My Fascination with George and Libbie Custer ~ by Diane Kalas

My current release is HONOR BRIGHT, An Inspirational Historical Romance Set in the West, Officers of the 7th Cavalry Series 1.

George and Libby CusterGeorge and Libbie Custer are secondary characters and hometown neighbors of my heroine in book 1. The story takes place two years before Custer’s last campaign, a time when tensions were escalating on both sides of the issues. Each book in Officers of the 7th Cavalry Series, takes the reader closer to the final event in the Little Bighorn Valley.

How did I become interested in the Custer story? I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan and knew that Custer spent some of his childhood in my home state. A job transfer moved us to Ohio for several years where we traveled the I-75 north through Monroe, Michigan to visit family. Alongside the highway in Monroe is a huge billboard with Custer in uniform stating: Monroe, Michigan – boyhood home of the boy-general. A few years later, a temporary job transfer brought us back to Michigan for a year. My husband rented a house on Lake Erie in Monroe County.

At that time, I had no plans about Custer being in one of my future books. Out of curiosity, however, I visited the small Custer museum in Monroe, and a neighborhood bookstore where I purchased several books about George and Libbie Custer written by a local Custer historian. Next, I stopped by the Monroe County Library that has a fantastic Custer Collection.

The librarian informed me that next to Presidents Washington and Lincoln, no other historical figure in our country has as many books written about him as George A. Custer. She also mentioned that people living in Japan and Italy have made inquiries about Custer’s career. After all this time, people want to learn more details about the controversial boy-general!

At a county flea market, I found an original edition of Libbie Custer’s BOOTS AND SADDLES or Life in Dakota with General Custer, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1885. That was the first book Libbie wrote, years after George died. Cost: $6.00. I do not really believe in coincidences. I finished four other stories, before starting my current release: HONOR BRIGHT, An Inspirational Historical Romance Set in the West, Officers of the 7th Cavalry Series 1.

George Armstrong Custer’s prankish career at the United States Military Academy put him last in his 1861 graduating class. Afterward, his flamboyant cavalry escapes during the Civil War brought a continual interest from the press of the day. Old men admired his courage and women saw him as a dashing figure. Today, however, mention Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer and his 7th Regiment of Cavalry, given to Custer as a reward for his Civil War record, and images of war against the Plains Indians come to mind. Current authors and historians write more books about Custer as villain, because of the post-Civil War years, than as hero.

When people react negatively to Custer’s name, it is because as a military officer he represented our government and its policies at that time. Our point of view today, concerning the western expansion after the Civil War, is sympathetic toward the Indians and highly critical of our actions against Native Americans.

The list of officers mentioned here guided and/or ordered Custer’s military career. General Alfred Terry, Custer’s immediate superior; Major-General Phil Sheridan, his close friend and mentor; Major-General William Tecumseh Sherman; President Ulysses S. Grant, commander in chief (all Civil War generals). In other words, Custer did not act alone.

My bibliography for Officers of the 7th Cavalry Series has exceeded my budget. Last month, I purchased two additional books on Custer. I’m hooked on research.

Some called the Little Bighorn Battle “a clash of cultures and Custer, a man of his time.” My hope is that the reader will enjoy the fictional story with interesting characters, set against the backdrop of an isolated fort in the Dakota Territory in 1874.

About the house on the cover of Honor Bright

The cover of HONOR BRIGHT, Officers of the 7th Cavalry Series 1, features the 1989, rebuilt home and command headquarters for the famous 7th Cavalry. This was George and Libbie Custer’s first home built for them by the U. S. government, and the reassembled 7th Cavalry Regiment since it was formed after the Civil War. Location is Fort Abraham Lincoln, across the Missouri River from Bismarck, Dakota Territory (ND today).

The Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation raised funds and constructed the home after years of research and planning. The estimated total cost to develop Cavalry Square was $6 million, with $2 million appropriated by the U. S. Congress. The Custer House cost almost $400,000. The North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department now operates the Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park.

As the centerpiece of Fort Abraham Lincoln, the Custer house is the third built on the exact same lot as the original Custer residence. The first was built in 1873, one of seven buildings that formed Officers’ Row on the fort’s western perimeter. In the center of three duplexes for bachelor or married officers, is the Custer home.

Fire destroyed the original house in the middle of the night in February 1874. George and Libbie barely escaped with their lives. Donations quickly replaced just about everything they lost. Libbie called their frontier home elegant, especially after she requested the installation of the bay window in her parlor, and George provided funds for the railing to the second story (balustrade) made of butternut, a difficult wood that required 80 hours of labor to construct.

