Paul R. Wylie
The Irish General
In 2007 the University of Oklahoma Press published my book, The Irish General, a definitive biography of Thomas Francis Meagher the noted Irish Patriot and exile who led the Irish Brigade in the American Civil War. He died in Montana Territory in 1867, while serving as acting governor. The inspiration for the work came on a trip to Northern Ireland in 1999, where I observed first hand the arrest of some IRA young people by the constabulary there, using a threatening array of drawn automatic weapons, flak jackets, search lights and armored cars. As an American I knew little about the “troubles” in Ireland as they call them, and I started to explore their history where Meagher’s name soon emerged as a national hero. Even though I had been raised in the small Montana rural mountain town of White Sulphur Springs, in a county named Meagher after him, I had not appreciated his international fame on three continents. I immediately set out to write and add to my research, and after about six years I had a lengthy manuscript that became a well-received book when it was published as The Irish General.
Blood on the Marias
During the last year of writing the Meagher book, I started looking for a Montana person or event that would be of equal interest. Soon I came upon the January 23, 1870 massacre on the Marias River in which 173 Piegan Indians and probably many more were killed by Cavalry troops who had travelled in sub-zero weather from Fort Ellis near Bozeman, 300 miles away.
All historical 19th century conflicts in the Montana Territory between Indians and the U. S. Army have been overshadowed by General Custer’s battle on the Little Bighorn in 1876, and it has spawned a huge number of books, still being regularly issued today. I expected to find a fairly good number of books on The Baker Massacre, but found only a scarce few somewhat out of date, and out of print. I read James Welch’s Fools Crow, and then followed it up by reading his book, Killing Custer. As a Blackfeet tribal member Welch had asked, “Why is the Massacre on the Marias known to so few people?“ He wondered, as I have, how one compares this incident with others more famous, such as Custer’s battle at the Little Bighorn in 1876 where 263 white men and up to 100 Indians died. While both are big numbers of fatalities, the event on the Little Bighorn is known to anyone with even the slightest interest in Western history, while the Baker Massacre is known to relatively few, and has remained somewhat obscure even to historians. I decided it had to be my next project, and setting aside another book I had been working on, I started to research and write what I hope is a definitive work on the subject. This project has kept my attention for a few years now and I have been fascinated by the research and the job of uncovering as much as could about what caused the Piegans and the Cavalry to meet on that fateful day of January 23, 1870 on the frozen Marias River.
These days I am comfortable as a retired attorney living with my wife Arlene in my native Montana after years living out of the state in big cities. I now spend most of my time researching history and writing, which I love. It did not start out that way. My degree in chemical engineering from Montana State led me to employment as a rocket engineer in Utah for a few years before I moved to Washington, D. C. to work as an Examiner in the U. S. Patent Office and obtain a law degree at American University. That was followed by a long legal career in Utah, New Jersey and California as corporate counsel and in intellectual property law private practice, and I became a member of the bars in Utah, California and Montana with biographical information appearing in the Who’s Who editions both for law and finance. I returned to Montana in 1990.
The common thread between all of my prior legal work and the historical writing I am doing now is a lot of hard work and time spent while digging into thousands of documents. There may be no end in sight as I have two other stories from Montana history in progress that will be in a narrative non-fiction style if I ever get them done.