The Schroeder Books
A Summer on the Plains with Custer’s 7th Cavalry:
1870 Diary of Annie Gibson Roberts
by Brian C. Pohanka
Annie Roberts Yates was 27 years old when her soldier husband perished
with his commander, George Armstrong Custer, at the battle of Little Bighorn.
We catch occasional glimpses of Annie in Libbie Custer’s memoirs, or in
newspaper accounts of the sorrowful aftermath of
“Custer’s Last Stand”— a young widow dressed in mourning, her
dark hair turned gray with grief.
She remains as elusive as she is fascinating.
Talented musician and vocalist, skilled rider and sharpshooter,
accomplished linguist and devoted Shakespearean, self-critical and idealistic,
practical and romantic—Annie Yates was a most unusual woman.
Annie Gibson Roberts was born in Philadelphia on April 27, 1849, the
daughter of William Milnor Roberts, one of America’s most accomplished civil
engineers. Following her mother’s death, from 1859 to 1865 Annie and her five
brothers lived in the jungles of Brazil, where her father supervised the
construction of the first railroad into the interior of that country. By 1870
Annie was staying in St. Louis, where Milnor Roberts was employed as chief
engineer, building the great Eads Bridge that spanned the Mississippi. From
girlhood Annie had recorded her daily experiences in little pocket diaries.
On January 1, 1870, after admonishing herself to “Take care of the
hours & the days will take care of themselves," 20-year-old Annie
exuberantly greeted the new year with, “How d’ye do 1870—Well you are a
lusty old fellow!
We will be firm friends if you only treat me half as well as your
Little did she imagine how fateful that year was destined to be.
Though she was never considered a great beauty, Annie’s large blue eyes
and mass of dark brown, nearly black hair, her poise and her invariably
fashionable attire, combined to make her a striking figure.
Her wit, her sense of fun and her artistic talents made her a welcome
addition to St. Louis society.
Among Annie Roberts’ friends was Major General Wesley Merritt, one of
the Union’s ablest cavalry commanders in the Civil War, and she dutifully
chronicled several marriage proposals from young army officers.
In those first months of 1870 there was one for whom Annie came to hold
Paul Dahlgren, a Second Lieutenant in the 3rd Artillery.
She found the 23-year-old son of Rear Admiral John A.
Dahlgren “as bright as a new shilling,” and their friendship soon
blossomed into romance, though it was a tempestuous one.
It was at this point that Annie Roberts left St. Louis to spend a summer
on the plains at Fort Hays, Kansas—accepting the hospitality of her uncle,
Major George Gibson, the Post Commander.
There she would meet for the first time George Armstrong Custer and the
officers of the 7th U. S. Cavalry—one of whom was destined to
become her husband.
A Summer on the Plains chronicles
Annie’s experiences on the western frontier, with perceptive observations of
the 7th U. S. Cavalry and the Custer inner-circle. Her participation
in a “Great Buffalo Hunt” is recounted in dramatic and exciting fashion. At
Fort Hays Annie fell in love with Captain George Yates—Custer’s friend from
Civil War days and the steadfast commander of Company F, “the Band Box
They married despite the objections of her family, and raised three
children on the isolated and dangerous frontier.
The book has two diary sections, a chapter on George Yates, a chapter on the Buffalo Hunt, as well as six appendices. They include Libbie Custer’s memories of the great buffalo hunt, Annie’s horse riding list, Annie’s perceptions of General Custer and a profile she wrote on him, George Yates’ letters from the 1874 Black Hills Expedition, and a remembrance of Mrs. Custer by a daughter-in-law of the Seventh Cavalry. The book has 55 photographs and is 180 pages, hardcover. Price: $24.95. ISBN-1889246-21-2.
A Summer on the Plains with Custer's 7th Cavalry: The 1870 Diary of Annie Gibson Roberts
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