Wednesday, July 30, 2014

An Interview with Author/Historian Louis Kraft

Grover Cleveland High School,

Where did you grow up and where do you now make your home?

I was born in New York, but my parents tired of the weather early in my life. They had always been explorers and before my second birthday I had visited California ('course I don't remember the trip). When I was five they moved to California with a 35-foot trailer. We lived in rural backyards until they moved to a trailer park. About a year later, my mother, my younger sister, and I flew to New York for my mother to clean up the mess that renters had done to the NY house and sell it. About six months later my father drove to NY and picked us up. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, which is in Los Angeles. I currently live in North Hollywood, which is a town in Los Angeles.

What brought on your interest in the Indian Wars?

Seeing Errol Flynn play George Armstrong Custer in They Died with Their Boots On (Warner Bros., 1941) introduced me to Custer and the Indian wars.* 

The first book I read was Margaret Leighton's The Story of General Custer, the 1954 young readers book that I still have. In high school I began to purchase and read books about Custer. At that time in Los Angeles you could buy almost every Custer book then in print at great prices (Jay Monaghan's Custer; Edgar Stewart's Custer's Luck; and Custer's My Life on the Plains, the OU Press 1962 edition; to name a few). I gobbled up these books.

* To get an idea of the film and how it compares the fictional Custer to the real Custer, see the following talk: BTW, a number of Little Bighorn battle participants were still alive 1941 and Warner Bros. feared being sued; the studio changed names and eliminated facts to avoid a lawsuit.

In 1973
But then what started with the publication of Frederic F. Van de Water's Glory Hunter: A Life of General Custer in 1934 (published shortly after Libbie Custer’s death in 1933), which dismissed him as little more than a celebrity-seeking martinet, began a progression of books that worked hard to destroy an icon’s image. In his 1957 book, Custer's Fall, David Humphrey Miller, who didn’t provide corroborative documentation while interviewing aged 1876 Indian battle survivors claimed that Custer just hours before his death on the morning of June 25 told two of his scouts, Arikaras Bob-tailed Bull and Bloody Knife, that he would become the “grandfather,” the president of the United States. Mari Sandoz one-upped Miller in The Battle of the Little Big Horn (1966), when she claimed that Custer needed a victory at Little Big Horn to confirm his nomination as the Democratic presidential nominee. One problem with her unconfirmed accusation: Custer died on June 25 and news of his death didn’t reach civilization until July 5. The Democratic National Convention was held in St. Louis on June 27. This is the stuff that fully 85 percent of Indian wars movies are made out of—hokum. But the damage had been done.

Near the end of my college years the American Indian Movement (AIM) chose Custer to represent all the evils of American expansion as his name was the most recognizable white name of the Indian wars and made him their poster boy. Add the Vietnam War and Tomas Berger’s 1970 novel, Little Big Man, which presented Custer as a genocidal maniac, and the transformation that had begun with Van de Water's book was complete. George Armstrong Custer had transformed from an American hero into a butcher who craved Indian blood. Nothing else.

A harsh reality ...

I didn't buy into the crap and trash my Custer books. Instead I boxed them up and exiled them to a closet.

Years passed, and in the late 1970s I visited friends in Mesa, Arizona. At that time Mesa was little more than a dusty town on the outskirts of nowhere, and it was a fair drive to Phoenix. During the trip I discovered Guidon Books in Old Scottsdale (east of, but closer to, Phoenix), and was blown away with this Civil War and Western Americana bookshop. At that time the store had a shelf that was easily three by eight feet and it housed only books about Custer. How could so many people write books about someone who was little more than a butcher? That’s right. The accusations still hung heavily with me. Luckily curiosity won the day. I bought a few books. Before returning home I bought a few more. I read them. I then pardoned my original books and reread them.

Custer and the Plains Indian wars had captured my interest a second time.