 

Honor Bright by Diane KalasHONOR BRIGHT, Officers of the 7th Cavalry Series 1

Spring 1874. Rebecca Brewster arrives at Fort Abraham Lincoln to preview life on the far western frontier, before her marriage to an officer in Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer’s famous 7th Cavalry Regiment. Becca is soon disillusioned with her childhood love who is critical of her tomboyish ways. He insists she behave as a lady in the footsteps of Libbie Custer.

Major Randall Steelman, second in command under Custer, finds Becca’s fun-loving spirit and open affectionate ways charming. As an officer, however, Rand’s strict code of conduct forbids him to act on his interest in a woman when it involves a brother officer. How can he stand by and watch Becca marry an arrogant hothead with unbridled ambition, when he finds Becca more irresistible each day?

Amid increasing tension between the hostile Sioux Indians and the government that Custer represents, Rand walks a tightrope balancing professional duties and a friendship with his commander. Custer’s reputation is two-fold: Capable cavalry officer and fearless leader; arrogant and petty tyrant.

With one-year left to serve his country, Rand is determined to retire with a blemish-free record and with his rank intact. Becca must make a life-changing decision, before it’s too late and she marries the wrong man.

The book is available on Amazon.

 

About the author

Diane KalasDiane Kalas collects antique books written by men and women who lived through the American Civil War, and/or who pioneered out West. With a degree in interior design, she enjoys touring historical sites, especially Federal era homes with period furniture. Published writers Pamela Griffin, Gina Welborn, and Kathleen Maher have been critique partners and mentors. Diane’s biggest challenge is writing Inspirational Historical Romance. Her biggest distraction is her fascination with historical research. Diane is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers.

Find Diane online at:
Facebook
Forget Me Not Romances
Blog: Transporting you back in time
Pinterest: 19th Century history, architecture, and fashion
Twitter

Other books by Diane Kalas:
PATRIOT HEART, Journey Home Series 1
FAITHFUL HEART, Journey Home Series 2
HOPEFUL HEART, Journey Home Series 3

Diane will give either an e-book or paperback copy of HONOR BRIGHT, Officers of the 7th Cavalry Series 1, to someone who leaves a comment, so y’all head on down yonder and say howdy!

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39 Comments

  1. Diane- What a beautiful & intriguing topic. Loved all the history you gave us.

    1. Thank you, Tonya, for your kind remarks. I appreciate your taking the time to read this special blog.

  2. I too have a facination with George and Libbie Custer. It’s really hard to explain, but I do. I have acquired many books about him and his battles and also the books on Littlr Big Horn. I can’t wait to read your book Honor Bright.

  3. What an intriguing journey. Thanks for sharing. I think I would like to know more. I was born in Michigan but the UP.

    1. Hi Debra: I’ve visited the upper peninsula of Michigan and it’s lovely. Custer and his wife are fascinating to research. My author’s historical note will be at the end of book 3 and give lots of tidbits about the Custer family and the women the men left behind. Thank you for leaving a comment.

  4. Hi Melissa: We’re fortunate to have the abundance of material to purchase on George & Libbie Custer. At the beginning of my research, I got the “blue devils” knowing how it would end for everyone involved. I admire Libbie for being a military wife who followed her husband to these isolated forts in very dangerous territories. She was afraid of the Indians, especially when they came directly to her front porch!

  5. My heartfelt appreciation to those authors who participate in presenting other authors books on their terrific blog, Petticoats and Pistols. Karen Witemeyer was my direct contact who organized my material for today’s blog. God bless and thank you.

  6. I really didn’t know much about Custer. Thanks for the information.

    1. Hi Janine: You’ll learn a lot about George in HONOR BRIGHT, especially in the scenes with George and the hero of the story, Major Randall Steelman. Those scenes will explain the situation Custer was in two years before the Little Bighorn campaign. Thank you for leaving a comment.

  7. Hi Diane……Welcome back! I loved your blog. Often I, too, get stuck on one particular historical person or event and dig for every morsel of information. I’m not a big fan of Custer. From what I’ve read, he was very egotistical. But then, to be fair, I haven’t really explored his life all that much. How wonderful to be able to put him into your story. That’s great.

    Wishing you much success and happiness!

