Judith Price Justus (Judy) of Perrysburg was honored to portray Libbie Custer, George Armstrong Custer’s wife, at the annual National Convention of the Little Big Horn Association in Gettysburg, PA on August 3 at the conference room of the Windham Hotel. There were over 250 Custer devotees at the meeting from all over the United States, Great Britain and Canada. She was one of five speakers.
Mrs. Justus is a retired high school band director, local historian, and has been a member of the group since the 1990’s. She had an article published in their ”Research and Review” magazine in 2000 on Clara Blinn, a young mother from Perrysburg who was captured by the Indians on the Santa Fe Trail in 1868, and found slain in Black Kettle’s camp by Lt. Col. Custer after the Battle of the Washita.
She presented this story last year in Oklahoma City before the group visited the actual Washita Battlefield site and was subsequently asked to do a speech on Mrs. Custer. She decided to present it as a living historian in the year 1926 when Mrs. Custer was 83 and had lived for 50 years since the death of her husband at the 1876 Battle of the Little Big Horn at the hands of the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes’ participants.
In her research she found that Libbie was financially destitute after the battle and had to move from their home in Ft. Lincoln in the Dakota Territory to their home in Monroe that she had inherited from her father, a judge. From there she left for New York and was hired as a secretary in a Decorative Arts Society and was introduced to many famous authors and people– Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, John Burroughs, Mary Dodge, Teddy Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill, and Annie Oakley. (As an aside, John Burroughs is the sitting statue on the front lawn of the Toledo Museum of Art. The money for it was raised by the schoolchildren in Toledo.)
One of the favorite happenings she attended was the dedication by President Taft of the Monroe statue of G.A. Custer on June 4, 1910. Her life was devoted to clearing up the misunderstanding about the orders given Custer when he left on May 17 for the campaign to move the Indians back to their reservations on orders from our government that said they had to be there by January 1, 1876.
Libbie became a famous author herself, writing about their experiences in the West, “Boots and Saddles” (1895), “Tenting on the Plains” (1897), and “Following the Guidon” (1890). She gave over 500 lectures, traveled the world for twenty years and left a fortune of over $113,000 in her will. She died four days before her ninety-first birthday on April 4, 1933 and lived 57 years after her husband of twelve years was killed on June 25, 1876. She was an ardent crusader to clear his name and actions. They are together forever in the West Point cemetery.
My story was accompanied by a Power Point presentation. Libbie’s last words in my portrayal were: ”To all of you who spoke and wrote negative things against my husband, I’ve outlived you all!”