All my life I have been the willing victim of a love affair with animals—pets, wild animals, what have you. My first published piece was a biography of the circus elephant, Jumbo, that I wrote the year after I graduated high school, and which was published in American Heritage magazine. (It will be available as an e-book later this year).
Wanting to follow up that piece with one of book-length, I began investigating the feasibility of writing a book about the slaughter of the buffalo on the Great Plains in the 1870s. That subject, I discovered, had already been treated several times, but while doing that research I learned that in 1874, a huge war party of Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Indians attacked a settlement of buffalo hunters in the Texas panhandle, touching off the last war on the South Plains. To my amazement, this proved to be the last of the major American Indian wars that had never had a book written about it. It was in all the quarterlies and all the encyclopedias, but no book. Skill is nice to have, but you can’t beat raw luck.
Some of its incidents, such as the above-mentioned attack at Adobe Walls, were so well known that they had become frontier legends. Other aspects, such as the massacre of the Short surveying party in Kansas, were all but forgotten, and had to be reconstructed from primary sources.
I was an undergraduate at the University of Texas at Arlington, whose new Old West historian was the great Dr. Elliott West, who later went on to win the Parkman Prize and the presidency of the Western History Association. With the enthusiasm of the young and silly, I announced to Elliott that I was going to write the book, get a New York contract and make a lot of money. Rather than laugh me out of the history department, Elliott gave me six hours of independent study credit so that he could supervise my research. So, I cut my teeth as a historian under a master’s eye.
The resulting volume has been in print since its appearance. Until I wrote SAM HOUSTON, it seemed destined to be the book for which I’d be best remembered, and in the public’s mind it certainly tied me to the history of Texas, the native Indians and the old West.
©2016 James L. Haley All rights reserved