The Killing of Crazy Horse

I did not plan to read a book about Native Americans and review it on Thanksgiving, the most ironic of holidays for the original denizens of the continent. In fact, I started it so long ago I really should have finished it in early November. Alas, when it comes to history books, I am a slow reader. But I love them because I learn so much.

And in Killing I learned a lot. Quick backdrop: post Civil war northern territories (Nebraska, Wyoming, the badlands) are a hotbed of military action. The Sioux, a proud and mighty people that can be safely said are of the warrior tradition, are straining against the restraints and treaty’s of the US government. First the “Great Father” has already taken much of their lands and wants more, most of the indigenous people are dependent on “agencies” that supply meager rations, and the military wants to move them all to reservations away from their ancestral homeland and hunting grounds. Enough to make a man like Crazy Horse go on the warpath.

Killing provides an in-depth look at the many characters, American and Native American, that took part in the events of the Great Sioux War. Like General Crook, the brooding war hero smarting over past and current grievances, or Frank Grouard, the interpreter caught between two lives and perhaps playing both. But of course, the focus is on Crazy Horse and how all these people relate to him and how they eventually, tragically, caused his … “accidental” death.

It’s quite the interesting story. And I learned a lot about the power dynamics amongst Native American tribes and the post Civil War military sent in to first keep the peace and then to control. The battles are exquisitely detailed, especially Custer’s Last Stand, the characters are unique and well-researched, and you really get a good perspective of the Native American side of events.

The only downsides are that it is one thick read. Near the end I felt like the author was repeating details or reusing quotes. It’s quite difficult to keep up with Sioux names because of their uniqueness. Especially when he lists quite a few that pop up and disappear almost immediately thereafter.

But if you like history, you know that’s the price you pay for some knowledge from a pretty good book. A singular event as a microcosm of a sad chapter of American history. One that almost feels inevitable considering the people involved.

3 out of 4 stars.

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