I think I recall reading somewhere around here recently that Custer personally made the request for Isiah Dorman to become part of the 7th. I'm curious if there was ever any time for Dorman to develop a relationship with Custer or anyone else.
I'm also curious enough to ask this.... had death not intervened, would Custer and Dorman have grown to be friends? Custer seems to take favor in people of good talents and Dorman appears by most accounts to be one of the very best interpretors of his time and also a very dashing fighter also given the way he went down (was this his first and only battle by the way? It would be all the more impressive if he was that good in his first fight, he was still destroying Indians even with his very own body being blasted away beneath him and he also apparently said goodbye to the others who were getting away).
Any one's opinion would be highly valued here, whether read or unread. This is yet again another one of those tragedies in history where we come across one of those people who we don't know enough about and who is cut down likely just before he would have came into more prominence.
According to the notes is Williams' Register, Dorman was a runaway slave who came west with Gen. Alfred Sully, working for him as a "domestic". Several letters of Sully's mention "Isaiah" who tended his horses. One letter of Jan. 1863 from Falmouth Virginia mentions that "Isaiah leaves me in a few days. I think he is sick of the war. He was very brave at the first part of the war but of late he manages to keep out of the way when the shells and balls are about...." Dorman evidently came west when Sully was transferred to Minnesota to quell the Santee uprising. Dorman is generally believed to have become a mail carrier and woodcutter and interpreter on the Dakota frontier.
He was apparently literate. The Fall 2010 CBHMA BattlefieldDispatch contains an article on an 1875 letter from Custer to Edmond Palmer, then agent at Standing Rock. The letter called for a peace conference between the Hunkpapa and Yanktonai Lakota and the Arickara, Hidatsa and Mandan. A treaty was signed between these tribes at Ft. Lincoln on 29 May 1875. Custer's letter recently sold at auction for a mere $14,340.
Also contained in the Palmer collection are the telegraph notice to arrest Sitting Bull and two "beautifully written letters from Isaiah Dorman requesting supplies for Army scouts."
As for his dealings with Custer the one incident that stands out is him on his knees, begging forgiveness, while Custer cussed him out. I forget the exact circumstances; I think he took a wrong turn on the trail or whatnot while a guide in 1873(?)
A biography of Isaiah Dorman is forthcoming; by Dr. Lilah Morton Pengra.
Must correct myself; Sully came to Dakota in 1864 to campaign against Sitting Bull's Hunkpapas. Killdeer Mtn, Whitestone Hill etc., not the Santees. That was Sibley in 1862. I get those two guys mixed up.
A few notes on Isaiah Dorman from Walter Camp's notes, published in Hardorff's book Camp, Custer and The Little Bighorn:
Isaiah Dorman, the interpreter at Fort Rice, was a man of considerable intelligence and a man who enjoyed the respect and confidence of the soldiers in spite of his color. Isaiah was killed about 30 feet from Charley Reynolds. Isaiah Dorman was killed and ripped open. The coffee pot and cup which he carried were filled with blood. What devilish purpose the Indians had in catching this blood he did not know.
"The more I see of movement here (Little Big Horn Battlefield), the more I have admiration for Custer, and I am satisfied his like will not be found very soon again.”
~ Gen. Nelson Miles, Commanding General of the Army ------
"With our cherished ones deliverance within our grasp we waited breathless for the order that never came."
“The Secret History of Isaiah Dorman” (2013), is the story of Elaine’s mother Irene Moore Jetty Gonder. The manuscript details Irene’s Native American Indian, Jewish, and African roots, and her ancestor Isaiah Dorman. Dorman was an African American man who was born free in Philadelphia in 1832, and died fighting with the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876.
Because Irene’s grandchildren were denied enrollment with the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe, Elaine Matlow decided to have her DNA tested. Documents in this collection document Elaine’s determination to learn about her ancestry, experiences during the process, and research and reflections on her findings.
