Custer Into the West: With the Journal and Maps of Lieutenant Henry Jackson
by Jeff Broome, Upton & Sons Publishers, El Segundo, Calif., 2009, $45.
Those with no love for George Custer point not only to his overwhelming Little Bighorn defeat in 1876 but also to his lack of success in the Hancock campaign of April –May 1867, his court-martial late that fall and his subsequent suspension from military service. Those who admire the famous officer point to his Civil War heroism, his victory in the 1868 Battle of the Washita and perhaps to his expeditions on the Yellowstone in 1873 and the Black Hills in 1874.
Often overlooked in the career of this much celebrated and much maligned man is what he did on his first command in the West in the summer of 1867, after he and Hancock were humbled in the spring. “To understand Custer in 1876, it is imperative that one learn of Custer in 1867,” writes author Jeff Broome, “for this is the year that he gains the first of numerous valuable experiences in dealing with Indians.” The author argues that despite Custer’s problems before and after, he had a pretty good and certainly eventful summer of ’67, at least during his June 1–July 13 expedition against hostile Cheyennes and Lakotas roaming Nebraska and Kansas.
To support his argument, Broome uses, as the title indicates, the journals and maps of 2nd Lt. Henry Jackson, Custer’s itinerary officer on the campaign. Amazingly, Broome notes, this primary document has been much neglected or overlooked through the years. Jackson produced 27 detailed maps during the 704-mile journey. As any Western historian ought to be, Broome is mighty impressed with Jackson’s diligence: “He meticulously recorded the distances marched each day from camp to camp, distances between rivers and the character of the country, thus creating what is the first detailed exploration of the territory encompassing Fort Hays north into Nebraska, back down into Kansas, up into Colorado Territory and finally down to Fort Wallace.”
Jackson’s journal covers such summertime events as Custer’s two meetings with Pawnee Killer near Fort McPherson, his initial skirmish with Indians near the Republican River (see Broome’s “Custer’s First Fight with Plains Indians,” in the June 2007 Wild West) and the discovery of the remains of 2nd Lt. Lyman Kidder and his small 2nd U.S. Cavalry detail, which was massacred while trying to deliver dispatches to Custer. Broome’s second book (his first, in 2003, was Dog Soldier Justice: The Ordeal of Susanna Alderdice in the Kansas Indian War) might not change many readers’ opinions of Lt. Col. George A. Custer, but it covers neglected ground and offers more fodder for the various debating societies.
Originally published in the June 2009 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.