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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 2005
Larry McMurty in his latest book, retell the stories of several unknown "massacre" incidents that took place in the Americna West during the years of 1846 to 1890. The six massacres were Sacramento River in 1846 where whites wiped out whole host of California Indians, Camp Grant where hundreds of Apache Indians were wiped out in 1871, Marias River in 1871 where whole lot of Blackfeet Indians were wiped out, Sand Creek in 1864 where hundreds of Cheyenne Indians were killed off and finally Mountain Meadow where 130 whites were wiped out by other whites. There is also a coverage on Wounded Knee as well.

The author avoided the more popular and well known massacres such as Custer's Last Stand, Fetterman Massacre or the Alamo. This is a short book. I think the author intent was give an introductionary look at some these incidents and hoping that the readers will move on into greater study. Some of the massacres he wrote about, like the ones at Camp Grant, Sacramento and Marias Rivers remain relatively unknown even to this day. Their description are short. The two more well known one, Sand Creek and Wounded Knee are given bit more closer study but the book seem to be dominated by the author's coverage of Mountain Meadow Massacre where white Mormons cold-heartedly murdered 130 or so white Arkansans and looted their wagon train. This seem to interest the author the most, probably because in all other massacres, there was a common racial motivation between whites and Indians. But in Mountain Meadow, there were theology, greed, revenge and murder in the hearts of the Mormons who took part of the massacre. Author's coverage into this incident will probably incite many of the readers who are not familiar with Mountain Meadow to read deeper in other books. (After all, it took Timothy McVeigh to finally surpassed the death toll of Mountain Meadow with his bombing of the Federal Building at Oklahoma City as the worst American terrorist act in our nation's history.)

Overall, I thought the book was pretty well written, an introduction to some of these subject matters and a good starting point for future studies. The book isn't without some errors, one of them which states that Parley Pratt, a popular Mormon missionary who was murdered in Arkansas around that time period, an incident that may have led to the hard feeling against the people of that state among the Mormons of Utah, was described by the author as a "prophet" couple of times. LDS only have one prophet and he's the leader of their church. In that time period, that prophet would have been Bingham Young. This and several other minor errors marks this book. But overall, its an interesting, somewhat educational reading material that should be regarded as a quick read.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 31, 2006
A previous reviewer stated this correctly--this is a slight history. There is not much meat in this book, although it describes the massacres as meat shops. This is sad because the author is accomplished and this is a subject that many Americans are not familiar with. The author could have made this a better book but maybe he didn't think it was worth the time or money.

The subject of the book are six massacres in the American West. Five of these massacres had Indians as the victims and one was against a wagon train of immigrants. Who was responsible--the American settlers of the West and the American government. The author gives a very BRIEF history of each incident, and then tells us how horrible it was. I believe these were horrible events and that is why they need a more thorough research than what the author provided. That is where there needs to be a more telling story line.

This could have been a great book, but as such it is just a mere summary of some very troubled periods in the history of the American West.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 22, 2006
Prolific fiction novelist Larry McMurtry takes a break from his usual venue with a look into some of the American West's' more infamous massacres with OH WHAT A SLAUGHTER: MASSACRES IN THE AMERICAN WEST 1846 - 1890. This is a slight work at under 200 pages, but is good, easy reading that might serve to promote further examination by the reader on the subject matter covered. And of course, as always, McMurtry's writing style is its usual prize winning form.

McMurtry begins by putting the legendary massacres of the old west into perspective by first defining what might constitute a massacre. Here, he has focused only upon massacres with over 100 victims. All totaled, massacres of this caliber in the American West equal far less than the number of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. When considering the 2002 vicious mutilation of over 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda, it makes the killing fields of North America look like a playground. These facts alone, at so early an entry in the book, will undoubtedly turn away revisionists from giving credibility to the work, but the facts do indeed, speak for themselves.

McMurtry lends a degree of balance to his work by presenting the subject matter (massacres) for what they are and avoids, as some reviewers have indicated, making it a "white man - bad, red man - good" politically correct portrayal. His first presentation is that of the Mountain Meadow massacre, in which, Mormons and Paiute Indians slaughtered somewhere around 125 - 140 whites of the Francher party whose families were in covered wagons traveling through southern Utah.

Each of the other massacres involve white on red atrocities. Some might ask why McMurtry did not include the annihilation of Custer and the 7th at Little Big Horn. In the opening chapter, McMurtry differentiates this as this was face to face battle between opposing armies, not the attack of innocents such as at Sand Creek.

