The Custers Mustered Up A Romance for the Ages

George and Libbie were just plain in love.

While my working, pre-senile, pre-lobotomized brain does not yet need any help to drift off to thoughts of love, romance and sex, it was guided in that direction upon reading a Jeffry Wert article (see P. 36) on the Custer romance—not our nation’s romance with George Armstrong, but Libbie’s. George and Elizabeth Custer wed in February 1864, some 14 months after they first met at a party in Monroe, Michigan, and their marriage lasted until George’s Last Stand in June 1876. Libbie took her undivided love for “Autie,” as she called him, to her own grave—never remarrying and always honoring her “own bright particular star” until her death in 1933.

Once, after her young Yankee officer went back East to help win the Civil War, Libbie wrote in her journal: “I long so to put my arms around his neck and kiss him and how often I lay my head on his breast—in imagination—and feel how sweet it would be to make him entirely happy.” Later, George wrote to Libbie: “I am longing and anxiously hoping for the time to come when I can be with my little darling one again. It seems so long since I saw her and had ‘Just one’….I know where I would kiss somebody if I was with her tonight.” The romantic flames continued to burn on the Plains. One time George wrote Libbie that he felt tempted “to desert and fly to you,” and another time he went to her and was charged with “absence without leave from his command.” Wert touches on the possibility that George might have taken his love to some other town or tepee, but if he was ever unfaithful, Libbie certainly forgave him. They had what Wert describes as “one of the great romances of their era.”

Thanks to Wert’s touching tale, my head was now plum full of thoughts of love, romance and sex. And since it was on company time, I decided to name—off the top of my fevered brow—other great romances of the Wild West era. Doc Holliday’s rough and-tumble relationship with Big Nose Kate came immediately to mind, and yes I am ashamed of myself (but that’s what a divorce will do to you). Quickly, I remembered that Doc’s pal Wyatt Earp happily wandered the post-Tombstone West hand in hand with his beloved Josie—never mind that Urilla and Mattie had come before her, not to mention the soiled doves of his so-called pimping days. His brother Virgil also did just fine with wife Allie, after two less successful plunges into matrimony. Kit Carson and his Josefa had a solid marriage, after his two earlier Indian wives were out of the picture.

A couple of other couples soon sprang into my brain, but the Judge Roy Bean–Lily Langtry pairing only worked in the Judge’s definitive mind, and the Wild Bill Hickok–Calamity Jane pairing was apparently a figment of Calamity’s wild imagination. On the other hand, the Annie Oakley–Frank Butler marksperson marriage was very real and very long, and there is no truth to the rumor that Frank was afraid his “Little Sure Shot” would put a bullet between his eyes if he cheated on her. I thought of other Wild West couples, of course, but too many to list here. In any case, I’m not sure if any of the celebrity frontier pairings were actually “great romances”—except maybe Samuel Colt and his hot new revolving pistol.


Originally published in the June 2007 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here