New Book on the Frontier Army Released by State Historical Society

PIERRE, S.D.—Romanticized scenes of heroic soldiers fighting on the vast plains are strewn throughout early chronicles of the old frontier army. “Frontier Army: Episodes from Dakota and the West” edited by R. Eli Paul, released by the South Dakota State Historical Society, explores how such interpretations rarely convey the complex truth or reality of the day-to-day existence of the soldiers or of the American Indians on whose land the battles took place.

“Seldom does one volume offer so much varied perspective,” writes David A. Wolff, professor emeritus of history Black Hills State University. “Providing new insights and dimension about the frontier experience.”

The book centers on military conflicts and postings around present-day South Dakota and in the Black Hills between 1854 and 1890, highlighting the diverse experiences of those associated with the American frontier army and the people they fought on the Great Plains. Observations formed by studying personal letters, recorded memories, and contemporary monuments provide an analysis of how the army and its soldiers are remembered today. Firsthand accounts give previously ignored groups a voice, and readers learn more about lesser-known actors—foot soldiers, minorities, and others on the periphery of popular history. Creating a more complex picture, under the direction of editor R. Eli Paul, contributors to this book present new primary sources and fresh interpretations of the Regular Army in the West in fitting tribute to the careers of frontier army historians Thomas R. Buecker and John D. (“Jack”) McDermott. 

“The story of the winning and the losing of the West, depending on your point of view, will never be exhausted. R. Eli Paul . . . [The essays] are filled with the sort of fresh and unexpected information that Buecker and McDermott both loved,” says Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Powers, author of “The Killing of Crazy Horse.”

Eli Paul recently retired as head of the Missouri Valley Special Collections at the Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri. He has published extensively on the subject of the Plains Indians, including collaborative efforts with Thomas R. Buecker and John D. McDermott. In 2005, Paul received the Robert M. Utley Book Prize from the Western History Association for Blue Water Creek and the First Sioux War, 1854–1856 (2004).

“Frontier Army” is available for $29.95, plus shipping and tax and can be ordered directly from the South Dakota Historical Society Press at sdhspress.com or by calling (605) 773-6009. Follow the South Dakota Historical Society Press on Facebook (SDHS Press) and Twitter (@sdhspress) for more.