I have long been fascinated by the Plains Indians Wars. As a child in the 1960s, my interest stems from my early Christmas presents of Fort Apache and Fort Cheyenne, which provided hours and hours of entertainment for me and my friends. We set up forts, rolled or threw marbles at the plastic warriors and cavalrymen, and pretended to burn down or defend the forts and outbuildings.
Fast forward to adulthood, and I continue to be interested in western topics, having read most books in print on the Custer fight. Eric S. Johnson has added a grim new reality to those childhood days of “killing” toy soldiers and plastic Native Americans with marbles or dice. He has compiled the true cost of the long-forgotten battles, engagements, and skirmishes of the post-Civil War era, a time when bullets, arrows, and hand weapons dealt death and destruction to thousands of men, women, and children across the Great Plains. Johnson has diligently searched through all of the key records, and some of the more obscures ones as well, to compile a listing of the known white and black military casualties of the Indians Wars, a challenging task to be sure. Compiled and presented in chronological order, this thick book is a listing of the dates and places of engagement, and the names of those killed or wounded by the warring tribesmen. From the famous (George Armstrong Custer and his brothers) to the long-forgotten single men killed in totally obscure skirmishes, Johnson presents them all. He includes photos of the gravesites of some of the more prominent officers, and he presents lists of burial sites and brief bios for the slain officers in an appendix, as well as a listing of all enlisted men killed and the known citizens slain in direct support of military operations.
He also presents information on the various medals of honor issued during the wars. This book is a very useful reference for anyone interested in reading about the human toll of the conquering of the West, and gives a brief glimpse at the names of those whose lives ended prematurely and violently. A companion book on the Indians would, of course, be much more difficult to compile, but this work stands alone for its sheer volume of data and names. It, however, is a reminder that the pleasure our generation took in the 60s and 70s in shooting marbles at Custer’s beleaguered men or a fort’s outgunned garrison or a wagon train of under-armed civilians had in real life gruesome results. Johnson has aptly brought the memories of the fallen to a 21st century audience.