The Sioux “disdained farming and constructed no permanent dwellings.” They seemed so primitive that it was easy for “civilized” Americans to believe that they could be easily conquered, not understanding that for these tribespeople, men and women alike, killing in war represented the highest cultural value.
Two experienced authors, Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, have joined forces to create this paean to a lesser-known Sioux chieftain who trained legendary warrior Crazy Horse and won more significant battles against his white foes in the last days of the conquest of the Western frontier. Red Cloud was an exemplary man of his tribe, a respected leader, and also demonstrated virtues unusual for his culture. He once beat, but did not kill, a man from a neighboring tribe who had assaulted a Sioux woman, using not weapons of war but a bludgeon. And he remained monogamous (perhaps loosely defined) rather than take another wife after his sweetheart hanged herself on the day he wed another. These strange actions, and others like them, seem to reveal a man who could stand outside of convention, a quality that may have been what served him so well in constantly ratcheting up his methods of warfare against what proved to be an indomitable foe.
"Along with their intensively researched and dramatically detailed account of the complex relations between the determined settlers and their savage foes, the portrait the authors have created of a great leader fighting for a futile cause is timeless."
The players in THE HEART OF EVERYTHING THAT IS include such greats as Generals Sherman and Sheridan, and mountain man Jim Bridger, on the American side; and Red Cloud himself, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse on the Indian side. All these men were battling for principle; the principles were different, but each of them was brave and willing to die. Dazzling descriptions of the grueling hours of battles are a highlight here: “Indian and American horseflesh continued to collide at close quarters, the Indians slashing with knives and spears and swinging tomahawks and war clubs…the unwieldy carbines were now useless, and cavalrymen fought back with revolvers…” An especially cinematic scene occurs when a volunteer, who rode 236 miles in four days to deliver the shocking news of Red Cloud’s victorious battle, is dragged half frozen and unable to speak into a ballroom full of soldiers celebrating Christmas night at Fort Laramie. He had ridden his horse to death.
Once confronted with the complex workings of American civilization, on a trip to New York, Red Cloud lost his will to fight on, after many years of bloody struggle against the American incursion into the Black Hills he loved and revered. He died on a reservation, having “ultimately realized the futility of his aspirations” to keep his people a sovereign nation in territory they had always inhabited.
Drury and Clavin’s book pulls together many aspects of Americana that will fascinate students of Western lore. Along with their intensively researched and dramatically detailed account of the complex relations between the determined settlers and their savage foes, the portrait the authors have created of a great leader fighting for a futile cause is timeless.
Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on November 27, 2013