As of the year 2000, there were 299 residents in Custer, a small town just south of the Canadian border. Back in the 1950s-early ’60s, there was one special resident: Loretta Lynn, before she became a country star.
Loretta, then 14, and her 21-year-old husband, Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn, moved to Custer from Kentucky in search of a better life.
The Lynns spent 14 years in Custer, raising four children (two more children would be born in 1964, after the Lynns moved away). While Doolittle looked for jobs, he’d often leave Loretta and the children alone for days at a time. Loretta did what she could to earn money for food.
“Before I was singing, I cleaned house; I took in laundry; I cooked for ranch hands; I picked berries. I worked seven days a week. I was a housewife and mother before I was an entertainer. And it wasn’t like being a housewife today. It was doing hand laundry on a board and cooking on an old coal stove. I grew a garden and canned what I grew.” (Source: NW Prime Time.)
It was during this time that she began singing to herself and writing music, to pass the time. Doolittle encouraged her and bought her a $17 guitar when she turned 18. After many performances at local bars and halls, she would eventually record her first record, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” in 1960, followed by a string of hits:
“Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)”
“You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)”
“Coal Miner’s Daughter”
“Woman of the World (Leave My World Alone)”
“You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly”
Her themes included marital problems, women’s rights and motherhood.
She has often visited Custer after becoming famous. “Every time I go up there, I start looking for a little house. I may not leave this time,” she said in a 2001 interview with the Seattle P-I.
She currently lives in Hurricane Mills, Tenn.
Coincidentally, Saturday, March 7 was the 40th anniversary of the release of the autobiographical movie, Coal Miner’s Daughter.