CAGB BOOK REVIEW
A DISPATCH TO CUSTER: THE TRAGEDY OF LIEUTENANT KIDDER
By Randy Johnson and Nancy Allan with foreword by John M. Carroll. Published by Mountain Press Publishing Company, 1999. 119 pp. Foreword, Chapters, Afterword, Appendix, Notes, Bibliography and Index. Contains Black and White photographs, Drawings, Maps and Diagrams. ISBN 0-87842-399-0. Paperback [$15.00]
An American-based member of the CAGB sent this
handsome, well-illustrated little volume to me in direct response to John
Statham's article, From Beecher Island
to Summit Springs, which was featured in the Summer/Autumn 2001 issue of
The Crow's Nest (Issue 2). It was
accompanied by the comment that there are two sides to every story and the
suggestion that I should read it for myself to gain a more balanced view of the
to Custer: The Tragedy of Lieutenant Kidder tells the story behind the violent deaths of
Lieutenant Lyman S. Kidder, his 10-man detachment from M Company, 2nd U.S.
Cavalry and Red Bead, their Sioux guide. There
can be little doubt that this relatively minor event would not have attracted as
much interest had it not been for its connection with Lieutenant-Colonel George
Armstrong Custer. We are indebted
to authors like Johnson and Allan who, through their hard work and dedicated
research, keep alive the memory of events that otherwise would be consigned to a
short paragraph in the pages of history.
This book covers not only the circumstances leading to Kidder's death, but also his brief military career. The main focus, however, is on the efforts of his father, Judge Jefferson Kidder, to discover what actually happened and to return with his son's mortal remains for re-internment in the family plot in Oakland Cemetery, St Paul, Minnesota. There are sections that speculate how Lt. Kidder's detachment fought and died, and we are also treated to some descriptive prose from the pen of Custer, although at times this is contradictory.
Johnson also offers his own scenario of events that
is based on many years of painstaking research and his archaeological finds.
This last section, which is somewhat sparse, left me wanting to know more
about what happened and, in particular, the true location of the fight. The fact
that there are two opposing views on the actual site of Kidder's 'last stand'
was forcibly brought home to me by a 'Letter to the Editor', written by a local
resident who vehemently supports Johnson and Allan's version.
Having since read On locating the Kidder Massacre site of 1867 by CAGB member
Jeff Broome and A Dispatch
to Custer, I have reached the conclusion that we may never know the
whole truth. Between them these publications have provided us with
considerable insight into the likely sequence of events leading to the demise of
this detachment. It is regrettable
that, whatever the differences the respective authors may have, they cannot
combine their considerable knowledge to produce a more definitive account of
this tragic incident.
I recommend that anyone with an interest in GAC and
the Plains Indian Wars should add A Dispatch
to Custer to their collection. It
is well worth reading and is a useful reference book that provides an
interesting insight into other events that occurred during Kidder's short life.
It would seem
appropriate to remind our readers that there is always more than one side to a
story, as I was quite rightly informed, and this should encourage others to put
forward their personal views on an event in history. This is especially valid when it is the result of their own
research. It should not depend on
how long one has studied a particular subject, as quite often a fresh pair of
eyes can see something that more experienced historians could of overlooked.
History can be compared to a jigsaw puzzle but with one major difference,
this being that there is never a 'picture on the box' to help interpret where
the pieces should fit, and often one or more of the pieces is missing.
We can usually get closer to the truth but there will be times when will
never know the whole truth.
Custer Association of Great Britain
Copyright © 2002 CAGB