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The Next Generation In The Study Of Custer's Last Stand
Interview -- Sandy Barnard
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How did you become interested in the Little Bighorn story?
S. B. I always protest that I have never been a “Custer buff.” Actually, my interest in him and his final battle is an outgrowth of a number of aspects of my life. I have been interested in military history for much of my life and I minored in history at Boston College. I grew up in Boston -- my family roots are in the Charlestown section in the shadow of the Bunker Hill Monument -- and frequently visited historical sites associated with the Revolutionary War. My interests expanded to the Civil War during its centennial in the early 1960s. Of course, can’t overlook the impact of all those 1950s Saturday matinees!
The most crucial influence on my military history interest? Probably, my own time in Vietnam from Aug. 9, 1968, to July 4, 1969. I learned a great deal about myself that year. Experiences in a combat zone make you grow up and mature quickly.
In the summer of 1980, I visited the LBH for the first time and soon launched a research project into the life of reporter Mark Kellogg. At the time, that seemed “normal,” given my status as a journalism professor. Everything else that I have done or accomplished that relates to the LBH stems from that project.
What’s your most treasured remembrance of anything to do with the battlefield?
S. B. Actually, it’s two-fold. One has been the opportunity over nearly a decade of wandering the LBH with Jim and Brian on this photo project. Earlier, of course, I had three opportunities to work at the battlefield handling PR for the NPS during archeological projects. That, too, is a collective memory to treasure.
How did you become part of the “trinity” with Brust and Pohanka regarding this book?
S. B. Actually, it may well have grown out of my own work as editor of "Greasy Grass". In the early 1990s, Jim had come to me to publish his article on the John Fouch photo, and we soon became fast friends, exchanging information and encouragement through e-mails or phone calls. I had long thought that such a project on the battlefield images was called for, but I always had other tasks lined up. So I was happy to see Jim jump in. I might well have gotten involved with him earlier, except that my teaching duties didn’t permit me to be away in the fall to join him the first year or two he went to the battlefield. By 1995, I had rearranged my schedule to enable me to skip out for a week each fall! Of course, Brian and I had been friends since the early 1980s.
How did you and the other authors work as a team?
S. B. I think I stated it best in my tribute to Brian in last spring’s Greasy Grass, when I wrote, “We based our friendship on mutual enthusiasm for our underlying research task — walking seemingly every foot of the famed battlefield — as well as respect for each other’s knowledge of the battle, its lore and its myriad personalities.” Actually, any one of us could have written the entire book. If so, each of the individual efforts would have been a different book, or three different books. But we didn't. Thus, the one that we have written is “Our” book, and that is precisely the level that our pard, Brian, was comfortable with. I know that Jim and I remain equally comfortable with what we have accomplished.
Did you divide up the work and if so, how?
S. B. Brian and I always recognized that it was truly Jim’s photo project, but Jim, to his own credit, insisted that he needed the two of us for our own expertise to assist him. Each of us was involved with the basic task of finding potential photos to reshoot. Each year in the field, we all handled the tasks together. The most critical task, of course, was achieving a consensus on site locations for each photo. Probably the one area where we assigned a “team leader” was on who clicked the official modern photo of each location. Brian and I had no problems with “making” Jim handle that task!
How did you all come to agreement with the shape, look, content, etc., of the book?
S. B. OK, this is probably where I stuck my nose out the farthest. My two pards generally looked to me, given my own professional background in writing, editing and publishing, to take the lead on these matters. But it was truly a shared approach. One of us would write the first draft of a specific segment, and the other two would review and critique it. In the end, I pulled the individual sections of text together and edited them into one narrative. At which point, Jim and Brian weighed in again and again! Thus, this book is truly a team effort.
What was the most challenging aspect of Where Custer Fell?
S. B. Probably locating the photos themselves. Until we had the photos in hand, we couldn’t do the field work. Thus, the project proved to be an on-going one. For 11-plus months, we all would find new photos to consider for the project, then we would gather at the battlefield to locate the respective sites. On occasion, locating a specific site in the field proved to be a unique challenge.
If you could do anything over again or change anything with the book, what would that be?
S. B. I wish we had “institutionalized” our research much sooner. We enjoyed ourselves so much that for several years we didn’t think much about the potential final product – as a “book.” We may have let it remain a “fun” project for too long. Interestingly, the book seemingly only began to appear as a more serious goal for us after Brian and I had been taken seriously ill. Yet I am comfortable with what we have accomplished as a team. Too, in my last conversation with Brian late last May, I sought to assure him that Jim and I would make certain that issues concerning the production of the book would be satisfactorily resolved. I trust we have fulfilled that promise to him.
Do you have any other projects in the works?
S. B. I never lack for projects! I have several that have been delayed by the Oklahoma photo book project and some other new tasks. Now that I have retired from Indiana State University, I hope to pick up my pace in completing them. I also plan to expand my publishing efforts into doing books for other authors.
Copyright 1999-2013 Bob Reece
Friends Little Bighorn Battlefield, P.O. Box 636, Crow Agency, MT 59022