Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Richard Irving Dodge, a career infantry officer in the U.S. Army, never rose to the rank of general. After 43 years of varied service, he retired in 1891 as Colonel Dodge. Though he became well known among his army colleagues, as a soldier he was not a household name among Americans, as were men like Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman and Robert E. Lee. But, as a popular authority on the western frontier of the late 19th century, he had few rivals. As a result, Dodge left his mark on history as a published author.

Seeing the life of this energetic and sociable soldier-author as a story that needed to be told, retired Fairmont State English Professor Wayne Kime has paid tribute to him in his latest book, "Colonel Richard Irving Dodge: The Life and Times of a Career Army Officer."

Kime retired in 2000 following a career as a Fairmont State English professor that began in 1978. Before coming to FS, Kime taught at the University of Toronto and at the University of Delaware. While at FS, Kime served as Faculty Senate president and for several years as chair of the Faculty Personnel Committee. He was a member of two Presidential Search Committees and, in his final year of service, he chaired the committee that wrote the Fairmont State Mission Statement.

Kime, a lifetime academic, received his B.A. degree in English from Stanford University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Delaware. His honors and awards have included West Virginia Humanities Council Fellowship, 1992; Newberry Library Fellowship, 1991-1992 and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Travel Grants in 1984 and 1991.

"Colonel Richard Irving Dodge: The Life and Times of a Career Army Officer," is Kime's 13th book and he is currently working on a 14th, a study of the writings of William T. Sherman. Kime is also the author of numerous articles and reviews and edited two booklets that chronicle the early history of Fairmont State.

His specialties are 19th century American literature and history. Among his works, Kime has edited a critical edition of Dodge's "Plains of North America and Their Inhabitants," as well as four volumes of Dodge's journals.

Kime's is the first biography of Richard Irving Dodge ever to appear. The book describes Dodge's early years, his experiences as a writer and his 43-year career as an infantry officer in the U.S. Army.

Between 1848 and 1891 Dodge participated in the Great Sioux War, explored the Black Hills, commanded infantry regiments and served as an aide-de-camp to General William Sherman. Dodge was personally engaged in the ongoing power struggle between the army and the Bureau of Indian Affairs concerning how best to solve the country's so-called "Indian problem."

Dodge was a paradox, Kime says. He admired the Plains Indians and lamented the end of their way of life brought on by confinement on reservations and the slaughter of buffalo. Yet, he also considered Indians to be "savages" who could be "civilized" only by the threat of force. As Kime reveals, the contradictions in Dodge's life and thought mirrored the ambivalence many Americans felt about Indian policy and westward expansion.

Dodge lived from 1827 to 1895. In a period when ethnographic study of the Plains Indians had barely begun, Dodge's accounts of Native American culture won praise on both sides of the Atlantic for their range and insight.

Kime was 22 when he first became aware of Dodge. American prose writer Washington Irving was the subject of Kime's dissertation and Irving was Dodge's great-uncle. The family connection made him want to learn more about Dodge. Kime gathered the facts that went into the Dodge biography over the course of 20 years.

"I have tried to make the book a lively, interesting and informative reading experience for a general reader. To that end, it includes maps and illustrations that add a visual dimension," Kime said. "The appeal to specialists is obvious. I tell much about the U.S. Army, especially under the command of General Sherman. Dodge's own activities shed light on the history of Plains ecology, the beginning of the reservation system for Plains Indians, the impact of transcontinental railroads on the Indians and on western development."

"Colonel Richard Irving Dodge: The Life and Times of a Career Army Officer" is available in bookstores or directly from the University of Oklahoma Press: (800) 627-7377 or www.oupress.com.