George Armstrong Custer's death in 1876 at the Battle of the Little Bighorn left Elizabeth Bacon Custer a thirty-four-year-old widow whose debts greatly out-weighed her financial resources. By the time she died - fifty-seven years later, on Park Avenue - she had achieved economic security, recognition as an author and lecturer, and the respect of numerous public figures. Furthermore, she had built the Custer legend, an idealized image of her husband as "a boy's hero": a brilliant military commander, a solid Christian, a patriot, and a family man without personal failings.
Elizabeth Bacon Custer and the Making of a Myth explores this complex woman and her role in creating the Custer myth. A true nineteenth-century woman whose religious fervor had been reinforced by attendance at two female seminaries, Elizabeth (known to friends and family as "Libbie") entered her marriage determined to convert her flamboyant husband and raise children who would become "cornerstone[s] in the great church of god." But the marriage, while passionate, brought neither the children she desired nor the idyllic happiness she later described. Military life was a struggle: at times the couple suffered lengthy separations; other times Libbie endured the privations of life on frontier posts to be near her husband. Libbie tolerated his marital infidelities and gambling, though not without complaint or flirtations of her own.
Through it all, Libbie contributed to George Armstrong Custer's advancement far more than has been recognized. After his death, Libbie's crusade to honor him affirmed the middle-class domestic and patriotic values she held, and these were, in turn, used to justify the conquest of American Indians. Not until Libbie died did historians and military leaders feel free to re-evaluate the actions and character of General Custer. Extensively researched and unflinchingly honest, this is the first comprehensive treatment of Elizabeth Bacon Custer's remarkable life. She willingly adhered to the social, religious, and sex-role restrictions of her day, yet used her authority as model wife and widow to influence events and ideology far beyond the private sphere. From the facts of her life emerges a story no less compelling than the legend of General Custer.… (more)