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Custer in the News
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Detroit Free Press, December 11, 1892

Elizabeth Bacon Custer's Eulogy of Manuel H. Custer

With old age, it decrepitude and the dying out of enthusiasm, it does not often happen that the vim, the fire, the vehemence of a man's convictions remain so intense as they did in our Father Custer. The two dominant and controlling motives of his life were religion and politics. They marched side by side from the time he began to think for himself. One was as vital, as important, as the other. He would leave a political caucus where the party spirit ran high and the excitement of the ruling question of the hour was intensified by music and procession, cannonade and campaign lanterns and fires, to go to a country church where the people prayed their earnest petitions for guidance, and in that solemn calm he was wont to start his favorite hymn, moving his white patriarchal head slowly back and forth, keeping time by softly laying one palm in another, and as he sang alone the quaint minor notes, the silence and reverence for this old, sorrow stricken soul was so marked the very breathing of the people could be heard.

My Father Custer's patriotism was the purest as well as most earnest that I ever knew. Politics meant patriotism to him. His country's interests were so much to him that he sorrowed as if stricken by new affliction if the party in which he believed was defeated.

In one of my frequent visits home I used to know by his dejected walk, by his very tone at the foot of the stairs as he called to me, that affairs were not going as he thought they should.

"Daughter," he would call.

"Yes father," as I ran to the head of the stairs.

"Here's the morning paper; it's all up with us."

But not long after that I would find him sitting in the sun on the plaza, singing with his quavering voice a hymn which soothed and comforted him in political defeat, just as it did in his mourning for those beloved sons who passed away.

He came to see me in New York after the election of 1876, and said:

"Daughter, I can't go home without seeing Mr. Tilden."

I told him to go early, as a public man was usually overpowered with business and callers. Dear father's ideas of early were those of his farm life, so that when he reached there before Mr. Tilden was awake. But when the great man finally appeared and welcomed him with great cordiality, father said quietly and simply:

"Mr. Tilden, I only came to pay my respects to the President of the United States," and Mr. Tilden knew that he was in the presence of a man who would look upon him four years as the rightful President, just as much as if he was administering justice from the White House.

Our Father Custer's family were Whigs, but he said that one day, while a lad, he was listening to an old soldier playing war songs on a pipe. This veteran was a character in the town. He had been in the revolution and in the war of 1812. His old white head was a common sight in the village. Father said that when he found a man could be a Democrat through two wars, he concluded that that was the party for him. His daughter lately asked:

"And have you found the old soldier right in his belief?"

"Yes, daughter, every time."

His brother George was within a few days of his majority. The family and the Republican party in the town were going to allow him to cast his vote, but Father Custer went to the polls and challenged it.

Speaking of that campaign lately, he said: "My first for Jackson and last for Cleveland were good votes."

He was always anxious to have his children his followers in religion and politics. They were too reverent of the former to make it a subject of joke, even in a family where there was constant chaffing. But his boys never let him alone in his political beliefs. I have known them to concoct schemes long in advance to try and outwit him in an argument, and then approach him with laugh and banter, advancing the extremest views of the Republican party. It was enough. He was on fire in a moment, and often completely deceived by their earnestness into a belief that they had wandered to the wrong side in their absences from him. But when he had answered, and answered well, too, and told them with a twinkle in his eyes, "Oh, that I should have lived to raise such scamps," they changed their tone, came over to his side and he found his arguments had been entirely unnecessary. His grandchildren, even, he watched narrowly, for fear they might not be, as he called it, "true blue."

His boys, especially his eldest, were taken with him, in their infancy almost, to political caucuses, and politics were talked into his son Armstrong in his very babyhood. But it was their country and its interests which he constantly instilled in their lives. In the hot feeling of our war times, the distinction between war Democrats and the Democrats of the south, was often lost sight of by many, but there was no crisis of our country into which this government man did not throw himself. The Custer home was swathed in black at the time of the assassination of Lincoln by this old patriot, who gave to his country three sons, a son-in-law and a nephew.

In the frequent thrusts at Father Custer (most of them good natured attempts to hear his replies) he rarely failed to give a quick and apt answer. One of his townsmen said: "Don't it shake your faith in Democracy in general, Father Custer, to know that most of the clergymen are Republicans?"

"No," he answered, "it don't shake my faith in Democracy, but it makes me rather suspicious of their religion."

His warmest friends, his most genuine admirers were half of them opposed to him in politics, but he love dearly to have them attack him; he challenged their thrusts and then invited them to a country dinner of fatted turkey after Michigan went Democratic two years since, in order to show them how he valued their society in spite of what he thought their mistaken views. He used to say so earnestly: "I think everything of them. I'd trust them in every earthly thing . except in politics."

Coming home from the polls where he voted November 8, he was chilled and tired, but he asked his son Nevin to drive him through the main street of Monroe (a long way round) just for the satisfaction of calling out to his "dearest foes," the Hon. Harry Conant, Mr. Burton Parker and Gen. Spalding, some triumphant hallelujahs on the success of his party and the defeat of theirs.

There never was a more indomitable spirit. He said to his clergyman as he was dying: "I am a positive character. I can't be otherwise. Sometimes I am sorry for my speech and acts, but perhaps it's best, after all, for only a deep conviction and sound conversion would satisfy me in politics or religion."

There was no controlling him on election day, and he would rise from his sick bed to drive five miles. His daughter-in-law wrapping him in warm clothes and still trying to persuade him to remain at home could not deter him; he said with his old determination: "Nothing will keep me, Ann, I shall go if Nevin has to haul me on a bed and I die the next day." And when his clergyman came to sit beside his dying pillow a short time after, he found the fiery old man grateful for the victory he had been spared to see, calm, ready to depart to the other world saying:

"I have lived my allotted time, three score years and ten, and the last sixteen year I have been living on borrowed time. I am ready to go whenever He calls."

And it is fathers with such fire and force, such enthusiasm of purpose, and mothers with such tenderness, sympathy and rare intelligence as that of our Mother Custer, who give as a bequest to their country the sons who save it by laying down their lives in the hours of peril.

Elizabeth Bacon Custer

(Detroit Free Press, December 11, 1892)

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