Of course, he’d become one of the frontier’s most ardent historians and collectors because history called early to Doug McChristian.
He’d always been a reader because his grandmother was the county librarian and his mother was a teacher—besides, his dad read those Western history books. But it was a family vacation visit to the Custer Battlefield when he was nine years old in 1956 that brought his love of reading and the West together—for his entire 71 years, he kept the handbook his folks bought him at the battlefield gift shop.
And then a second visit to the same battlefield as he was about to finish high school added the wrinkle that would define his life. He admired a park ranger and said to himself, “Now that would be the job to have, working where history happened.”
By the time he died in 2018, Doug McChristian had spent almost 35 years as a ranger and research historian with the National Park Service, become an award-winning author of several books on Western forts, amassed a vast and detailed collection of frontier life from 1860 to 1890 and emerged as a national expert on the life of the frontier soldier.
“There wasn’t anyone who knew more about what frontier soldiers ate, wore, shot and used,” says Bob Bluthardt, director of Fort Concho in San Angelo, Texas—one of the nation’s best preserved frontier forts west of the Mississippi, established in 1867.