August Bondi remains a compelling figure in Kansas history, a Jewish immigrant from Austria who fought alongside anti-slavery crusader John Brown and later became one of the first to enlist with the Union in the Civil War. He eventually settled in Salina, serving as postmaster, school board member, and local judge, among other civic endeavors.
On the eve of the state’s 155th birthday — celebrated as Kansas Day — former Kansas City Star television critic Aaron Barnhart revisits Bondi’s life in a discussion of the events behind his new book Firebrand. The historical novel explores the free-state fighter’s formative teenage years, drawing from Bondi’s posthumously published autobiography and a later novel, Border Hawk, based on the memoir. From that emerge new insights into the issues of race, violence, and conscience.