CUSTER'S LAST STAND by Thomas LaMarre

Permission to print this extract has been given from the ANA and "Money Talks (a publication of the ANA).

"Custer's Last Stand" sent shock waves through the nation. But less than 40 years later, a Native American who fought Custer served as one of the models for a new nickel coin.

It was on this day in 1876 that George Armstrong Custer and nearly 225 men under his immediate command died in the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Government troops had moved into the Montana Territory to force the Sioux and Cheyenne onto reservations. Custer went ahead to scout a Native American village . . . and got more than he bargained for when he confronted thousands of warriors. It was the largest gathering of hostile tribes in Western history.

Among the warriors was Two Moons, a Cheyenne chief. In his later years, he visited Washington, D.C., several times, and even met with President Woodrow Wilson. Two Moons was in his sixties when sculptor James Earle Fraser used him as one of the models for the Indian Head nickel. Fraser said his goal was to create a "truly American" coin. With a Native American on one side and a bison on the other, he claimed he had found a "perfect unity of theme."

When the first Indian Head nickels were released in February 1913, they had everyone talking. A coin collectors' magazine described the Native American portrait as a "work of art, powerfully modeled and strong." Treasury officials were quick to point out it was a composite portrait that wasn't supposed to represent any particular Indian. Fraser agreed, saying right along that Two Moons was only one of several models he used.

The new coin spread Two Moons' fame, but it didn't bring him a nickel in royalties. He died in 1917, just a few years after the Indian Head nickel made its debut.

"Money Talks" is a copyrighted production of the American Numismatic Association, 818 N. Cascade Ave., Colorado Springs, CO 80903, 719/632-2646,