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 Kidder Massacre. 

A Dispatch 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. 

Kevin Galvin

Custer Association of Great Britain

Copyright 2002 CAGB