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General Custer was the recipient of much kindness from the soldiers of his Michigan brigade while he remained in Michigan awaiting orders, and he went to several towns where his old comrades had prepared receptions for him. But when he returned from a reunion in Detroit to our saddened home, there was no grateful, proud father to listen to the accounts of the soldiers' enthusiasm.

My husband missed his commendation, and his proud way of referring to his son. His own family were near us, and off he started, when he felt the absence of the noble parent who had so proudly followed his career, and, running through our stable to shorten the distance, danced up a lane through a back gate into his mother's garden, and thence into the midst of his father's noisy and happy household. His parents, the younger brother, Boston, sister Margaret, Colonel Tom, and often Eliza, made up the family, and the uproar that these boys and the elder boy, their father, made around the gentle mother and her daughters, was a marvel to me.

If the General went away to some soldiers' reunion, he tried on his return to give me a lucid account of the ceremonies, and how signally he failed in making a speech, of course, and his subterfuge for hiding his confusion and getting out of the scrape by proposing "Garry Owen" by the band, or three cheers for the old brigade. It was not that he had not enough to say: his heart was full of gratitude to his comrades, but the words came forth with such a rush, there was little chance of arriving at the meaning. I think nothing moved him in this coming together of his dear soldiers, like his pride at their naming babies after him. His eyes danced with pleasure, when he told that they stopped him in the street and held up a little George Armstrong Custer, and the shy wife was brought forward to be congratulated. I dearly loved, when I chanced to be with him, to witness their pride and hear their few words of praise.

Not long ago I was in a small town in Michigan, among some of my husband's old soldiers. Our sister Margaret was reciting for the benefit of the little church, and the veterans asked for me afterward, and I shook hands with a long line of bronzed heroes, now tillers of the soil. Their praise of their "boy General" made my grateful tears flow, and many of their eyes moistened as they held my hand and spoke of war times. After all had filed by, they began to return one by one and ask to bring their wives and children. One soldier, with already silvering head, said quaintly, "We have often seen you riding around with our General in war days," and added, with a most flattering ignoring of time's treatment of me, "You look _just_ the same, though you was a young gal then; and now, tho' you followed your husband and took your hardships with us, I want to show you an old woman who was also a purty good soldier, for while I was away at the front she run the farm." Such a welcome, such honest tribute to his "old woman," recalled the times when the General's old soldiers gathered about him, with unaffected words, and when I pitied him because he fidgeted so, and bit his lips, and struggled to end what was the joy of his life, for fear he would cry like a woman. Among those who sought him out that summer was an officer who had commanded a regiment of troops in the celebrated Michigan brigade--Colonel George Grey, a brave Irishman, with as much enthusiasm in his friendships as in his fighting. His wife and little son were introduced. The boy had very light hair, and though taught to reverence and love the General by his gallant, impulsive father, the child had never realized until he saw him that his father's hero also had a yellow head. Heretofore the boy had hated his hair, and implored his mother to dye it dark. But as soon as his interview with my husband was ended, he ran to his mother, and whispered in eager haste that she need not mind the dyeing now, he never would scold about his hair being light again, since he had seen that General Custer's was yellow.

As I look back and consider what a descent the major-generals of the war made, on returning to their lineal rank in the regular army after the surrender at Appomattox, I wonder how they took the new order of things so calmly, or that they so readily adapted themselves to the positions they had filled before the firing on Sumter in 1861. General Custer held his commission as brevet major-general for nearly a year after the close of hostilities, and until relieved in Texas. He did not go at once to his regiment, the Fifth Cavalry, and take up the command of sixty men in place of thousands, as other officers of the regular army were obliged to do, but was placed on waiting orders, and recommended to the lieutenant-colonelcy of one of the new regiments of cavalry, for five new ones had been formed that summer, making ten in all. In the autumn, the appointment to the Seventh Cavalry came, with orders to go to Fort Garland. One would have imagined, by the jubilant manner in which this official document was unfolded and read to me, that it was the inheritance of a principality. My husband instantly began to go over the "good sides" of the question. He was so given to dwelling on the high lights of any picture his imagination painted, that the background, which might mean hardships and deprivations, became indefinite in outline, and obscure enough in detail to please the most modern impressionists. Out of our camp luggage a map was produced, and Fort Garland was discovered, after long prowling about with the first finger, in the space given to the Rocky Mountains. Then he launched into visions of what unspeakable pleasure he would have, fishing for mountain trout and hunting deer. As I cared nothing for fishing, and was afraid of a gun, I don't recall my veins bounding as his did over the prospect; but the embryo fisherman and Nimrod was so sanguine over his future, it would have been a stolid soul indeed that did not begin to think Fort Garland a sort of earthly paradise. The sober colors in this vivid picture meant a small, obscure post, then several hundred miles from any railroad, not much more than a handful of men to command, the most complete isolation, and no prospect of an active campaign, as it was far from the range of the warlike Indians. But Fort Garland soon faded from our view, in the excitement and interest over Fort Riley, as soon as our orders were changed to that post. We had no difficulty in finding it on the map, as it was comparatively an old post, and the Kansas Pacific Railroad was within ten miles of the Government reservation.

