There weren’t many women in the late 1800s who had the opportunity to accompany their husbands on adventures that were so exciting they seemed fictitious. Such was the case for the women married to the officers in General George Armstrong Custer’s Seventh Cavalry. There were seven officers’ wives. They were all good friends who traveled from post to post with one another along with their spouses. Of the seven widows, Elizabeth Custer was the most well-known. As the wife of the commanding officer, Libbie felt it was her duty to be present when the officer’s wives at Fort Lincoln were told their husbands had been killed at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
The women were overwhelmed with letters of condolence. Most people were sincere in their expressions of sorrow over the widows’ loss. Others were ghoulish souvenir hunters requesting articles of their husbands’ clothing and personal weapons as keepsakes. The press was preoccupied with how the wives of the deceased officers were handling their grief. During the first year after the tragic event, reporters sought them out to learn how they were coping, what plans they had for the future, and what, if anything, they knew about the battle itself. The widows were able to soldier through the scrutiny because they had one another. They confided in each other, cried without apologizing, and discussed their desperate financial situations.
The friendship the bereaved widows had with one another proved to be a critical source of support. The transition from being officers’ wives living at various forts on the wild frontier to being single women with homes of their own was a difficult adjustment. Without one another to depend upon, the time might have been more of a struggle. The Widowed Ones: Beyond the Battle of the Little Bighorn tells the stories of these women and the unique bond they shared through never-before-seen materials from the Elizabeth Custer Library and Museum at Garryowen, Montana, including letters to and from politicians and military leaders to the widows, fellow soldiers and critics of George Custer to the widows, and letters between the widows themselves about when the women first met, the men they married, and their attempts to persevere after the tragedy.
Chris Enss is a New York Times best-selling author who has been writing about women of the Old West for more than twenty years. She has penned more than forty published books on the subject. Her work has been honored with five Will Rogers Medallion Awards, two Elmer Kelton Book Awards, an Oklahoma Center for the Book Award, and was a Western Writers of America Spur Award Finalist. Her books Thunder Over the Prairie, The Death Row All Stars, and The Trials of Annie Oakley have been optioned by major production companies for feature films. Enss’s most recent works are According to Kate: The Legendary Life of Big Nose Kate, Love of Doc Holliday; No Place for a Woman: The Struggle for Suffrage in the Wild West; and Iron Women: The Ladies Who Helped Build the Railroad.
Enss is the current president of Western Writers of America, serves as executive director of the Will Rogers Medallion Award, and is a licensed private investigator.
Howard Kazanjian is an award-winning producer and entertainment executive who has been producing feature films and television programs for more than twenty-five years.
Christopher Kortlander has been a Western Americana collector and dealer for most of his adult life. His personal collection was assembled over several decades and features some of the rarest and most desirable works and historic collectibles in the province of the Indian Wars and America's Westward expansion. Kortlander's appreciation for the unique history and grandeur of the West goes far beyond building his own amazing personal collection of books, manuscripts, and Western Americana collectibles. In addition, Kortlander published "Custer In Photographs," and produced a play, "Libbie," which offered a new take on the battle and its aftermath.
Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "The Widowed Ones: Beyond the Battle of the LittleBighorn" is an ideal and unreservedly recommended addition to 19th Century American Biography supplemental studies curriculum.
America has a mythic story that is inhabited by giants, men like General George Armstrong Custer, Captain Thomas Ward Custer, and Lieutenant James Calhoun. They live large on the silver screen, in literature, and in the American imagination. We can all see them on Last Stand Hill, out of ammunition, their sabers drawn, knowing the end is coming. But there is another story—a story that has largely been ignored for over a century and a half. It’s the powerful and heartrending tale of what happened to the wives they left behind after the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Hounded by the media and tormented by souvenir hunters, they were not allowed to move beyond the sorrow.
Once or twice in a lifetime comes a meticulously researched book that so radically changes your understanding of a historical event it is as though the scales fall from your eyes and you actually see what happened for the first time. The Widowed Ones: Beyond the Battle of the Little Bighorn is that book.
Listen to the women’s side of the story. We promise you will never be the same.
The Widowed Ones is based on a highly original idea; it’s an authentic look into the lives of those left behind after battle. In this case, it’s the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and the main character, in this latest of Chris Enss’s non-fiction books about women of the west, is Elizabeth Custer.
Custer and the officers who fell during battle were dedicated soldiers. But they were also husbands and brothers, sons and fathers. When they died, they left an extraordinary gap in their wives’ lives. There was no income. It was difficult for a woman to find a respectable job. There were children and aging parents to care for. There was the deep grief that each widow carried throughout her life.
The women in The Widowed Ones rode with their husbands into the frontier. They set about making homes in new territory. Elizabeth Custer often rode 70 and 80 miles per day with her husband, and she reveled in the adventure. Other wives chose to stay in camp.
These women had one thing in common—they each lost their partner in a polarizing battle. They formed, what we would call now, a support group. The women of the Widows’ Circle met with each other, commiserated, and supported each other. Those who could not be present stayed in touch by telegraph and letter. They were the only ones who truly understood each other’s situation. They were watched by a worldwide press. Their motto? “Once a widow, always cautious.”
The Widowed Ones is exceptional in several ways, not the least of which is that every detail was carefully researched but it reads as if it were a novel. Very few non-fiction books are difficult for a reader to put down. This is one of those books.
“The rigor of the scholarly research on display here is quite simply astonishing, as the authors seem to leave no stone unturned.”
“This is a perspicacious study that not only captures these particular women’s plights, but also an age in which independence for women came with extensive difficulties.”
“Well-researched and dramatically conveyed historical account.”
“Readers interested in 19th-century, women’s and military history will be drawn into this thoroughly humane and sympathetic treatment of U.S. army widows.”
“Chris Enss and Howard Kazanjian’s inspiring history title, The Widowed Ones, is about seven women who banded together to overcome their grief. It is a compelling history text focused on women’s experiences following the Battle of the Little Bighorn.”
This reviewer owns countless books on Custer and the battle at the Little Big Horn. Some are well researched. Some are well written. Few enjoy both qualities. “The Widowed Ones” scores ten in both respects.
It also presents an entirely new angle to the oft done subject matter. In other words, this is the best Custer book ever for the casual reader and the jaded western researcher. Bravo! Chris Enss. She, in collaboration with Howard Kazanjian and Chris Kortlander, gives a stunning and emotionally charged view of the women that were left behind after the historic loss of George Custer’s command in 1876.
The book weaves its way through the devastation wrought upon Libby Custer and the widowed wives of the men that wore the blue of the 7th Cavalry. Enss and Kazanjian do a terrific job detailing the women’s handling of loss; not only their husband’s demise, but also the pain of official criticism aimed to besmirch their loved ones, and their grappling with getting on with their lives without any apparent means. The path Libby et. al. took is detailed in “The Widowed Ones”, an insightful glimpse of how the survivors cope, or don’t. Each reader can measure their grit and resolute devotion to their fallen husbands. It is a marvelous story. Enss and company have filled in a neglected hole in one of the West’s greatest historical events. If you are restricted to one last book purchase, this is the one.”