March Into Reading with Dave Wooten

Shawn Vicklund

Reading breeds thinking. There’s no substitute for good, old fashioned reading. Reading can establish thought patterns, logic, a sense of complexity, an ability to spot contradictions and even falsity. Books have a way of transporting you through history, the galaxy, or an imaginary far-away place.

March is National Reading Month, a time to motivate families and people of all ages to read every day. At Bozeman Magazine, we like to celebrate reading all year-round, but March has been designated as a time to celebrate reading, the different genres of books and the positive benefits of reading regularly.

As we celebrate the power of reading, we also want to celebrate those who write. In Bozeman, we’re fortunate to have many local authors in our own backyard! We’re proud to have the opportunity to sit down with one special local author who was recently voted Bozeman’s Choice, “Favorite Local Author,” Dave Wooten. You know his voice from 100.7 XL Country, and I had the chance to learn more about his ‘off-air’ life, including what inspired him to write, why he enjoys reading and his passion for history.

Shawn Vicklund: First off, congratulations! You were recently voted, Bozeman’s Choice ‘Favorite Local Author’ for your book, Crazy Horse, Where My Dead Lie Buried. Most know your voice on the radio but can you share with readers what you do when you’re not on the air or hosting events around town?  

Dave Wooten: Can I just say, thank you, for providing me with this opportunity. While I’ve spent most of my life working in radio, I actually, for a time, worked and lived in Hollywood. That’s where I discovered my desire to write. I began with writing spec scripts for TV shows and movies, with little success. But turning one of my screenplays into a book moved my writing into a new direction and eventually led to Crazy Horse.

SV: You’ve written other books including, That’s Here? 25 Historical Places to Visit In and Around Sheridan, Wyoming. How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

DW: Well, it showed me the need for having a good editor, and making sure other eyes see your work before publication. In traditional publishing, they take care of that for you, but when you self-publish every aspect of the writing process is on you. Now I have several people I trust look my manuscript over to make sure the grammar is what it should be, and also that it’s factually accurate. Having said that, a few mistakes still manage to sneak through when you have nearly 300 pages.

SV: Crazy Horse was a legendary warrior in the Battle of Little Big Horn in Montana territory; many say the greatest Indian warrior ever. Was it his legend that initially drew you to this time period in history and to write from the Indian point of view?

DW: You know, growing up I was not interested in Indians or their history. I watched John Wayne westerns with my dad as a kid and was fascinated by Old West history. But the Indian part of that didn’t capture me. That changed when I moved to Sheridan, Wyoming. I moved there for a radio job, and read a book by Sam Morton about the Sheridan area called Where the Rivers Run North.

The author used Crazy Horse as the thread to hold his story together and that’s really how I discovered Crazy Horse’s story. It fascinated me, and the fact that I actually lived right where Crazy Horse lived during most of his life really sparked my interest. This led to me researching the Lakota leader and the Plains Indians. The Westerns I had grown up on were completely inaccurate when portraying the Indians. If they had been more truthful, I’m sure I would found an interest in the Indians and their culture much earlier.

SV: To write about Crazy Horse, you had to become an expert on the Battle of Little Big Horn, the Indian warrior way of life, and Crazy Horse himself. What kind of research did you do before beginning this book?

DW: I wrote That’s Here? 25 Historical Places to Visit In & Around Sheridan, Wyoming, just before I wrote my Crazy Horse book. Many of the historical sites I featured in the Sheridan book were from the life of Crazy Horse. Also, with the Little Bighorn Battlefield only about an hour from Sheridan, I took many trips (dozens) to visit and walk the ground where Crazy Horse and his Lakota defeated Custer. In addition, I visited in person many of the historical places from the life of Crazy Horse, including standing on the spot where he died, and I’ve also read probably close to fifty books about Crazy Horse and the Lakota.

SV: With only one exception, it’s been recorded that Crazy Horse was never injured in wars and battles he fought; is that correct? It seems impossible with the raw nature of these battles that he was never injured.

DW: Crazy Horse had somewhere in the neighborhood of eight horses shot out from underneath him in battle, but he never suffered a major injury while fighting. As a young warrior, he received a vision (as many Lakota warriors did) that showed him he would never die in battle. He believed that vision wholeheartedly, and that is why many believe he was such a fierce warrior. He really didn’t think he was going to die on the battlefield. This vision, however, did show him how he would die. And it’s exactly how he did ultimately die. His vision showed him that he would be stabbed by a soldier, and that’s what happened to him after surrendering at Camp Robinson, Nebraska, in 1877.

SV: A broken treaty brought Crazy Horse and Lieutenant Colonel Custer into conflict, ultimately leading to Custer’s death. Both Crazy Horse and Custer are known for their leadership in battle. No one questions that. Can you speak to their different legacies, the stories that live on?

DW: Custer, in many ways, gets a bad wrap, I believe. If you read some of his writings, he actually sympathizes with the Indians, and said basically that if he were in their position, he would do exactly what they were doing, defending their home and way of life. Custer, however, was a soldier, and he believed it was his duty to follow orders, which were to bring the Indians into the reservation. He died doing that to the best of his ability.

