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Bringing Libbie's story to life

7/7/2012

By RANDY GONZALES

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

Elizabeth "Libbie" Bacon Custer came to life this past week in Hays, regaling one and all with stories about her life as the wife of General George Armstrong Custer.

Jaime Schlesinger, a graduate student studying history at Fort Hays State University, gave a presentation each day at the Ellis County Historical Society Museum as part of the Wild West Festival.

Dressed in proper attire of the 19th century, Schlesinger's presentation, "Tea With a Wife of a General," gave audiences a look at the life of the wife of the famous general, who at one time was stationed at Fort Hays. He later died at the battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876.

Schlesinger, who earned her undergraduate degree in history at FHSU, first gave her presentation as part of a course called "Women that Shaped History." She has done it a handful of times since.

"I do get a little nervous," Schlesinger said. "I'm not a skilled actress or anything. I haven't spent time on the stage since middle school, really.

"It's a little nerve-wracking, but I'm slowly getting over that."

Schlesinger's presentation lasts about 15 minutes, starting with when Elizabeth Bacon first met her future husband in 1862.

"It is a lot to memorize," Schlesinger said. "I found the best way for me to memorize it is to not memorize specific lines, but to remember the concept of what he was doing.

"It took a couple months to learn the stories and memorize them in my head."

After her research into "Libbie" Custer's life, Schlesinger has come away with an impression of what she was like.

"I loved learning about her," Schlesinger said. "I found she was a very strong woman.

"When I think of Elizabeth Custer, I think of stand by your man. She was so involved with Custer, everything he did."

Schlesinger, who is from Oklahoma City, went to college in Oklahoma before transferring to FHSU. She also changed majors, from wildlife biology to history.

"I just figured out one day I didn't care about the sciences as much, and I really loved history," she said.

Schlesinger has worked at the museum in the past as an intern, volunteer and assistant curator. Her emphasis in her history major is in public history, which is geared toward those desiring a career as a curator or archivist.

"That is what I would love to do," Schlesinger said. "That is my passion."

Whatever she does, wherever she goes, Schlesinger thinks she will be taking Elizabeth "Libbie" Bacon Custer with her, sharing her life with others.

"I would love to do this, and more women throughout history."