Novel unearths lost Welsh link with the Battle of Little Bighorn
A unique Welsh link with Custer’s Last Stand will be recognised at a book launch in north Pembrokeshire next week.
If God Will Spare My Life… is a novel based on the true story of a Dinas Cross farmer’s son who fought at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
On June 25, 1876, he was among 210 US cavalrymen under the command of Lieut-Col George Armstrong Custer who were wiped out by huge numbers of indigenous peoples of the Great Plains.
Journalist Mike Lewis from Aberporth, Ceredigion, stumbled across the story of Sargeant William James twenty years ago.
Mike subsequently traced five previously-unknown letters James dispatched home to his younger brother which form the framework of the novel.
The book will be launched at Newport Memorial Hall on Friday, June 25 – the 145th anniversary of the battle which was the largest defeat inflicted on US federal troops by indigenous Americans.
“I followed his meandering trail to Llanelli, the streets of Victorian London and then across the Atlantic,” said Mike Lewis.
“I tracked him to Toronto in Canada; to the very town house where he lodged, and then on to Chicago where he joined up.
“From there the chase took me to the Deep South of outlaw Jesse James and the Ku Klux Klan and finally on to Dakota Territory and the Great Northern Plains, home of the bear, buffalo, wolf and Native Americans.
“It was akin to being a lawman in pursuit of a particularly elusive fugitive – and one adept at leaving a false trail.
“There were times when I despaired of ever catching up with my quarry; others when the embers of his campfire and discarded cheroot were still hot to the touch.”
If God Will Spare My Life… opens in 1904, when readers encounter Haverfordwest solicitor Arthur Nicholas at the onset of his quest to trace James, heir apparent to a Fishguard farm.
His disappearance over thirty years previously was abrupt and puzzling.
Arthur’s progress is interspersed with the recollections of James himself, recounting his somewhat harrowing story in the first person.
Yet the narrator in If God Will Spare My Life… is not some Pembrokeshire farmer’s son toiling on his native land; but a trooper in Custer’s Seventh heading towards annihilation.
Plagued by doubts about the Seventh’s mission to return fleeing Indians to their reservations, James broods over his troubled past and compares their plight to Welsh oppression.
“As the unsuspecting Seventh close in on Little Bighorn, James – wracked by nightmares and premonitions of disaster – ponders desertion after coming to realise he is as much a fugitive as the Native Americans he is pursuing,” said Mike.
“But the one thing he has not taken into account is that a man can never escape from himself.”
’If God Will Spare My Life…’, published on June 30 by Victorina Press, is available on pre-order here.