George and Elizabeth Custer with one of their servants
The battleground memorial is a beautiful place with the feeling that for me is always strongest where big events have happened. I will try to go back when I can, but that probably won't be this year as it's a long way from here. I feel lucky I had been at all as I can still see it all in my imagination even though it's been well over ten years since last I was there.
To read her story of their life together, what it was like to follow her husband from fort to camp, brought a human reality that I had previously been missing. I could so relate to what she experienced and her desire to keep her husband's name and story alive. She is, in so many things, a woman of her time with some aspects that a modern woman won't ever experience or know.
She so loved and admired her husband and hence paints a picture of a loving man of honor and humor while she doesn't ignore the difficulties of a life following the military.
I've heard Custer described as the warrior in the past, but this was the human and husband side. It makes his loss seem greater than I had previously felt. He became less the legend and more the man-- good at what he did which was being a soldier. She describes him as a brave man and one sympathetic to the Native Americans but bound to do what the country wanted in terms of settling the West and getting the Native Americans onto reservations and stopping predations by them as they tried to hold onto their historic lands.
It was very beneficial for me to read the story as part of the research for the book I soon hope to start which will be more about the life of a cavalry officer-- something, before deciding on the plot for the fourth Oregon historical, that I knew little about. So much of what I saw as romanticized in the movies looks to have been influenced by her writings. There were music and regular balls to break the monotony and difficulty of a life that fought both hostile Sioux as well as the weather which could be equally or even more deadly.
"I had been a subject of conversation among the officers, being the only woman who, as a rule, followed the regiment, and, without discussing it much in my presence, the universal understanding was that any one having me in charge in an emergency where there was imminent danger of my capture should shoot me instantly. While I knew that I was defended by strong hands and brave hearts, the thought of the double danger always flashed into my mind when we were in jeopardy." Elizabeth Custer.It is a good story for those interested in memoirs and the historical period after the Civil War and during the settling of the West. Her memoir stops when she learns of her husband's death on the Little Big Horn but is followed by some of his letters to her from earlier campaigns and ends with one written June 22, 1876, three days before he rode into the battle that would be his last.
Boots and Saddles (which is their signal to get onto their horses quickly as trouble is here) is available free in one of the libraries that offers such books scanned, but I found that version too difficult to interpret as scans guess at letters and punctuation. Even the version I bought had some mistakes clearly attributable to scanning, but most had been caught and it was quite readable.