An Obituary for Major Reno
On May 17, 1876, Colonel George Custer led the Seventh Cavalry out of Fort Abraham Lincoln with orders to seek out and subdue one of the last villages of hostile Cheyenne and Sioux who had failed to report to their designated reservation by the US government’s deadline. With him were officers Major Marcus Reno, Captain Frederick Benteen, and over 600 enlisted men, plus seventy-odd civilian herders, scouts, etc. What happened on that march immediately became the talk of the nation and even today stirs controversy. At issue is the question of who to blame for the subsequent massacre of over 200 men at the battle of the Little Bighorn, as it has come to be known, which many consider to be the worst disaster in US Army history.
The novel begins thirteen years after the event. Reporter Joseph Richler, Washington correspondent for the New York Herald, reluctantly goes to interview Marcus Reno, who is scheduled for surgery to remove his cancerous tongue. Richler sees his assignment as a no-win situation. In the intervening years, Reno’s reputation has been further smeared, his honor tarnished, by a series of accusations apart from the notorious battle. Knowing that he will be dead soon, Reno convinces Richler to set the record straight.
Richard Wheeler is such a solid writer of the western genre. His pacing and characterization are nearly flawless. Having been to the Little Bighorn Memorial in Montana, I can say that the battlefield is exactly as he describes it. Details of the events leading up to, during, and after the battle are gripping. He doesn’t try to turn Reno into a hero who unjustifiably wound up on the wrong side of public opinion. I would definitely recommend this book.