Opening the Past Is My Livelihood
I’ve loved history and traveling the Great Plains for as long as I can remember. My mom and dad loaded my brothers and me into the camper every summer to take off for points in Nebraska, Minnesota, Wyoming, Montana, and the Dakotas, so I grew up knowing what a broad, diverse, and beautiful land it was.
Curiosity about a Civil War ancestor brought an interest in and travel to sites in that conflict, and since many of the Civil War commanders like Custer, Sheridan, and Sherman came here for the Indian wars, I began visiting those forts and battlefields as well. But it was when I found the Fort Sidney museum closed during what would be normal business hours that my life changed.
I started on a list for sites like that to visit for myself and my friends, but after finding out more and more information on the sites, I thought it might work as a book. I traveled more than 13,000 miles to write Forts of the Northern Plains and sold it to Stackpole Books, which published it in 2008.
I knew that any success as an author would include getting out and talking about my book. I had no experience and no real inclination for public speaking, but it was something I knew I would at least have to try. I did so before a friendly group of mostly family and friends at the General Crook House at Fort Omaha, and actually found I enjoyed it. When someone came up and asked how much it would cost for me to come to speak to her group, it occurred to me for the first time people might actually pay me to talk about what I loved.
Since then, I’ve made more than 350 appearances across the Great Plains, not just to promote my books but also to tell the stories of the people who lived, worked, and traveled through here. I enjoy telling people of what used to be here, what happened here, why things are the way they are, and why it’s relevant today.
After a career in journalism, advertising, and marketing, Jeff Barnes now makes his living as an independent historian and freelance writer in Omaha with his wife Susan. He has a BA degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is the author of the books Forts of the Northern Plains, The Great Plains Guide to Custer, and the forthcoming The Great Plains Guide to Buffalo Bill.
Barnes is a trustee of the Nebraska State Historical Society, past chairman of the Nebraska Hall of Fame Commission, and presenter with Humanities Nebraska.