$2.99 at Amazon with a print edition due in the fall) is an alternate history novel with a small degree of time displacement. In this thoroughly researched adventure story, Chief Sitting Bull knows his people will win the Battle of the Little Big Horn but perish on the reservations. Just as the battle is starting, he prays to Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, to find a new path for his people. On a ridge overlooking the village, Lt. Colonel George Custer and his brother, Captain Thomas Custer (twice winner of the Medal of Honor), realize they've stumbled into a big fight. Tom urges a retreat, but Custer’s instincts tell him to attack. The 7th Cavalry charges down Medicine Tail Coulee, but instead of reaching the river, they ride into a strange fog and a new version of history.
I've always been fascinated by the great losing causes: the Spartans at Thermopylae, the Old Guard at Waterloo, the British at Islandlwana, and the Marines at Wake Island. Historians have said there has been more written about the Alamo and the Little Big Horn than any other U.S. battles except Gettysburg (Custer was at Gettysburg, too). These famous events involve larger than life personalities. George Custer, the brave but reckless cavalry commander. Davy Crockett, backwoods hunter turned congressman. General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the Napoleon of the West. Leaders such as Sitting Bull, William Barrett Travis, and Jim Bowie also play major roles. What if these diverse characters came together in a clash that could change American history?
The story concept began with a simple plot; Custer would be sent back in time 40 years and win the battle of the Alamo. My personal library on these subjects is so large that research was never a problem. But there was a problem with the premise that the characters themselves quickly pointed out. Would soldiers who had survived the Civil War now fight for Texas in 1836 knowing it will later join the Confederacy? Probably not. And what does Sitting Bull’s vision of a better life for his people have to do with the Alamo? It took a good deal of time and thought to bring these elements into play, and I think the results will show an interesting version of what Texas might have become under different circumstances.
There are many factors that help make a simple story more complicated. The defenders of the Alamo had no strategy for victory. The chief engineer, Green Jameson, was a lawyer. But George Custer was a graduate of West Point. He was one of the Union army’s most successful commanders, and accepting defeat was not in his nature. In this story, Custer does not have a large force, barely 125 men, but they are armed with the 1873 Springfield carbine, a far better weapon than a Brown Bess or Kentucky long rifle. Custer’s officers carried repeating rifles, such as the Winchester, and all were armed with Army Colt revolvers. These are not huge advantages when facing a trained army of thousands, but they help.
The Texas revolution was not just about white Americans coming for free land. The Native Americans, especially the Comanche, considered Texas to be their country. The Tejano population generally opposed Santa Anna but did not trust the new rebel government. The Cherokee, forced off their Eastern lands by Andrew Jackson, were tying to build new homes in North Texas. And even though it was illegal, slaves were being imported to work the new plantations. After winning independence at the Battle of San Jacinto, Texas passed a rigid slave constitution, joined the Union in 1845, and seceded in 1861. Much of what would happen was unknown in 1836, but Custer and the 7th Cavalry come from 1876. What effect, if any, will their knowledge of the future have?
I did not want cardboard personalities for this novel, spouting facts and changing events at random. I wanted real people, with real problems, figuring their way from one situation to the next as best they could. Reviews of Custer at the Alamo have supported this vision. Though the plotlines are filled with historical details, what really makes the novel worthwhile is the characters. As Mr. Norman Stiteler of Frisco, Texas wrote, “the characters are surprisingly human, cantankerous and complex.” Just as history should be.
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Gregory Urbach, an Urban Studies graduate from California State University, Northridge, has been writing science fiction and fantasy for 20 years. His works include the nine-book Waters of the Moon series (the Tranquility books) and Magistrate of the Dark Land. He has a website at www.custeratthealamo.com and can be contacted at his Facebook page.