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Elizabeth Custer 
Library & Museum

Frontier Women of the West


Carde de visite of 
Elizabeth (Libbie) Custer circa 1865




Chris Kortlander, Founding Director envisions the Town of Garryowen, The Custer Battlefield Museum and the new The Elizabeth Custer Library & Museum of Frontier Women of the West to become a destination recognized regionally, nationally and internationally for its historical significance. The vision of Chris Kortlander is to preserve an important piece of American history for future generations by developing a new complex at the current location of The Custer Battlefield Museum,  where important historical artifacts and documents will be housed for public review and scholarly research. To complement the thousands of artifacts and documents already owned and displayed by the Custer Battlefield Museum , Mr. Kortlander’s focus and intent is to acquire additional collections and/or involve others who can enhance or contribute to this piece of American history.  

The current buildings located at the town of Garryowen would be removed to clear the way for the new museum complex.  The structure would be approximately 56,000 square feet.

Background  and Objectives

Garryowen “Where the Battle of the Little Big Horn Began” is where the first shots of the most famous Indian Wars Battle took place.  The Custer Battlefield Museum maintains the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, one of the first soldiers to perish in the Little Big Horn Battle.  During the 50th Anniversary in 1926, White Bull, battle participant (Sitting Bull’s nephew) shook hands with General E.S. Godfrey over the above ground crypt.  The soldier’s remains were discovered only a month earlier along the Marcus Reno’s line of Retreat. 

The Town of Garryowen , Montana was founded in 1895 by the Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad. The town of Garryowen was named after the old Irish tune "Garryowen" which was one of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer's favorite marching songs and is now the official song of the 7th7 Cavalry. A historical site, Garryowen is the only town inside the perimeter of the Little Bighorn Battlefield, and is located adjacent to I-90 at exit 514 just south of the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and Custer National Cemetery . The site is just one hour's drive from Billings , Montana or from Sheridan , Wyoming . From Garryowen, visitors can view all of the famous locations associated with the Battle of the Little Bighorn. It was actually the site where the Battle of the Little Bighorn began. The town is now privately owned and operated by Christopher Kortlander, who purchased the town in 1994. It is the site of the Custer Battlefield Museum , and the museum’s bed and breakfast.  The town is also host to the Garryowen Trading Post, a Federal Post Office, a Subway and Conoco Gas Station.

The Custer Battlefield Museum houses 1000 plus historical artifacts and documents pertaining to the Battle of Little Bighorn, including personal items related to Custer, Lewis and Clark, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and the Seventh Cavalry. The largest collection of photographs by D. F. Barry is also on exhibit at the museum, along with the only known photographs of Crazy Horse.

In addition, Mr. Kortlander has recently acquired the Elizabeth Custer manuscript collection, consisting of 6,000 to 6,500 original holographic written pages including unpublished manuscripts and communications from Mrs. Custer and also incoming correspondence to General Custer. This collection also includes General’s Custer’s personal set of stereoviews taken by W.H. Illingworth’s who was the official photographer of the 1874 Black Hills Expedition. 

In the early 1990’s, when President George Bush Sr. vacated the name, “Custer Battlefield”, Mr. Kortlander incorporated the name, purchased the Town of Garryowen , and built the Custer Battlefield Museum . Since then, the museum has acquired artifacts such as Sitting Bull’s death mask, a complete period Crow parade saddle, Custer items, Little Wolf’s battle-worn war bonnet, and much more. In 2003, True West magazine named the Custer Battlefield Museum as the best Western museum in Montana . In addition, Mr. Kortlander has received the 2004 Governor’s Tourism Person of the Year Award.

As stated earlier, Mr. Kortlander has recently acquired the Elizabeth Custer Collection, which was virtually unknown. This collection has never been transcribed or researched by anyone. The collection is comprised of 6000 to 6500 original historic pages, manuscripts, which includes 10-15 unpublished galleys (including a 200-page unpublished interview with Buffalo Bill), an original West Point exam papers, incoming correspondence to General Custer during the civil war, and correspondence to and from Libby after the death of General Custer, etc. This is by far the largest collection of Custer related period documents in existence.

With the acquisition of these invaluable papers, along with the innumerable other historical artifacts and ephemera, Mr. Kortlander has the vision and the goal to build a new accredited institutional depository that would highlight the Elizabeth Custer Manuscript Collection. This new museum, The Elizabeth Custer Library & Museum of Frontier Women of the West, is described in greater detail below.

Elizabeth B. Custer Library & Museum
"Frontier Women of the West"
Town Hall, P.O. Box 200
Garryowen, MT 59031
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Please note that any communications received by the Elizabeth B. Custer Library & Museum via electronic mail may become part of the permanent record of the library.