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The Last Trooper

June 2024
1min read

The archeological dig at the Little Bighorn culminated in a 1989 exploration around the site where Reno was supposed to have disposed of his extra supplies after relief arrived on the twenty-seventh. But the Reno dig produced no riches, and one rainy day a frustrated volunteer named Monte Kloberdanz decided to take a wistful stroll down to where Reno and his men forded the Little Bighorn on their retreat to the ridge. As he was climbing up the embankment, he noticed something protruding from the roots of a cottonwood tree and found a human clavicle, humerus, and skull.

Archeologists identified the skull as that of a Caucasian from the 1870s and sent a cast to a forensic sculptor in Norman, Oklahoma, named Betty Pat Gatliff, who produced a bust of the fallen trooper. The historians at the battlefield pared the list of candidates down to two: Sgt. Edward Botzer of Company G and Pvt. William Moodie of Company A, of whom no photographs seem to exist.

There the matter probably would have rested except that a film maker named Bill Armstrong made a documentary about the discovery called Caster’s Last Trooper . Shortly after it was broadcast on the Arts and Entertainment network in February of 1990, Ms. Gatliff received a call from an Oklahoma woman named Trish Barnett who declared that the bust sure looked like kin. Her mother’s maiden name was Batzer, the proper German form of Botzer.

Though one account places Botzer’s body precisely where Kloberdanz found the skull, and the bust bears a striking resemblance to one of Ms. Barnett’s mother’s relations, Rudolph Martin Batzer, until DNA tests are completed, the identification shall remain archeologically inconclusive.

But as far as the Batzers are concerned, it was their hapless cousin Eddie they finally buried, with Catholic rites and full military honors, at Custer Battlefield National Cemetery on Sunday, June 23, 1991 —115 years almost to the day after he had fled for his life from Sitting Bull’s wrath.

—A.W.

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