Lonny Custer to portray 7th Cavalry general
Former area resident Lonny Custer has the opportunity of a lifetime in portraying Gen. George Armstrong Custer during the upcoming Custers Last Stand re-enactment.
The re-enactment is part of the Hardin, Mont., Little Bighorn Days, which run from Wednesday through Sunday, June 21-25.
Custer said audiences fill the grandstands to look into a field located six miles east of Hardin.
They bring the cavalry through, do a wagon train and show people moving west. Then they show a treaty scene, he said.
They lead into the battle scenes, giving you an idea of what took place and why it took place. The big finale is a big battle scene, he said.
He said Custer comes blasting down a ridge to fight the Native Americans right in front of the grandstands. He rides back up the ridge where the final massacre takes place.
They push it as educational but fun. Its fun for the whole family, said Custer.
Much is known about the massacre because of a narrative passed down by Custers Native American scout.
The Crows were always friendly to the cavalry and did a lot of scouting, he said.
When it comes to the re-enactment, the Native Americans come up and talk to you, he said.
He said thousands of people from all over the world come to the four performances.
Because they share a common name, Custer has done research on the generals life.
Off and on, even as a kid, I got grief. Ive read numerous books about him. I learned he was arrogant and pretty full of himself. He loved his 7th Cavalry. They felt indestructible, unbeatable, he said.
A lot of people ask if Im related. Being his great-grandson would be impossible. George Armstrong never had any kids, he said.
He cant find any connections, but the families led parallel lives.
His great-grandfather Mike Custer immigrated to America and landed in New York where George Armstrong Custer lived for a time. Mike married a woman who lived near Custers family on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. The Custer family moved to Mandan where Mike worked for the railroad until homesteading north of Belfield.
Another thing thats kind of funny, is Mike talks about looking for a family member named Tom Custer. Gen. George Custer had a brother named Tom, he said.
Its almost impossible to prove, but I would be very curious&, he said.
Custer is the son of Larry and Ardie Custer of Dickinson. He was born in Dickinson, grew up in the Beach and Belfield areas and graduated from Belfield High School in 1981. He moved to Billings, working in the asphalt industry.
He recently started a snowmobile and hot rod business at Billings. He is married to Bonnie Roller of Belfield and they have two children, Lorean and Teal. They are among the re-enactors who are walking as early settlers with the covered wagons.
Custer not only shares the generals same name, but he has blonde curly hair and a mustache.
My cheek bones are right, but Im way too big. Im 6-foot 1- inch and George was 5-foot 8- inches, he said.
He rode as Custers double during the re-enactment years ago while another actor did the promotional aspects of the job. This year, he has both responsibilities.
Custer said the general and 7th Cavalry left Mandan to persuade the Sioux and Cheyenne to move to the reservations. The battle took place June 25, 1876, and lasted only an hour. After the battle was over, the Indians went into Canada, living there four years until being granted amnesty in 1881 by the U.S. government.
Custer said the re-enactment is just part of the Little Bighorn Days. Dancers from around the world dress in period costumes to attend the 1876 Grand Ball.
Lessons are offered the evening prior to the dance. Artists and quilters also showcase their displays.
The Big Horn County Historical museum offers hands-on crafts of a bygone era for children. Churches serve breakfasts, lunches and dinners.
Show times are at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, June 23; 1:30 and 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 24, and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 25. For advance tickets, go online to www.custerlaststand.org.
For more information call the Hardin Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-450-3577.