Sunday, July 19, 2020

Elizabeth Custer and the Custer Myth

Libbie Custer

     Custer’s widow was left with large debts that her husband incurred speculating in the stock market.  Mrs. Elizabeth (“Libbie”) Custer eventually became financially comfortable based on her success as an author.  Her three books, Boots and Saddles(1885), Following the Guidon (1890), and Tenting on the Plains(1893) recount her life with Custer on the frontier. 

     Boots and Saddles covers the period leading up to the battle of the Little Bighorn, and paints a picture of domestic bliss, “An ineffaceable picture remains with me even now of those lovely camps, as we dreamily watched them by the fading light of the afternoon.” (E. Custer, 31).  Elizabeth Custer paints a human portrait of Custer as, “boyish”, as the soldier’s friend, and as a man devoted to his mother.  Elizabeth Custer was widowed at the age of thirty-four and spent the next fifty- seven years, until her death in 1933, glorifying and defending her husband’s reputation.  Only after her death did historians begin seriously re-examining the Custer legend.

     While Mrs. Custer does not directly address the events on the Little Bighorn in any of her books, she does mention the issue of the Indians being better armed, “We heard constantly at the Fort of the disaffection of the young Indians of the reservation, and of their joining the hostiles.  We knew, for we had seen for ourselves, how admirably they were equipped.  We even saw on a steamer touching at our landing its freight of Springfield rifles piled upon the decks en route for the Indians up the river.  There was unquestionable proof they came into the trading posts far above us and bought them, while our own brave 7th Cavalry troopers were sent out with only the short range carbines that grew foul after the second firing.”(E. Custer, 220)  Clearly, she believed that this was one of the reasons for the disaster.

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