- Historic Sites
Little Big Man’s Man
Thomas Berger, the author of a classic novel of the American West, speaks about its long-awaited sequel—and about what is to be learned in the challenging territory that lies between history and fiction
May/June 1999 | Volume 50, Issue 3
I, too, accept Crabb’s accounts as gospel, though as aforementioned, I take some pains to check them out. I have never been tempted to write history as opposed to fiction, because historians, as opposed to novelists, must do real work. Then, too, I have been spoiled by the Western historian Leo E. Oliva’s scholarly article of 1973 on Little Big Man as history, which supports as many of Jack’s claims to accuracy as can be so supported, and my subsequent appointment as honorary member of the historians’ fraternity, Phi Alpha Theta.
At the end of The Return , Jack Crabb promises to continue his story after his nap, a story that, according to both books, includes sojourns in revolutionary Mexico and parts south, gambols with naked Hawaiian women, and a stint with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. If, as you say, no one ever asked you to write a sequel to Little Big Man , let me be the first on my block to ask you this: Will we have to wait another thirty-five years—by which time you should be about his age—to find out if Crabb ever woke up from his nap?
Latin American revolutions and the naked women of the Sandwich Islands are mentioned only in the afterword to Little Big Man . At the end of The Return , the references are to the Klondike gold strike and the Spanish-American War, with a nod toward Edison’s movie apparatus, which may suggest that Jack had some involvement with the motionpicture industry, maybe even running once again into Wyatt Earp, who served as a technical adviser on early Western films and was supposedly a pal of Tom Mix.
But though Jack Crabb is immortal, his amanuensis is not. No doubt he’ll keep talking, but who can say how long I’ll be able to hear him?