About the Author
Elizabeth B. Custer
The restored Custer House at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park south of Mandan, North Dakota.
Elizabeth“Libbie” Bacon was born in Monroe, Michigan, in 1842, the daughter of a wealthy and influential judge. As she was the only one of the judge’s children to live to adulthood, her father doted on her. Elizabeth was both beautiful and intelligent, and her father hoped she would make a good marriage with a man from her own elevated social class.
She met her future husband, George Custer, in 1862 in the midst of the American Civil War. She fell deeply in love with him but her father refused to allow them to get married. Custer was from a poor undistinguished family and the judge hoped Libby would have better than the life of an army wife. After Custer was promoted to Brevet Brigadier General, Judge Bacon finally relented and they were married on February 9, 1864.
After the war, he reverted from his rank of general and was assigned to a series of dreary and unsatisfying assignments in Texas, Kansas, and the Dakota Territory. Life on the frontier outposts was difficult and Custer’s career was plagued by problems including a court-martial (brought about by his leaving the field to be with Libbie).
The 1876 campaign against the Sioux seemed like a chance for glory to Custer. From Fort Abraham Lincoln in what is now North Dakota, he led the Seventh Cavalry in pursuit of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and the Sioux and Northern Cheyenne who refused to be confined to the reservation system.
After her husband’s column was wiped out at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in June 1876, many in the press, army, and government criticized Custer for blundering into a massacre. President Ulysses S. Grant publicly blamed Custer for the disaster. Fearing that her husband was to be made a scapegoat by history, Libbie launched a one-woman campaign to rehabilitate her husband's image. She began writing articles and making speaking engagements praising the glory of her martyred husband. Her three books, Boots and Saddles, Following the Guidon, and Tenting on the Plains, were brilliant pieces of propaganda aimed at glorifying her dead husband’s memory.
Her efforts were largely successful. The image of a steely Custer leading his men against overwhelming odds only to be wiped out while defending their position to the last man became as much a part of American lore as the Alamo. It would not be until the late 20th century, more than a half century after her death, that many historians began to take a second look at Custer’s actions leading up to the battle and found much to criticize.
Libbie remained utterly devoted to her husband and never remarried. She died in New York City a few days before her 92nd birthday. She was buried next to her husband at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.
Boots and Saddles
The Wild West from a wife's perspective! Mrs. Custer describes her life on the plains with the General until his disastrous defeat at Little Big Horn. She nursed frostbitten soldiers, camped among the Sioux, and saw the capture of
Rain-in-the Face. All the while she maintained a home---no mean feat in a land of punishing blizzards, scorching summers and few amenities. And she gives us quite a different picture of the Custer we are used to today. Her story is especially relevant to North Dakotans with Fort Abraham Lincoln located on the west side of the Missouri River just south of Mandan. It was from this fort that Custer led the ill-fated Seventh Cavalry to the Battle of the Little Bighorn.