Provenance: The records were donated to the State Historical Society of North Dakota by Elaine Jetty Matlow on March 8, 2013.
Elaine Jetty Matlow, an enrolled tribal member at Spirit Lake Sioux Reservation, has a remarkable story. She uncovered a curious family secret when she had DNA Spectrum analyze her DNA. Jewish DNA. According to Don Yates, Head of Research for DNA Spectrum, she thinks “DNA Spectrum hung the moon.” Matlow and I have been emailing back and forth, and she sent us a great deal of material to peruse. She is a Native American author of these works: A Gift of History: A Winter Solstice (her family genealogy), and two shorter works: “Collection of Memories” concerning the Leonard Peltier case, and “The Secret History of Isaiah Dorman” which reveals the secret…
From whom did Mary King Moore inherit Jewish DNA markers? The test results prompted more genealogy research. Mary King is a direct lineal descendent of Isaiah Dorman, the only Black-African man to die at the “Battle of the Little Bighorn, 1876” [“Fluent in Sioux ... he befriended Sitting Bull” and was freed by Congress, Matlow told Yates because he was a help to General Custer]. Isaiah Dorman could have been a Black-Jewish man. [His wife was Sioux]. “Dorman” is a Jewish surname and he was born a free man in 1832. His mother could have been manumitted along with her children if the children were born from their owner/master. Historically, some Jewish people were ship owners, plantation owners and slave owners.
Upon realizing this, Irene, age 84, living in a nursing home at Bremerton, Washington, would have her granddaughter, Maria, read and re-read her favorite story of her great-great grandfather, Isaiah Dorman at the “Battle of the Little Bighorn, 1876”. Irene would comment, “So, that was the secret that her three grandmothers would hush about, it was the secret of Isaiah Dorman, please, re-read that story to me again.” Irene left this world satisfied; knowing the “secret” that had been kept from her all her life. She was very proud to have come from Isaiah Dorman and wanted all her children to know about him.
But how could Matlow have Jewish DNA if she was Native American with a black grandfather? Evidently from Isaiah Dorman. According to Yates, African Americans have roughly about “30% European DNA.” Moreover, Isaiah is a common Hebrew name. Unlike today, names once were more often an indication of one’s cultural ties and were passed down in the family. They were clues left on a trail to finding one’s ancestors.
Isaiah Dorman was born free in Philadelphia in 1832. The date of his death, June 25, 1876, however, will be both long admired by many and reviled by others in American history. On that day, this black cavalry scout died on what would later be called Reno Ridge while George Armstrong Custer and over five hundred of his comrades were annihilated by thousands of Indian warriors three miles to the north at The Battle of the Little Big Horn in southeastern Montana.
Dorman came to California as the body servant of U.S. Army officer Alfred Sully who was stationed at Monterey between 1849 and 1853. Dorman remained with Sully, now a general, during the Civil War when he commanded U.S. Troops in the Dakota Territory Thus by the 1870s Dorman had lived in Dakota Territory over a decade and during that time had become friends with many tribes, to the point of taking an Indian wife and befriending Chief Sitting Bull. In the late 1860s Dorman worked as a courier, carrying messages between military forts while living with the Sioux. He was employed by General Custer for the first time in 1873 at Ft. Lincoln, Dakota Territory, to direct forays into Indian lands. Dorman was fluent in Lakota, the language of the Sioux. In addition, and according to military records, he was paid at a higher than normal rate for his services, due to his prior experience in government, military and civilian endeavors.
Ironically an old friend, Wooden Leg, a Cheyenne warrior, was present at Dorman's death and talked with him shortly before the scout died. The spot Dorman fell is commemorated by a small marble marker near a gully south of the Crow Agency, Montana. Isaiah Dorman stands as a indelible example of how black men defied stereotypes of both their own times and ours to achieve distinction and acclaim, even with tragic results.
