Book Review: The Heart Of Everything That Is

The Heart Of Everything That Is:  The Untold Story Of Red Cloud, An American Legend, by Bob Drury & Tom Clavin

One of the more fascinating aspects about the contemporary desire among many historians to write books about the vanquished and obscure heroes of American Indian tribes of the 19th century and before is the way that the importance of these people is so obviously overblown as a way of making their deeds seem more important than they would otherwise be.  This book about a man who was an important but by no means dominant figure in a single band of the Sioux, makes a claim that he was the leader of an empire that expanded from Yellowstone in the West to Oklahoma in the South and Minnesota and Iowa in the east.  To be sure, Red Cloud and others of his people, broadly defined, did have interests in these areas, yet Red Cloud was by no means an imperial figure on the level of a Genghis Khan or Timur as far as nomadic leaders are concerned.  The author would have been better served to have cooled the rhetoric and presented his case honestly, as the truth is enough to make Red Cloud someone worth reading about and remembering if you have an interest in the 19th century history of the Great Plains.

This book is five parts long and about 350 pages long and covers 38 chapters of material.  The book begins in the Prairie (I) with some chapters that discuss the arrival of the Sioux into the badlands (2) and Black Hills (3) as well as the coming of Red Cloud (4) and his early efforts to gain status by counting coup (5) and gaining a mythical reputation (6).  After that there are eight chapters that look at the invasion of the Sioux into the Dakotas, as well as the invasion of the whites into the same area.  This leads, quite predictably, to a discussion of the resistance that Red Cloud was involved in against an American army that was frequently understaffed for the work it had to do (16), work which included an attempt to hunt for Red Cloud (20).  The author focuses the fourth act of his narrative on Red Cloud’s War (IV), which included a great deal of hostility to Colonel Carrington and the officers who he was over (24) as well as the chronic manpower shortage that afflicted the postwar American army (29).  Finally, the book closes (V) with a discussion of Fetterman’s massacre as well as the end result of America’s disinclination to cease the settlement of the west that Red Cloud was seeking to encourage (38), after which there is an epilogue, acknowledgments, notes and bibliography, and index.

Although this book gives plenty of reasons–not least his military and diplomatic prowess–why Red Cloud should be remembered, it is not too surprising that he has been forgotten among the more notable figures of the Sioux of his times.  Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were able to parlay their success during the later wars a decade or so after the Civil War to be remembered as the famous opponents of the doomed and not very tactically brilliant Custer.  Red Cloud, by that time, was old and mostly retired, and sought to distance himself from the fighting that ended up leading to the defeat of the Sioux.  As a military leader with a lack of a sound father to give him high status, Red Cloud had some disadvantages and frequently had rivals for leaders among his own band, to say nothing of the organization of the entire Sioux people, lacking as it was in centralized government.  Still, as a warrior who ended up being able to successfully dictate terms to the United States after a brief war, he has a deserving place in history, even if he is a victim of poor timing more than anything else when it comes to historical memory.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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