ROY BIRDFor September, 2004, I presented another long-time friend, Roy Bird, as my Kansas author of the month. I remarked at the time that I still remember best his work on the Washburn Reader for the Woodley Press in 1984, and then, especially, his Topeka: an Illustrated History of the Kansas Capital in 1985, which I bought as a Christmas present for my wife at the time, and we still enjoy browsing through, like an old photo album--and which I recommend for those who would know Topeka's history. Roy was born in Herington, Kansas, and is a graduate of Kansas State University and Emporia State University. He has been a professional librarian at the Kansas State Library for years, and remains a frequently published Kansas historian, but I knew him best as a fellow teacher in the English Department at Washburn. In September, 2004, Roy had just recently published Civil War in Kansas, which I featured as part of the celebration of the then sesquicentennial year of the Kansas and Nebraska Act, which established Territorial Kansas.
Since then Roy has been named the Director of Kansas Center for the Book (as of July 1, 2005, see www.kcfb.info) from his base at the Kansas State Library, and would be pleased to talk to anyone interested in the new programs being developed for that federally affiliated program (785-296-3296). Then, more recently, one of the reading groups I belong to decided to read his In His Brother's Shadow, on the life of Thomas Ward Custer, who was awarded two medals of honor during the Civil War and then died at the Battle of the Little Big Horn with his older brother. So I decided to feature Roy again for this month, March, 2006--since I've now read that book, too.
Civil War in Kansas does a very thorough job, in its less than 150 pages, of establishing time and place, from 1861 to 1865, in full detail, inside and outside the new state of Kansas, of Kansas fighting units, including those composed largely of Native Americans and/or African Americans . Roy particularly emphasizes the many campaigns of the Jayhawkers and Bushwackers along the Kansas/Missouri border (which certainly put Quantrill's raid on Lawrence, relatively late in the war, in perspective for me), but also gives full details of major battles such as Honey Springs and Mine Creek, fought in this part of the country, and, on the Union side, for the most part, by Kansas units engaging Confederate units coming up from the South--which I would be surprised if many of today's Kansans know anything about. There are also about twenty illustrations in the book drawn by Michael Almond of the Washburn Art Department (who also did the cover illustration you see above), interesting both in presenting important figures and events in this story, and in their own artistry.
In His Brother's Shadow: the Life of Thomas Ward Custer, published in 2002, is the biography of a man many may never have heard of, though we think we know his brother pretty well--and are surprised to find out that this brother, too (and three other close relatives), died at the Little Bighorn. As the back cover points out, "Despite winning two Medals of Honor, his legendary feud with Rain-In-The-Face [Rain-in-the-Face was my favorite Indian name when I read about him and Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull when I was in the 4th grade in Northern Illinois so many years ago--a name I would like, for it's the story of my life], the shooting scrape with James Butler 'Wild Bill' Hickok in Hays City and many other exciting incidents, Tom has taken a back seat to George"--with readers and historians. Having just finished reading the book, I definitely recommend it.
Readers who would like to buy a copy of either book can do so from the Washburn Bookstore, Washburn University, Topeka, KS 66621, (785) 670-2665, or:
Civil War in Kansas In His Brother's Shadow
Pelican Publishing Company, Inc. Turner Publishers
1000 Burmaster Street 412 Broadway P.O. Box 3101
Gretna, Louisiana 70053 Paducah, KY 42002-3101