With Jeff Richards (right)
in a scene from the
1981-1982 tour of
"The Prince and the Pauper"
More years passed. In 1981 I wrote a screenplay about the destruction of Germany during WWII as seen through the eyes of a U-boat commander and his Jewish girlfriend. My screenwriting agent loved it but told me it wasn't sellable. From late-fall 1981 until mid-spring 1982 I played the swashbuckling Miles Hendon in a 135-performance tour of The Prince and the Pauper. During the tour I saw the great German film, Das Boot, which detailed a U-boat patrol during WWII, in San Francisco. It became a major hit in the U.S. Upon my return to L.A. I fired my agent who had represented me since 1976. This coincided with the beginning of the end of my earning a living in the entertainment industry. My daughter was born in 1983, and by 1985 I quit the entertainment world cold turkey (and didn’t gain a pound of weight). I would earn my living as a writer that wrote for a company while freelancing what I wanted to sell. I knew baseball and the Indian wars (at least in specifics that interested me) and began to sell baseball and Indian wars articles, and write and design for software companies.

Finally my answer: Errol Flynn’s Custer, Custer himself, which in turn opened up to the Cheyenne Indians and my unplanned discovery of Edward W. Wynkoop. This string of people set me on a course to write about the Indian wars.

What was your first subject in writing about the wars?

I don't write letters to the editor unless requested, and then with a growl (sabers with deadly intent or revolvers at 10 paces are a much better solution to bullshit). However, back in the dark ages, 1984 or 1985, I read a story in a British history magazine that dealt with Custer (and featured the dreadful 1967 Robert Shaw film, Custer of the West) and the content of the article was pure crap. I wrote the editor and told him that I wasn't writing a letter for publication but was pitching him on a Custer article. He liked the query and gave the go-ahead. Unfortunately before the accepted article saw print the magazine folded (1985, 1986?). The article eventually saw print as "The Real Custer" in the December 1988 issue of Research Review. But it wasn't my first Indian wars story to see print for pay. Two Wynkoop articles saw print first (June 1987 Research Review and October 1988 Wild West).

Tell us about your first rejection letter.

Early on I had a lot of rejection letters, and most were for fiction or screenplays. Just about all had been form letters or postcards, and had said something like: “Thank you for submitting your story (or query) but it isn't right for our editorial needs” or “This isn't a film story we are interested in producing.” None of them had constructive comments and all have long been trashed.

There is one rejection that I will never forget. About 1993 I verbally pitched a nonfiction book on Ned Wynkoop to John Joerschke, then editor of True West, which was then thinking about expanding into printing books, while we hung out together at a Western Writers of America convention. After I shared what I knew about Wynkoop's Indian experience it went something like this:

Joerschke: "How many Indians did he kill?"
Kraft: "None."
Joerschke: "Did he go out in a blaze of glory?"
Kraft: "No."
Joerschke: "I'm sorry but your story isn't sellable."

Now tell us about your greatest success.

Bringing Edward W. Wynkoop to life.

I discovered Wynkoop, whose friends called him “Ned,” while researching a novel that I planned to write in the 1980s with the villain being an Indian agent on the take. Wynkoop didn’t fit the bill and the manuscript was never written. To that point in time almost everything, but not all, written about him focused on his participation in what has come to be known as the “Sand Creek Massacre,” but there was much more to the man than just his attempt to end an Indian war without orders.

Like many whites that migrated to the frontier, Wynkoop harbored the typical prejudices—mainly that Indians were less than human.

A 2012 photo shoot with friend
 Glen Williams to capture images
that could be used for future
book dust jackets
In September 1864, Wynkoop, a major in the 1st Colorado Volunteer Cavalry, commanded Fort Lyon in southeastern Colorado Territory. On the third he received two letters dictated by Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle. Basically the letters stated that the Indians wanted to discuss ending the current war and had prisoners that they were willing to exchange for Indians held captive by the whites. Suddenly Wynkoop found himself confronted with the possibility of rescuing white prisoners and perhaps ending an Indian war. A heady thought, but risky. His subordinates called it suicidal. Moreover, he had to act quickly for the large village on a tributary of the Smoky Hill River in Kansas, which contained various bands of Tsistsistas (Cheyennes), Dog Men (Wynkoop often referred to them as Dog Men; Cheyennes have confirmed that “Dog Soldiers” was a white man term), and Arapahos couldn’t remain together for any length time as there wouldn’t be enough game to support somewhere between 2,000 and perhaps 3,000 people for long. It would take at least two weeks to report to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and receive a reply. Wynkoop acted without orders, and while placing his command at risk he faced an Indian battle line, spoke with Indian leaders (many of whom were angry—Dog Man Chief Bull Bear wanted to kill the whites) but due to Black Kettle’s stature at that time violence was avoided. Wynkoop received four white captives (three children and one teen-ager) and seven Cheyenne and Arapaho chiefs traveled to Denver to discuss ending the war. The council took place at Camp Weld on September 28.

