Cassilly Adams – Custer’s Last Fight

Death Notices: Indianapolis Star, May 09, 1921:

ADAMS – Cassilly, died at his home at Traders Point, Sunday 4 p.m. Funeral from residence Tuesday May 19, at 3 p.m. Burial at Crown Hill.

The same obituary appeared in the Indianapolis News on the same day. The brief public notice is the extent of the local press coverage about our former resident. As Paul Harvey would say, here’s the rest of the story.

“Cassilly Adams painted many western scenes. But he is best remembered for his epic work, Custer’s Last Fight, which he completed in 1885. His rendering of that famous battle at the Big Horn River in Montana eventually was obtained by the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company, which made thousands of reproductions for advertising and promotional purposes. Lithographs hung in taverns across the nation. ”

( The lithograph can even be seen in the movie, “The Gunfighter”1950, starring Gregory Peck. The large painting on the wall behind Gregory Peck’s chair in a bar room scene is “Custer’s Last Fight”. )

“Anheuser-Busch then produced a lithographic print of the painting and in 1896 gave prints to their distributors, bars, and other outlets. Through its display, it became widely known to diverse audiences.
Born in Zanesville, Ohio, Adams was the son of William Apthorp Adams, a lawyer who traced his ancestry back to the John Adams family of Boston. The elder Adams was an amateur artist. At an early age, young Adams was interested in art.
He studied at the Boston Academy of Arts, under Thomas S. Noble, and later at the Cincinnati Art School. He served in the army during the Civil War and was wounded while aboard the U.S.S. Osage at the Battle of Vicksburg. Late in the 1870s, Adams moved to St. Louis where he found work as an artist and engraver.
Custer”s Last Fight took one year to complete. As models he used actual Sioux Indians in battle dress and cavalrymen in uniforms of the period. The painting, which measured approx. 9 1/2 feet by 16 1/2 feet, was produced for two members of the St. Louis Arts Club, who exhibited the historical canvas around the country, charging s fifty-cent admission fee. The two promoters did not realize the profit they wanted from the venture, so they sold the painting to a St. Louis saloonkeeper who hung it in his barroom. When the saloon went bankrupt, the painting was acquired by one of the creditors- Anheuser-Busch Company. At the time it was valued at $10,000. The brewery gave the painting to the 7th Cavalry, and it was destroyed in a fire at Fort Bliss, Texas in 1946.
Adams is a relatively unknown artist, a victim of circumstance. Most of his illustrations were done for book publishers who did not credit him with the work. Therefore, many of his illustrations were borrowed for other books and were not attributed to him. Actually, he painted many scenes of frontier life, and it is known that he illustrated Conquering the Wilderness by Frank Triplett, published in 1883.
Adams died at Trader’s Point near Indianapolis, Indiana in 1921. ”
Taken from American Western Art by Dorothy Harmsen

From Kansas Historical Society (1945):

“The Adams painting, done in the middle 1880′s, was lithographed in modified version by Otto Becker and published by the Anheuser-Busch Company of St. Louis in 1896 and is still distributed by that concern. Copies can be viewed in barrooms, taverns, hotels, restaurants, and museums throughout the country. It is probably safe to say that in the 50 years elapsing since 1896 it has been viewed by a greater number of the lower-browed members of society-and by fewer art critics-than any other picture in American history. To be more specific, the writer on a bus trip to St. Louis in the summer of 1940, stopped for rest and refreshment at a tavern in a small mid-Missouri town. On one wall of the tavern, a busy rest stop for bus lines traveling east and west, was “Custer’s Last Fight.” Each bus that came to rest disgorged its passengers, many of whom found their way into the tavern. As each group entered, some one was sure to see the Custer picture with the result that there were always several people-sometimes a crowd-around it, viewing it, commenting on it, and then hurrying on. Probably hundreds of people saw this picture every month. When one considers that 150,000 copies have been published and distributed since the picture was first published in 1896, it is evident that “Custer’s Last Fight” has been viewed by an almost countless throng. Kirke Mechem, secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, tells me that a reproduction of the painting in the Memorial building close to his work room, is likewise viewed by a constantly changing daily audience. The picture fascinates all beholders, for after viewing it and passing on to examine other pictures and exhibits, return is made to see again “Custer’s Last Fight.” “It is the most popular by far of all our many pictures,” reports Mr. Mechem.”

I have confirmed through the public record that the residence location of Mr. and Mrs. Cassilly Adams was an 8.4 acre parcel at the northwest corner or confluence of Fishback Creek and Eagle Creek. This is an area that birders know well as the site of the two observation platforms. The photos show the plat they owned, fronting on the westside of Dandy Trail (now underwater). But their property is entirely high and dry, with the possible exception of a meandering Fishback Creek that has gobbled up some of their property. The signficance of this find, in my opinion, is that Mr. Adams would have had a natural outdoor setting or backdrop that matches up well with his body of work.


2 Responses to Cassilly Adams – Custer’s Last Fight

  1. Barry William Riehl says:

    This Barry Riehl a Distant Relative of “CASSILLY ADAMS”. I currently live in Saint Petersburg, Florida 33714. My Email is my Great Grandfather William Louis Riehl married Elizabeth Apthorp Adams and I have the Original Marriage Certificate to prove this marriage. Cassilly’s Daughter was Elizabeth Apthorp Adams and she had a brother Charles Cassilly Adams. Well Elizabeth A. Adams and William L. Riehl had one child William louis Riehl the 2nd and he married Helen Rogers and they had 2 children my Father Roger William Riehl and my Aunt Lois Riehl. My Father Invented “The World’s First Solar Powered Watch ” called the “SYNCHRONAR” but thats another whole story. If you do a Google Search for Roger Riehl and you will find alot about my Father The Late; Roger William Riehl. Well any way Roger William Riehl married my Mother Sarash Dobos and they had 3 children: First born: 1) Roger Howard Riehl, 2) Then my self: Barry William Riehl, and then 3) Howard Louis Riehl. We all 3 are still alive and live in Saint Petersburg Florida.
    So I ended up with some very interesting Adams Family Wills and boxes of Manuscript and letters and Interesting Stories all about The Adams Family. Including Stories about Cassilly’s Fathers Father Seth Adams and aal the way back to 1600’s Adams Tree. Before President John and John Quincy Adams who are both also blood related to me, since I have proof I am related to Cassily Adams and he was proven to be a Distant relative of out President John Adams and I also have prrof of the exact Bloodline. I am interested in seeing if any other Relatives of Cassilly Adams are out there and would resond to this message if interested in these boxes of Adams Family History. My Email is above:

  2. Thomas Rumler says:

    My wife and I are having a home built in Trader’s Point and the address will be on Cassilly Court. I was trying to figure out where that name came from and I found it. My father was a Civil War subject matter expert and he took me and my family to Custer’s Last Stand when I was a boy. I am very excited to know that our home address will be named after Cassilly Adams.

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