As interviewed by Chris Miller
Frederick Gientke's book is about the 1876 Great Sioux War in Montana, but unlike most books that place the focus on Gen. George Custer, this one focuses on Gen. George Crook and his retreat after the Rosebud battle that left Custer without the expected and needed support. Crook is the namesake of Oregon's Crook County.
Gientke, a Bend local, spent 14 years writing the book, traveling countless miles in the area near the sites of Little Bighorn and other battles. He took over 240 photos for the book and included annotated topographic maps that immerse the reader into the Powder River country and the ultimate tragic events that happened to Custer and his men.
We sat down with Gientke at the Source office to talk about his unique look at the war that took Custer's life.
Source Weekly: With all the books about Custer, what made you want to write this one?
Frederick Gientke: Well, all of the books that are written about Custer, none of them have ever focused on the premise that I have. Which is that Custer's death—he was definitely killed by the Northern Sioux in the Little Bighorn battle—but his death was caused by General Crook, who abandoned the campaign a week before the Little Bighorn battle.
SW: You said it took 14 years to write the book. How did you keep at it for such a long period of time?
FG: Well, I have a strong interest in certain historical things, like pharaohs of ancient Egypt. I like reading about the Middle Ages and I like the history about the Little Bighorn. But there were gaps in my writing and as I was taking more and more time, I was getting to understand that really if you want to write a good book—a deep book—something that's different, you really got to take time, think about it and let it evolve slowly.
SW: You mentioned you're very interested in history.
FG: Yes, I do not read novels. Almost everyone reads novels and novels and novels. I refuse to read a novel. If I'm going to read, I'm going to read about history. And if I get a book, it's almost always going to be about the Sioux Indian War.