3 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mystery is an Integral Part of the Battle of the Little Bigh
I don't know if Billy Heath survived the Battle of the Little Bighorn, but as a student of the battle and of Custer, I enjoy considering the "what ifs" of history. For a long time History (with a capital H) was only about the great, a contradiction to the principles of our democratic society. Now we have in addition the recuperation of the lives of others, such as the...
Published on September 24, 2003 by Louise Barnett
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars For Custer Survivor Account Enthusiasts Only
Sadly, this nicely designed book with many excellent photographs falls well short of the mark in content and in proving that Billy Heath survived Custer's Last Stand. The author thinks otherwise though, as he writes with 100% certainty that Heath indeed survived the battle. Last Stand survivor accounts have always fascinated me, since the most far-fetched are often...
Published on July 8, 2003 by John D. Mackintosh
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars For Custer Survivor Account Enthusiasts Only,
This review is from: Billy Heath: The Man Who Survived Custer's Last Stand (Hardcover)Sadly, this nicely designed book with many excellent photographs falls well short of the mark in content and in proving that Billy Heath survived Custer's Last Stand. The author thinks otherwise though, as he writes with 100% certainty that Heath indeed survived the battle. Last Stand survivor accounts have always fascinated me, since the most far-fetched are often humorous and entertaining. The Heath claim is not in the humorous category though. If you are interested in such accounts, you should probably consider buying this book, as Genovese may have unknowingly identitified a Seventh Cavalry deserter whom at least two other writers (Edgar Stewart in 1955 and Doug Ellison in 2001) have deduced left the ill-fated L Troop shortly before its demise.
This book leaves much to be desired though, due to the following:
Conclusions? If the author has the liberty to speculate, the reader can do so as well. Perhaps Heath was one of the members of Troop L who remained with the packtrain in the rear and thus escaped the fate of most of his fellow troopers. The "survival" account was started after his death by family members at a loss as to how he could have survived the 7th's famous battle, unaware that many did through serving under Reno and Benteen, the commands that the packtrain ended up with. His listing as killed in battle was in error and never corrected as he could have deserted in the confusion following the battle. The picture is further clouded by the author's disclosure that Heath had an alias. Most likely though, Heath may well be the unnamed deserter that Doug Ellison's recent booklet MYSTERY OF THE ROSEBUD indicates may have departed the 7th Cavalry prior to the battle, on June 22, three days before the fateful encounter. Nearly fifty years before, Edgar Stewart reached a similar conclusion in his classic CUSTER'S LUCK. Ellison was made aware of Stewart's belief only after he arrived at the same answer
One thing is for certain though, even if Heath were actually a survivor of the last stand, his survial significes nothing for history. Survivor or deserter, he totally failed to leave behind any written accounts that could in some small way begin to answer some of the questions about the fabled engagement that his family's oral tradition claims he survived. Instead, we have only one more mystery about an event that already has more than its share of such conumdrums.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Argument not supported,
By A Customer
This review is from: Billy Heath: The Man Who Survived Custer's Last Stand (Hardcover)Ever since Custer's debacle at Little Big Horn numerous stories about survivors have popped up. This is another one of those stories. While on the surface this book may seem compelling, the author's argument is not. The author's lack of notation and sources creates numerous problems for serious historians. A glimpse through the slightly less than two page bibliography reveals that the author, who identifies himself as "an amateur historian," has not done exhaustive primary research. The sources that he lists are generally secondary and there is a sprinkling of published primary sources.
The authors lack of documentation also does not bode well for this book in academic circles. Suggesting that Heath was the sole survivor and not providing one footnote is a poor methodological practice.
In all this book offers nothing more than another "survivor story." This book is of no great historical significance because nothing is substantiated.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but unsubstantiated story,
This review is from: Billy Heath: The Man Who Survived Custer's Last Stand (Hardcover)Custer's Last stand is one of the most famous events in American History. Supposedly all 210+ men in the five companies that accompanied him to attack the village on the Little Bighorn river died along with him, but legends have persisted ever since that there were survivors. The current book is an attempt to prove that one man did survive: William Heath, a farrier (horse handler) in Company L of the 7th Cavalry.
The difficulty is that the author has little proof for his story beyond the bare bones of tax records and army enlistment papers. Records don't always tell the whole story, and in some cases the facts they present are completely inaccurate. Here those records seem to show that Heath entered the USA in 1872 from England, enlisted in the army in 1875, fought at the Little Bighorn and was killed, and then reappearred the next year in Pennsylvania at his home and lived for another dozen or so years, fathering half a dozen children in the meanwhile.
