For author Lance J. Dorrel, history provides the backdrop for those who possess heroic characteristics and become legendary.
Dorrel has spent 20 years researching and writing the story of Capt. Myles Keogh, an Irishman who would find his way to America to pursue his dream of “becoming a soldier – a soldier so brave that books and stories would be written.”
Dorrel’s debut novel, “A Dance with Death: An Irish Soldier of Fortune at the Little Bighorn,’” follows the life of Keough as he makes his way from Europe before arriving in the United States to meet his destiny.
“Keough first went to the Papal War in Italy, and along the way, he met two other Irishmen, Dan Kelly and Joseph O’Keefe,” Dorrel said. “The three survive the war and head to America as they have been recruited by the Union Army.
“Keough fought at places such as Antietam, Brandy Station and Gettysburg,” he continued. “After surviving all those places, he is himself captured as he led a raid to free the Union prisoners of war camp at Andersonville.”
Unlike Keough, both his friends die in the Civil War. Following his release, Keough makes the decision to move west after he is assigned to serve in the U.S. Seventh Cavalry under Gen. George A. Custer.
Throughout the journey, Keough meets others who will influence his decisions in many ways including the love of his life, Nelly Martin.
“He decides to risk it all and tells Nelly he is staying on a little longer for the last chance at fame and immortality which he is sure the campaign would bring – of course not in the way that it did,” Dorrel commented.
Students of American history know the outcome of Little Bighorn and in knowing that realize the fate of Keough.
The compelling story, according to Dorrel, is not Keough’s fate but rather the fact he chose his fate.
“Here was a man who didn’t have to soldier to make a living,” Dorrel said. “He came from a good family and was college-educated.
“He simply wanted adventure,” he added. “He was daring and bold with a devil-may-care attitude which he was sure would see him through to the end.”
Dorrel spent five years writing the book and getting the work self-published. He spent 20 years researching and studying both Keough and the Battle of Little Bighorn.
“The Battle of the Little Bighorn is the most written about battle in U.S. history,” Dorrel said. “It was inconceivable that five companies of elite U.S. Cavalry could be annihilated by Indians.
“It was the equivalent to 9/11 for us. So much has been written about what and how the battle played out,” he added. “Only now are we as historians and writers fully able to get a decent glimpse of the affair through primary sources, namely warriors who fought there and from the survivors of the other seven companies who survived the battle.”
For the last 10 years, Dorrel has traveled to Montana and the battlefield where he met other scholars, writers and historians who have also studied the battle.
“I have many friends on the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Indian reservations that have helped me with research and have shared their families’ and tribes’ stories as they relate to the Battle (of Little Bighorn),” Dorrel noted. “In my research with these people I came to find that Capt. Keough and his troops fought not only warriors from the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, but they fought some of their warrior societies as well.
“In fact, my research has led me to find that the Seventh Cavalry encountered warriors from at least four Cheyenne warrior societies and that Capt. Keough’s command directly fought two of them. In my novel, I, of course, write of the battle and the warriors Keough and his beloved horse, Comanche, fight.”
Dorrel is organizing his accumulated research and beginning to work on his second book, which will be a “historically accurate account of the battle” from the tribes and Native Americans who fought.
“This book will have some never before oral stories that will be shown to be accurate based on archaeological finds, drawings and by interpreting written sources in new ways,” he explained. “My mission is to look at old things in new ways, informed by oral tradition and written lore.”