(Military records state birth year as 1851)
In civilian life he was a brush maker.
In Troy, New York on 20 January 1872 he enlisted in the 7th U. S. Cavalry. At the Battle of the Little Big Horn he was a sargeant in Company K, led by Edward Settle Godfrey. K troop was in Frederick Benteen's 3rd Battalion. Initially Rafter was back with the pack train. Each company of the 7th had designated a few men to assist with the pack train. Once the pack train arrived they fought along the hilltop now called Reno Hill with the troops of Reno and Weir and the rest of Benteen's battalion. The pack train may have been their salvation as they were resupplied with ammunition, which they were almost out of.
On 17 February 1877 he married May Hughes. Mary was the widow of Rafter's friend, Robert H. Hughes, also a sargeant in Company K, who was killed at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
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