11 February 2016
Elizabeth Bacon Custer dreaded being left behind. She followed her husband, General George Armstrong Custer to all of his military assignments from Civil War Virginia to the Great Plains. She was waiting for him at Fort Abraham Lincoln when she learned that he was killed along with hundreds of his troopers of the 7th Cavalry at Little Big Horn.
“Libbie” grieved for the death of her husband, but she also grieved at the idea that he would be blamed for getting is command massacred – a very real possibility in the months after the battle. She committed her life to rescuing her lover’s reputation.
Libbie’s version of Autie Custer was gallant and dashing. He was aggressive and successful while other officers were hesitating and conservative. Her Custer died heroically, ill-served by his surviving officers, who impugned his honor on order to cover up their own military sins.
Whether Libbie’s version of history was true – her accounts of events are fairly reliable – it was more important that George Custer be redeemed in the view of history. in this mission Libbie was hugely successful. The image of Custer, and the heroic version of his death – “Custer’s Last Stand” – dominated the history of the West throughout much of the twentieth Century. By the later part of the century the idea of Custer in popular culture was more attached to actor Errol Flynn than to any biographical information of the 19th Century general.
Libbie’s three volumes written about her husband, Boots and Saddles (1885), Tenting on the Plains (1887), and Following the Guidon (1890), were extremely successful books. They portrayed Custer as a hero and Libbie’s life with him one of romance and adventure. Early editions of these books are quite valuable if they can be found in very good condition or better. A book collection regarding George A. Custer, the Plains Wars, or the Battle of Little Big Horn must be based around Libbie Custer’s three fine memoirs.
Take a look at our Tenting on the Plains, complete with Frederick Remington sketches.