We ascertained, by inquiry, that it was better to buy the necessary household articles at Leavenworth, than to attempt to carry along even a simple outfit from the East. My attention had been so concentrated on the war, that I found the map of Virginia had heretofore comprised the only important part of the United States to me, and it was difficult to realize that Kansas had a city of 25,000 inhabitants, with several daily papers. Still, I was quite willing to trust to Leavenworth for the purchase of household furniture, as it seemed to me, what afterward proved true, that housekeeping in garrison quarters was a sort of camping out after all, with one foot in a house and another in position to put into the stirrup and spin "over the hills and far away." We packed the few traps that had been used in camping in Virginia and Texas, but most of our attention was given to the selection of a pretty girl, who, it was held by both of us, would do more toward furnishing and beautifying our army quarters than any amount of speechless bric-Ã -brac or silent tapestry. It was difficult to obtain what seemed the one thing needful for our new army home. In the first place, the mothers rose _en masse_ and formed themselves into an anti-frontier combination. They looked right into my eyes, with harassed expression, and said, "Why, Libbie, they might marry an officer!" ignoring the fact that the happiest girl among them had undergone that awful fate, and still laughed back a denial of its being the bitterest lot that can come to a woman. Then I argued that perhaps their daughters might escape matrimony entirely, under the fearful circumstances which they shuddered over, even in contemplation, but that it was only fair that the girls should have a chance to see the "bravest and the tenderest," and, I mentally added, the "livest" men, for our town had been forsaken by most of the ambitious, energetic boys as soon as their school-days ended. The "beau season" was very brief, lasting only during their summer vacations, when they came from wide-awake Western towns to make love in sleepy Monroe. One mother at last listened to my arguments, and said, "I do want Laura to see what men of the world are, and she shall go." Now, this lovely mother had been almost a second one to me in all my lonely vacations, after my own mother died. She took me from the seminary, and gave me treats with her own children, and has influenced my whole life by her noble, large way of looking at the world. But, then, she has been East a great deal, and in Washington in President Pierce's days, and realized that the vision of the outside world, seen only from our Monroe, was narrow. The dear Laura surprised me by asking to have over night to consider, and I could not account for it, as she had been so radiant over the prospect of military life. Alas! next morning the riddle was solved, when she whispered in my ear that there was a youth who had already taken into his hands the disposal of her future, and "he" objected. So we lost her.

