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Sometimes, it takes one obsessed man to seize the reins of history.
A Marine Park resident is only weeks away from completing his epic quest to accurately transcribe, cross-reference, and footnote 4,000 pages of newspaper articles and other coverage of the Indian Wars of the 19th century.
Marc Abrams, a synagogue employee by day, has spent at least 10 hours a day for the last 10 years researching his self-published 15-volume series — a comprehensive history of the bloody conquest of the West (did we mention that it’s 15 volumes?).
As a result, for the first time, the story of America’s thirst for land and slaughter is at any historian’s fingertips — footnoted and fact-checked. It’s all here, as it happened: Wounded Knee, Custer’s Last Stand, the Sioux Wars, Sitting Bull and, of course, Geronimo.
The historian’s fascination with Indians began when he was 4-years-old and saw his first “cowboys and Indians” flick on television.
“I was watching some Indians chasing a stagecoach,” Abrams recalled. “From then on, it was an obsession, I started reading everything I could.”
That obsession came to a head when he moved to Billings, Montana, where the Crow Indians once roamed the plains, hunting buffalo and clashing with rival tribes.
“The history was always in my mind, and I had a little collection of [19th-century] articles. I started to collect more, and realized that if I typed them, other people could use them,” Abrams said.
And so Abrams took on the Herculean task of transcribing more than 2,500 newspaper articles, war reports and dispatches — many of which he found in archives of defunct newspapers like the New York Herald, the New York Tribune, and the Brooklyn Eagle. Many New York papers printed wire reports from the West and wealthier papers also sent correspondents to file dispatches from the front lines of America’s Manifest Destiny madness.
Abrams examined online archives from all over the country, as well. During one of his searches, he came across a lengthy war diary nestled in an obscure archive of a small Colorado town from 1876 by a St. George Stanley. The journal turned out to be a remarkable and understudied piece of history, which Abrams made into a separate volume, called “Crying for Scalps” — a reference to a chilling episode described by Stanley days before marching off to fight the Sioux.
Abrams said his research also gave him new perspective on one of the tragic moments in U.S. history, the massacre at Wounded Knee.
“You see the whole thing unfolding — it’s not dry,” Abrams said. “There was a lot of anxiety in editorials. Lots of false reports in newspapers. You could see people were so worried about Indian uprisings and the papers created problems — almost every time an Indian sneezed, it was, “Oh no, it’s a war cry!”
But as with all obsessions, Abrams’s research cost him personally, even as it benefits humanity forever.
“My wife wasn’t thrilled about this,” the amateur researcher said, adding that he wished he had spent more time with his son, whose middle name is Lakota. “I’d been working on this a few years before he was born — he knows the back of my head the most — I feel really rotten about that.”
But those days of intense research are almost over, and his son has learned a little along the way.
“He can look at pictures and identify Custer and Sitting Bull,” Abrams said.
The 15-volume “Newspaper Chronicle of the Indian Wars,” and “Crying For Scalps — St. George Stanley’s Sioux War Narrative,” can be purchased by contacting Marc Abrams. His e-mail is email@example.com.
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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