Elizabeth Custer Correspondence
Primary Creator: Custer, Elizabeth (1842-1933)
Extent: 1.0 Folders
Date Acquired: 09/16/2005
The Elizabeth Custer Papers consist of a photocopied letter written by Custer to Dr. Fred Stockton dated May 18; the year is unknown. The letter thanked Dr. Stockton for his interest and appreciation of General Custer. Besides the photocopied letter, a transcription and a short biographical sketch of Dr. Stockton was provided by David Nelson, Stockton's grandson.
Fred Everett Stockton was born in 1877, near the town of Meadville, Pennsylvania. He graduated from the Rochester Theological Seminary and served as a pastor in Baptist churches in Madison and Watertown, South Dakota, and in Grand Forks, North Dakota. In 1920 he became the General Superintendent of the North Dakota Baptist State Convention, based out of Fargo. He remained in this position until his death in 1938. He received an honorary doctorate degree from Sioux Falls College.
"Libbie grew up in Monroe, MI, the daughter of Judge Daniel S. Bacon, one of the town's leading citizens. Her father was 38 when he married 23-year-old Eleanor Sophia Page of Grand Rapids, MI, in September 1837. The couple had 4 children-2 girls died in infancy and a boy, Eddy, died at the age of 8 of a childhood disease. That left Libbie to be doted upon. However, when Libbie was 12 her mother passed away from a disease Judge Bacon described to his family as one the nature of which 'physicians were unacquainted with.' The judge had promised Libbie's mother on her deathbed that he would properly care for their only child. He sent Libbie off to boarding school as the Young Ladies; Seminary and Collegiate Institute-known as Boyd's Seminary-rented out their house, and took a room at a hotel. Libbie graduated from Boyd's in the spring of 1862, valedictorian of her class.
Custer was just an occasional resident of Monroe where he lived off and on with his half sister, Lydia Ann Reed. Due to that fact, and their differing social levels, the refined Miss Bacon and Custer, son of the town smithy in New Rumley, OH, did not meet as children. However, her first impression of him was to last a lifetime. She called it 'that awful day.' It occurred in October 1861 when Capt. Custer was home on leave from the army. He and a friend had visited a local tavern and imbibed to excess. The two drunks staggered through the streets of Monroe past the Bacon residence on their way toward the Reed home, half a mile south. Libbie and her father happened to observe the disgusting revelers. The incident, however, cured Custer of drinking alcohol for the rest of his life.
Custer and Libbie formally met at an 1862 Thanksgiving party at Boyd's Seminary. Custer was immediately smitten with her and courted her by showing up wherever she happened to be and calling on her at home. She, on the other hand, was not too sure about him. Her father and stepmother had raised her in the Presbyterian Church, and there was the social disparity. Besides, Libbie was not exactly wanting for suitors. Judge Bacon noticed Custer's growing interest in his daughter, and decided to put an end to the relationship. He did not fancy his only child married to a common military man. The judge made Libbie promise to not see Custer again or write to him after he had returned to duty in the Civil War.
Custer pledged his undying love to her, which she rebuffed, but she later wrote in her diary: 'He is noble, brave and generous and he loves, I believe, with an intensity that few know of or as few ever can love. ... He tells me he would sacrifice every earthly hope to gain my love and I tell him if I could I would give it to him. I told him to forget me and he said he never could forget me and I told him I never should forget him and I wished to be his true friend through life but it is no use to offer myself as friend for he will never think of me otherwise than his wife. ... Oh, Love, love, how many are made miserable as well as happy by all the powerful influence.' Meanwhile, back on duty, 23-year-old Gen. George Armstrong Custer was becoming a national celebrity due to his daring exploits. The prestigious Harper's Weekly had published a drawing of a classic Custer cavalry charge. Libbie had obeyed her father's wishes and refused to see or accept mail from Custer. A go-between, however, emerged. Nettie Humphrey, the future wife of Custer's adjutant, Jacob Greene, passed information through letters for the estranged couple. Libbie had by now fallen in love with Custer, and at a masquerade ball at the Humphrey house on September 28, 1863, she promised to marry Custer if her father consented to the union. Custer composed what he considered the most important letter of his life, asking Judge Bacon if he could merely correspond with Libbie. The judge relented-no doubt partially due to Custer's growing fame and regard-and allowed Libbie to write to her future husband. Her first letter began: 'My more than friend-at last-Am I a little glad to write you some of the thoughts I cannot control?'
On February 9, 1864, Custer and Elizabeth Clift Bacon were married in the First Presbyterian Church of Monroe, MI, in a storybook wedding with a standing-room only congregation of witnesses. Libbie's former schoolmaster, Rev. Boyd, performed the ceremony. Custer, with short hair and wearing a coat that cost $100, chose his adjutant Jacob Greene as his best man. Libbie wore traditional white, and was given away by her father. The couple received such gifts as a silver tea service from the 7th Michigan Cavalry, a silver dinner service from the 1st Vermont Cavalry, and a Bible from Judge Bacon. Custer presented Libbie with a gold watch engraved 'E.B.C.'
Libbie faithfully followed her husband to each of his duty stations. She endured the hardships of frontier life without complaint, satisfied to be with the man she loved. Custer in turn was devoted to her, and even faced a court-martial to be at her side at the conclusion of the Hancock Expedition of 1867. Although childless, their marriage was a great love story. Her adventures and passion for Custer can be found in her three excellent memoirs: Boots and Saddles; Or, Life in Dakota with General Custer (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1885); Tenting on the Plains; Or, General Custer in Kansas and Texas (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1887); and Following the Guidon (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1890).
When Custer died at the Little Bighorn, Libbie became a widow at age 34. She returned to Monroe, MI, and contemplated her future. She found her calling in the debate surrounding the famous battle and Custer's actions. She worked tirelessly to protect his national image against those who would bring criticism. Her memoirs not only informed the public about her experiences on the frontier but furthered the heroic image of her husband. For the remainder of her life-57 years-she remained unmarried and vigorously defended Custer against any attack. She was instrumental in raising funds to erect memorials in Michigan and at West Point in Custer's honor. She traveled the world, and was much in demand as a public speaker. Libbie Custer died two days short of her ninety-first birthday, and was buried beside her husband at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point."
Source: Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn: An Encyclopedia of the People, Places, Events, Indian Culture and Customs, Information Sources, Art and Films by Thom Hatch, p. 43-45
Access Restrictions: Open for inspection under the rules and regulations of the Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections.
Acquisition Source: David Nelson, UND Languages Department
Acquisition Method: Donation; Acc.#2005-2784
Preferred Citation: (Description of Item) Elizabeth Custer Papers. OGLMC 1496. Box #, Folder #. Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections. Chester Fritz Library. University of North Dakota.
Finding Aid Revision History: Finding aid migrated to Archon in October 2013.
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