Monroe was then thought to have more pretty girls than any place of its size in the country. In my first experience of the misery of being paragraphed, it was announced that General Custer had taken to himself a wife, in a town where ninety-nine marriageable girls were left. The fame of the town had gone abroad, though, and the ninety-nine were not without opportunities. Widowers came from afar, with avant couriers in the shape of letters describing their wealth, their scholarly attainments, and their position in the community. The "boys" grown to men halted in their race for wealth long enough to rush home and propose. Often we were all under inspection, and though demure and seemingly unconscious, I remember the after-tea walks when a knot of girls went off to "lovers' lane" to exchange experiences about some stranger from afar, who had been brought around by a solicitous match-maker to view the landscape o'er, and I am afraid we had some sly little congratulations when he, having shown signs of the conquering hero, was finally sent on his way, to seek in other towns, filled with girls, "fresh woods and pastures new." I cannot account for the beauty of the women of Monroe; the mothers were the softest, serenest, smoothest-faced women, even when white-haired. It is true it was a very quiet life, going to bed with the chickens, and up early enough to see the dew on the lawns. There was very little care, to plant furrows in the cheeks and those tell-tale radiating lines about the eyes. Nearly everybody was above want, and few had enough of this world's goods to incite envy in the hearts of the neighbors, which does its share in a younger face. I sometimes think the vicinity of Lake Erie, and the moist air that blew over the marsh, kept the complexions fresh. I used to feel actually sorry for my husband, when we approached Monroe after coming from the campaigns. He often said: "Shall we not stop in Detroit a day or two, Libbie, till you get the tired look out of your face? I dread going among the Monroe women and seeing them cast reproachful looks at me, when your sunburned face is introduced among their fair complexions. When you are tired in addition, they seem to think I am a wretch unhung, and say, 'Why, General! what _have_ you done with Libbie's transparent skin?' I am afraid it is hopelessly dark and irredeemably thickened!" In vain I argued that it wouldn't be too thick to let them all see the happy light shine through, and if his affection survived my altered looks, I felt able to endure the wailing over what they thought I had lost. After all, it was very dear and kind of them to care, and my husband appreciated their solicitude, even when he was supposed to be in disgrace for having subjected me to such disfigurement. Still, these mothers were neither going to run the risk of the peach-bloom and cream of their precious girls all running riot into one broad sunburn up to the roots of the hair, and this was another reason, in addition to the paramount one that "the girls _might_ marry into the army." The vagrant life, the inability to keep household gods, giving up the privileges of the church and missionary societies, the loss of the simple village gayety, the anxiety and suspense of a soldier's wife, might well make the mothers opposed to the life, but this latter reason did not enter into all their minds. Some thought of the loaves and fishes. One said, in trying to persuade me that it was better to break my engagement with the General, "Why, girl, you can't be a poor man's wife, and, besides, he might lose a leg!" I thought, even then, gay and seemingly thoughtless as I was, that a short life with poverty and a wooden leg was better than the career suggested to me. I hope the dear old lady is not blushing as she reads this, and I remind her how she took me up into a high mountain and pointed out a house that might be mine, with so many dozen spoons, "solid," so many sheets and pillow-slips, closets filled with jars of preserved fruit, all of which I could not hope to have in the life in which I chose to cast my lot, where peaches ripened on no garden-wall and bank-accounts were unknown.


When we were ready to set out for the West, in October, 1866, our caravan summed up something like this list: My husband's three horses--Jack Rucker, the thoroughbred mare he had bought in Texas, a blooded colt from Virginia named Phil Sheridan--and my own horse, a fast pacer named Custis Lee, the delight of my eyes and the envy of the General's staff while we were in Virginia and Texas; several hounds given to the General by the planters with whom he had hunted deer in Texas; a superb greyhound, his head carried so loftily as he walked his lordly way among the other dogs, that I thought he would have asked to carry his family-tree on his brass collar, could he have spoken for his rights. Last of all, some one had given us the ugliest white bull-dog I ever saw. But in time we came to think that the twist in his lumpy tail, the curve in his bow legs, the ambitious nose, which drew the upper lip above the heaviest of protruding jaws, were simply beauties, for the dog was so affectionate and loyal, that everything which at first seemed a draw-back leaned finally to virtue's side. He was well named "Turk," and a "set to" or so with Byron, the domineering greyhound established his rights, so that it only needed a deep growl and an uprising of the bristles on his back, to recall to the overbearing aristocrat some wholesome lessons given him when the acquaintance began. Turk was devoted to the colt Phil, and the intimacy of the two was comical; Phil repaid Turk's little playful nips at the legs by lifting him in his teeth as high as the feed-box, by the loose skin of his back. But nothing could get a whimper out of him, for he was the pluckiest of brutes. He curled himself up in Phil's stall when he slept, and in traveling was his close companion in the box car. If we took the dog to drive with us, he had to be in the buggy, as our time otherwise would have been constantly engaged in dragging him off from any dog that strutted around him and needed a lesson in humility. When Turk was returned to Phil, after any separation, they greeted each other in a most human way. Turk leaped around the colt, and in turn was rubbed and nosed about with speaking little snorts of welcome. When we came home to this ugly duckling, he usually made a spring and landed in my lap, as if he were the tiniest, silkiest little Skye in dogdom. He half closed his eyes, with that beatific expression peculiar to affectionate dogs, and did his little smile at my husband and me by raising what there was of his upper lip and showing his front teeth. All this with an ignoring of the other dogs and an air of exclusion, as if we three--his master, mistress, and himself--composed all there was of earth worth knowing.

