Michigan War Studies Review
Reviews, surveys, original essays, and commentary in the field of military studies.
2014-080
12 August 2014
Review by Rodney G. Thomas, Spanaway, WA
The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend
By Bob Drury and Tom Clavin
New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013. Pp. xii, 414. ISBN 978–1–4516–5466–0.
Descriptors: Volume 2014, 19th Century, US West/Indian Wars Print Version

In the same stark, realistic prose they are known for in many previous works, award-winning journalists Bob Drury and Tom Clavin bring forth "the lost memoir" of the famous Oglala warrior and leader Red Cloud. This timely, freshly-minted, detailed work examines the causes and endgame of "Red Cloud's War" (1866–68) in time for the sesquicentennial of the conflict. The authors feel certain that the struggle over the Bozeman Trail forts and Red Cloud's decisive victory against US military and political forces have almost disappeared from the American historical consciousness. The engrossing story they tell, based on a little known manuscript uncovered and published by historian R. Eli Paul,[1] will help ensure that Red Cloud's achievements remain fresh and relevant.

Readers familiar with Drury and Clavin's superb, vivid, richly detailed battle narratives[2] will find the same qualities in their present entry into the history of the American West. The authors take pains to provide in-depth context of Red Cloud's war. The title "The Heart of Everything That Is" alludes to the region known today as the Black Hills (Lakota Pahá Sápa) and its significance for both Indians and non-Indians. It was to retain this heartland, a part of the greater "Sioux Reservation" guaranteed by treaty in 1851, that Red Cloud and an amalgamation of allied tribes fought. White incursions had begun shortly after the ink on the treaty dried, and the discovery of gold in the Montana Territory in the 1860s brought new waves of intruders. Although the gold fields were not in Sioux territory, the shortest route to them ran right through the sections of it that were richest in resources needed for tribal survival—the Powder River country. While this territory had long been held by the Crow Nation, Sioux, Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Cree, Shoshone, and Blackfoot tribes also relied on its bounty. In 1863, John Bozeman and John Jacobs charted a route into this great larder from Virginia City, Montana, in order to connect to the Oregon Trail near Fort Laramie, Wyoming. From 1863 to 1866, white travelers used the route at the peril of their lives. The need for precious metals after the Civil War put a high priority on establishing a direct route to the gold fields and set the stage for a confrontation with Indians.

One of the strengths of the book is the no-holds barred presentation of tribal history and the placement of Red Cloud in significant events in nineteenth-century Lakota life. Red Cloud became a highly skilled warrior and leader by fighting not whites but other Indians. The history of the Lakota and Crow peoples, hereditary enemies from the start, in both narratives and biographic warrior art, are replete with battles large and small. Drury and Clavin describe the ferocity and thoroughness of Indian combat, not as "guerrilla-style" fighting, but as evincing all the doctrinal finesse of operations by any regular military force. Perhaps overly influenced by popular beliefs, they miss an opportunity to show their readers just how formally and rigorously Indian fighters adhered to the rules of combat. They do, however, convey the brutality of inter-tribal warfare and the ritualistic violence inflicted on the vanquished. It is well to remember that, while resisting US Army forces along the Bozeman, the Sioux were still actively prosecuting a war of elimination against the Crows, Pawnees, Shoshone, and many other tribes in the region. When the authors shift their attention to the phase of direct combat, they provide readers all the background needed to understand the convoluted tale of Red Cloud's motives and actions.

Certain, mainly structural, issues about the book deserve mention. First, material in the concluding "Notes and Bibliography" should have been touched on in a preface or introduction, including the particulars of the discovery and publication of the "lost memoir." Second, the dearth of in-text citations forces readers to turn to the bibliography for details of the cited or quoted sources. That said, the authors are writing a popular, not a scholarly, history; if consigning details like these to the back of the book is what it takes to attract a general readership, then so be it. Third, too much space is given to entrenched myths, misconceptions, and generalities, often couched in rather lurid terms. Thus, for example, Capt. William Judd Fetterman, a major figure in the narrative, is described as "coal-eyed" (2) and shark-like. This sort of characterization so pervades the book that, when Fetterman is killed, the reader is left feeling his death was well deserved, even though the actual historical record portrays him much more favorably; the authors themselves acknowledge this near the end of the book, undermining our faith in the accuracy of other portrayals they include.

American literature from colonial times to the present abounds with images of the "noble savage" à la James Fenimore Cooper's Chingachgook. Artists and amateur explorers of the American West like George Catlin, Prince Maximillian, and a host of others seeking to capture the nature of the "vanishing Indians" helped hasten the demise of their cultures. Drury and Clavin, too, sometimes perpetuate misconceptions of Indian life by writing, for example, that "The nomadic lifestyle [Indians] had followed for centuries was being inexorably altered by the white invasion" (4). Compared to the Shoshone, the Mandan, and the Crow, the Lakota were relative newcomers to the northern plains, having arrived on horseback in the 1790s. If, as Bernard DeVoto noted, all history must be "history by synecdoche"—a single feature implying the whole—then this one assertion typifies the notion of the noble savage throughout the book.[3]

In the end, the forts came down, burned to the ground by forces led by Red Cloud, who signed the 1868 agreement at Fort Laramie. The treaty held for two years, despite encroachment on what was legally Indian land. The forts had been built in 1866, the same year the Union Pacific started work on the crucial leg westward to link up with the northward line into the Montana gold fields. That last leg was completed in 1868, the year the forts were abandoned and the treaty signed. The entire route had been completed without a single attack by Indians, since their attention was concentrated on the three small forts along the Bozeman Trail. But Drury and Clavin omit this part of the War Department strategy. Red Cloud got his treaty, the hated forts were gone, and Pahá Sápa's sanctity was again guaranteed for, as the authors point out, about five years.

[1] Autobiography of Red Cloud: War Leader of the Oglalas (Helena: Montana Hist Soc, 1997).

[2] Including one of the best ever written on the Korean War—The Last Stand of Fox Company: A True Story of U.S. Marines in Combat (NY: Atlantic Monthly Pr, 2009).

[3] Less significant, though distracting, problems appear in the maps, which do not always jibe with statements in the text: one locates a battle about a hundred miles from its actual site. Mistakes like identifying Casper, instead of Cheyenne, as the capital of Wyoming should have been caught in proofreading.

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