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DeWolf book author to speak at Fort Seward on Monday

Todd Harburg, an orthopedic surgeon from Michigan, has written and edited a book about Dr. James DeWolf, one of three contract surgeons who served under U.S. Army Gen. George Custer and the 7th Calvary at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

History has been a part of Todd Harburg’s life since he was a child growing up in Michigan.

Harburg, an orthopedic surgeon who lives along the Mackinac Straits near Mackinac Island in Michigan, has written a book about one of the contract surgeons who traveled with U.S. Army Gen. George Custer and the 7th Cavalry and died at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

“A Surgeon with Custer at Little Bighorn: James DeWolf’s Diary and Letters, 1876” is a detailed review of the diary and letters that Dr. James DeWolf wrote about his experience being with the 7th Cavalry as it rode out to what became the Battle of Little Bighorn. Harburg said DeWolf was killed in the early stages of the battle, but DeWolf left behind a wealth of information and insight into the daily lives of the soldiers and everyday people of that time.

Harburg said he is part of a re-enactment done at Fort Michilimackinac near Mackinaw City, Mich., each year to commemorate Chief Pontiac’s uprising in 1763. He said he was always fascinated by tales of the Great Plains and was reintroduced to the Custer story in 2008.

“I started going out to the re-enactments (of the Battle of Little Bighorn),” he said. “I saw all the books on the battle.”

Harburg said he saw books on Dr. Henry Porter, the acting assistant surgeon, who survived the battle, and Dr. George Little. The only book he could find on DeWolf was written in 1958 and is basically DeWolf’s diary and letters printed verbatim.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is going to be my next book,’” he said.

Harburg received permission from the State Historical Society of North Dakota to get access to DeWolf’s diary and letters. He also got permission from the National Park Service to review the archives at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana.

Harburg said it took him seven years to research and write this book as he is a surgeon. His purpose in writing the book was to show people what daily life was like in the 1870s.

“I was very fortunate that I was able to speak to historians,” he said. “It was kind of a long haul (writing and researching the book). I hope it turned into a great book.”

Harburg said he didn’t focus a lot on what happened at the Battle of Little Bighorn because that topic is covered in other books. Instead he focused more on what DeWolf, an educated man, experienced in his daily interactions with other people.

“He provided a great picture of what life was like at Fort Seward,” he said. “He was only there a month, but his letters tell so much about what was going on there.”

Harburg will also sell and sign copies of his book. Keith Norman, a reporter for The Sun, will also be selling and signing copies of his new book, “Frontier Valor: The Medal of Honor on the Northern Plains,” after Harburg’s presentation.

(701) 952-8454


What: Dr. Todd Harburg speaking about his book, “A Surgeon at Little Big Horn: James DeWolf’s Diary and Letters, 1876,” published by the University Oklahoma Press

When: 7 p.m. Monday, June 19

Where: Fort Seward Interpretive Center 602 10th Ave. NW

Chris Olson

Hometown: Traverse City, MI College: Northwestern Michigan College and Michigan State University

(701) 952-8454