Skip to comments.General Charles King, Originally Lt. Fifth Cavalry
Posted on 06/05/2006 12:43:17 PM PDT by robowombat
Lieutenant Charles King, Fifth Cavalry,
General Charles King (1844-1933) was a soldier, novelist and historian. His military career began during the Civil War when, as a teenager, he served as a mounted orderly for the Iron Brigade under his father, Brigadier General Rufus King of the Wisconsin Volunteers. Appointed by President Abraham Lincoln to West Point, he graduated to receive his U.S. Army commission in 1866, just after the end of the Civil War. By 1871, he was a lieutenant in the 5th Cavalry, serving under General George Crook, with whom he saw active duty in Arizona and the Northern Plains states. It was while King was with the 5th Cavalry that he became friends with William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody -- the unit's scout. In 1874, in Arizona Territory, King was shot in the arm during a skirmish with Apache Indians. Despite an initial recovery the shattered bone in his arm never fully healed. Yet King persisted in pursuing his military career. In 1876, he was again with Crook and Cody on the Northern Plains and witnessed Cody's famous duel with the Cheyenne warrior Yellow Hand. King's wound eventually forced him out of active cavalry service in 1879, when he retired, at the rank of captain, at age 35. King then taught military science and tactics at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, for a short time. In 1882, he was appointed colonel in the newly formed Wisconsin National Guard, marking the beginning of his second military career.
King's first book-length work was his non-fiction Campaigning with Crook, based on his experiences as a lieutenant in the Sioux Campaign of 1876 as part of the U.S. 5th Cavalry. It evolved from a series of newspaper articles written for the Milwaukee Sentinel, in 1879, into a separate pamphlet in 1880. In 1890, Harper & Brothers republished it as an actual book, along with three of his short stories of Army fiction. Campaigning With Crook has proven to be King's most popular and enduring work. Thereafter, he turned mostly to writing highly romantic novels that were also based on his experiences in the Army, beginning with The Colonel's Daughter, published in 1883. His duties with the Wisconsin National Guard permitted King a home life and an office to pursue his writings. Love had found King, as a young officer, while he was stationed in New Orleans, Louisiana early in 1872. There he met and fell head over heals for a Miss Adelaide Lavender Yorke, whom he married that same year. Together they had three daughters and a son. The oldest daughter died tragically at age five in 1879.
In 1898, during the Spanish American War, King was re-commissioned as Brigadier General of Volunteers. In 1899, he was in Manila to assist in the Spanish surrender of the Philippines and the Insurrection that followed. King commanded volunteer regiments and battalions of the First Wyoming, First California, First Washington, and First Idaho infantry during the Battle of Santa Ana of the Philippines Insurrection of 1899. There he proved a cool-headed and courageous field commander. He then returned to his work with the Wisconsin National Guard, and actively trained troops for battle during the Great War. As such he served in five separate Army campaigns over a seventy-year period -- the first and only American soldier to do so.
As an author, King penned and/or edited over 62 books, published in more than 400 different editions, and it is estimated that he published in eccess of 250 short stories. Nearly all of his writings used the U.S. Army as his touchstone, with particular emphasis on the American Civil War, the frontier Indian Wars, and the Spanish-American War. King has the unique distinction of being the first person to author books by dictating into a sound-recording machine. In 1890, Sunset Pass was the first book published using this technique. King spoke into an Edison phonograph, to create recordings on wax cylinder records, later transcribed by his stenographer, Lucile Rhoades. King was active in his writing career for over 30 years, and it even afforded him a chance to once again work with his old friend Buffalo Bill in helping to write the screenplay for Cody's silent motion picture films, collectively called "Indian War Pictures."
King's writings, relating to American Indians, cover a complex range of opinion within his novels. His sympathy for their cause of defending their homelands, and being forced to adopt a new lifestyle, did not stop him from graphically portraying them as savage and barbaric peoples. However, King also used his writings to harshly criticize U.S. government policies that resulted in Indian treaties not being honored and that permitted rampant corruption among government-appointed reservation agents. As a lieutenant in the 5th Cavalry, King was a participant on the American western frontier, who personally fought in battles with Southwestern and Plains Indians and observed government policies first hand. His opinions and biases were shaped by personal experience and may well reflect the attitudes of many within the Old Army of the American frontier. Charles King is credited today with helping to establish the "Western novel" as a romantic and dramatic genre of American literature, based upon a sturdy foundation of historical realism. This exhibit is designed to reintroduce the graphic and melodramatic stories of Charles King to a modern 21st century audience.
For further information on Charles King, the following books are recommended:
Campaigning With King: Chronicler of the Old Army by Don Russell, edited and with an introduction by Paul L. Hedren. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991.
The Life and Works of General Charles King 1844-1933 : Martial Spirit by John W. Bailey. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1998.
Life and Manners in the Frontier Army by Oliver Knight, forward by Paul L. Hedren. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978.