Sources: John W. Ravage, Black Pioneers: Images of the Black Experience on the North American Frontier (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1997, 2002); Robert J Ege, “Isaiah Dorman: Negro Casualty with Reno,” Montana: The Magazine of Western History 16 (January 1966): 35-40.
Isaiah Dorman was serving as an interpreter for the 7th Cavalry when he was killed leaving the timber as part of Major Marcus Reno's battalion. His early history is sketchy. He may have been a slave in Louisiana before escaping and coming west. Sioux history describes a large, "black white man" being welcomed into their villages as early as 1850. Dorman is said to have worked as a trapper and trader. He is thought to have become known to Sitting Bull during this time. Dorman is known to have first appeared in a white settlement in 1865, after the Civil War. At this time he was married to a young woman of Inkpaduta's band of Santee Sioux.
He settled at Fort Rice, Dakota Territory near the present site of Bismarck and supported himself by cutting wood for the fort. He soon became known to the officers of the fort as a jovial, sober, and trustworthy man. He was fond of tobacco, but abstained from liquor. In the fall of 1865 he was employed as a woodcutter by the firm of Durfee & Peck. At one time he operated a woodyard about a half mile north of Standing Rock Agency. In the winters of 1865-67 Dorman carried the mail between Forts Rice and Wadsworth (Sisseton), 360 miles round trip, at times through hostile Sioux country.
In 1871, and again in 1873, he was employed as a guide and interpreter for engineers making a survey for the Northern Pacific Railroad through western Dakota and southern Montana. In preparation for the Sioux campaign of 1876 Custer issued Special Order No. 2 employing Dorman as aninterpreter at Fort Abraham Lincoln on May 14, 1876. Fellow interpreter and Little Bighorn campaigner, Frederic Girard, described Dorman as "a man of considerable intelligence … who enjoyed the respect and confidence of the soldiers ..." Dorman went into battle with the Reno battalion in the valley of the Little Bighorn. In attempting to leave the woods his horse was shot and he went down surrounded by enemy warriors. Private Roman Rutten, an intimate acquaintance of Dorman, passed Dorman who was down on one knee coolly firing with his sporting rifle. As Rutten passed Dorman on horseback, Dorman looked up and cried out, "Goodbye Rutten." Scout George Herendeen stated "while I was in the timber, I saw Indians shooting at Isaiah and squaws pounding him with stone hammers. His legs below the knees were shot full of bullets…" Apparently recognized, Dorman's body was stripped and badly mutilated by the vengeful Sioux. www.nps.gov/libi/learn/historyculture/isaiah-dorman-custers-black-white-man.htm
So, the Philadephia Dorman's may yield the full history.
Interesting, n'est pas? Mormon? Quaker? Viking? Slavers.
Is the marker a part of the battlefield tour?
ADDED - Initially Dorman's mutilated body was buried where he had fallen. There is a small marble marker near a gully south of the Crow Agency, Montana on the Reno Battlefield showing where he died. This site is on private property and is not open to the general public.
HR do you have permission for some of these links? Cutting and pasting the text and making cosmetic changes to it probably doesn't get round various legislation issues. Mods - Perhaps the site has an agreement?
This is not a photo of Dorman. He was at Fort Rice during Custer's 1874 expedition to the Black Hills when this photo was taken. Actually it was an Illingworth photo of the officers. This man was in the background. I did consider whether it might be Peter Frank who was often confused with Dorman. They were both African American, nicknamed Black Hawk, worked as interpreters and married to sisters. However, Frank was not listed in the AQM's Report of Persons and Articles Employed and Hired for the BH Expedition. I checked every name on the pay report against my list of African Americans who lived and worked along the Missouri River. There were no matches. It is, of course, possible that this man was with the sutler and thus not recorded on the AQM report. None of the teamsters known to be with the sutler was African American. There is a slight possibility that W. H. M. Comer, an African American from Bismarck, went with Smith, the sutler, as barber.