  8. Hi Linda: I think Custer was a complicated person. While George was fiercely loyal to officers he liked, he was terrible harsh on the enlisted men who served in the Seventh Cavalry. One thing that stood out from the beginning of my research is Custer’s love for Libbie. He adored his wife. She loved his boyishness, especially when George and his brother Tom played pranks on her and gave her a lot of attention. Libbie was just 34 when Custer was killed and never remarried. She died at age 91. Sad ending for all in so many way. Thank you, Linda, for commenting.

  9. We visited the Little Big Horn, or The Battle of the Greasy Grass as the Lakotas called it, when we were out west, traveling all over the various trails and viewpoints from both sides of the river, where thousands of Indians were gathered together on the south side and where Custer fought vastly outnumbered on an indefensible hill to the north. The supposed idea Custer had of taking women and children to subdue the men repulses me, but the women in the village fought those soldiers making it through to the villages anyway. Today, the landscape was spectacular IMO, despite snakes. : )

    On a related topic, later developments in time resulted in the US gov’t taking away the Black Hills of South Dakota (“Paha Sapa”) from the Lakota for food rations, but an 1980 Supreme Court ruling was in favor of the Lakota who lost their land without just compensation. To this day, the tribe has not taken a monetary settlement despite winning because they want their sacred hills back. Not money. It’s still an issue of on-going tension to this day. As you can see I’m the odd bird interested in the Indian viewpoint, having worked with Lakotas for a number of years. And after all, justice is justice no matter how long it takes.

    The thing that strikes me as ironic is that we often smirk at the history of the Redcoats fighting in militia order dead certain they would win, while the American Revolutionaries often fought more Indian style, especially in the South, prolonging the Revolution until Lafayette’s ships could arrive. Yet at the Little Bighorn, it was the reverse with the US with a smug attitude underestimating their opponents.

  10. Hi Eliza: It’s true the United States Military Academy (known as West Point) was still teaching Napoleon’s war tactics; the cadets even had to learn French in order to read Napoleon’s instructions in his own language. The cavalry was not prepared for the Indian way of individual warriors attacking and darting off on their quick little ponies. What a shock that must’ve been to witness for the first time!

    One of my research books for this series is entitled: The Little Bighorn Campaign by Wayne Michael Sarf. Under Who Owned What? is a history of the Black Hills going back centuries. There’s a quote by an unnamed Sioux chief: “These lands once belonged to the Kiowas and Crows, but we whipped these nations out of them, and in this we did what the white men do when they want the lands of the Indians.” That’s human nature, I think. Still happens all over the world today.

    My research was so sad, especially concerning the Custer family and Libbie left behind. The Indians won the battle, but lost the war. I don’t think the Indians knew about the thousands of immigrants coming from Europe and the UK and filled the ranks of our military in the mid-19th century. The U.S. government had an unlimited number of healthy, young men wanting to see the Old West before it disappeared. Hundreds of Germans were with Custer. I have multiple scenes in HONOR BRIGHT where Custer is discussing cavalry business with the hero, Major Steelman, who is second in command. At this time (spring 1874-winter 1875 for book 1)Custer was sympathetic to the Indians. He admired them wanting to keep their free-roaming, hunting lifestyle. He was also an avid hunter who enjoyed camping with his hounds and horses. Many of the commanders of these isolated frontier posts felt the same way.

    Thank you for contributing your point of view. Best wishes.

    1. A small point. The Indians at the Little Big Horn did indeed know about the coming of the whites who had been migrating west in larger numbers since the late 1830s. And of course in the 1700s the “Sioux” (a French name for all the various Lakota tribes) lived closer to the Mississippi River at one time and were continually pushed west. This 1876 battle was just one in what are called the “Sioux Wars.” Worth noting, I think, is that a fair portion of various Lakota tribes (Oglala, Hunkpapa, Brule, etc.) and Northern Cheyenne had left their reservations in order to to participate in a large summer (sacred) Sun Dance ceremony–not to fight whites, or anyone for that matter. After the battles with the army, though, many went back to their reservations or agencies on their own. Except, of course, for many Oglala, especially those led by Crazy Horse and others, who fought until the end about 15 years later.

      Since there were Crow and Arikara scouts for the army–the Crows being big time enemies of the Lakotas–there are all kinds of first hand accounts from various viewpoints of that time, even the Lakota Black Elk who was just a boy in 1876. Modern archaeological digs keep adding new info too. Did you ever read Vine Deloria, Jr.’s “Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto”? Deloria was a lawyer and professor with a modern viewpoint from the ’60s Indian movement.

      All the best to you too. : )

      1. At the end of book 3 in Officers of the 7th Cavalry series, I have this quote by Libbie Custer concerning her husband’s last campaign. I thought it poignant.

