A Story that Needs to be Told, and Thomas Powers Tells it Well - 5 Stars
At first I did not know if I could trust the book. I have read most of Thomas Powers' works, and was not sure how much expertise he could bring to this topic. Heisenberg's War and Intelligence Wars were both superbly written but far removed from this topic.
My fears were completely put to rest within the first few pages. It became obvious that the author spent years going deeper and deeper into the history of the American Indians, and their confrontations with the spreading of America through the Plains states and territories.
If you have any interest in a true history of the confrontation of our Native Americans, and the rapid expansion of territorial America than this is the book for you. If you think you understand this segment of American history from your school courses, you probably don't. As Americans, as free citizens, we need to understand what Powers is writing about. It is powerful stuff, and it needs to be told.
A book like this is a biography of many people. Allow me to mention two of them to you, to give you some insight into how the book is organized.
A warrior his entire life, a charismatic leader of his people. Prior to taking on General Custer, he was known for the Fetterman Massacre in December of 1866, when he lured approximately 80 US soldiers into an ambush against 1000 Indians. Up until that time, it was the worst defeat suffered by the US Army at the hands of the Indians. Little Big Horn would follow.
General George Armstrong Custer
How he lived, how he died has been molded for decades now by Hollywood's production of "They Died With their Booths On". The movie is so far removed from reality that they should not be mentioned in the same breath, which is probably true of most Hollywood movies. Custer was arrogant, self-absorbed, great at public relations, and brilliant as a leader. When you read the book, you will realize just how wrong he called it at the Battle of Little Big Horn, in which none of Custer's troops survived to tell the tale.
The purpose of the book is to inform us why Crazy Horse was killed? What were the conditions, what was happening at the time? What was the emotionality of the period? All of this Powers provides us in abundance. The author does this through documents, diaries, letters, official reports, books, newspaper clippings, notes and drawings.
There is urgency in the story; there is a richness in the tale. Was Crazy Horse murdered; was there a plot? If there was a plot than General George Crook, a West Point man was the plot creator. He was a strange man, a non-communicator, silent, very contained. He never drank and was an extraordinary hunter in his own right. He was also a friend of the legendary general, Philip Henry Sheridan.
Powers tells the tale in 35 chapters, and 462 pages. He also employs a very interesting, and original method in organizing the book. His 35 chapter headings are quotes, which in a sense forces you to read the chapter to figure out why you are finding the quote so interesting. Take a look at a few.
I always kept the oaths I made, but Crazy Horse did not (chapter 2)
He is no good and should be killed (chapter 11)
When Spring comes, we are going to kill them like dogs (chapter 18)
They were killed like wolves (chapter 23)
I can have him whenever I want him (chapter 28)
He was looking for death and it has come (chapter 32)
This book will change your entire understanding of America's sweep through the West. You will see the economic forces at work, gold, silver, rail roads. You will witness the endless negotiations between Washington representatives and the Indians, and then the agreements, and then the renegs of the agreements.
I promise you if you read this book, you will love it. The 30 plus page vivid description of the Battle of Little Horn is worth the price of the book alone. Crazy Horse had two thoughts that stuck with me from the battle. One is that war is too dangerous to treat casually. The other is that soldiers always tried to keep an enemy at bay, they wanted to kill Indians at a distance. The Sioux fighters are opposite. They wanted to charge in and touch the enemy with a bow, or a naked hand because no terror in battle is equal to physical contact. As Sitting Bull says, "This was a good day to die." Thank you for reading this review.
Richard C. Stoyeck