Libbie Custer

April 8 (1842) is the birthday of Elizabeth Bacon Custer, wife of General George Armstrong Custer.  She was always known as Libbie or Libby. 

She was born in Monroe, Michigan to a wealthy and important judge. She was attractive, intelligent, well-educated, and refined. Her father doted on her, and he hoped she would marry well. Custer met her in the middle of the Civil War, November, 1862, and fell madly in love with her. But her father wanted her to have nothing to do with the lowly Army officer from an undistinguished family. But by July 1863 Custer had risen all the way from second lieutenant to brigadier general because of his outstanding success in battle, and Libby’s father finally relented. Libby and George were married in February 1864. 

They were devoted to each other, and Libbie spent as much time with her husband as she could, even when he was campaigning. After the Civil War Custer was assigned to several dreary posts in Kansas, Texas, and Dakota Territory. In 1876 they were at Fort Abraham Lincoln near Bismarck. From there the 7th Cavalry left to join an Army force that was to return Sioux and Cheyenne Indians to reservations. Custer and his detachment were wiped out at the Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876. He was only 36 and she was 34.

Initially Custer was blamed for the disaster by authorities, but Libbie spent the rest of her life single-mindedly promoting George as the gallant general who made the supreme sacrifice as a martyr. She was quite successful in this. She wrote three books about army life: “Boots and Saddles” (1885), “Tenting on the Plains” (1887), and “Following the Guidon” (1890) in which she glorified Custer. Custer’s image became a legend. 

Her literary efforts and speaking tours eventually made her financially comfortable. She and George had had no children, and she never remarried. She died on April 4, 1933, just shy of her 91st birthday. She was buried next to her husband at West Point. 

She had spent about 57 years as the devoted widow of her hero husband. I think it is fascinating to consider the immense changes in the country that took place from June 1876 to April 1933. Two vastly different worlds by then.