Dustin was born in Glens Falls, New York to James and Jennie E. (Green) O'Donnell. His mother died soon after his birth and he was sent to live with his aunt, Sara, who was married to Ira Dustin, whose last name Fred legally assumed. When he was 15, Fred Dustin left school and went to work in a lumber yard.
In 1887, he moved to Saginaw, Michigan, and became a carpenter and building contractor. His passion was studying the Indian culture and history of his area, and he was an archaeological surveyor for the University of Michigan and an amateur archaeologist. In 1919, he published a booklet entitled The Saginaw treaty of 1819 between General Lewis Cass and the Chippewa Indians. He conducted an archaeological survey of Isle Royale from 1929 until 1930. Dustin published some of the earliest sketches of the Ogemaw Earthworks and other Saginaw sites associated with the Mound builders in 1931.
Historian of the Battle of the Little Bighorn
Dustin corresponded with and interviewed a number of surviving Indians, civilian interpreters, and soldiers starting in the early 1900s for compilation of their personal narratives of the 1876 fight at Little Bighorn. He spent over 30 years researching the battle and its participants. Dustin was known for his disdain for Custer and criticism of his actions, and his support for the controversial Major Marcus Reno.
Ironically, he made his only visit to the Custer Battlefield in 1938. The following year, he published his life's research in a work entitled The Custer Tragedy: Events Leading Up to and Following the Little Big Horn Campaign on 1876, a work considered a classic in Custeriana.
Fred Dustin died in Saginaw, aged 90.