October 08, 1876

Libbie Custer Makes a Secret Plea to Aid the Widows of Captain Yates, Lt. Calhoun, and Enlisted Men

Autograph Letter Signed
3 pages
SMC 291
Just four months after Custer’s Last Stand, his wife does duty, still, as the post commander’s wife, and here looks out for the welfare of the Little Big Horn widows. Writing to the editor of the Army and Navy Journal about the Journal’s fund to aid the families of the soldiers killed at the Little Big Horn, Libbie Custer says that Annie Yates (widow of Captain George Yates) and Maggie Custer Calhoun (widow of Lieutenant James Calhoun) have been left in greatly reduced circumstances. Even though only weeks earlier Libbie, on her own and their behalf, had written to the Journal, directing that their shares of the fund go to the widows and children of the enlisted men, Libbie says that Mrs. Yates and Calhoun both need help – which, should they get it, they will share, anyway, with “one or two of the Camp women whom they know.” What she is telling Rodenbaugh, however, is absolutely secret: the ladies do not know she is writing on their behalf, and would object to her so doing. But inasmuch as the fund “exceeds so far all their ideas of what was expected to be raised," Libbie cannot but think “that they would gladly accept the help and not feel others were being robbed of what they needed.” Finally, Libbie closes, it is impossible for her to express with what pride and gratification she has “watched the generosity of our army, always, impecunious itself, and consequently showing that noblest phase of generosity, that deprives itself to benefit others.”
In early November 1876, the Army and Navy Journal announced the fund totaled $13,800, and that it would be distributed accordingly to rank and pension guidelines. Thus Libbie got $900, Maggie Calhoun $510, and Annie Yates, $1,050. The wives of the enlisted men divided $6,300 among themselves – which, with pensions of $8 a month and $2 per child, was a boon.  Later that month, Libbie, Maggie and Annie received life insurance payments, as well. Libbie breathed easier - and moved to New York City, there to begin a second life that, like her first, was devoted solely to George Armstrong Custer. She would create the Custer legend, the “boy’s hero”: a dashing commander, Christian gentleman, and family man without fault.
At her death, at 90 in 1933, Libby Custer left an estate of $113,581 (a sum worth, today, over two million dollars).
Autograph Letter Signed, 3 pages, octavo. October 8th, 1876. To Col. Theophilus F. Rodenbaugh.
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