Soon after Wynkoop was removed from command of Fort Lyon for being absent from his post in time of war and ordered to Kansas, where he expected to face a court martial. On November 29, 1864, Col. John Chivington with a combined force of 1st and 3rd Colorado Volunteers attacked and destroyed a joint Cheyenne-Arapaho village on Sand Creek, Colorado Territory. When Wynkoop learned of how these people died, people he had guaranteed safety, and worse had thought that they were under the protection of the U.S. government, he was outraged. The butchery and the sexual degradation of the bodies added to his anger and he lashed out against the attack. This turned him into perhaps the most hated white man in Colorado Territory.

Even though exonerated and ordered to resume command of Fort Lyon in December 1864 (he reached the fort in mid-January 1865), Wynkoop wanted nothing more to do with Indians. He was certain that the Cheyennes blamed him for Sand Creek and that he had a target on his back. In fall 1865, brevet Lt. Col. Wynkoop commanded the military escort for peace commissioners that met with Cheyennes and Arapahos on the Little Arkansas River in Kansas. Not many chiefs attended, and certainly none who stood firmly for keeping their freedom, such as Stone Forehead (other names include Rock Forehead, Medicine Arrows, and so on), the keeper of the Cheyenne Medicine (Sacred) Arrows, and Dog Man chiefs Bull Bear and Tall Bull. Wynkoop was surprised when Black Kettle told him that he didn’t blame him for what happened at Sand Creek. Cheyenne and Arapaho leaders asked that Wynkoop be named their agent. It was on the Little Arkansas that Wynkoop accepted Indians as human beings.

By late 1865 Wynkoop was placed on detached duty from the military to work for the Interior Department and in 1866 met with Cheyennes that avoided the Little Arkansas peace council. In summer 1866 he resigned from the military and applied to become a U.S. Indian agent. He served as a special agent for the Interior Department while waiting for President Andrew Johnson to confirm the appointment, which happened in fall 1866.

Beginning with the end of 1865 and until he resigned his commission as U.S. Indian agent in protest to the 1868 Cheyenne war on November 29, 1868, he worked for the betterment of his wards—the Cheyennes and Arapahos (and to a lesser degree, the Plains, or Kiowa, Apaches). This meant standing up for what he felt right (including trying to save the deserted Cheyenne-Dog Man-Lakota village on the Pawnee Fork in Kansas in April 1867 from destruction by Maj. Gen. Winfield Hancock), which in turn generated an outburst of protest from the frontier press and the military. In 1869 Wynkoop applied to become superintendent of Indian Affairs, a position he was qualified to perform, but Wynkoop’s stand that innocent people should not be punished for the acts of the guilty was not a popular view. Add that Wynkoop damned the attack on Black Kettle’s Washita village in Indian Territory by the 7th U.S. Cavalry on November 27, 1868, as he felt the wrong people had been punished for the August 1868 raids in Kansas, and moreover he had convincing information provided by scouts that participated in the attack on the number and type of people killed in the attack. 

Continuing, Wynkoop summarized Custer’s victory: “I do not know whether the government desires to look at this affair in a humane light or not, and if it only desires to know whether it was right or wrong … I must emphatically pronounce it wrong and disgraceful.” (Wynkoop to Commissioner of Indian Affairs, N. G. Taylor, January 26, 1869. The emphasis is in the letter. NA RG75, M234, Roll 880.)

Ulysses S. Grant, who had just become president of the United States, rejected Wynkoop’s application to become superintendent of Indian Affairs. Needing to support his family Wynkoop returned to his homeland, Pennsylvania, and drifted into obscurity, … and a mostly forgotten player in the 1860s Cheyenne Indian wars. Years later the mixed-blood Cheyenne George Bent called Wynkoop “the best friend [the] Cheyennes and Arapahos ever had.” (George Bent to Joseph Thoburn, September 28, 1910, Thoburn Papers, Oklahoma Historical Society.)

