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

October 8, 1876

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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

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      Background

      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, alwaysimpecunious 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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      Page 1 transcript
      Monroe. October 8th
       
      My dear Col. Rodenbough [sic],

      I wrote you some time ago that Mrs. Yates and Mrs. Calhoun and myself would be glad to have our share of the funds (so generously given for the benefit of the widows and orphans of those killed in battle) given the wives and children of the enlisted men.  I of course have no change to make in my request for myself but I want to ask you not to consider their request preferred through me. Both need the help and would gratefully accept it. I beg you will consider this letter as strictly confidential for they do not know I intended

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      Page 2 transcript
      writing and would object to my so doing. They are not needy but the change in their life is so great I do not see how they can ever learn to adapt themselves to the meager income they will have to submit to.  The fund exceeds so far all their ideas of what was expected to be raised that I cannot think but that they would gladly accept the help and not feel others were being robbed of what they needed.

      Again begging you to regard my letter as a matter to be considered confidential in order to spare their feelings

      I am

      Sincerely Yours

      Libbie B. Custer.

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      Page 3 transcript
      P.S. If they do gain a portion of the fund now being raised I know that they will at once send some of their share of the funds to one or two of the Camp women whom they know - But I cannot but feel that they are remiss in offering all as their days for such generosity are over I fear - being now so reduced themselves. It is impossible for me to assure you with what pride and gratification I have watched the generosity of our army, always impecunious itself, and consequently showing that noblest phase of generosity, that deprives oneself to benefit others.

      Yours etc.
      L. B. Custer