Arts & Entertainment
Book Review: 'Indian Wars' truthful about tribes

"In the weeks after Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and his men in the 7th Cavalry were massacred at the Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876, the U.S. Army furiously pursued the Cheyenne and Lakota warriors responsible for the carnage -- with little success.

But then Buffalo Bill Cody, scouting for the 5th Calvary, sighted seven Cheyenne who were riding to join the Indians teeming in the Powder River country of southeastern Wyoming that summer. Accompanied by two other scouts, Cody gave chase and in short order found himself facing "another of those moments in the folklore of the West that seems so unreal as to have been created by Hollywood," as Bill Yenne writes in his splendid "Indian Wars."

Mr. Yenne's description of the scene is typical of "Indian Wars," a comprehensive survey of the skirmishes and battles in the trans-Mississippi during the 19th century. He simply describes what happened, with no ideological agenda superimposed on historical events. He does not follow the usual revisionist script when writing about Indians, depicting them as merely gentle souls whose paradise was ruined by a vicious white race.

The Indians, as Mr. Yenne shows, were far from peaceful, cooperative peoples living in harmony with each other and with nature. They were continually raiding and fighting, band against band, tribe against tribe. They saw each newly arrived white group -- whether English, French, Spanish or Dutch -- as just another tribe to contest with. Some Indian tribes were weakened or decimated by these encounters, others were strengthened by getting hold of guns, iron tools and horses. Adopting the horse culture increased the power of the Plains Indians dramatically, making them especially tough foes for the whites moving into the Great American West."

Get the Story:
Red vs. White, Uncolored by Ideology (The Wall Street Journal 12/13)