My success? By using articles, talks, plays, a novel (The Final Showdown, 1992), and a nonfiction book (Ned Wynkoop and the Lonely Road from Sand Creek, OU Press, 2011), I have brought Wynkoop out of the mists of time and have made his story available for people who may want to at least know who he was and what he attempted to do. (The following two talks will give you an idea of who Wynkoop was: “Ned Wynkoop’s Gamble to End War”:, and “Ned Wynkoop Lashes Out Against the Murder of Cheyennes”:

What event in the Indian Wars holds the most intrigue for you and why?

Other than Wynkoop’s negotiations with Indians, sometimes with life hanging in the balance, two other meetings with Indians always capture my interest and intrigue:

·       Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s meeting with Stone Forehead, the Cheyenne mystic and keeper of the medicine arrows, on the Texas Panhandle in March 1869.

·       Lt. Charles Gatewood’s meeting with Geronimo, Naiche, and the remnants of the warring Chiricahua Apaches in Sonora, Mexico, in August 1886.

Both of the above meetings, in my humble opinion, are the highlight of both of these fine officers’ Indian wars years. Both were at risk of dying. Both needed to convince the warring Indians to give up the war trail. Custer had two armies under his command, and many soldiers, especially the volunteers, wanted nothing more than to kill Cheyennes. While holding his command under control, Custer also pulled off receiving two white women prisoners without bloodshed. BTW, I believe Custer came alive when negotiating with Indians (see Custer and the Cheyenne, Upton and Sons, Publishers, 1995, for more information). … Gatewood’s assignment to bring the Apaches back to the United States put his life at risk from day 1. He had to deal with the weather and elements (as did Custer), but his health was poor. Gatewood had to deal with U.S. soldiers that wanted to kill the Apaches, he had to dupe a Mexican prefect, convince the Apaches to surrender, and then get them back to the U.S. before Mexicans or Americans killed them.
Accepting the Western Heritage
 Wrangler award in
Oklahoma City (April 2012)

Oh yes, I love it when two sides are at war, don’t speak the same language, and yet are able to bring about the end of hostilities without violence.

Since I’ve already talked about Custer, I’m going with Gatewood for this question.

Charles Gatewood (6th U.S. Cavalry), a commander of Apache scouts, was a special person when talking about a white man walking between the races but who did not marry into the tribes he worked with and knew, as he, like Wynkoop, originally harbored racist thoughts but was able to overcome them and accept the Indians he worked with as human beings. His feat to get the warring Chiricahua Apaches back to the United States where they surrendered for the last time was extraordinary. (For more about the Gatewood/Geronimo story, see Gatewood & Geronimo, University of New Mexico Press, 2000.)

Gatewood saw his career basically come to an end in 1884, when, as commandant of the White Mountain Indian Reservation headquartered at Fort Apache, Arizona Territory, he arrested a territorial judge named Francis Zuck. His commander, Gen. George Crook, demanded he drop the charges of defrauding his wards, the White Mountain Apaches. Gatewood refused. The judge’s case was dropped, as he should have been in his own district holding court. Zuck immediately arrested Gatewood on felonious false arrest. Even though Crook turned his back on Gatewood, the lieutenant’s trial was also thrown out, as the U.S. had no jurisdiction over what happened on an Indian reservation.

By 1886, and after Crook messed up the surrender talks with the Chiricahuas at Cañon de los Embudos, Sonora, Mexico, when he threatened Geronimo and then left for the U.S. without completing the task of getting the Apaches across the international border, Gatewood was an exile in New Mexico Territory and out of the war. Enter Gen. Nelson Miles (4th U.S. Cavalry), who replaced Crook and dismissed his policy of using Indians to hunt Indians. Months passed, and Miles’s 5,000 troops guarding the international border and hunting the Apaches in Mexico was costing a lot of money with miniscule results. Miles had no intention of failing and summoned the exile Gatewood to his office in Albuquerque, New Mexico Territory. He ordered Gatewood to find Geronimo in Mexico and demand his surrender. Gatewood refused, as he felt the mission was suicidal. Miles refused to accept a “no” answer and offered to make Gatewood his aid-de-camp upon successful completion of the mission. Gatewood liked this and accepted the assignment. Gatewood refused a military escort. Instead he took the following men with him: Martine, a Nednhi Apache; Kayitah (who was either a Nednhi or a Chokonen Apache), both of whom were related to members of the warring band; George Wratten, who was fluent in the Apache dialects; and packer Frank Huston.*

