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Woman brings Kansas history to life

3/16/2014

ELIZABETH GOLDEN

egolden@dailynews.net

Marla Matkin, a first-person living historian, performed as Elizabeth Custer on Thursday at the Hays Public Library.

Matkin told the story of Libby meeting her future husband in the midst of the Civil War.

George Armstrong Custer, a general in the U.S. Cavalry, and Libby met in Michigan and quickly fell in love. Libby followed him to his many different locations when he had to move because of the Army.

They moved from Michigan to Texas to the Dakotas to Kansas, including Fort Hays. Their final location together was Bismark, N.D.

During the Battle of Little Big Horn in June 1876, Custer was killed.

After his death, Libby began writing articles, speaking and writing books. She never married, and never had any children.

"I was labeled a professional widow," Matkin said, portraying Libby. "I have two regrets in life -- the loss of (George) and having never born a son to carry on his proud name."

Matkin has been portaying Libby for more than 20 years.

"When you're finding someone to do, you find a lot of women who are important, but they're not well-known," she said. "You need to focus on someone that is known, so you can get the rest of the history through them."

She has several presentations, but Libby has been her longest-running.

"It is a marriage of two of my loves," Matkin said. "I love history and theater, and my degree is in education. This really marries them all together."

Matkin, a Hill City native and Fort Hays State University graduate, enjoys her work because of all the places she's been able to go and people she's met.

"If we don't preserve our culture, who we are as people doesn't matter," she said, quoting George Clooney in "The Monuments Men."

"That's why I think it's important we remember our history. It's who we are, where we came from. It grounds us and gives us some thought as to where we're going in the future. We have to preserve it or otherwise we're just batting around out there."