AIR FORCE SERGEANT KNOWN FOR ACQUIRING SOME OF THE FINEST MATERIAL IN THE HOBBY
For nearly three decades, Michael Albert Ward pursued rare artifacts from George Armstrong Custer’s lifetime and the American Indian Wars, Western and American Indian art, and firearms and militaria from these periods. The result is one of the finest collections of its kind.
Ward was born in Billings, Mont., a place that would come to have a lasting impression on his life. As a youngster, he frequented areas in Montana with historical significance to American Indian history, including the Little Bighorn Battlefield. Ward always had an admiration for the early American firearms, which was heightened when he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1960. He received numerous commendations, including the Air Force Commendation Medal for his meritorious service, before he was honorably discharged as a staff sergeant in 1966.
Following his return to the United States, his interest in real estate began. He met his future partners and together they formed Ramco-Gershenson, which became a publicly traded real estate investment trust in 1996. At his home in Oxford, Mich., Mike created museum-style displays of his Custer collection, firearms, American Indian artifacts and other collections. His hobbies also included horseback riding, hunting game birds with his son and grandson, painting, driving sports cars, researching his family tree and golfing.
Ward loved acquiring objects with historical importance. He traveled throughout the United States to different auctions, displayed his collection and often won “best of show.” He wrote articles and developed relationships with museums, galleries and other collectors that shared his interest and passion. “He was worldly, intelligent, smart and lived what he was passionate about,” says daughter Jennifer.
As a respected firearms collector, his collection included special Henry rifles, Colt conversions, Custer battlefield guns and even modern guns. His favorite items included Brigadier General Edward Godfrey’s 7th U.S. Cavalry “Tuebor” medals; a medal that was made especially for Custer’s wife Libbie; a Civil War 1860 Henry Rifle; and several rare tomahawks marked by the maker Pierre Chouteau.
Exquisite items from Ward’s collection are featured in Heritage’s Americana auction scheduled for June 12, 2021.
“Michael sought out and acquired some of the finest Western material when it was offered to the market,” says Curtis Lindner, director of Americana at Heritage Auctions. “He especially sought out rare and desirable George A. Custer material, as evidenced by the MOLLUS medal issued to General Custer. The collection has several rare and unique pieces. He sought out the best of the best.”
In 2006, Ward was given the biggest battle of all when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. “With his courage, strength, competitiveness, stubbornness and love of the simple things in life, there was nothing he could not do, and he never gave up,” says his daughter. “He had enough fight in him to turn a six-month diagnosis into 14 incredible years of memories with his family and friends.”
This article appears in the Winter 2020-2021 edition of The Intelligent Collector magazine. Click here to subscribe.