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Boots And Saddles: Or Life In Dakota With General Custer
by Elizabeth B. Custer
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Text extracted from opening pages of book: Boots and Saddles OR LIFE IN DAKOTA WITH GENERAL GUSTER by ELIZABETH B. CUSTER HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS NEW YORK and LONDON TO MY HUSBAND The echo of uuhose voice has been my inspiration. Preface ONE of the motives that have actuated me in recalling these simple annals of our daily life, has been to give a glimpse to civilians of garrison and camp life about which they seem to have such a very imperfect knowledge. This ignorance exists especially with reference to any thing pertaining to the cavalry, which is almost invariably stationed on the extreme frontier. The isolation of the cavalry posts makes them quite in accessible to travelers, and the exposure incident to meet ing warlike Indians does not tempt the visits of friends or even of the venturesome tourist. Our life, therefore, was often as separate from the rest of the world as if we had been living on an island in the ocean. Very little has been written regarding the domestic life of an army family, and yet I cannot believe that it is with out interest; for the innumerable questions that are asked about our occupations, amusements, and mode of house keeping, lead me to hope that the actual answers to these queries contained in this little story will be acceptable. This must also be my apology for entering in some in stances so minutely into trifling perplexities and events, which went to fill up the sum of our existence. . B. C. 148 East i8th Street, New York City. fvii] CONTENTS L Change of Station i II. A Blizzard 8 III. Western Hospitality 21 IV. Cavalry on the March 27 V. Camping Among the Sioux 39 VI. A Visit to the Village of Two Bears 50 VIL Adventures During the Last Days of the March 63 VIII. Separation and Reunion 76 IX. Our New Home at Fort Lincoln 84 X. Incidents of Every - day Life 94 XL The Burning of Our Quarters Carrying the Mail 105 XII. Perplexities and Pleasures of Domestic Life 1 14 XIII. A Strong Heart Dance! 121 XIV. Garrison Life 128 XV* General Ouster's Literary Work 139 XVI. Indian Depredations 144 XVII. A Day of Anxiety and Tenor 149 XVIIL Improvements at the Post, and Gardening 157 [ ix] CONTENTS XIX. General Ouster's Library 164 XX. The Summer of the Black Hills Expedition 171 XXI. Domestic Trials 184 XXIL Capture and Escape of Rain-in-the-face 193 XXIII. Garrison Amusements 205 XXIV. An Indian Council 213 XXV. Breaking Up of the Missouri 2 1 7 XXVI. Curious Characters and Excursionists Among Us 228 XXVII. Religious Services Leave of Absence 234 XXVIII. A Winter's Journey Across the Plains 240 XXIX. Our Life's Last Chapter 248 APPENDIX: With Extracts of General Gutter's Letters 258 Fxl and Saddles CHAPTER I Change of Station / GENERAL CUSTER graduated at West Point just in vJT time to take part in the battle of Bull Run. He served with his regiment the 5th Cavalry for a time, but even tually was appointed aide-de-camp to General McClellan. He came to his sister's home in my native town, Monroe, Michigan, during the winter of 1863, and there I first met him. In the spring he returned to the army in Virginia, and was promoted that summer, at the age of twenty-three, from captain to brigadier-general. During the following autumn he came to Monroe to recover from a flesh-wound, which, though not serious, disabled him somewhat. At that time we became engaged. When his twenty days' leave of absence had expired he went back to duty, and did not return until a few days before our marriage, in February, 1864. We had no sooner reached Washington on our wedding journey than telegrams came, following one another in quick succession, asking him to give up the rest of his leave of absence, and hasten without an hour's delay to the front. I begged so hard not to be left behind that I finally prevailed. The result was that I found myself in a few hours on the extreme wing of the Army of the Potomac, in an isolated Virginia farm-house, finishing my
The wild west from a wife's perspective! Mrs. Custer describes her life on the plains with the General until his disastrous defeat at Little Big Horn.
Excerpted from Boots and Saddles: Or Life in Dakota with General Custer by Elizabeth Bacon Custer. Copyright © 2001. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
General George Custer was ordered to the Dakotas in the spring of 1873 and Elizabeth Custer's Boots and Saddles (the title comes from the bugle call for the cavalry to mount) chronicles their life until the general's death in 1876.
A counterpoint to the purely military memoir, her account provides details about everyday garrison life at Fort Abraham Lincoln, including sketches of townspeople, Indians, camp followers, and soldiers, as well as daily routines, and special amusements. The Custers lived in the Dakotas when it was still the "Wild West" and western legends such as Buffalo Bill and Rain in the Face also stride through the pages of this book.
Elizabeth Custer arrived at the fort during a blizzard with a seriously ill husband, frostbitten soldiers stumbling into the house, and terrified animals howling outside - and coped with it all. She also traveled with Custer on scouting expeditions and visited Sioux villages:
"The village was a collection of tepees of all sizes, the largest being what is called the Medicine Lodge, where the councils are held. It was formed of tanned buffalo hides, sewed together with buckskin thongs, and stretched over a collection of thirty-six poles...The poles are lashed together at the tops and radiate in a circle below. The smoke was pouring out of the opening above, and the only entrance to the tepee was a round aperture near the ground, sufficiently large to allow a person to crawl in. Around the lodge were poles from which were suspended rags; in these were tied their medicines of roots and herbs, supposed to be a charm to keep off evil spirits. The sound of music came from within; I crept tremblingly in after the general, not entirely quieted by his keeping my hand in his and whispering something to calm my fears as I sat on the buffalo robe beside him..."
Compare this to her description of the General's library:
"Over his desk, claiming a perch by itself on a pair of deer antlers, was a great white owl. On the floor before the fireplace...was spread the immense skin of a grisly bear. On a wide lounge at one side of the room my husband used to throw himself down on the cover of a Mexican blanket, often with a dog for his pillow. The camp chairs had the skins of beavers and American lions thrown over them. A stand for arms in one corner held a collection of pistols, hunting knives, Winchester and Springfield rifles, shotguns and carbines, and even an old flintlock musket as a variety. From antlers above hung sabers, spurs, riding whips, gloves and caps, field glasses, the map case, and the great compass used on marches. One of the sabers was remarkably large, and when it was given to the general during the war it was accompanied by the remark that there was doubtless no other arm in the service that could wield it. (My husband was next to the strongest man while at West Point, and his life after that had only increased his power.)...Large photographs of the men my husband loved kept him company on the walls; they were of General McClellan, General Sheridan, and Mr. Lawrence Barrett. Over his desk was a picture of his wife in bridal dress..."
Courage, grit, compassion, and humor...Elizabeth Custer had them all, and they are evident here. Boots and Saddles is one of the few books of military life in the 1800's from a woman's perspective and invaluable for that reason alone, but it is doubly important for the light it sheds on George Custer. Fun reading as well!
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