The difficulty with the above is that there are major discrepancies which the author either ignores or unconvincingly explains away. For one thing, Heath was a coal miner for much of the period 1872-5, then became a policeman working for the coal company. In 1872 he was illiterate, and made his mark on his citizenship papers. In 1875 he signs his name (with a beautiful flowing script) on his enlistment papers. When did he find time to learn to read and write? Another circumstance which the author ignores is that Heath's reason for leaving his home and enlisting in the army was that the Molly Maguires (violent proto-Union coalminers) threatened him. A few pages later, the author tells you that the Mollies cut off the ears of those they wanted to threaten, but not kill. Later still, he tells you that Heath had part of one ear cut off during his service with the 7th Cavalry. However, he never makes the obvious conclusion that perhaps he lost the ear in a confrontation with the Mollies as opposed to a fight with the Sioux.
I think, from the available evidence presented by the author, that it's equally likely that Heath fled home after one of the Mollies cut his ear off, and that somehow someone else from the area took his name for some reason and used it when they entered the army. This would account for him learning to read, and explain how he could reappear after being killed at the Little Bighorn. He simply wasn't there. One thing the author doesn't explain at all: after the battle, Heath supposedly was found and nursed back to health by a family of settlers, and made his way home. The Mollies, in the meanwhile, had been broken up and sent to jail or the gallows. How did Heath, out on the frontier, receive word that it was safe to go home? My suspicion is he was holed up in Philadelphia or New York City, and read about it in the paper.
Another difficulty of the book is that since there's so little evidence, the author feels the need to pad things with extraneous information, to flesh out his story. As a result we get a painfully amateurish history lesson, replete with politically correct silliness and psychohistory. Everything from a half-baked psychoanalysis of Custer to Andrew Carnegie's nickname for John D. Rockefeller is included. Not exactly what I was expecting or looking for.
All in all, this is an interesting theory, but it's far from fully supported by the meager documentation the author has. He only has one photograph of the man (only reproduced on the front cover of the book) and hardly anything else about him is available. This leaves the premise way more thin than it should be for the author to make such a claim with the certainty that he exhibits.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars For the historically challenged...,
This review is from: Billy Heath: The Man Who Survived Custer's Last Stand (Hardcover)Billy Heath was an illiterate, one eared Pennsylvania coal miner who supposedly survived the Custer massacre. And like Frank Finkel, and several others, Heath decided to go straight home after the battle. A number of Seventh Cavalrymen were separated from their commands at the time of the battle but made their way back to their lines. But not Heath, who like Finkel just decided to mosey on home. The reader may find it odd that the only two men who survived the Custer fight simply went home after the battle. Heath's tale is "family history" meaning one big whopper told to gullible family members and friends. A companion book to John Koster's "Custer Survivor" the author has written an account based totally on wishful thinking and bad research. Heath left no written accounts behind so the so called "evidence" the author states which supports the story is nowhere to be found. The author even bemoans the fact that Frank Finkel left a written account of his tall tale.For the most part this book is about everything but Heath. "Filler pieces" on the Molly McGuires, Custer's psychological profile and sexual desires( as if he knew), coal mining, politics take up space and have very little to do with the subject at hand and apparently were included for no other reason than to add pages. The author's research leaves much to be desired: Private Dennis Lynch is used as a source when, in fact, Lynch was on "detached service" at the time of the battle and himself fabricated his presence at the battle. The mistakes in this book are to many to mention. In the long run save your money, this is pure fiction passed off as history to the very gullible.
