The summer of 1876 Outlaws, lawmen, and legends in the season that defined the American West

Chris Wimmer

Book - 2023

"From the creator of the "Legends of the Old West" podcast, a book exploring the overlapping narratives of the biggest legends in frontier mythology. The summer of 1876 was a key time period in the development of the mythology of the Old West. Many individuals who are considered legends by modern readers were involved in events that began their notoriety or turned out to be the most famous - or infamous - moments of their lives. Those individuals were Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Wild Bill Hickok, and Jesse James. The Summer of 1876 weaves together the timelines of the events that made these men legends to demonstrate the overlapping context of their stories... and to illustrate the historical importance of that summer, all layered with highlights of significant milestones in 1876: the inaugural baseball season of the National League; the final year of President Ulysses S. Grant's embattled administration; the debut of an invention called the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell; the release of Mark Twain's novel "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer;" and many more. Contextualizing these events against the backdrop of the massive 100th anniversary party thrown to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, The Summer of 1876 is the ultimate exploration and celebration of the summer that defined the West"--

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Informational works
New York : St. Martin's Press 2023.
Main Author
Chris Wimmer (author)
First edition
Physical Description
xii, 307 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : maps ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Preface
  • Prologue: Red Cloud's War
  • 1. The Sweetwater Shootout
  • 2. The Powder River Fight
  • 3. A Political Fiasco
  • 4. New Law in Dodge
  • 5. The Campaign Begins
  • 6. The Battle of the Rosebud
  • 7. Failure to Communicate
  • 8. The Crow's Nest
  • 9. The Valley of the Little Bighorn
  • 10. Reno's Charge
  • 11. The Last Chance for Victory
  • 12. Custer's Last Stand
  • 13. The Siege of Reno Hill
  • 14. The Aftermath
  • 15. The Rocky Cut Train Robbery
  • 16. Breaking News
  • 17. Murder at the No. 10 Saloon
  • 18. The Northfield Raid
  • 19. The Manhunt
  • 20. The End of an Era
  • Epilogue
  • Acknowledgments
  • Select Bibliography
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

Wimmer, whose Legends of the West podcast explores episodes from the Old West, 18651900, has found a vein of narrative gold in three significant events from the summer of 1876: the Battle of Little Big Horn, the infamous Northfield Raid staged by the James Gang, and the inception of baseball's National League. Combined, they make for a rousing read, with Wimmer laying out in detail the unfolding of Custer's ruinous campaign against a massive aggregation of Native American tribes, the botched bank robbery by the notorious James Gang in the quaint hometown of Carleton College, and the humble beginnings of Major League Baseball. The incongruities stand out, such as the 1876 World's Fair in Philadelphia, which introduced Edison's phonograph and Bell's telephone just half a continent away from Jesse James and George Armstrong Custer. And there's the reaction of Oglala Lakota leader Red Cloud--who waged some of the most successful battles against the U.S. military--when he came upon the size, scale, and technology of 1870s Washington, DC, on a visit to meet President Grant: resignation.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Legends of the Old West podcaster Wimmer debuts with a fascinating, multiangled account of a consequential season in the history of America's western frontier. In a 90-day period from mid-June to mid-September 1876, three major events happened: the Battle of Little Big Horn, the murder of Wild Bill Hickok, and the Northfield Raid by outlaw Jesse James and his gang. Weaving these threads into a cohesive and entertaining narrative, Wimmer contends that 1876 was "the beginning of the end" for Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, and other Indigenous chiefs fighting the U.S. Army, and discusses how the advent of the telegraph turned Custer's death at Little Big Horn into national news. Also making headlines was the James-Younger Gang, who terrorized bank tellers and stagecoach drivers across the West until they were hunted down by policemen and vigilantes in Minnesota. Wimmer vividly describes Deadwood, S.Dak.; Dodge City, Kans.; and other boomtowns where lawmen including Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson made their names, and even takes note of the launch of the National League of Base Ball Clubs, precursor to the modern MLB. Though Wimmer's brisk pace leaves little room for digging into the details, he is an amiable and well-informed tour guide of the Old West. All readers have to do is saddle up and enjoy the ride. (June)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

How an extraordinarily eventful few months shaped American history and mythography. In his first book, Wimmer, the host of the Legends of the Old West podcast, explores a series of dramatic moments during a key transition period in frontier colonialism. The author includes intersecting commentary on the context for "three major events…the Battle of Little Bighorn, the murder of Wild Bill Hickock, and the Northfield Raid." Along the way, Wimmer teaches us about the roles of a number of well-known figures, including Sitting Bull, Wyatt Earp, and Jesse James. As the author explains, this work is not intended as a rigorous examination of a particular historical period but rather as "an entertaining journey through the pivotal events of the summer of 1876…intentionally lean and fast-paced." Wimmer does deliver a brisk and exciting narrative along with a good deal of intriguing--if not especially original--analysis of various "legendary" tales. Especially vivid is the author's account of the James-Younger Gang's last bank robbery and its miserable aftermath. On the whole, Wimmer doesn't render Indigenous perspectives with as much insight or sensitivity as those of Anglo-Americans, though the book begins with a chapter on Red Cloud's military strategizing and thus reminds readers, to some extent, how the biases and enormous blind spots of traditional frontier mythology have been exposed over the last several decades. The author's practice of continually shifting narrative attention between different historical events unfolding at the same time--for example, bringing to readers' attention that the rise of a professional baseball league took place contemporaneously with the climax of several "Indian wars"--can sometimes seem a little strained, though the multifocal approach here is often rewarding and consistently engaging. The book includes a handful of relevant maps. A lively survey of a watershed historical period and some of its defining figures. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.