        “He (Custer) recognized a true nobility in the Indian character and respected their feelings of attachment for their land. There was a time after the battle at the Little Big Horn when I would not have said this, but as the years passed I have become convinced that the Indians were deeply wronged.”

        1. Thank you for the lovely quote. I really appreciate it. Yes, many tribes were wronged for going off reservations for annual scared ceremonies that whites just didn’t understand. I wonder if they ever even tried to understand or if military and cultural mindsets simply ruled the day. Likely.

          A pickier point this time but an even more important one. The Lakota did not feel they _owned_ the land. In their belief system they came _from_ the earth, are part of it, one with it, and that they go back to it. That’s why there are so many sayings with “Mother Earth, Father Sky.” Most Lakotas would say it’s foolish to say one can “own” land as if you could scoop it all up and hold it in your arms. And they don’t want the Black Hills back merely because of ownership but because to the tribe it’s a sacred site.

          Injustice prevails, though, into our modern times. One proposal put forth by the Lakota is for the state and gov’t to give them back publicly held lands, or lands no one wants–instead of the monetary settlement determined by the Supreme Court (which continues to accrue interest). Of course that hasn’t happened and tensions between the Lakota and the whites in their part of the country are still strong. So. Even after all this time, a wrong still has not been righted and I doubt many non-Indians even understand–or try to understand–the Lakota belief system that _they_ belong to the land, not that the land belongs to them.

  11. Howdy from Texas. I really enjoyed reading the history behind the book. It always fascinates me when I read something from history that I have forgotten about. Thank you for writing a book that brings long forgotten history back to life.

    1. Howdy from East Texas, Deana: Texas is my adopted home for over 20 years now. Such an historically interesting state. Life on an isolated frontier post was more than difficult, it was dangerous. The danger came from the Indians and boredom.

      Both George and Libbie Custer believed, strongly, that their officers should be married to keep them out of trouble. Drinking and gambling ruined more than their health; it ruined the officer’s careers. Suicides were high. I have a quote from Libbie Custer at the beginning of HONOR BRIGHT. The words Libbie used to express her feelings were deeply touching to me as a mother of a son. This is where my idea for the story originated.

      Quote by Elizabeth B. Custer
      Garrison Amusements

      “I used to dread the arrival of the young officers who came to the regiment from West Point, fearing that the sameness and inactivity of garrison life would be a test to which their character would succumb.

      When they came to pay the first ceremonious call in full uniform, we spoke of commonplace topics. I kept up a running line of comments to myself, usually on one subject: I wonder if you are likely to go to the bad under temptation; I am sorry for your mother, having to give you up and be anxious for your habits at the same time; I hope you don’t drink; I pray that you may have stamina enough to resist evil.

      Our sister knew that I believed so in matrimony as a savior of young officers that she used to teasingly accuse me of greeting all of them when they arrived with the same welcome: I am very glad to see you; I hope that you are engaged.”

      Custer, Elizabeth B., BOOTS AND SADDLES or Life in Dakota with General Custer, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1885

      Thank you for leaving a comment. Best wishes.
      ?

  12. I always enjoy gaining information from the research of others. What little I know about George Custer is very negative but a man who loved his wife, as you speak of Custer’s devotion for his wife, makes me think there is much more to his story. Wartime is never easy and chain of command can seem to made a villain of a man who is merely following orders. Very complicated times.

    I’m looking forward to reading this book, Diane.

    1. Hi Rosie: After researching Custer’s personal life as well as his career, I’ve paused many times to try and figure him out. He had excellent relationships with his parents, siblings including half-siblings, his close friends, his wife’s friends (she was an only child), and political friends who supported his aspirations after retiring from the Army. Custer also had his enemies and in several cases, with good reason. I tried to write the Custer character in HONOR BRIGHT as honestly as I could.

      Thank you for leaving a comment. Best wishes.

  13. Wow, I loved reading and learning more about Custer. The house on the cover of your book is beautiful. It was interesting reading about the fire and rebuilding of the house and Libbie’s “requirements”!I would love to read Honor Bright.

    1. Hi Deanne: I want to tour the Custer house and am hopeful about this summer. I have the floor plan and used it extensively for those scenes that take place in HONOR BRIGHT. I feel I’ve already been there.

      Thank you for commenting. I appreciate it. Best wishes.

