A Brave Soldier and Honest Gentleman: Lt. James E. H. Foster in the West, 1873-1881

Thomas R. Buecker
Nebraska State Historical Society
Lincoln, NE

A Brave Soldier and Honest Gentleman: Lt James E. H. Foster in the West, 1873-1881 tells the story of Lt. James E. H. Foster and his short but eventful life as a junior officer on the Northern Plains. His story as told through his personal illustrated journal provides a rich portrait of the frontier army at the time of the Great Sioux War.

Stationed at Fort McPherson in Nebraska, Foster traveled with the Jenney Expedition of 1875, filling in the large blank area on the map of the Black Hills and making some of the earliest surviving artistic renditions of the area. The Black Hills, of course, were not unknown to the Lakota Tribe, who resented the invasion of gold miners and resisted the U.S. government’s attempts to buy the Hills. When war erupted in 1876, Foster rode with General Crook’s forces, fighting at the Battle of the Rosebud and enduring the infamous Starvation March.

A Brave Soldier was written in partnership with the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney with the idea to create a book that would appeal to local residents and be a great contribution to the larger story of the struggle between the Lakotas and the U.S. government. Relying on correspondence, army records, and other documents from the time, the author reconstructs Foster’s life in the West. Although the author weaves a new narrative, for his own part, Foster was a gifted writer and an astute and witty observer of military life. His story increases knowledge of the American West and the important role played in it by the frontier army. Foster’s words give a rich picture of military and civilian life in western Nebraska and Dakota Territory during that period; from him we learn not just the events of the day, but also how a young military officer of the day looked at the world.

The author felt it was important to produce a book that would introduce the lost world of these frontier military posts to readers who may have heard vaguely of these places and events, but don’t understand what it was like to be there at that time. More than just transmitting facts, this local history narrative engages readers by allowing them to look at their world through the eyes of historical figures.