* A quick side story: Geronimo: An American Legend (Columbia Pictures, 1993) claims that it is close to truth. Double damn that word “hokum” mentioned above; only now triple it. This film, which actually provides a few decent performances (Wes Studi as Geronimo, even though he was perhaps 25-30 years too young to play the war leader; Kevin Tighe as Gen. Nelson Miles; and Gene Hackman as Gen. George Crook), has grandeur and scope and great photography, but the screenwriters and director couldn’t figure out the focus of the story. I’m not sure about Jason Patric’s performance as Gatewood (I like some of what he does but not close to all). Bob Duvall, who I like and spent perhaps four months working with in 1980 and who I think is a great actor, misses big time as Al Sieber. A few quick errors will give you an idea: Gatewood and Geronimo never held off a posse (great scene), Geronimo wasn’t at Cibecue, Gatewood didn’t survive a shootout in a cantina (my favorite scene in the film), none of the people that accompanied Gatewood to find Geronimo in 1886 are in the film, and the Gatewood/Geronimo/Naiche meeting took place by the Rio Bavispe and not on a mountain top (and no, Gatewood wasn’t hit by an Apache at that meeting). The number of errors would take pages to list.

Over the course of a month and a half Gatewood was so ill at times that often he couldn’t ride or travel. Geronimo’s trail, which he was supposed to be shown, didn’t exist, and he floundered through Chihuahua and Sonora until he finally found Capt. Henry Lawton (4th U.S. Cavalry) on the Río Aros (Lawton commanded Miles’s leading command in Mexico). Lawton wasn’t pleased to see Gatewood, told him that he intended to kill Geronimo, but eventually allowed him to join his command. Under blazing heat Lawton and his men meandered first one way, then another, and sometimes only traveled two miles a day. He found nothing.

Without warning Lawton and Gatewood learned that Geronimo had surfaced at the Quichula Ranchero, south of Fronteras, Sonora. More important, they heard that Apache women had met with Jesus Aguirre, the prefect of Arispe, who controlled the Sonoran district of Arispe (including the pueblo of Fronteras), to open negotiations for peace.

Gatewood, who put his health problems behind him, took Kayitah, Martine, Wratten, Huston, another packer, and six of Lawton’s men and force-marched northward. When he met Aguirre, the prefect made it clear that he intended to get the Apaches drunk and murder them. He demanded that Gatewood leave the area. Gatewood feigned that he would do as told. However, days later, when he moved southward, after dark, he and his command, which now included two additional interpreters, vanished into the mountains and reversed their course. They found the Apache women’s trail and it led them to the vicinity of Geronimo and Naiche’s stronghold in the Teres Mountains at the big bend of Río Bavispe. BTW, Geronimo and Naiche were interested in securing supplies, alcohol, and a time to rest; they had no intention of surrendering to Aguirre.

The next day Gatewood, Martine (Kayitah had spent the night in the Apache stronghold), Wratten, Huston, the two additional interpreters, and perhaps one soldier reached the meeting location near the river that three warriors had led them to but there were no Chiricahuas present. Soon heavily armed warriors moved down the mount, vanished, only to explode out of the brush. Gatewood found himself surrounded, but with no Geronimo or Naiche. He passed out the makings for smokes and everyone lighted up. As Gatewood knew the warriors, the talk remained friendly.

Geronimo walked in from the brush, set his rifle down and sat down next to Gatewood. Too close: His revolver rubbed against the unarmed Gatewood’s midriff. Naiche appeared, and it was time to present Miles’s demand. Gatewood described the moment: “[G]entle reader, turn back, take another look at [Geronimo’s] face, imagine him looking me square in the eyes & watching my every movement, twenty-four bucks sitting around fully armed, my small party scattered in their various duties incident to a peace commissioner’s camp, & say if you can blame me for feeling chilly twitching movements.” (Gatewood manuscript chapter draft, “On the Surrender of Geronimo I,” Gatewood Collection, Arizona Historical Society, Tucson, 25; the second of two page 25s in the document.)
The time had arrived and Gatewood delivered Miles’s demand to surrender.


