Captain Charles King, A Soldiers’ Writer

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If there were a McDreamy writer of the Western Army it would have to have been Charles King. This man lived and breathed all things military. His grandfather happened to live next door to Commanding General Winfield Scott and when, at the age of five, Charles spotted him in civilian clothes he gave the general a good talking to about it. His father brought him to Washington at the start of the Civil War where he became a 16-year-old mounted orderly. Soon enough he won appointment to West Point where he became an outstanding tactician.

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Eventually he went West with the army, but not before winning a horse race on Ladies’ Day at the Metaire Jockey Club in New Orleans under the watchful eyes of his commander Colonel William H. Emory who’d requested the popular King to be his aide. Sitting with the colonel and his wife was a southern belle wearing Yankee colors and after winning the race and the prize of a gold mounted horse whip  King  immediately walked straight into the crowd and placed the prize in  the lap of Adelaide Lavander York. They were married a few months later. She kept the whip and brandished it when admonishing him.

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King while fighting the Apaches suffered a severe bullet wound to the arm that should have led to amputation but King “managed to save it by heroic measures–which included drinking a gallon of whiskey a day.”

What does all of this have to do with writing? When he retired he became one of the most popular writers in America in the 1880’s-1900. Soldiers adored him, would be soldiers dreamed of the adventures he wrote about and women sighed over the gallantry of the officer class of men he’d been a part of and described so authentically.

Some say his books have no literary merit, but I love them. The officer class in the Western military had an admirably high set of standards for themselves. It would be natural to say he idealized these men if it weren’t for the fact that historians and the soldiers of his day attest to the accuracy of his depiction of a brief period of time in the West.

Info courtesy of Life and Manners In The Frontier Army by Oliver Knight

 

 

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