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Author shares his Old West insight

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@edailynews.net

Jeff Broome, a philosophy professor, believes his work helps him with his passion: writing about the West.

Broome was in Hays on Saturday giving a talk at the Ellis County Historical Society, 100 W. Seventh.

His topic was Gen. George Armstrong Custer and the Indian Wars on the Great Plains.

Broome has written two books, "Dog Soldier Justice" and "Custer into the West," and a number of periodicals. Broome, who teaches at Arapahoe County Community College in Littleton, Colo., started writing about the Old West in 1995.

Broome said the social sciences are driven by philosophical principles, including the search for truth, for interpretation, for understanding.

"I get into the Indian Wars, I get into the facts," said Broome, who considers himself a narrative historian, not an interpretative historian. "We can then understand better the interpretation of the facts. We can build up plausibility.

"What I found in a lot of Western history is a lot authors begin their research with an agenda already," he added. "They already have a view and an interpretation, then they select the facts that will support the interpretation, as opposed to letting the facts drive the interpretation. That's a philosophical point."

Broome, who has both a master's and a doctoral degree in philosophy, finds that field helpful in conducting research. He uses as an example a famous brawl in a Hays saloon, when Wild Bill Hickok shot two soldiers, mortally wounding one of them.

Author after author built upon a storyline about the brawl, Broome said.

"That's OK if it's grounded in fact," he said.

Broome's research for a future book about the incident has led him to believe all the facts haven't been out there through the years.

The Scottish philosopher David Hume in the 1700s said philosophy should drive the quest for truth, Broome said.

"You build on the facts, you get the facts first," Broome said. "If you leave facts uncovered, you can't get to the truth.

"You have to get everything you can get and build off of that."

Broome, 60, has been fascinated about the old West ever since he was a child; there are pictures of him holding six-shooters in hand at an early age.

Custer always was a favorite topic.

While working on his philosophy degrees, Broome was looking to take a short mental break and ducked into a Denver bookstore. He found a book about the old West, and part of it dealt with Custer's demise at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Broome was hooked. He started researching and writing about Custer and the old West. Now, he has three more books in the works, including the one about Hickok's saloon brawl in Hays.

"When I'm not teaching, this dominates my time," Broome said. "I'm researching. I'm writing. I'm communicating with people. This dominates my time. I spend no less than 20 hours a week, maybe 50, 60 hours a week doing this."

Broome's first two books are available at the store in the Ellis County Historical Society museum.

Two books down, three to go.

"I've got about 1,000 pages written on those three, another 1,000 to write to finish it," Broome said.