Geronimo rubbed his face, his eyes, and then, while holding his shaking hands before Gatewood, said: “We have been on a three days’ drunk, ... The Mexicans expected to play their usual trick of getting us drunk & killing us, but we have had the fun; & now I feel a little shaky.” (Gatewood, “On the Surrender of Geronimo I,” Gatewood Collection, 26-27) After a pause, Geronimo exploded: “[W]e can’t surrender. … [We do] not want to go to Florida. … [We want] to go back to the White M[oun]t[ain]s the same as before.” (Gatewood to Georgia Gatewood, August 26, 1886, Gatewood Collection. The meeting took place on August 25.)

And this was just the beginning of the negotiations.

Gatewood’s words won and the following morning Geronimo agreed to return to the U.S., pending demands, including Gatewood traveling with and sleeping with the Chiricahuas, while Lawton’s command followed and protected them from Americans and Mexicans.

The trip back to the U.S. again fell upon Gatewood’s shoulders. He talked Geronimo into meeting with the prefect, who had appeared with his army and insisted that the Apaches surrender to him. The meeting almost turned into a shootout between Aguirre and Geronimo (with an unarmed Gatewood a little too close for comfort). … And finally Gatewood standing up to, and threatening to shoot, U.S. officers if they continued to insist upon a meeting that he knew intended to disarm the Apaches or kill them if they didn’t surrender their weapons.

Like Wynkoop, Gatewood had guts and it cost him big time.
(To learn a little more about Gatewood and Geronimo’s meeting without reading anything, see the following talk:

Who would you want to meet from the wars, and why?

I could easily create a top-10 list of players that would fluctuate in order depending upon my mood and projects, but Chiricahua Apache war leader and mystic Geronimo, and Ned Wynkoop would always be at the top of the list.

Geronimo: In 1850 Bedonkohe Chiricahua Apache Geronimo’s mother, first wife, and young children were killed in Janos, Mexico, when their village was attacked and he wasn’t present. This set him on course to becoming the most-feared Indian in two countries. Over the coming years more wives and family members would be killed or captured to simply disappear from history. Geronimo, who was never a chief, and portions of the various bands of the Chiricahuas (Chokonen, Bedonkohe, Nednhi, and Chihenne), struggled to remain free, struggled to retain the land north of the international border in what the United States now considered theirs (not to mention what they considered their land in Mexico). But more was a stake: The loss of their religion, their language, their culture, their lifeway, their families and loved ones (who would be separated from them). Naiche, the last hereditary Chiricahua (Chokonen) chieftain, when asked why he, Geronimo, and the Apaches with them killed, answered: “It was war. Anybody who saw us would kill us, and we did the same thing. We had to if we wanted to live.” (See the notes from Gen. George Crook’s visit to the Mount Vernon Barracks, Alabama, January 2, 1890, Sen. Exe. Doc. 35, 51st Cong. 1st sess., 33, for the quote.) Dustinn Craig, a White Mountain Apache filmmaker and director, told me that many Apaches today blame Geronimo for what has happened to the Apache people. Maybe. However, let me say this: If the United States was invaded by a more powerful enemy and systematically devastated and conquered as people were eliminated, removed, told not to speak their language or worship their God, and separated from loved ones, with the final goal being the destruction of a lifeway and culture, … I know what I would do.

Yes, I would like to walk with and know Geronimo.

Ned Wynkoop: Although Gatewood is worthy of spending time with, it is Wynkoop that I would like to hang out with and know personally. Reason: Gatewood was a West Point graduate and military man while Wynkoop wasn’t. Wynkoop was a rebel, who learned how to survive by the seat of his pants early on. He was educated and literate and well versed in the arts, which in turn gave him a mind to decide what he considered right. Often he disagreed with people, including the frontier population, the press, the military, the Interior Department, and the Indians he worked with. This often put his life at risk during the 1860s, and it certainly made him a hated white man on the frontier after he spoke out against the 1864 Sand Creek attack. This took guts and courage, more guts and courage than I have. Wynkoop was good with weapons in a violent time, and yet to my knowledge he killed no one. Moreover, his outrage over Sand Creek did not coincide with him accepting Indians as human beings for he felt that the Cheyennes and Arapahos blamed him for Sand Creek. He didn’t put his racism to rest until fall 1865 when he learned that the Indians didn’t blame him for the disaster and moreover wanted him to be their agent.