Crazy Horse and Custer were similar in that they were both fearless on the battlefield. Crazy Horse’s objective, however, was the opposite of Custer’s. He was trying to defend the Lakota’s way of life. He knew that if they surrendered, the Lakota people as they knew it would cease to exist. That’s why he and Sitting Bull were so against surrendering. They only did so when they finally ran out of food and warriors to defend themselves.

SV: Can you expand on what Sitting Bull’s role was?

DW: At the time of the Little Bighorn, Sitting Bull had transitioned from being a warrior to more of a leadership role. He was the head of the Hunkpapa Lakota, and his role at the Little Bighorn was one of strategy and politics. It was his vision a few weeks before the Little Big Horn of grasshoppers falling upside down from the sky into a Lakota camp (grasshoppers were soldiers) that gave the Lakota supreme confidence that they would defeat the U.S. Soldiers they called bluecoats. And they did, overwhelmingly. But while the Little Bighorn was a great victory for the Lakota, in the end they lost the war.

SV: If completed, the Crazy Horse Memorial in Black Hills, Custer County, South Dakota, could be the world’s largest sculpture. Can you speak to the significance of this?

DW: You know there are some Lakota who are not happy with the monument. Crazy Horse always avoided the spotlight, and there is some irony that his likeness is being so boldly displayed in what was the Lakota’s most sacred place, the Black Hills. Many believe that Crazy Horse would actually have objected to this. Having said that, the monument—which is amazing to see, and I would highly recommend anyone take the time to visit it if you can—lifts up the Lakota leader to the status of the white presidents on Mount Rushmore just a few miles away.  I think the monument will also keep alive Crazy Horse and the Lakota’s story for as long as we live on this planet, and that is a good thing.  

SV: What did you edit out of this book? Why?

DW: Wow, that is a great question and one that I have never had. My story takes place during the last 14 months of Crazy Horse’s life. So, while I allude to his days as a young boy and some of the life-changing events that happened to him at that time—like his mother actually killing herself—I wasn’t able to go into great detail without compromising the pace of the story. Some of those scenes had to come out.

SV: What books are you currently reading? Do you like audio or print?

DW: I’m getting ready to start writing a book about the Battle of the Little Bighorn, so I’m boning up on Custer. Right now I’m reading Washita Memories, Eyewitness Views of Custer’s Attack on Black Kettle’s Village. There were some events at the Battle of the Washita with Custer that may have affected what happened at the Little Bighorn.

As for audio or print, I find I can’t do audiobooks. When I’ve tried, my mind tends to wander, especially if I’m driving in a vehicle, and I end up having to constantly go back and replay what I’ve missed. I also have to say, I like the feel, and sometimes even the smell, of a real book.

SV: How would you encourage those to read more? What good habits can you share?

DW: Sometimes people who think they don’t like to read just haven’t found the right subject. I would encourage everyone to pick out a book about something they’re really interested in. Biographies are the best, because most people, I think, can learn a lot about themselves by reading about other people.

I read before bed each night. I find it a great way to relax and settle before going to sleep. I look forward to that half-hour to forty-five minutes all day long.

SV: Any plans to write another book? Can you share?

DW: I mentioned the Little Big Horn book above. This one, like my Crazy Horse book, will be historical fiction and will focus on Custer & Crazy Horse during the Battle of the Little Bighorn. In the meantime, I actually have a book that’s about to come out, hopefully before the summer. Like the Sheridan book that was referenced earlier, it’s called That’s Here? 25 Historical Places to Visit In & Around Bozeman, Montana.

A big thank you to Dave for being our featured author for National Reading Month. We look forward to reading more of your work.

For ideas on how you can celebrate reading or if you need tips on how start good reading habits, here are a few easy and fun ways to keep reading fun:

Choose a theme: Whether you enjoy history, animals, biographies on interesting people, fairytales, outer space, or sci-fi, pick up a book on a theme and enjoy reading!

Read for 15 minutes a day: Set a little time aside, it doesn’t have to be a lot, and read for 15 minutes a day to start a habit. Before you know it, you’ll be finishing that new book!

Visit the library: We’re lucky to have Bozeman Library, a beautiful place for the community to gather with a wide selection of books and resources. It’s a fun place to spend time with family or hide away and read a good book. Library visits are on the rise and also give you that sense that you're contributing to your civic duty within the community. Bozeman Library also recently announced they are ‘fine free’. Enjoy the incredible resources our city has to offer, get a library card and check out some books for the family!

Enjoy an audiobook: Audiobooks are another creative way to get into reading, especially if you’re in the car a lot (commuting up to Big Sky, spring break road trips, etc.). Introduce your kids to the joy of audiobooks or radio theatre.

Bozeman is full of bookstores and resources, making it enjoyable to dive into a new genre or topic, read an autobiography or go back in time with a historical novel. Get the whole family reading together. Share with us your favorite book or author on our Facebook page and ‘March’ into reading this month!  

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