Bozeman Paymaster: A Tale of the Fetterman Massacre

Written by Robert Lee Murphy
Review by Thomas j. Howley

It’s 1866 along a tract of formidable and challenging terrain called the Bozeman Trail in what is now Wyoming. The American Civil War has only recently come to its bloody conclusion. Now the U.S. government is trying to establish a series of forts along the trail to facilitate the movement of both miners and westward-bound settlers. The U.S. Army, not fully recovered from its losses during the recent war, is tasked with providing security. But an unlikely coalition of Indian tribes under Lakota Chief Red Cloud, including Sioux, Northern Cheyennes, and Arapahos, claim, with some justification, that the lands belong to them under treaty.

Young Zachary Wakefield works for the government in various positions: assistant paymaster, muleskinner, quartermaster clerk and occasional soldier. He encounters a schoolteacher, Katy O’Toole, who is on her way to be with her fiancé further west. A series of graphically violent engagements with hostile Indians and other factors ironically draw these two young people closer together as time goes on. After violating the orders of the overall Commander Colonel Henry B. Carrington, an entire troop of eighty men under Captain William Fetterman is wiped out. The Colonel and others must then pick up the pieces.

The Fetterman Massacre is well-known within U.S. military history circles as a classic example of a disastrous tactical action. This well-crafted novel brings a historical fiction context to the story where the characters, historical and contrived, come to vivid life. The book is interwoven with subplots of romance, betrayal and revenge. The author includes authentic technical details of terrain, equipment and daily existence in this extraordinarily harsh environment. The action, drama and scenes draw the reader’s apt attention. Very well done.