The "Custer Week" next October in Monroe, Michigan, Custer's town
MONROE HONORS ITS HERO
By Myranda Morgan, The Monroe Journal
If you have ever watched a General George Armstrong Custer documentary or attended a Veteran’s Day parade in downtown Monroe, Michigan, chances are that you have seen Steve Alexander in action.
Monroe, Michigan’s own General George Armstrong Custer reenactor and historian was gracious enough to grant me a few minutes of his time for this interview. As a life-long admirer of General Custer, I was thrilled by the opportunity to speak with a Custer expert of Mr. Alexander’s standing.
Foremost Custer Living Historian
Mr. Alexander (nicknamed “the General” but referred to by “Mr. Alexander” in this article to avoid confusion) has portrayed General Custer in many documentaries that you may have seen on the History and A&E channels. He also works hard at keeping history alive by participating in reenactments and appearing at schools, events and parades nation wide.
He has been named as the “Foremost Custer Living Historian” by the United States Congress and is the recipient of the Custer Battlefield Historical and Museum Association’s Editor’s Choice Award.
In addition, he was honored by Tribal Historian Joe Medicine Crow who bestowed upon him the Crow Indian name Ika Dieux’ Daka -”Son of the Morning Star”- a name he shares with General Custer.
Monroe--Home Sweet Home
Raised on a dairy farm in Jackson County, Michigan, Mr. Alexander has adopted Monroe as his hometown like General Custer before him .
Mr. Alexander’s official website at www.georgecuster.com tells visitors that he first had his interest in General Custer piqued as a child when he saw a copy of H.L. Steinegger’s painting of “General Custer’s Death Struggle.” He told me that his parents had brought him to Monroe to visit the Custer Museum when he was in his teens.
“A television news report on Toledo 13 made me aware of the Sawyer House that was the Custer Museum in Monroe. I convinced my parents to bring me here in 1970 for the family summer vacation. Although lasting only a few hours (we had to return to our dairy farm to milk the cows that evening) I fell in love with the city and what I thought at the time was the overall community’s embracement of General Custer.”
He also began his acting career while in his teens. Asked about his acting experiences prior to portraying Custer, he said, “As a young boy I was distraught over not being able to play sports in high school because of my responsibilities on the farm. After the cows were milked I was allowed to participate in activities in school which were beneficial in my later portrayals of General Custer. The high school I attended--Hanover-Horton--had a drama club that met after basketball practice in the gym/auditorium. When I had finished cleaning the barn in the evenings I would rehearse for local plays and talent shows put on by the community. Those early years and a drama course in college as well as membership in Toastmasters prepared me for the programs and portrayal I do today.”
Mr. Alexander looks uncannily like the fallen hero, and I wondered if people ever tell him that he looks like Custer even when he’s not trying to.
He said, “When I began portraying General Custer, I asked my employer if there was any problem with me allowing my hair to grow long and growing the mustache and goatee. I had never worn my hair below my ears and it was a complete metamorphosis for me to become a “Hippie.” This became a permanent look so that even when I’m not in uniform people address me as ‘General’ and often remark that I bear a striking resemblance to ‘Wild Bill Custer.’ “
A Controversial Figure
It’s no secret that General George Custer, 131 years after his death while in the service of our country, has enemies who feel he doesn’t deserve to be honored or memorialized. Ironically enough, without men like him--men willing to lay their lives on the line or take another life if need be--those detractors likely wouldn’t have the freedom or the leisure time to protest. I asked Mr. Alexander if he has ever had any bad experiences due to his portrayal of General Custer.
“Often I’m asked why I chose to portray a controversial character such as Custer. I’ve had Indian wanna-bes insult and almost come to physical violence with me. I’ve had southerners call me ‘Barn Burner’ with a very violent tone in their voice. I have received death threats and both threatening and preachy emails. Most of the confrontations come from uneducated individuals, who, although they claim to be well read, got their historical information from Little Big Man or Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” he said.
Love of Family, Country and God
Even in today’s topsy-turvy world of political correctness, General Custer still has his admirers, and for good reason. I asked Mr. Alexander what he thought General Custer’s most admirable traits were.
“His admirable traits include his love of family, country and God. He was a Christian and practiced his faith by sharing food and blankets with his vanquished foes. He did not smoke nor did he drink after a terrible spectacle here in Monroe in 1862. From that day on he never touched a drop of liquor. He was conscience of appearance and kept a toothbrush with him at all times. His friends were his friends for life and although many had to fight him during the Civil War he kept them as friends and corresponded with them throughout his life. His fidelity for his friends, his family and his wife is a story unto itself. These traits should draw admiration instead of scorn.”
Custer Was Human
Mr. Alexander says his favorite thing about portraying General Custer is opening people’s eyes to the fact that Custer was human.
“Most people who have seen my performance walk away with a more positive opinion of General Custer,” he said.
Just like General and Mrs. Custer, Mr. Alexander and his wife are a team. Mrs. Alexander and her Custer Celebration Committee work as hard as Mr. Alexander at keeping Custer’s memory alive. Asked about Custer Week, initiated about nine years ago by John Patterson and sustained by Mrs. Alexander’s committee, Mr. Alexander said, “Our hopes are to see the event become a tourist draw and benefit to the downtown business groups and merchants and also a means to educate the public and community about General Custer.”
Little-Known Custer Facts
There are a few little-known things that Mr. Alexander would like to share about General Custer that may cause some readers to look at him in a different light.
For instance, many don’t realize that General Custer stood for an unpopular cause after the Civil War when restaurant owners wouldn’t allow his black cook to dine with him and his wife Libbie.
Or that he was a school teacher prior to entering West Point and taught the children of the officers and house servants while posted on the frontier.
Custer also started the tradition of getting people to stand during the “Star Spangled Banner” long before it was our national anthem.
General George Armstrong Custer was a teacher, a friend, a husband, a brother, a son, a patriot...and a hero whose memory should not be dishonored or forgotten.
CUSTER WEEK CALENDAR (MONROE, MICHIGAN) : click here (pdf)
"The historian also shared his experiences with similar events across the country, explaining that General Custer's impact on history was of such magnitude that Monroe needs a full week in order to properly honor him."
Myranda Morgan, The Monroe Journal, August 6, 2007
"Gen. George Armstrong Custer has been synonymous with Monroe since his time here in the 1800s. Of course, his wife Libbie Bacon-Custer was also a celebrity, but the General secured his place in history with a military career that was nothing shy of genius. "
John Patterson, Custer Week creator, The Monroe Journal, 2007