Elizabeth "Libbie" Bacon Custer

 

Elizabeth "Libbie" Bacon Custer was born April 8, 1842 in Monroe, Michigan to a wealthy and influential family. Her father was Judge Daniel Stanton Bacon. None of Libbie’s siblings lived to adulthood causing many to believe this is why Judge Bacon was overly protective of her. While many women’s photos of the 1800’s aren’t very appealing to our 21st century eyes, Libbie was quite pretty. Her life on the plains as a frontier wife took a minor toll on her looks but she kept her bright eyes and beautiful smile.

Libbie was also quite intelligent, graduating as a valedictorian from the Young Ladies' Seminary and Collegiate Institute. Her father hoped that her looks, intelligence, and elevated social standing would land her a marriage with a man from Monroe’s elite. In 1862 a young Union Civil War Officer from a poor family was to dash that hope, George Armstrong "Autie" Custer. Captain Custer met Libbie while home on leave and was immediately smitten with her. Soon Libbie fell deeply in love with Autie. Judge Bacon didn’t approve of Autie because of his family’s lack of social standing and didn’t want his beloved Libbie to become an Army wife. After Autie Custer’s meteoric rise to the rank of Brigadier General, Judge Bacon relented and finally gave his approval for the star struck lovers to marry. Autie and Libbie were married on February 9, 1864.

The Custer’s were totally devoted to each other and were seldom separated. Libbie accompanied Autie on his Civil War assignments, post war assignments, and western frontier assignments. Eventually as the US Army downsized after the Civil War, General Custer was given what many considered backwater assignments. Life was difficult on Army bases for the wives. There were few luxuries and few women to share their troubles with. Whenever Autie was away from the base or fort, he and Libbie would write each other constantly. Their letters were often long and very romantic.

While at Fort Abraham Lincoln in the Dakota Territory, Libbie set the social tone for the post. She hosted special events for the officers and area dignitaries. More importantly Libbie was always there for the Fort’s wives whenever possible, providing support. This proved to be critical after the disastrous defeat at the Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876, as Army widowed wives were treated poorly by the government their husbands gave their lives for. For her husband’s service to his country, she received a thirty dollar a month pension from the government and little else. Libbie declined to take any of the monies donated to a fund for the widowed wives of the famed US 7th Cavalry, desiring to make more available to the widows with children.

Libbie believed one of her responsibilities as "the widow of a national hero" was to lecture on Army life and her husband‘s career. Libbie also spoke on the social and economic status of women. Libbie was forceful and strong in making it on her own, unassisted at a time when assertive women were very rare indeed. Libbie authored three books on General Custer’s US Army career, "Boots and Saddles" in 1885, "Following the Guidon" in 1890, and "Tenting on the Plains" in 1893. Libbie had more than military tales published, writing articles for newspapers and magazines on public affairs, the arts, and much more. In 1900 she authored a children's story, named "The Kid", published in St. Nicholas Magazine complete with illustrations. Libbie proved to be a shrewd and wise investor, unlike Autie, and grew more prosperous as the decades passed by, spending her winters in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Libbie lived fifty seven years after her Autie's famous death. Libbie never remarried, wearing her wedding ring until her death, being totally dedicated to him. Libbie never visited The Little Big Horn Battlefield, not even the famous 1926 fifty year anniversary commemoration that thousands attended. She did listen to the radio broadcast however. I believe that Libbie didn’t want to think of the General at his time of death. I think she wanted to keep her last sight of him standing up in his stirrups and waving his hat goodbye to "The Girl I Left Behind Me" as he vanished from her sight, America’s Golden Cavalier.

The Custer’s had no children. Shortly before her death Libbie said her greatest disappointment in life was that she never had a son to bear her Autie’s honored name. Libbie died a few days before her 91st birthday on April 6, 1933 at her New York City home. In death the elderly Libbie joined her forever young Autie, being buried beside him at West Point. Fittingly the band played "Garry Owen".

No real Custer movie can be complete without Libbie. The best portrayal of her is by actress Olivia deHavilland in 1941’s "They Died with their Boots On". Though cute as can be, Rosanna Arquette was as bland as pabulum in the 1991 TV mini-series "Son of the Morning Star" and gets my worst portrayal vote.

 

Libbie Custer

 

Libbie's grave

My favorite photo of the Custer's.

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