Fort Meade, S.D.
When the Seventh Cavalry under General George Armstrong Custer was stationed here in what was then “the Dakota Territory” in the 1870s, the company laundress, “Mrs. Corporal Noonan,” was a popular midwife, seamstress, cook, and nurse. She had three soldier husbands between the years 1868 and 1878, the last of whom was John Noonan, an orderly. According to historian John Wilke, General Custer’s wife, Elizabeth, also employed Mrs. Noonan privately, praising the woman’s handiwork: “When she brought the linen home, it was fluted and frilled so daintily that I considered her a treasure.”
But Mrs. Noonan also had a well-kept secret. Elizabeth Custer remembered that the laundress “kept a veil pinned about the lower part of her face.” When Mrs. Noonan died in 1878, the women at the post who had the task of preparing her body for burial discovered that she was a biological man. Her husband would have undoubtedly been court-martialed and sent to the penitentiary, but the corporal committed suicide before he could be prosecuted, just a month after his wife’s death.