In 1861 two brothers emigrated to America to escape poverty in rural Norway and pursue “the American Dream”. Twenty-one years later one was a pillar of society in Becker County, Minnesota. The other rested under a tombstone inscribed with an alias on the windblown prairie of Dakota Territory, disowned by his family on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. What had happened? A 24-year search for clues revealed a story shrouded in secrecy for more than a hundred years. It stretched from semi-feudal Norway across the American Civil War to Indian Wars in George A. Custer’s famous 7th Cavalry. While the story was heavily influenced by money and religion, it even had ties to the deep Finn Forests of Eastern Norway where black magic had been practiced for centuries. It was a tale of bravery and achievement, but also about battlefield carnage, Indian atrocities, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction to alcohol and opium – and suicide. Surprisingly – one of the triggers for this cascading descent into destruction may have been an inconspicuous staple of 19th Century army life – food: Pork and the wheat biscuit “hardtack”. Together with harsh environmental conditions, horrific battlefield experiences and a life at the edge of civilization, it was a recipe for disaster.
The book reviews interesting connections between PTSD, Rheumatoid Arthritis and a potential pathway to suicide which might have been influenced by staple army food and use of alcohol.