We had two servants, one being Eliza, our faithful colored woman, who had been with us in Virginia and Texas, and had come home with me to care for my father in his last illness. We had also a worthless colored boy, who had been trained as a jockey in Texas and had returned with the horses. What intellect he had was employed in devising schemes to escape work. Eliza used her utmost persuasive eloquence on him without effect, and failed equally with a set of invectives that had been known heretofore to break the most stubborn case of lethargy. My tender-hearted mother Custer screened him, for he had soon discovered her amazing credulity, and had made out a story of abuses to which he had been subjected that moved her to confide his wrongs to me. Two years before, I too would have dropped a tear over his history; but a life among horses had enlightened me somewhat. Every one knows that a negro will do almost anything to become a jockey. Their bitterest moment is when they find that growing bone and muscle is making avoirdupois and going to cut them off from all that makes life worth living. To reduce their weight, so they can ride at races, they are steamed, and parboiled if necessary. This process our lazy servant described to our mother as having been enforced on him as a torture and punishment, and such a good story did he make out, that he did nothing but lie in the sun and twang an old banjo all summer long, all owing to mother's pity. We had to take him with us, to save her from waiting on him and making reparation for what she supposed had been a life of abuse before he came to us.

Last of all to describe in our party was Diana, the pretty belle of Monroe. The excitement of anticipation gave added brightness to her eyes, and the head, sunning over with a hundred curls, danced and coquetted as she talked of our future among the "brass buttons and epaulets."

My going out from home was not so hard as it had been, for the dear father had gone home, saying in his last words, "Daughter, continue to do as you have done; follow Armstrong everywhere." It had indeed been a temptation to me to use all my influence to induce my husband to resign and accept the places held out to him. I do not recollect that ambition or a far look into his progress in the future entered my mind. I can only remember thinking with envy of men surrounding us in civil life, who came home to their wives, after every day's business. Even now, I look upon a laborer returning to his home at night with his tin dinner-pail as a creature to be envied, and my imagination follows the husband into his humble house. The wife to whom he returns may have lost much that ambition and success bring, but she has secured for herself a lifetime of happy twilights, when all she cares for is safe under her affectionate eyes.

Our father and mother Custer lived near us, and Sister Margaret and the younger brother, "Bos," were then at home and in school. The parting with his mother, the only sad hour to my blithe husband, tore his heart as it always did, and he argued in vain with her, that, as he had come home after five years of incessant battles, she might look for his safe return again. Each time seemed to be the last to her, for she was so delicate she hardly expected to live to see him again.

The summer had been one of such pleasure to her. Her beloved boy, dashing in and out in his restless manner, was never too absorbed with whatever took up his active mind, to be anything but gentle and thoughtful for her. She found our Eliza a mine of information, and just as willing as mother herself to talk all day about the one topic in common--the General and his war experiences.

Then the dogs and horses, and the stir and life produced by the introduction of ourselves and our belongings into her quiet existence, made her recall the old farm life when her brood of children were all around her. Brother Tom had spent the summer skipping from flower to flower, tasting the sweets of all the rosebud garden of girls in our pretty town. I had already taken to myself a good deal of the mothering of this wild boy, and began to worry, as is the custom of mothers, over the advances of a venturesome woman who was no longer young and playing for high stakes. It was no small matter to me, as I knew Tom would live with us always if he could manage to do so, and my prospective sister-in-law would be my nearest companion. Lad as he was, he escaped, and preserved his heart in an unbroken condition during the summer. Much to our regret, he was appointed to a lieutenancy in a regiment stationed South, after he was mustered out of the volunteer service; but the General succeeded in effecting his transfer to the Seventh Cavalry, and after a short service in the South he joined us at Fort Riley that year.

