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Local author, historian Johanna Wickman unveils new book

Local author and historian Johanna Wickman's latest book tells of the illustrious life of Preston Plumb.

Local author and historian Johanna Wickman signs a copy of her latest book Saturday at the Fort Caspar Museum. (Tommy Culkin, Oil City News)

CASPER, Wyo. — Throughout the 19th century, Preston Plumb was a renowned scholar, businessman, soldier and legislator. And now, he’s the subject of the newest book from local author and historian Johanna Wickman.

The biography, titled “The Forgotten Senator: The Life and Character of Preston B. Plumb,” was officially released on March 8, and today Wickman celebrated its release with a book signing at the Fort Caspar Museum.

“I’ve been researching for this book for about 10 years now and just published it this month,” Wickman said. “It’s very exciting.”

Wickman said she learned of Plumb while working on her master’s degree thesis. She became intrigued by his illustrious and hugely important life, and the more she looked into him, the more she knew Plumb was worthy of his own biography.

“I originally learned of him by researching the 11th Kansas Calvary, and that’s how I found him,” she said. “But in doing my research, I learned that he put himself through college by the age of 12 and started his own newspaper by the time he was 16. He smuggled guns into Kansas to support the free state movement and he was a staunch abolitionist. He founded the town of Emporia [Kansas] when he was just 19.”

Eventually, Plumb became a state legislator and later a federal one, serving in the United States Senate for a number of years. In that time, Wickman said, Plumb was one of the most influential senators, penning many laws that helped shape the country, with effects still being seen and felt to this day.

“He was the one who enacted forestry laws in this country,” Wickman said. “In the 1800s there were no laws to conserve natural resources, and so he came up with laws that set the stage for what would eventually become national parks. So it’s because of his work that we have the U.S. Forest Service.”

Wickman’s research consisted of combing through his legislative records, reading primary documents of his life and times and even reaching out to his descendants. She also took a research trip to Kansas to see the places Plumb lived.

“I was down there for about a month, going through archives and digitizing everything,” she said. “I scanned thousands upon thousands of pages of materials.”

Wickman found several accounts of Plumb from historical figures, and rather than summarizing and paraphrasing their statements on him, she included many of their writings unabridged in her biography. Her aim was to preserve the voices of the men and women who knew Plumb.

“In that sense it’s not your standard biography,” she said. “I think it makes the book more human, to contain their own words.”

And now that she’s published Plumb’s biography, Wickman wants to turn her attention to his regiment, the 11th Kansas Calvary.

“I’m going to take a bit of a break — catch my breath,” she said with a laugh. “But the next book I want to write is one that tells their story. It’s really interesting.”

“The Forgotten Senator: The Life and Character of Preston B. Plumb” is available at the Fort Caspar Museum and Wind City Books, as well as online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.