Old West Cavalry Distributions of Age and Countries of Origin

Quote of the Day

You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.

— Winston Churchill


Figure 1: US Cavalry Field Uniforms in 1876 (Source).

Figure 1: US Cavalry Field Uniforms in 1876 (Source).

When I was a boy, my father often told me stories of his grandfather, Louis Bauer, who was a member of the US Cavalry on the American Frontier. In fact, my father left my brother Tim the watch, spurs, and shaving cup that Louis used when he served in the cavalry. I used to wear the spurs for fun as a kid.

Louis Bauer was a recent immigrant from Germany who volunteered for the US Army and served in the 7th Cavalry nine years after the Battle of the Little Bighorn. I always thought it was interesting that a young immigrant would join the military shortly after arriving in the US.

Last weekend, I was watching a show on CSPAN that mentioned that many members of the US Cavalry were German-born – he also commented that the same was true during the Civil War. I decided I would look up some information on the 7th Cavalry and generate a breakdown of the troopers by country of origin and age. The easiest information to find was about the 7th Cavalry under Custer.


Everything in this post is taken from this paper containing the muster roll of the 7th Cavalry at the time of the Battle of the Little Bighorn in June 1876 (Source).  I imported this data into Excel and generated a pivot table. The muster rolls list an AP reporter as a staff member of the 7th Cavalry – I left his data in my results. Today, we would call him an embedded reporter. I also left in a number of troopers who were not present on the day of the battle. In Appendix A, I show a list given at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument for the troops at the battle.


Countries of Origin

Figure 2 show the countries of birth for the 7th Cavalry troopers. Over 40% of the troopers were foreign-born – they were from seventeen different countries with over half having been born in  Ireland and Germany.

Figure 2: Countries of Origin for 7th Calvary.

Figure 2: Countries of Origin for 7th Calvary.

I should point out that some troopers were from countries that no longer exist (e.g. Prussia). I replaced these country names with their modern equivalent (e.g. Prussia as Germany).

Age Distribution

Figures 3(a) and 3(b) show the age distribution of the 7th Cavalry troopers. They actually are a bit older than I would have imagined based on the average ages of the GIs during 20th century conflicts.  For example, the average age of 7th Cavalry troopers versus military forces in WW2 and Vietnam is given below.

  • 7th Cavalry: 28.7 years
  • WW2: 26 years
  • Vietnam: 22 year
Figure 3(a): Pivot Table of 7th Cavalry Ages. Figure 3(b): Pivot Chart of 7th Cavalry Ages.

I should mention that the total trooper count differs between Figures 2 and 3. This is because some troopers did not have their date of birth listed.


It appears that over 40% of the 7th Cavalry troopers were foreign-born. I cannot imagine arriving into a new country and ending up in the middle of conflict for which you have little knowledge.

Appendix A: Little Bighorn Battlefield Nat. Monument Trip

I was able to visit the site of the Little Bighorn battlefield on October 16, 2016. While touring the site, I found the following chart that summarized birth places of cavalry troops present at the battle (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Birthplaces of 7th Cavalry Troopers.

Figure 4: Birthplaces of 7th Cavalry Troopers.

Because my photo is not as clear as I would like, I captured the data on the chart in Table 1. Note that two troopers are listed as born "at sea." The muster rolls show only one trooper as born at sea, with the additional comment that he was from Ireland. In the data above, I listed that trooper as "from Ireland."

Table 1: 7th Cavalrymen Countries of Origin.

Country Numbers Percentages
Foreign Total
368 43.8%
Greece 1 0.3%
Russia 1 0.3%
Spain 1 0.3%
Hungary 2 0.5%
Poland 2 0.5%
Sweden 2 0.5%
At Sea 2 0.5%
Norway 3 0.8%
Denmark 6 1.6%
Italy 7 1.9%
France 8 2.2%
Switzerland 12 3.3%
Canada 15 4.1%
United Kingdom 53 14.4%
Germany 125 34.0%
Ireland 128 34.8%
United States Total 472 56.2%
New York 101 21.4%
Pennsylvania 82 17.4%
Ohio 60 12.7%
Massachusetts 45 9.5%
Indiana 22 4.7%
Kentucky 19 4.0%
Illinois 18 3.8%
Maryland 16 3.4%
Maine 12 2.5%
Missouri 12 2.5%
New Jersey 11 2.3%
Connecticut 8 1.7%
New Hampshire 7 1.5%
Rhode Island 7 1.5%
Michigan 7 1.5%
Wisconsin 7 1.5%
Vermont 5 1.1%
Virginia 5 1.1%
West Virginia 4 0.8%
North Carolina 4 0.8%
Iowa 3 0.6%
District of Columbia 3 1.6%
Louisiana 2 0.4%
Georgia 2 0.4%
South Carolina 2 0.4%
Tennessee 2 0.4%
Washington 1 0.2%
California 1 0.2%
New Mexico 1 0.2%
Delaware 1 0.2%
Texas 1 0.2%
Kansas 1 0.2%
Grand Total 840 100.0%
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