One of our Detroit friends invited us to go with a party of pretty women, in a special car, to St. Louis; so we had a gay send-off for our new home. I don't remember to have had an anxiety as to the future; I was wholly given over to the joy of realizing that the war was over, and, girl-like, now the one great danger was passed, I felt as if all that sort of life was forever ended. At any rate, the magnetic influence of my husband's joyous temperament, which would not look on the dark side, had such power over those around him that I was impelled to look upon our future as he did. In St. Louis we had a round of gayety. The great Fair was then at its best, for every one was making haste to dispel the gloom that our terrible war had cast over the land. There was not a corner of the Fair-ground to which my husband did not penetrate. He took me into all sorts of places to which our pretty galaxy of belles, with their new conquests of St. Louis beaux, had no interest in going--the stalls of the thoroughbred horses--when a chat with the jockeys was included; the cattle, costing per head what, we whispered to each other, would set us up in a handsome income for life and buy a Blue-grass farm with blooded horses, etc., which was my husband's ideal home. And yet I do not remember that money ever dwelt very long in our minds, we learned to have such a royal time on so little.

There was something that always came before the Kentucky farm with its thoroughbreds. If ever he said, "If I get rich, I'll tell you what I'll do," I knew as well before he spoke just what was to follow--in all the twelve years he never altered the first plan--"I'll buy a home for father and mother." They owned their home in Monroe then, but it was not good enough to please him; nothing was good enough for his mother, but the dear woman, with her simple tastes, would have felt far from contented in the sort of home in which her son longed to place her. All she asked was to gather her boys around her so that she could see them every day.

As we wandered round the Fair-grounds, side-shows with their monstrosities came into the General's programme, and the prize pigs were never neglected. If we bent over the pens to see the huge things rolling in lazy contentment, my husband went back to his farm days, and explained what taught him to like swine, in which, I admit, I could not be especially interested. His father had given each son a pig, with the promise exacted in return that they should be daily washed and combed. When the General described the pink and white collection of pets that his father distributed among his sons, swine were no longer swine to me; they were "curled darlings," as he pictured them. And now I recall, that long after he showed such true appreciation of his friend's stock on one of the Blue-grass farms in Kentucky where we visited, two pigs of royal birth, whose ancestors dated back many generations, were given to us, and we sent them home to our farmer brother to keep until we should possess a place of our own, which was one of the mild indulgences of our imagination, and which we hoped would be the diversion of our old age. I think it rather strange that my husband looked so fearlessly into the future. I hardly know how one so active could so calmly contemplate the days when his steps would be slow. We never passed on the street an old man with gray curls lying over his coat-collar, but the General slackened his steps to say in a whisper, "There, Libbie, that's me, forty years from now." And if there happened to be John Anderson's obese old wife by him, toddling painfully along, red and out of breath, he teasingly added, "And that's what you would _like_ to be." It was a never-ending source of argument that I would be much more successful in the way of looks if I were not so slender; and as my husband, even when a lad, liked women who were slenderly formed, he loved to torment me, by pointing out to what awful proportions a woman weighing what was to me a requisite number of pounds sometimes arrived in old age.

A tournament was given in the great amphitheatre of the Fair building in St. Louis, which was simply delightful to us. The horsemanship so pleased my husband that he longed to bound down into the arena, take a horse, and tilt with their long lances at the rings. Some of the Confederate officers rode for the prizes, and their knights' costume and good horses were objects of momentary envy, as they recalled the riding academy exercises at West Point. Finally, the pretty ceremony of crowning the Queen of Love and Beauty by the successful knight ended a real gala day to us. At night a ball at the hotel gave us an opportunity to be introduced to the beautiful woman, who sat on a temporary throne in the dancing-hall, and we thought her well worth tilting lances for, and that nothing could encourage good horsemanship like giving as a prize the temporary possession of a pretty girl.

While in St. Louis we heard Mr. Lawrence Barrett for the first time. He was of nearly the same age as my husband, and after three years' soldiering in our war, as a captain in the Twenty-eighth Massachusetts Infantry, had returned to his profession, full of ambition and the sort of "go" that called out instant recognition from the General.

