Remembering Author Robert M. Utley

“Robert Marshall Utley (October 31, 1929 – June 7, 2022) was an American author and historian who wrote sixteen books on the history of the American West. He was a chief historian for the National Park Service.

“Much of his writing deals with the United States Army in the West, especially in its confrontations with the Indian tribes. He wrote:

“‘the frontier army was a conventional military force trying to control, by conventional military methods, a people that did not behave like conventional enemies and, indeed, quite often were not enemies at all. This is the most difficult of all military assignments, whether in Africa, Asia, or the American West.’

“The Western History Association annually gives out the Robert M. Utley Book Award for the best book published on the military history of the frontier and western North America.” – Wikipedia

We lost another great author and historian last year when Utley died in June at 92. He wrote within the somewhat narrow niche of western history which explains why the national press and social media weren’t over the top in their coverage of his passing. He wrote about the Texas Rangers, Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Billy the Kid, Custer, the Apaches, and the Sioux with impeccable research and understanding that made its mark with western historians more than the general public.

Writing in “Montana, the Magazine of Western History,” Cary Collins said that Utley “achieved a rare status among historians: instantaneous name recognition: Robert M. Utley was a giant of Western history. Over an extraordinarily productive career that began in the 1940s. he remained at his desk until a week before his death.”

According to Collins, Utley was captured by the west after seeing the Errol Flynn movie “They Died With Their Boots On” when he was twelve years old.

For those who can find a copy of the magazine, you’ll be rewarded with a series of articles about Utley. However, you’ll gain a lot more by reading his work. The new edition (2004) of The Last Days of the Sioux Nation might be a good place to start.


I was captured by the West after seeing the Howard Hawks adaptation of A.B. Guthrie’s novel “The Big Sky” starring Kirk Douglas.


Marietta House Museum, Glendale, MD

Marietta is a historic house and former tobacco plantation located in Glenn DalePrince George’s CountyMaryland. On the National Register of Historic Places and the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, Marietta House Museum includes a federal era house, a cemetery, the original root cellar, and harness room, as well as Judge Gabriel Duvall’s original law office building. The historic site sits on 25 acres of Marietta’s original 690 acres. Today, visitors can walk the grounds and tour the plantation buildings and sites where free and enslaved people lived and labored.” – Wikipedia

While visiting my daughter’s family in Maryland for Thanksgiving, we all took a guided tour of Marietta House and learned more about slavery in Maryland. My daughter’s husband stayed home working on the Thanksgiving dinner. It was fabulous.

According to the website, “Marietta was built for Gabriel Duvall, one of Prince George’s County’s most outstanding citizens. Born in 1752, Duvall pursued a career of public service which lasted for more than 60 years. After serving in several positions during the Revolutionary War, he served in the Maryland House of Delegates, the United States Congress, the Maryland Supreme Court, and as Comptroller of the Treasury under Thomas Jefferson. Soon after 1812, when he was appointed by President James Madison to the U.S. Supreme Court, Duvall began the construction of Marietta. Over the next 20 years, he developed the 325-acre plantation and constructed a substantial rear wing for added living space. He served on the Supreme Court until 1835; in January of that year, he retired to spend the rest of his life at Marietta, where he died in 1844. Marietta remained the residence of his heirs until 1902.”

My granddaughters have visited a lot of museums and other sites, so they’re used to tours, displays of historic furnishings, and signage that describes the exhibits and the importance of the place. I do believe they liked the Christmas tree, toys, and cards that showed a very different era than they are familiar with. I’m less sure they were enthusiastic about the simulated food displays on the table in the kitchen. As for the irons lined up on the hearth–well, I wonder if they had a clue what those things would be used for what with today’s no-iron clothes.

If you like history, you might put this destination on your list of places to see if you live in or travel to Maryland.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”


Might and Fog

Neither my wife nor I remember ever hearing the German phrase “Nacht und Nebel” (“Night and Fog”) in our World War II history classes. And yet, this directive from Hitler was brought up at the Nuremberg Trials, so it was certainly no secret at the end of the war, nor by the time our history classes were put together some twenty to thirty years later.

Basically, Nacht und Nebel was a policty of Hitler’s that broke the rules of the Geneva Convention in which those working against the Reich, most often in occupied countries, were arrested and subsequently put in camps or executed without any information about their fate sent to family or others. It was as though they never existed–they had been, as some novels put it–“disappeared.” Often the letters NN would be shown on any paperwork.

The phrase been around for a long time before Hitler, and especially Himmler used it and made it a part of the German war machine’s policy. NN not only stood for Nacht und Nebel but also for “nullus nomen” (without name) which indicates that such people were removed from the face of the earth physically and in every other way possible.

