Photograph, "Gen. Custer's Head Quarters Army
of the Potomac," inscribed and signed by
Elizabeth Bacon Custer.

Clockwise left to right:  Libbie’s copy of President Calvin Coolidge letter; Sitting Bull cabinet card; envelope from Adjutant General’s Washington headquarters to Custer at Fort Leavenworth; bereavement letter from General Forsyth to Elizabeth Custer 1876; Elizabeth Custer signed letter; General Custer cabinet card; only known Custer wedding card; General Miles mourning calling card.

Rare, unpublished photograph of
George Armstrong Custer.




The Elizabeth Bacon Custer Manuscript Collection is the largest assemblage of Custer-related documents in existence. Its approximately six thousand pieces represent a huge portion of the vast collection of documents that were in Libbie Custer's possession at the time of her death.

This collection is essentially virgin. It is the result of the obsessive documentation and written musings of the wife of the most-photographed man of the nineteenth century, who herself became an immensely popular figure, an orphaned adoptee of the American public who was more admired than any first lady and who lived through twenty-three presidential administrations.

While the contents of the collection are virtually unpublished, un-catalogued, and un-mined, the following is clear: the collection is sweeping, yet intimate, and it cuts a paper swathe through American history that plunges from the Civil War into the Indian Wars, and on through the Gilded Age and World War I.

  • The manuscript collection contains contemporary correspondence and documents from Custer’s Civil War career and Libbie Custer’s experience of it; and it traces the rich legacy of that career over the next six decades. 
  • It includes never-before-seen correspondence about, and first-hand observations of, the immediate aftermath of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. 
  • It reveals aspects of the personalities and experiences of both Custer and his wife that are coming to light for the first time.

  • It documents the American reaction to the battle and to the “Indian problem” through the pivotal and complex personality of Libbie Custer, and tracks her career as a widow who powerfully shaped public attitudes about her husband in particular and the Western expansion in general for decades. 

  • It contains correspondence from the saltiest Civil War veterans, from the most heroic military and most potent political figures of the time, from the most bereaved Indian Wars widows. 

  • It is rich in letters from the literati, cognoscenti, millionaires, artists, and revolutionary women who were the luminaries of the so-called Golden Age of Freethought, into whose orbit Libbie was absorbed after Custer’s death.

  • It includes the original galleys of Libbie’s extremely popular books (still in print), including “Boots and Saddles,” as well as extensive travelogues containing her eloquent and detailed first-hand observations of major world events in Europe and Asia.

  • It incorporates the particularly precious collection of George Armstrong Custer’s personal photographic stereoviews of the 1874 Black Hills Expedition that opened up Sioux country to gold seekers and settlement. When he returned from that journey, he and Libbie sat shoulder-to-shoulder, fitting these same cards into their stereoscope.

The philanthropic individual or organization that becomes the custodian of this treasure trove of Custer documents will immediately be recognized as the holder of one of the key historical archives of the American West. The Elizabeth Bacon Custer Manuscript Collection begs to be the centerpiece of a major museum and research facility, a vision which the Garryowen property is ideally suited to fulfill.

Matt Robertson, 406-294-6308, or    

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