Wynkoop knew all the key players from both sides during the 1860s Cheyenne wars and he allowed his conscience dictate his views and actions. You can bet that I would like to spend time with him.

Who are some of your favorite people in the Indian wars community today?

My favorite people fall into two categories: Friends I share information with and hang out with whenever we are in the same location, and friends who are business associates that I also hang out with whenever possible. I maintain ongoing contact with them via phone or email or social media.

The list is alphabetical: Durwood Ball (writer/historian & editor of New Mexico Historical Review), Deb Goodrich Bisel (writer/historian), Johnny Boggs (novelist extraordinaire & editor of the Western Writers of America magazine, The Roundup), George Elmore (chief historian, Fort Larned, Ks.), Tom Eubanks (director of my Indian wars plays), Jerry Greene (writer/historian), Layton Hooper (writer/historian & Order of the Indian Wars), Tomas Jaehn (curator, Fray Angélico Chávez History Library, History Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe), Henrietta Mann (professor extraordinaire and founding president of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal College, Weatherford, Okla.); Gary McCarthy (novelist), Mike Koury (The Old Army Press & Order of the Indian Wars), Greg Lalire (editor, Wild West), John Monnett (writer/historian), Eric Niderost (writer/historian), Leo Oliva (writer/historian), Chuck Rankin (editor-in-chief, OU Press), Minoma Littlehawk Sills (my Cheyenne word expert), and Dick & Frankie Upton (Upton and Sons, Publishers).

What are your favorite books from the Indian wars?

This really isn't a good question for me, for I consider favorite books, books that I read again and again. I write plays, nonfiction, and will soon return to Indian wars fiction. That said, most of my reading deals with what I write about. Once read, and since the books had been read as research material they never get read cover-to-cover again. This doesn't mean that these books aren't opened and studied and used over and over again for they are.

In a recent short article for Wild West I listed five books that impacted my writing. I think this gives them credibility as being favorite books, but alas, I don’t know if they are. I prefer primary source books. That said, and I did list Custer’s My Life on the Plains (various editions; my favorite of the printings I have is the OU Press edition listed above) and Charles Gatewood’s edited manuscript in Lt. Charles Gatewood and His Apache Wars Memoir (University of Nebraska Press, 2005) in the Wild West article. Custer’s book has got to me my number one favorite nonfiction Indian wars book for two reasons: It has been a major influence in my life, and I think it is a damn good read (and I don’t give bleep what Capt. Frederick Benteen, 7th U.S. Cavalry, thought of it). Two of the other books in the WW article—Stan Hoig’s The Peace Chiefs of the Cheyennes (OU Press, 1980), and Eve Ball’s (with Nora Henn and Lynda Sanchez) An Apache Odyssey: Indeh (1980), and by the way this is the title on the first edition of the book, and I know as I have the book—have also played big roles in my writing life. “Indeh” means the dead.

By the way, don’t trust the printed book of Wynkoop’s first rough and incomplete attempt to write a memoir, which has been published as his autobiography (Christopher B. Gerboth, ed., The Tall Chief: The Autobiography of Edward W. Wynkoop, 1994). I haven’t read the supposed transcript of Wynkoop’s words in the book (which I hope was taken from Wynkoop’s hand and at least one other’s hand and not the old typescript that is readily available at what is now History Colorado), but this isn’t my problem with the book. My problem is with the editor’s multitude of errors in his text. Two only need be pointed out to get my point across. On at least two occasions Custer attacked Black Kettle’s Cheyenne village on the Washita River on November 29, 1868, and on at least one occasion Wynkoop resigned as U.S. Indian agent on November 27, 1868. Switch the dates and they’ll be correct. I’m sorry but these are major errors and should not have been made.

