A Lifetime of Collecting: George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn

Piecing together an elite collection in any category requires extensive time and energy, both in acquisition of materials and in studying of the subject of choice.

Such is the case with Glen Swanson, around whose collection Heritage Auctions built its June “Legends of the West” auction.

Growing up in Mandan, N.D., Swanson had an uncle who was a collector – a hobby that held little to capture Swanson’s attention. Mandan is a small town – the population today is still under 22,000 people – but it is historically significant, as the location of Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, which includes, among other things, the (Gen. George A.) Custer House.

As he progressed through school, Swanson developed an interest in history. That, coupled with his proximity to such significant historical landmarks, lit the proverbial match on his interest in collecting.

“Once the bug gets you,” Swanson said, “it gets you.”

He then embarked on a lifetime of acquiring some of the most passionately collected military relics. Much of his effort was focused on memorabilia related to Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn, which took place a few hours to the west in Montana. Over the years, he acquired priceless artifacts:

Sitting Bull's Identified Flintlock Carbine with Standing Statue

Sitting Bull’s Identified Flintlock Carbine


Three Sioux Arrows from the Battle of the Little Bighorn

Three Sioux Arrows from the Battle of the Little Bighorn


William Tecumseh Sherman His Dress Uniform as General of the Army

William Tecumseh Sherman: His Dress Uniform as General of the Army


Tiffany Hardwood Cane with Sterling Silver Ferrule and Decorative Head

George Armstrong Custer: His Walking Stick
Tiffany Hardwood Cane with Sterling Silver Ferrule and Decorative Head.

For more than 40 years, Swanson collected to feed his passion. He bought some items, and traded for others. All along, he studied the era and the region, and those who lived and fought there. His collection grew, not just in size, but also in depth.

“Of all the collectors I have worked with over the years,” Heritage Auctions director of Americana auctions Tom Slater said. “None has exceeded Glen Swanson’s commitment to research and documentation. His carefully laid groundwork certainly makes our work easier in cataloging the collection.

“Items related to Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn are always in high demand, and the Swanson collection is one of the best known and most significant private collections on this subject ever assembled.”

In addition to his extraordinary collection, Swanson also chronicled his life’s work in a book: G.A. Custer His Life and Times, which was published in 2004. The book, Slater said, became “an instant classic in the collecting world,” a definitive resource for those who shared Swanson’s interest in collecting artifacts related to Custer, the Battle of Little Bighorn and related events. The book includes extensive illustration, mostly with items from his collection, and a thorough introduction to many of the personalities and events of the era, which remain a source of considerable intrigue to countless collectors.

Heritage Auctions has a limited number of copies of the book, autographed by Swanson, and is offering them at the original price of $100 postpaid. To get a copy, simply call Heritage Auctions at 214-528-3500 and ask for Catalog Orders to request a copy of this extraordinarily thorough and fascinating resource.

Posted by Steve Lansdale

Public Relations Specialist

  1. Great collection of true American treasures.


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