Monroe County Historical Museum
If you are visiting southeastern Michigan or northwestern Ohio and are a US Civil War or Indian Wars buff then you must visit the Monroe County Historical Museum. It's located in Monroe, Michigan which is a pleasant town with a lot of other vacation options. The museum is located at 126 South Monroe Street and easy to get to and there are plenty of signs to direct you to it. The grounds were the original site of Judge Daniel Stanton Bacon's home. Judge Bacon was the father of Elizabeth (Libbie) Bacon Custer, the wife of General George Armstrong Custer. In 1911 the Bacon House was moved to it's present location on Cass Street and the present building erected as a US Post Office building. When the Post Office left the building, La-Z-Boy stepped in and provided funding to start the Monroe County Museum. It's certainly a treasure of a small town museum, one of the best I've visited.
There was ample nearby parking and I was able to park along the museum sidewalk. After entering I went to the well staffed front desk. I was given lots of information about upcoming events, the museum and it's contents. The front desk staff was personable, polite, and helpful. Admission was very reasonable and I made an additional donation prior to beginning my tour.
I was here for the Custer portion of the museum and headed straight for the first floor Custer displays. A very large art collection is mounted and easy to view along the walls. There are many displays in glass cabinets. Both the US Civil War and Indian Wars, especially the Battle of The Little Big Horn, are well represented. Among the displays are family photos, firearms, and many personal items. Quite a few items from the Sighting The Enemy Statue dedication back in 1910 are shown. One of my favorite collections in the display cases, was a wide assortment of commercial products with General Custer's likeness on them. I was especially excited to see my friend David Cornut's book "Little Big Horn" on display. David's book is in French, which I don't speak, but I was able to roughly translate portions of it after he was kind enough to send me an autographed copy of it. It also holds a place of honor in my collection. David's book is hard to get here in the United States but is well worth the effort. David also runs the exceptional website CusterWest.org .
After viewing some firearms owned by General Custer's relatives, including some he used to hunt with, I went over to the cannon on display. It was captured from the Confederates on October 9, 1864 at the Battle of Tom's Brook in Virginia by the US 3rd Cavalry Division led by General Custer. After finally completing my viewing of the first floor collection I made my way upstairs.
When I got to the second floor I was amazed by the Custer collection up there. Perhaps amazed isn't strong enough. The Lawrence A. Frost Collection is housed here and there is no better place to research Custer than in that collection. You must contact the museum prior to your visit and set up an appointment to view any of the materials in the Frost collection. Calling well in advance is a piece of sound advice. A Cavalry Trooper and his mount are decked out in their gear in a very nice display outside the Frost collection. It's no wonder the US Army wanted small Troopers. The amount of equipment the horse had to carry was quite large along with the Trooper and the equipment attached to him.
A lifesize photo of General George Armstrong Custer leads you into the portion of the second floor dedicated to the Custer's. This is the real jewel of the museum. In addition to hundreds of items dealing with General Custer's US Civil War and Indian Wars battles, many items pertaining to Libbie Custer's life in Monroe and as a career Army officer's wife are present. The other Custer children also have items on display.
Some of Libbie's items include toys she played with as a child and her school desk and books from Boyd's Seminary. Some sketches drawn by Libbie show off her artistic abilities. A few of the wedding gifts the Custer's received are displayed. Of particular interest to US Civil War buffs is a frame displaying three squares of different materials and a letter scribed by Libbie Custer. The three squares are a piece of the Confederate surrender flag presented to General Custer at Appomattox, a piece of the table the surrender was signed on, and a portion of General Custer's always present red tie he wore during the war. These items were given to Lieutenant Frederick Nims, a Staff Officer of General Custer during the war, also from Monroe, Michigan. The tent that Libbie stayed in while writing "Tenting On The Plains" is displayed. The tent was discovered in a cottage formerly owned by Libbie by Dr. Lawrence A. Frost in 1972. Libbie's canvas covered leather trunk she used to move her belongings in was displayed along with clothing and personal items. There are way too many items to list so I have given some of the highlights.
General George Custer's early life in New Rumley, Ohio is well represented. Some of the items displayed include childhood clothing, bricks from the foundation of the house he was born in, the family bible, and implements from around the home. Other family member's items are also displayed. General Custer's early life in Monroe is represented by a number of items he used while enrolled at Alfred Stebbin's Young Men's Academy. A West Point uniform of the type Cadet Custer wore is presented. The contents of the trunk General Custer lost possession of during the US Civil War fighting at Trevilian Station is prominently displayed. It contains a complete uniform, leather bags, weapons, personal items, and a lock of of his famous curly hair. The entire Trevilian Station collection is for sale. I visited in June 2010 and as of this writing (February 2011) I do not know if the collection has been sold.
Many of the flags used by the assorted Michigan Cavalry units led by General Custer are displayed. Many swords, knives, and firearms used by General Custer are displayed. One of the General's saddles is there also. Bullets from the East Cavalry Field at Gettysburg and from the Little Big Horn are shown along with many other battlefield artifacts. General Custer's desk, stool, and many other items he used during his military career are presented. Of particular interest to me was the copy of Military Law Digest General Custer used during his 1867 court martial.
In a stroke of irony, an Indian peace pipe belonging to General Custer is very close to some of the first marble markers placed at the initial burial sites of the Custer family at the Little Big Horn. These markers were replaced in 1982. Markers for George Custer, two time Medal Of Honor winner Tom Custer, Boston Custer, Autie Reed, and Jimmi Calhoun are here. I couldn't possibly list all the Custer items on display without writing a book, so as in Libbie's case I've tried to mention some of the highlights.
This jewel of a small town museum has much more to view than the Custer displays. There are some very nice displays about our country's original inhabitants. A wide range of artifacts and displays about Indian culture in the area is particularly nice. Monroe's contribution to defeating the Axis powers in World War II gets some great coverage also. Monroe was a manufacturing town and industry and it's workers gets some good treatment also.
The bookstore is a real treasure chest. I laid out a lot more than I had intended, not because of high prices but because they had so much to offer that I could not resist. The staffer behind the counter was very helpful in my selections and had a wealth of knowledge about the museum and Monroe. On my way out I stopped at the front desk again to buy some shirts and a hat. I was in town for the 100th anniversary rededication of the Sighting The Enemy Statue and bought some of the t-shirts and polo shirts designed especially for it. I also snagged several other t-shirts and polo shirts pertaining to the museum and Monroe. The staff behind the counter assisted me with sizes and getting the stuff bagged up to carry out which I greatly appreciated since I also had to carry out my bookstore items and my cameras and bag.