to Iowa and places in between. Frederick, at a young age had already traveled to Iowa to learn the hardware trade from his grandfather who was a successful, third generation merchant. His father owned and conducted a commission house for one of the largest grocery wholesale businesses in Cincinnati.

When the Civil War broke out James was traveling in Europe. He remained there two more years, finished his business and returned home. In 1864 both joined the Union Army and served with distinction.

The patriarch of the family, James Calhoun, Sr. died in January of 1864 and his wife, Charlotte Sanxay Calhoun soon moved with her two daughters to Madison, Indiana where she occupied a home owned by, and later bequeathed to her, by her father, Frederick of Iowa City, Iowa. Madison was also home to her brother, Henry C. Sanxay, originally from Cincinnati. It can be surmised that the two families had kept close contact traveling the steamboats from one town to the other to make frequent visits. It is also possible that the two boys accompanied Charlotte and her daughters, Charlotte (Lottie) and Mary to Madison to see them settled in their new home.

In Madison Lottie and Mary kept their mother company and saw to the smooth running of the home. Mary was still a young girl when she came to Madison but Lottie was a young lady and, no doubt, took part in the social life offered in a bustling river town during the Civil War. Henry was present to introduce the ladies to his circle of friends and life flowed smoothly.

The boys came home from the war and, much to the amazement of all, James decided to continue in the army. He had joined as a private and mustered out as a First Sergeant in 1865. He was appointed 2nd Lt., 32nd Infantry, on July 32, 1867 at Camp Warner, Oregon and served in Arizona and at Camp Grant until July 1869. He was reassigned to the 7th Cavalry and following a reorganization of the Army, he was promoted to 1st lieutenant. He was assigned to several forts in the west and participated in several Indian skirmishes. In 1870 he found himself in greater peril for he was at Fort Leavenworth when the sister of General George Armstrong Custer was present. She was visiting Custer and her sister-in-law, Libby Bacon Custer. Maggie Custer did what no Sioux warrior had been able to accomplish. She aimed Cupid’s Dart directly at Jimmi’s heart and forever captured it. James Calhoun and Margaret Custer were married in 1871.

Frederick Calhoun, always determined to be with his older brother, had not gained a commission and traveled west where he was “employed at various times as clerk in the Quartermaster Department”. One can only surmise the distress Charlotte Calhoun must have suffered seeing her boys turn from a merchant life to life on the frontier, exposed to every danger present and indigenous to the area. Frederick accompanied the Yellowstone expedition as a civilian employee and here he also met and became friends with George Armstrong Custer. Here he made an enemy also, as he was caught up in a feud between Custer and Captain Frederick Benteen over the use of a horse. The captain never forgot or forgave. In retaliation he blocked Frederick’s army commission. Finally, in 1875 Frederick did gain a commission through the sponsorship of Custer, much to Benteen’s consternation. When the commission arrived it was not for the Seventh Cavalry, as hoped, but he was attached to the Fourteenth, a happenstance that may have saved his life. Frederick, as if to carry on an expanding tradition, would soon marry Custer’s niece, Emma Reed, sister to Henry Armstrong Reed, who would be present at the Battle of the Big Horn.

At about this time, career officer Myles Moylan of Massachusetts made his appearance at Fort Leavenworth. Moylan was now an experienced westerner having served in Utah and Nebraska in 1857 and 1858. During the Civil War he achieved the rank of 2nd Lt. but he faced a court martial when he made an “unauthorized” visit to Washington. He was cashiered out of the service but in an audacious move he re-entered the army under the assumed name of Charles E. Thomas. This time, in the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry, he quickly rose through the ranks achieving the rank of captain. In 1866 he again enlisted under his true name and was assigned to the newly formed 7th Cavalry. Custer took special interest in Moylan, even tutoring him in order for him to gain a commission. He often dined with George and Libby and in March of 1872 Custer promoted Moylan to captain. His ties would become even closer to Custer when he married Lottie Calhoun, sister of Custer’s brother-in-law, James Calhoun. They were married October 22, 1872 in Madison, Indiana.

General Custer’s brothers, Thomas and Boston and their young nephew, Harry Armstrong Reed (brother to Emma Reed) would all be assembled on this tiny speck on the map. They formed what was known as the “Custer Clan”. Flamboyant and dashing, they cut a wide swath across the northern prairies. They instilled valor in some and hatred in others but in all they instilled envy, for they seemed to be favored by the Gods. James Calhoun was known as the “Adonis of the Seventh”, 
relating to his golden good looks. They were joined by their wives who either lived at the fort or ventured out in tents to camp with the men. The women often rode at the head of the formation with their husbands. It was a fabled life, fraught with danger but also filled with the romance and promise of a sprawling west that was all at one time cruel and beautiful.

On July 25th 1876, Custer, his two brothers, his nephew and his brother-in-law would face an appalling number of Indians at the Little Big Horn. All would perish. Frederick Calhoun and Myles Moylan would escape death only because Fate had placed them in units other than General Custer’s.

News of the massacre did not begin to reach the eastern part of the country until over a week had elapsed. Most Americans had passed a pleasant Fourth of July celebrating the country’s Centennial birthday oblivious to the carnage that had taken place on plains of Montana. When the news was received a shocked nation could hardly believe it. The Madison Courier, after releasing what sketchy information it could obtain from its various news sources for two days, finally reported on July 7, 1876 “THE SAD NEWS of the death of General Custer and his command is further confirmed, and in a manner that relieves all doubt, but casts a deep gloom over the relatives of the slain who reside in this city. Mr. H. C. Sanxay has received a dispatch from his niece, Mrs. Capt. Moylan, at Fort Lincoln, stating that her brother, James Calhoun, met his death in the fatal charge of General Custer’s command, but that her husband, Capt. Moylan, escaped. Lieutenant James Calhoun was a son of Mrs. Calhoun, who resides in this city, and a brother-in-law to General Custer. Lieutenant Fred. Calhoun was in the same expedition, under General Crook, but was not in the charge. The fate of General Custer and his command, heralded over the nation in time of profound peace, has startled and horrified the people beyond any Indian outrage since the Modoc butchery.”

None of the Custer family who died on that ill-fated day left any children. The almost mythical “Custer Clan” of the Seventh Cavalry ended unconditionally on the bloody hills surrounding the Little Big Horn.

Charlotte Calhoun, mother of James and Fred, died in 1883. Their sister, Mary, married John J. Collins in Madison in 1887. They migrated to Iowa where John was a lawyer. Henry Sanxay finished his life in Madison. Margaret, widow of James Calhoun, became State Librarian at the Library of Michigan in 1891. In 1904 she married John H. Maugham. She died of cancer in 1910. Frederick and Emma Calhoun had one daughter. They moved to Massachusetts to be near their daughter. Frederick died there in 1894 and is buried in Cincinnati. Libby Custer spent the rest of her life immortalizing Custer through books and lecture tours.