As I re-read Pam Jenoff’s novel The Lost Girls of Paris, about British agents sent to occupied France to cause trouble and send information back to Britain via wireless, I am noticing this phrase more than I did the first time through the book. I find it haunting and so unfortunately apt considering the fears and dangers of night and fog.

I generally do not like the tactics of the FBI, NSA, and CIA because we keep seeing evidence and innuendo about their spying in all the wrong places. Before all that was known, I’d always thought I’d make a reasonably good CIA agent. And yet I wonder if I ever would have had the grit and courage to do what the SOE (Special Operations Executive) agents did during World War II. Most of them didn’t last very long before they were caught.

I wonder about that, so perhaps that’s why NN bothers me in addition to the fact it “broke the rules of war.” Before I was conscious of the Night and Fog directives, I liked fog, probably because I saw so much of it as a child in San Francisco. Fog was part of the romance of San Francisco (as Tony Bennett sang in his famous song, The morning fog may chill the air, I don’t care). But now, I cannot get the Nazi practice of torturing and killing agents–or suspected agents–out of my mind.

Partly, that’s because I think it still happens in unexpected places. And from neo-Nazi regimes and groups what still prescribe the old ways.


Happy Indigenous People’s Day

Day 286- Indigenous Peoples Day (8084917906).jpgIndigenous Peoples’ Day is a holiday that celebrates and honors Native American peoples and commemorates their histories and cultures. On October 8, 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden became the first U.S. President to formally recognize the holiday, by signing a presidential proclamation declaring October 11 to be a national holiday – Wikipedia

We were taught something else in school, one version or another of the poem credited to Jean Marzolo that began:

IN 1492

In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

He had three ships and left from Spain;
He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.

Later we learned that Columbus wasn’t a nice guy, and yet, we kept giving him credit for discovering a continent where there were might have been as many as ten to 50 million people living in 600 tribes.

When students asked teachers how somebody could discover a place that was already settled, the answer was that savages don’t count. The nation bought into that absurd notion for years. In fact people still believe it. Sure, they’re giving up on Columbus in favor of, say–the Vikings even though that still begs the question of the continent’s residents whenever the first Europeans showed up.

“We” are slowly trying to clean up our act, at least in terms of politically correct rhetoric. Real change is another matter that’s slower than Christmas. Celebrating this day in honor of the people who lived here when “we” showed up and took over North America by force is progress of a sort. It falls short of what we need to do.

First, I think we should be honest about what we did, what the proud words “manifest destiny” meant to the people in our way. Most of the world was conquered over and over by somebody, and trying to return boundaries to what they were 100, 1000, or 10,000 years ago sounds like a recipe for chaos.

Second, we need to look at Indigenous Peoples as they are now rather than romanticizing them as they were several hundrfed years ago. We, those of us of European extraction, are not who we were in the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s, and 1900s and neither are Native Americans. Most of us of European extraction would take offense if we were portayed as no more advanced then we were many generations ago, and yet, we keep “celebrating” Native Americans as a people purportedly stuck in the past.

Third, we need to legalize in every possible way our statements that reservations are sovereign Indian Nations that owe no allegiance to the patriarchal “Great White Father” in Washington. They are just as sovereign as Canada and Mexico and their rights extend a lot farther than being able to run gambling casinos. The reservations need the power of the states and the voting rights that go along with that power.

Doing such things will create a mess and yet that will be positive progress.


Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


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History that helps keep small towns vibrant and alive

When people move to a small town or unincorpoated commnity, they often ask if there’s any historical information available. Usual sources often include the local opr regional historical sociey, microfilm copies of old newspapers stored at the library, local histories that we often compiled by a local club or church and printed for residents in a small numbe of copies. Some clubs, often women’s clubs, would make their histories ongoing projects which they tried to update from time to time.

I think this is good work because as older residents die off, a lot of local knowledge is lost as well as some of the source materials our parents and grandparents might have used to prepare their local history book or pamphlet.

The Montana Historical Society newsletter’s latest issue mentions two researchers who’ve received fellowships to delve into local and regional history. This support might also be available from the your state’s historical society.  One of them, Janice Farkell, already maintais a website about her unincorporated community of Brady Montana with a population of 140 residents according to the WikiPedia entry.

From Farkell’s site

Farkell is a retired school teacher and a 5th generation resident Brady. She said, “Recently, I have continued  to research and collect Brady history to share with my community through the new website Brady Montana History.” She said that the site provides a place where people can share their stories, memories, and photographs for future generations. I like the site, my only caution being whether or not a library or other oganization will step up an maintain it when she retires.