  14. Interesting topic. I recently read about how Custer was set up in his last battle by the President. Thanks for this opportunity

    1. Hi Nancy: Oh, your comment about President Grant is a favorite topic of mine. President Grant hated Custer because George “blew the whistle” on his brother Orville concerning theft of government property that Orville sold back to soldiers and Indians at Fort Lincoln and other places, pocketing the profit for personal use. Pres. Grant had a blind spot where his appointees were concerned, mostly the Indian agents. So, the Indians were cheated of rations by crocked agents. Didn’t help Custer’s situation out there. Who do you think the Indians blamed? The officer they dealt with: Custer.

      In book 3 of Officers of the 7th Cavalry, I will cover more details about how this situation almost kept Custer from his last campaign! Really interesting.

      Thank you so much for bringing up the subject of Custer and Grant hating each other. Pres. Grant held a grudge against Custer even after death. Grant never sent Libbie a letter of condolence at the death of her husband while in active service to his country. Real shabby behavior for a president. I was happy to read Grant lost favor with the citizens who lived east of the Mississippi. In fact, voters turned against Grant and he left politics.

      Best wishes.

  15. Love the cover and the topic.

    1. I love the cover also. The topic has held my interest for quite awhile. Thank you, Kim, for your comment. Best wishes.

  16. Your new book looks great Diane. I also enjoyed reading about the Custer’s.

    1. Hi Naomi: Thank you for leaving a comment. I love everything about that cover, especially the Custer house and the colors. Best wishes.

  17. Thank you for an interesting post, Diane. A few years ago, we visited the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana. They have done a wonderful job setting it up presenting both the Custer Battlefield and the Reno-Benteen Battlefield on a hilltop about 4 miles away. Walking the land where the battles took place, noting the terrain and how it influenced the battle, seeing the tombstones where soldiers and warriors fell during battle all give one a good feel for the event. There is a good film and an excellent teacher’s guide available.
    It was mentioned that it is believed the soldiers in both Custer’s unit and the Reno-Benteen units had whisky in their canteens rather than water. Did any of your research touch on this?

    1. Hi Patricia: How I wish I could’ve visited the rebuilt Custer house and Fort Lincoln years ago. Instead, I’ve relied on numerous books. The Custer Battlefield, along with the Reno-Benteen Battlefield site would be difficult for me to view even though the event took place so many years ago. I’ve visited Civil War battlefields and my vivid imagination kicks in to move me to tears. I wouldn’t pass it up, however, if given the opportunity.

      About the whisky in the canteens. I’m not surprised. Back then people believed liquor was a stimulant. No doubt, the troopers thought they’d boost their energy. Custer hated drinking and it was strictly forbidden. He indulged throughout his cadet years at West Point and got into trouble. Story goes he was on furlough, visiting his sister in Monroe, Michigan, and got drunk. He made a fool of himself in public and the whole town knew. His sister took him aside, behind closed doors, and nobody knows what she said to him but he emerged a convicted man and vowed to give up liquor.

      Thank you for joining in on the conversation. So interesting to learn what others know about Custer. Best wishes.

  18. Thank you for sharing. So very interesting!

    1. Hi Melanie: I happy to know you found the blog articles interesting. Thank you for commenting. Best wishes.

  19. As a reader I really appreciate all the research done by an author. I love stories based on fact and this sounds like a good one. What better way to enjoy history!

    1. Hi Catslady: Love cats myself. Thank you for leaving a comment. I love the challenge of research. For this series, there’s a ton of information on Custer and his famous 7th regiment. The bibliography in some of my research books is impressive.

      Best wishes.

  20. This sounds like a very interesting book and I would love to read it.

    1. Hi Quilt Lady: Thank you for commenting. I like your signature name! Love quilts. Best wishes.

  21. So very interesting…thank you for sharing!

  22. oh my ! what an incredible web page. And you are talking about two of my favorite people in history: The General and Mrs Custer. Love it !
    Thanks to someone on facebook page for sharing this page!
    Would love to read the books. Where can I get them?

    1. Hi Snowbaby Katz: I so appreciate hearing that folks enjoy American history and stories set in the West. In particular, Custer and his wife, Libbie, are fascinating to research. So glad someone on Facebook shared this page and you found my post on Petticoats & Pistols, a wonderful blog. Thank you for leaving a comment.

      The idea that George was a crazed killer of Indians isn’t accurate. See quote below.

      Quote from George Custer (Source: General Custer’s Libbie by Lawrence Frost – pg. 216)

      “If I were an Indian, I often think I would greatly prefer to cast my lot among those of my people adhered to the free open plains rather than submit to the confined limits of a reservation, there to be the recipient of the blessed benefits of civilization, with its vices thrown in without stint or measure.”

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