Two compilations should also be mentioned. Both volumes were pieced together by the late John M. Carroll, and they include key government documents from the investigations of the 1864 attack on the Cheyenne-Arapaho village on Sand Creek, Colorado Territory, and the events that led up to and the attack on Black Kettle’s Cheyenne village on the Washita River by Custer and the 7th U.S. Cavalry on November 27, 1868. If you can’t obtain primary-source printings of these documents, Carroll’s books are a goldmine. I have checked text in Mr. Carroll’s volumes and have yet to see a discrepancy. They are: The Sand Creek Massacre: A Documentary History (Sol Lewis, 1973) and General Custer and the Battle of the Washita: The Federal View (Guidon Press, 1978). BTW, I have Carroll’s compilation of the Little Bighorn documents but haven’t read it, as I have no intention of writing about Custer’s demise as a multitude of authors have done an admirable job of documenting the battle.

Sometimes fiction captures the reality of nonfiction while fleshing out historical people and events. Such a book is Frederick J. Chiaventone’s A Road We Do Not Know: A Novel of Custer at Little Bighorn (1996), which I thought was an exceptional read (although I have only read it once). Perhaps my favorite novel dealing with Indians and whites in the nineteenth century is Kill the Indian: A Killstraight Story by Johnny D. Boggs (2012). Comanche Daniel Killstraight, a member of the reservation police force, joins Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s delegation as it travels off the rez to negotiate a grasslands lease of Indian land to whites in this fast-paced story that deals with racial prejudice and murder. Boggs is a master of time and place, character, dialogue, and action. This is perhaps one of the best novels I have ever read in all genres. This brings me to Douglas C. Jones, unfortunately long gone. He had penned a nonfiction book, The Treaty at Medicine Lodge (OU Press, 1966), which used newspaper articles to bring the 1867 Kansas peace council to life, and it is a book that I have referenced time and again (it was the fifth book in the WW article). However, soon after it was published he turned to fiction and to my knowledge never returned to nonfiction. Some of his novels are classics; my favorite is Gone the Dreams and Dancing (1984), which focuses on Comanche Chief Quanah Parker, a white ex-Confederate soldier, and the Comanches’ struggle to adjust to the loss of freedom and their life on the reservation.

The question asked for favorite books. It did not ask for favorite authors. Boggs and Jones are favorite novelists. I’ll give you a nonfiction-Indian wars author, an exceptional writer/historian who has consistently combined terrific research with page-turning prose—Bob Utley. I also think Eve Ball’s Apache writing should again be pointed out (as I have not seen any detailed proof as to why her work should be viewed with skepticism).

Do you have advice for those who write and who want to be published?
First and foremost don't give up! Just because one editor doesn't like your query or story submission doesn't mean that the next editor won't like it.

In a perfect world when you receive a rejection, constructive criticism will accompany it. When this happens take a long and hard look at the criticism. If it is valid, use it. If it is not valid, trash it.

Finally get to know the editors of the publications you want to print your writing. There's all sorts of ways to do this, including enlisting a friend who knows or writes for a specific editor to make the introduction. But you need to do more than this; you need to make the effort, when possible, to meet the editors that might print your work. Two organizations present this type of opportunity for you to meet editors that might be interested in your Indian wars manuscripts on a yearly basis: Western History Association (WHA) and Western Writers of America (WWA). My advice: Get off your ass and attend some of their conventions. The editors appear and are readily available, and it is up to you to make the connection. The WHA mostly features university presses (and some do print fiction), the National Archives used to attend (don't know if they still do), and other editors are also present (but none from NY). I have seen True West in attendance (but since I haven't attended in a while, I don't know if the True West editor still appears). WWA has a fairly even split between university press editors and small fiction editors, and regional presses. A big plus here is that if you want to sell magazine articles, both True West and Wild West editors attend.

When editors know your first name, know what you want to write about, they are more apt to consider your pitches or submitted polished articles and/or manuscripts.

BTW, when you pitch, know what the editors are looking for and don't wing what you're selling.
Like they say, “All’s fair in love and war.” Do what you have to do to get your query read, your pitch listened to, and your manuscripts read. There are no set rules and there’s no set trail to success. The bottom line is hard work and persistence (and I hate to say it, but sometimes luck). Also, as a terrific western novelist named Gordon D. Shirreffs once told me: “Don’t quit your day job.”

Do you have a future Indian wars project in progress?

The current manuscript is tentatively called Sand Creek and the Tragic End of a Lifeway. It is under contract with OU Press and the manuscript is due on October 1, 2016. If you would like to see updates about it and other writing projects (plus a bit of meandering and lively opinion) see the blogs at

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