Silas Soule, by Thomas Bensing

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Click on cover image to purchase a copy

MWSA Review

For readers looking for a well-researched, informational book regarding the short life of Silas Soule, this book fits the bill. Silas Soule only lived 26 years, but Tom Bensing, the author has been able to dig out and put together facts that share quite the story. He begins by telling us that Silas “seems to have coped by using his wits, comedic ability, and an uncanny knack to mimic and adapt.” An interesting piece of his family’s history was that one weekly event in their lives was that of his mother reading the serialized Uncle Tom’s Cabin to the whole family. It took most of a year for the book to be completed in the National Era newspaper. This was just one of the influences for Silas’s father, Amasa, to have zealous abolitionist tendencies, which lead to their family’s participation in the Underground Railroad.

Silas Soule fought for the Union working with several companies: at times being a temporary commander. He showed his potential to his superiors. He later was named Acting Assistant Adjutant General to the District Commander. This position opened doors for him to meet many influential people. At one point in his career, he became a recruiter and created recruiting posters. Author Bensing states: “His new job was a match made in heaven for him. It allowed him to tap the outgoing, charming side of his personality as he tried to convince people to see things his way.” He was later promoted to captain in the First Colorado Division.

I cannot sum up the book better than Tom Bensing states in the epilogue: “Silas Stillman Soule experienced much of what engulfed the nation during his lifetime. The turmoil over slavery, the bloody fight in Kansas…, the fallout and sparks from John Brown’s audacious raid, the excitement of a gold rush, the warfare that would change the lives of an entire country…and the beginning of the plains war with the Native Americans…Through all of it, Silas never lost his sense of humor, his outgoingness, or the moral compass that guided his decisions throughout his brief life.”

For this 150-page book, Author Bensing includes 50 pages of endnotes and bibliography. He certainly has done the research to put together a very interesting telling of the life and times of Silas Stillman Soule. I particularly enjoyed the fact that Bensing brought in many personal facts, stories, and insights because it makes my “pill” of history go down much better. Those who follow my reviews have learned that it is only in my recent years of life that history is finally becoming palatable. Thank you, Tom Bensing, for giving me another dose of history in a form that increased my knowledge and which I was so easily able to swallow.

Reviewed by: Joyce M. Gilmour (2013)

Author's Synopsis

Silas Stillman Soule, who grew up in the decades just before the Civil War, created an unforgettable legacy in his tragically short life. This courageous young man transported slaves via the Underground Railroad, aided in the jailbreak of a doctor accused of aiding slaves, participated in an attempt to rescue John Brown's men after Harpers Ferry, and fought for the Union at the little-known but very important Battle of the Glorieta Pass. Most significantly, he refused to take part in the slaughter of Native American women and children during the Sand Creek Massacre, one of the blackest moments in U.S. history, and was the first to testify against the man who led the assault, Col. John Chivington. 

Historian Tom Bensing chronicles for the first time a comprehensive look at Silas' life, combining historical fact with human elements. The result is a fascinating snapshot of U.S. history rich with intensely researched details. Born in 1838 to an ardent abolitionist father, Silas eventually moved to Coal Creek in the Kansas Territory. His family home became a well-used stop on the Underground Railroad in Kansas, which straddled the line between free and slave states. Silas, known for his wit and charm, also showed strength of character, becoming a true hero on the frontier. Time spent in the Union army in Colorado - when he took his stand against the brutal Indian massacre - only strengthened his resolve. 

Those who only know Silas for his heroic stance at Sand Creek will be astonished at everything this Jayhawker/adventure-seeker/soldier accomplished in his 26 years. The Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes continue to honor Silas today, holding a peace run each Thanksgiving. The book also reveals, in never before published detail, the life and final fate of Charles Squier, the man who ended Silas' life in a shootout. Squier, a decorated veteran, ironically received a hero's burial himself four years later.