Interestingly, author Genovese states that the other great "sole survivor," Frank Finkel, was "not being truthful" in his account while John Koster, author of the Finkel "Custer Survivor" book, says the same thing about Heath's claim which proves, I suppose, great minds think alike.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Waste of money,
This review is from: Billy Heath: The Man Who Survived Custer's Last Stand (Hardcover)I was thoroughly disappointed with the book, which was supposed to be about a survivor of the Battle of Little Bighorn. However, the author chose to insert way too much information about Custer, the Army, what happened to the Indians afterward, the condition of the country, and even Andrew Carnegie. I know he needed to put in some background of a few of the items, especially Custer and the 7th, but come on, the bulk of the book was not about Billy Heath. In addition, he speculated way too much and was flimsy on his sources. He mentioned in the start of the book that he wasn't going to go with the traditional footnoting, but he went way out in not including attribution that is essential in a historical piece. When I bought the book I was ready to believe Heath was a Bighorn survivor, but I have more doubts after I read his book. The Frank Finkle (another survivor) authors had much more credible information and sources than Genovese did. I'm not a professor of history, nor a book author, but I read enough American history books to see that Genovese fell short. In my opinion, the book was a waste of money. Ed Moreth
3 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mystery is an Integral Part of the Battle of the Little Bigh,
This review is from: Billy Heath: The Man Who Survived Custer's Last Stand (Hardcover)I don't know if Billy Heath survived the Battle of the Little Bighorn, but as a student of the battle and of Custer, I enjoy considering the "what ifs" of history. For a long time History (with a capital H) was only about the great, a contradiction to the principles of our democratic society. Now we have in addition the recuperation of the lives of others, such as the enlisted man Billy Heath. I find his life as a nineteenth-century working man fascinating, above and beyond whatever role he may have played on June 25, 1876. As for the negative portrait of Custer, this is more in keeping with the view of a 7th cavalry enlisted man than a privileged officer (or reader!). See for comparison Private Theodore Ewert's sour view of the Black Hills expedition. Many historians have put stock in the oral tradition of Native American accounts of the battle--why not in the oral tradition of a soldier's family? The detail that William Heath was unmarried can be just as inaccurate as his name being erroneously placed on the battlefield monument. Information about enlisted men is notoriously slippery. As for Frank Finkel and other fraudulent "sole survivors," they have already been written about by others. This is Billy Heath's story, as reconstructed by a determined and intrepid researcher. Was Heath in reality a deserter? History never gives us all the information we want, and that's its challenge.
0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars poser,
This review is from: Billy Heath: The Man Who Survived Custer's Last Stand (Hardcover)Once again we have a fake poser who has stolen the name of a real man who was killed at Little BigHorn. Same story as Finkle he escaped and found out on the plains during an indian war by a white family nursed back to health and instead of reporting in to the nearest army post just goes home. Sad thing is now some POS has placed a GAR marker on the fake Heaths grave in Pottsville PA. To be in the GAR you had to have served in the Civil War fake Heath in PA arrived in USA after the Civil War so now someone has stolen one of the GAR markers from one of over 50 Civil War vets buried in that cemetary and put it on this posers grave. I have alerted the proper people in Schuylkill Co to take care of that problem. If you like science fiction buy this book. If you respect veterans do not. The author had the audacity to take a pic of the grave in Pottsville with the GAR marker on it instead of taking the marker off the grave before he took the pic or perhaps he is the one who put the marker there.
1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Billy Heath: The Man Who survuced Custer's Last Stand,
This review is from: Billy Heath: The Man Who Survived Custer's Last Stand (Hardcover)Wonderful read, a unique and groundbreaking perspective about the battle of little bighorn. A must read for all historians and teachers of history. Genovese presents convincing facts and informative details about how one person was able to live through the battle and later return to his PA home. Many have speculated about survivors. For the first time they can point to the PA grave of the only known soldier to return home from the bloodiest battle of them all. This book is sure to change the perspective of all who have studied this battle, especially the skeptics like myself who doubted the possibility.
2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Billy Heath: The Man Who Survived Custer's Last Stand,
This review is from: Billy Heath: The Man Who Survived Custer's Last Stand (Hardcover)This is a gem of a book that not only relives, but provides new information about the fascinating and horrifying battle of Little Big Horn -- Custer's Last Stand. Contrary to common belief among scholars that no white man survived the battle, this book provides solid evidence that one white man actually did survive -- Billy Heath, the Seventh Calvary's farrier (person responsible for the well being of the company's horses). The author, Vincent J. Genovese, supports this startling claim by providing us with photocopies of birth, army, tax, and funeral records. Genovese also enlivens the text with photographs of the key participants (both White and Native American), and important locations. The background information makes interesting and exciting reading -- the harsh life of making a living in the coal mines of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania; the Molly Maguire episode; the biography of George Custer; the balanced presentation of the plight of the Indians; the shocking battle of Little Big Horn itself; and the daring, but necessarily hypothetical, means of escape by Billy Heath. I think this book provides lively and fast-paced reading for the general public and provides ample groundwork for scholars.
1 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Comments on Billy Health - Suvivor of Little Big Horn,
This review is from: Billy Heath: The Man Who Survived Custer's Last Stand (Hardcover)Although not an historian of the Battle of Little Bighorn, the author does offer compelling evidence that there was a survivor. In addition, the book provides interesting information on the Pa. coal region, Custer, Little Bighorn, etc. The information appears to have been thoroughly researched and well written. It's very evident that the writer believes that Billy Heath is, in fact, the sole suvivor of the Battle of Little Bighorn.
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Billy Heath: The Man Who Survived Custer's Last Stand by Vincent J. Genovese (Hardcover - May 1, 2003)