Milo Custer was born in 1879 to Samuel and Lucinda Parker Custer. Before settling in Bloomington, Custer lived in Heyworth in southern McLean County.
Custer’s interest in local history is evident in his many research publications, ranging from Pioneer Preparation and Spinning of Flax and Wool (published in 1912) to Soldiers of the War of 1812 Whose Bounty Land Grants Were Located in McLean County (also 1912).
In 1906 he visited Brown County, Kansas to study the Kickapoo, which had once lived in McLean County. His expenses for this trip were paid by George Perrin Davis, who was president of the McLean County Historical Society at the time. At the Society’s meeting on December 1, 1906, he showed photographs and relics of his visit to Kansas, and loaned the society a prayer stick and several photos. The members were mightily impressed. From these visits, Custer drafted a series of manuscripts on subjects such as Kickapoo vocabulary; the religious doctrines of Kannekuk; ceremonial dances; and the government school in Horton, KS, among others.
In 1909, Custer became a paid “custodian” (or curator) of the historical society, a position he held until 1917. As custodian, Custer also headed a fundraising drive aimed at the construction of stand-alone historical society building.
January 1917 marked the passing of both George P. Davis and John H. Burnham, another key figure in the establishment and early years of the historical society. Custer’s falling out with the society came at this time, though the reasons for his acrimonious departure remain unknown. We do know that Custer refused to recognize the appointment William B. Carlock as treasurer to replace Burnham. On that basis, Custer then refused to hand over subscription lists, pledges, certificates of deposit, and bank books he held as a member of the society’s building fund committee. During the ensuing battle between Custer and the historical society, Custer admitted to burning membership lists and tossing valuable coins from the society’s collections into both the lake at Houghton Park (today State Farm Park) and the lake at Miller Park.
He “deeply regretted his acts and said that he could give no reasonable explanation for committing them and asked for leniency.” Custer was eventually relieved of custodianship of the collection and he promptly left the Historical Society.
This collection contains materials relating to early McLean County history. There are many scrapbooks and manuscripts written by Milo Custer, and much of his family history. The collection dates from the early 1860s to the early 1990s with the bulk of items from the early 1900s.