The Internet is a wonderful place for dissemnating and sharing this kind of information that, even in an electronic age can so easily be lost. Kudos to Farkell and others who are trying to preserve the old facts and the old stories.


JFK: we will wonder and always will

If I treated this blog like a newspaper columnist with a daily column, I would say (as “they” do in the theater), “the show must go on.” But I get distracted. This time the distraction is “the fault” of a book about the Kennedy assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, J. Edgar Hoover, the Warren Commission, the “magic bullet,” and various conspiracy theories about what really happened.

Personally, I don’t think we know the truth about what happened. The book I’m reading arrives at the same conclusion. Suffice it to say, I’ve been stuck reading the book and looking up stuff on Google from time to time. I’ll talk about the book later, but I want to finish it first.

Goodness knows I’ve seen enough fiction and quasi-documentaries about the assassination from Oliver Stone’s work to Jim Garrison’s approach. And then, too, there’s 111/22/63 by Steven King. That novel was freaky enough to make one wonder about the whole thing even if they never wondered about it before.

I have a feeling that the lack of closure, aside from concrete evidence, comes from the fact that the federal government botched every part of its response beginning with forcibly extracting Kennedy’s body from Parkland Hospital before the M.E. was done, to Hoover’s declaration that Oswald acted alone before he could have known one way or the other, to the slipshod work of the Warren Commission.

People wondered: Is the government scared senseless, completely inept, or pretending to be inept because there’s something going on it wanted to cover-up? And, years from now, will files ultimately be declassified that tell us which of these scenarios is true?

When I was in high school, I read a lot of stories about time travelers heading into the past to try and undo crimes and other unfortunate events in the past. Early on in his genre, people were usually trying to save President Lincoln. Recently, tinkering with the past became more multifaceted on the TV series “Timeless.” King, as readers of 11/22/63 know, sends his main character back in time to try and save President Kennedy.

When the protagonist returns from the past, he finds the world in one hell of a gosh-awful mess. We can debate, of course, whether or not that mess is a horror story from King’s imagination or the reality we’re currently living in. I don’t believe that gosh-awful mess was likely, so I think the U.S.A and the world would have been much better off if Oswald (or whoever) had missed or had never been in Dallas at all.

So, seeing all the parts to this story again, I was pulled away.


Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


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‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’

In the hoodoo tradition, good magic is best performed between 11:30 p.m. and midnight, and evil magic is best performed between midnight and 12:30 a.m. Hence we have the rationale behind the title of John Berendt’s 1994 bestseller, Pulitzer Prize finalist, and the inspiration behind the 1997 feature film.

When the book came out, I refused to read it. The odd thing now is that I no longer remember why. Perhaps it was the hype. Perhaps it was the mix of fiction and nonfiction. Or perhaps it was because I was always more of a Charleston person than a Savannah person. The film didn’t do well, a surprise since Eastwood generally does fine work. Had it been a success, I might have seen it. But it wasn’t so I didn’t.

Here’s what seems to have happened. Somebody or something has put a hex on me forcing me to read the book. Okay, that’s enough of an incentive. Makes no sense, though, but who am I to question the origins of hexes or even to ask my Tarot cards about which side of midnight the hex was cast. So, the book is now on order.

If lightning strikes one of the two ancient trees in the front yard on the day the book arrives, I’ll destroy the book.

The same if crows or raven gather in nearby pine trees and raise one hell of a ruckus.

If you read the book and suddenly went over to the dark side, please warn me.

Since this may be a bumpy ride, I’ll need a volunteer to hold my beer.


Maybe after writing four hoodoo novels, I can safely read the book I have a notebook filled with spells including protection spells.


Montana Historical Society News Release

The Montana Historical Society’s newest exhibit, Who Speaks to You? Portraits from the Permanent Collection, includes an eclectic mix of paintings, juxtaposed to encourage visitors to look at portraits in a new way.

Portraits can reveal a lot about people and their times, if you know how to look for clues, notes Amanda Streeter Trum, curator of collections at MHS. Examining objects in the artwork, considering the backdrop, and observing the artist’s color palette reveal important information about the subject of the art.

“Experiencing art is a really personal thing; we all bring our unique experiences and opinions that color the way we may or may not interact with the piece in front of us,” Streeter Trum said. “We hope the exhibit will provide visitors an opportunity to see portraits in a different way or discover a new artistic style they enjoy.”

The exhibit opened Sept. 10, and no opening reception was held due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

It includes about 50 portraits of interesting people and pets whose presence has enriched the lives they touched and, in some cases, the larger state of Montana. The artwork is both traditional as well as abstract, Streeter Trum said.

