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MANUSCRIPT MAY BE PRIZE AT CUSTER AUCTION

Gen. George Armstrong Custer's personal battle flag, his campaign shirt and other artifacts - including arrows pulled from his brother's corpse - are being sold to the highest bidders.

However, the feature attraction of an auction of Custer memorabilia on Tuesday could be a 190-page manuscript written by a lowly trooper who survived the Battle of the Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876.Note that soldier William O. Taylor lived through the battle, not Custer's Last Stand. A lot of Cheyenne and Sioux survived, but the only thing found breathing on Custer's side was a horse. He and 225 men had been killed.

Taylor was about five miles away with Maj. Marcus Reno and his column. Those soldiers retreated to a hill, dug in and beat back a furious enemy onslaught.

But they are little known by the public, which gains much of its knowledge of the Montana battle from movies such as "Little Big Man" or "They Died With Their Boots On."

"I wouldn't be surprised if the manuscript goes for a minimum of $50,000," said Greg Martin, an arms consultant with auctioneers Butterfield & Butterfield, which is managing the event.

Taylor wrote in a foreward to the work, completed in precise penmanship in 1917 in Orange, Mass., that it was not his intention to make an "exhaustive or critical narrative of General Custer's last campaign."

No problem. Plenty of people have done that already.

Custer, only 23 when he was given the rank of major general with the Union Army, reverted to lieutenant colonel after the Civil War. He often tangled with his superiors and was suspended from service for a year for disobeying orders. He rejoined during the Indian Wars but was stuck with a reputation as a vainglorious man whose massive ego led him to underestimate the opposition in his final battle.

Facing huge forces led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, he divided up the 600 men of the 7th Cavalry Regiment into three columns. Custer and the entire column he led, including two of his brothers and two brothers-in-law, were wiped out in a bloodbath against an overwhelming number of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors.

In the years that followed the battle, Reno also was criticized for not coming to Custer's aid. But Taylor's work makes clear there was little Reno could do. His men could barely fend off the warriors, finally digging foxholes into the bluffs and waiting to be rescued themselves.

" . . . the Indians were coming in closer, for as they afterwards said; `they thought to drive us all into the river and drown us,' " Taylor wrote. The Little Bighorn River, he wrote, was a "struggling mass of men and horses from whom little streams of blood was coloring the water near them."

The manuscript was acquired by New York art dealer Alexander Acevedo. Other owners also contributed Custer memorabilia, including newspaper accounts of the battle, and two arrows from the body of Lt. Thomas Custer.