Mr. Barrett, in recalling lately the first time he met General Custer, spoke of the embarrassing predicament in which he was placed by the impetuous determination of one whom from that hour he cherished as his warmest friend. He was playing "Rosedale," and my husband was charmed with his rendering of the hero's part. He recalled for years the delicate manner with which the lover allows his wounded hand to be bound, and the subtle cunning with which he keeps the fair minister of his hurts winding and unwinding the bandages. Then Mr. Barrett sang a song in the play, which the General hummed for years afterward. I remember his going pell-mell into the subject whenever we met, even when Mr. Barrett was justifiably glowing with pride over his success in the legitimate drama, and interrupting him to ask why he no longer played "Rosedale." The invariable answer that the play required extreme youth in the hero, had no sort of power to stop the continued demand for his favorite melodrama. After we had seen the play--it was then acted for the first time--the General begged me to wait in the lobby until he had sought out Mr. Barrett to thank him, and on our return from the theatre we lay in wait, knowing that he stopped at our hotel. As he was going quietly to his room--reserved even then, boy that he was, with not a trace of the impetuous, ardent lover he had so lately represented before the foot-lights--off raced the General up the stairs, two steps at a time, to capture him. He demurred, saying his rough traveling suit of gray was hardly presentable in a drawing-room, but the General persisted, saying, "The old lady told me I must seize you, and go you must, for I don't propose to return without fulfilling her orders." Mr. Barrett submitted, and was presented to our party, who had accompanied us on the special car to St. Louis. The gray clothes were forgotten in a moment, in the reception we gave him; but music came out from the dining-room, and all rose to go, as Mr. Barrett supposed, to our rooms. The General took a lady on his arm, I, at my husband's suggestion, put my hand on Mr. Barrett's arm, and before he had realized it, he was being marched into the brilliantly lighted ballroom, and bowing from force of capture before the dais on which sat the Queen of Love and Beauty.

All this delighted the General. Unconventional himself, he nothing heeded the chagrin of Mr. Barrett over his inappropriate garb, and chuckled like a schoolboy over his successful raid. I think Mr. Barrett was not released until he pleaded the necessity for time to work. He was then reading and studying far into the night, to make up for the lapse in his profession that his army life had caused. He was not so absorbed in his literary pursuits, however, that he did not take in the charm of those beautiful St. Louis girls, and we three, in many a jolly evening since, have gone back to the beauty of the bewitching belles, as they floated by us in that ballroom or paused to capture the new _Richmonds_ on their already crowded field. Mr. Barrett even remembers that the Queen of Love and Beauty vouchsafed him the eighth of a dance--for her royal highness dispensed favors by piecemeal to the waiting throng about her throne.

Our roving life brought us in contact with actors frequently. If the General found that Mr. Barrett was to play in any accessible city, he hurried me into my traveling-gown, flung his own dress-coat and my best bonnet in a crumpled mass into a little trunk, and off we started in pursuit. It is hard to speak fittingly of the meeting of those two men. They joyed in each other as women do, and I tried not to look when they met or parted, while they gazed with tears into each other's eyes, and held hands like exuberant girls. Each kept track of the other's movements, through the papers, and rejoiced at every success, while Mr. Barrett, with the voice my husband thought perfect in intonation and expression, always called to him the moment they met, "Well, old fellow, hard at work making history, are you?"

A few evenings since I chanced to see Mr. Barrett's dresser, the Irish "Garry," who had charge of his costumes in those days when the General used to haunt the dressing-room in the last winter we were together in New York. As _Cassius_ he entered the room in armor, and found his "old man Custer" waiting for him. Garry tells me that my husband leaped toward the mailed and helmeted soldier, and gave him some rousing bangs on the corseleted chest, for they sparred like boys. Mr. Barrett, parrying the thrust, said, "Custer, old man, you ought to have one of these suits of armor for your work." "Ye gods, no!" said the General, in mimic alarm; "with that glistening breast-plate as a target, every arrow would be directed at me. I'd rather go naked than in that!"

KANSAS IN 1866 AND KANSAS TODAY. In 1866 there were three hundred miles of railroad; in 1886, six thousand one hundred and forty-four.


Note: This is Chapter 11 of the Book Tenting on the Plains or General Custer in Kansas and Texas, by Elizabeth B. Custer. (originally published 1895) You can download this book at the Project Gutenberg website.