“So many traditional portraits represent only a certain segment of society, often wealthy white men,” she added. “This is a playful exhibit and we want to show an eclectic mix of people and art.”   

The museum–at 225 North Roberts, P.O. Box 201201, Helena, MT 59620-1201– is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

I wish I could visit, but Helena is a bit of a drive from North Georgia. I’ve been a member of MHS since the 1980s, and am happy to say its research department has been very helpful in my research for my Montana Novels.


Writers conceal first, then reveal (possibly)

In a news story, the important gist of the story appears in the headline and the lead. In a short story, novel, or investigative non-fiction piece, the important point(s) are concealed until the end of the book or movie. Two kinds of stories, two kinds of approaches.

Since many of our regular TV dramas were COVID-delayed going into production, my wife and I have found ourselves watching documentaries, including “History’s Greatest Mysteries” narrated by Laurence Fishburne on the History Channel 

The episode about the escape of John Wilkes Booth focused on whether or not he (or somebody else) was killed by federal troops while hiding in a tobacco barn and subsequently if any of the Booth sightings, marriages, and fathered children were real or myth.

Near the beginning of the program, we learned that the lore of several families included the possibility that Booth was part of their family trees and that this question was going to be solved once and for all by DNA analysis. Ultimately, the DNA analysis proved that the families interviewed on the program had no connection with Booth. 

We were told this at the end of the show. Had this been a news program, that information would have been at the beginning: FAMILY LORE ABOUT BOOTH RELATIONSHIP DISPROVEN BY DNA ANALYSIS. But, if the History Channel series had divulged that at the beginning, the rest of the program would have disappeared. So, they concealed the ultimate truth to keep us watching.

Likewise, a program about a professional search for the submerged remains of Shackleton’s lost ship Endurance showed an expedition into the dangerous waters of Antarctica with a powerful ship and cutting-edge equipment to locate the ship which hasn’t been found for over one hundred years.

Had this been a news story, the headline might have been: LOCATION OF ENDURANCE STILL A MYSTERY AS EXPEDITION’S EQUIPMENT FAILS. But, since the producers wanted to keep us watching, they concealed this point until the end of the program. The equipment, designed to operate at the pressure and temperature where the wreck lay all broke down. But, we kept watching, thinking the ship might be found with one last attempt. Nope.

While I can understand the need for an exciting, as-it-happened program, I always end up feeling cheated when I learn that the producers knew it failed before they started putting together their TV show or movie. I want to shout, “cut to the chase.” But then, I don’t feel that way when I read a novel because it’s more fun to go with the flow of the story than to have the author say on page one, “Everybody’s gonna dies before the last chapter, just saying.”

That spoils the story, doesn’t it? But non-fiction, hmm, I think I’d rather know the answers at the beginning and then see how those answers were discovered, news story style.


As I wrote “Fate’s Arrows,” I felt no remorse whatsoever as I concealed most of the story’s truths until late in the story. After all, I viewed the book as a novel and not a news report.  

Why don’t more people know what stuff is?

Yesterday, I mentioned those Facebook memes in which an old appliance is displayed and people are asked if they know what it is. Dial telephones, can openers, cassette tapes, paper cutters, all kinds of office, kitchen, and workshop stuff. I’m amazed at the number of people who don’t know what it is.

Do you know what this is?

Most of the stuff shown was common as “recently” as 20 years ago. Some things are actually still around. If people aren’t using those things now, they would have seen them in their parents’ houses while growing up. Or in old movies and clips from old TV shows. Maybe I show my age when I say this, but anyone who’s watched a western movie or TV show will even know what a lot of objects are that were common in homesteads and ranches a hundred years ago. (Shows like “Little House on the Prairie” and “Medicine Woman” are, for example still running in syndication, showing us the tools and appliances from a hundred years ago.)

How about this?

Perhaps those Facebook memes are phony and everyone and their brother knows what the stuff is. Perhaps so much new stuff is coming on the market, it’s harder to remember what was around 20 years ago. Perhaps fewer people watch old movies and old TV shows these days and don’t see the objects in those memes in use. Maybe the people who watch documentaries on the History channel (where there’s a lot of old stuff) aren’t on Facebook and never see the memes.

Or, do fewer and fewer people care about the past–and all the stuff in it–because today’s issues are occupying all of our attention? The impression I’m getting is that fewer people these days are aware of recent history, much less old office, and kitchen appliances.  What do you think?

Have we lost our love affair with times gone by and all the stuff people used in those days?