Sand Creek is the next entry in the book, and like all of the massacres studied, they are lacking depth. This is a most enjoyable read, but throughout, it seems to have been a rushed piece of work. McMurtry writes so well, its impossible not to like reading his work, but these essays are more about the consequences and debates centered around the events than they are about the events themselves. I don't necessarily find fault in that, because by setting the readers curiosity in motion, the reader is spurred towards further investigation of the subject matter. And for that, McMurtry has supplied an ample bibliography on each of the events studied.

This is a very enjoyable book. Shakespeare said, "brevity is the soul of wit", but in this case, brevity hurt the final outcome. I would have certainly rated this book as a must read had it only contained more critical detail.

Monty Rainey

[...]
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Adopting a conversational tone McMurtry briefly (161 pages) explores six 'big massacres' of the Old West: Sacramento River, Mountain Meadows, Sand Creek, Marias River, Camp Grant, and Wounded Knee. He also briefly considers the Fetterman and Custer defeats.

McMurtry's treatment is even-handed. That even-handedness allows his observation of the essential fairness of General Crook, which the Indian leaders acknowledged, as demonstrated by his observation that the Sioux should take the money for the Black Hills because the whites were surely going to take them. Evenhandedness also required inclusion of the observation by Red Cloud that the whites had made many promises but only kept one: "They said they would take our land and they took it."

He develops the idea that the ever present 'apprehension' of violence was felt both by whites and Indians and that the apprehension all too often led to the actuality. Moreover, in general white frontiersmen wanted the Indians' land and were going to have it. Whites had the numbers and the technology. In all of the massacres with the exception of Wounded Knee the whites set out with the purpose of killing all the Indians they could lay hands on. As McMurtry relates civilized society often quickly disowned these deeds as 'simple murder'.

Mountain Meadows stands out an as exception in that Mormons led some Paiutes to attack and virtually wipe out a white wagon train.

The stories of these massacres are told in more detail elsewhere, but McMurtry's book is an interesting addition to the Western library that considers all of them within the confines of one short work.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2010
This feels like a slightly polished transcript of a one-sided conversation McMurtry could have had with an adoring fan. He makes his main point in the first few pages and seems to lose interest and momentum from there. His coverage of the actual massacres is incredibly superficial. It lacks basic details that are available in any number of books. To top it all off, while he seems too busy to research basic facts, he does manage to work George Bush and Guantanamo Bay into the book at least three times which makes it feel even less focused and worth while. One of the most vacuous books I've ever come across.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2010
McMurty needs to stay with churning out fiction novels. If you are looking for a comprehensive, objective, and balanced view of 'massacres' in the Old West, this book is absolutely not it. There is no rhyme or reason as to why McMurty chose the particular events written about in his book. It was kind of like he pulled the subjects out of a hat. Maybe he is hoping to capitalize on the 'evil arrogant American' sentiment that is eagerly purchased by a portion of society that wholeheartedly adheres to that view (George W Bush? Guantanamo Bay? Why does the author feel it necessary to thread these into this book?). Mountain Meadows? If that incident is worthy to include in the book, surely including Cooke's Canyon massacre (1861), the Minnesota Massacre (1862) or any other kidnapping / abduction / massacres that took place in the Old West carried out by Indians upon settlers would add some context or balance.

I guess if you like Mari Sandoz' treatment of The Little Bighorn or are a diehard Leonard Peltier supporter, and subscribe to the view that Native Americans were the equivalent of Ghandi being butchered up by the 'Great Satan' America, then I guess you would heartily cheer this book.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 22, 2009
I have been a McMurty fan for a long time and have read practically everything that he has written. So when I saw this book I jumped in with considerable enthusiasm.

What I discovered was problematic for me. Interestingly, McMurtry states toward the beginning of this work that his intent is to discuss how the white race systematically went about removing Indians that were in the way. He then points out that, very often, massacres were the result.

So, why the immensely obvious departure from his thesis? Why include an account of a massacre that has nothing to do with Indian genocide? Why devote two chapters to an event that is as arguably out of place here as a an account of the Boston Massacre or, even closer to the nerve, of the Haun's Mill Massacre that occurred just a few years earlier in Missouri? I speak, of course, of McMurtry's inclusion of a very limited and misinformed account of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

I'm really not surprised, though, that McMurtry would succumb to the temptation to do this. And I am not surprised, given his bibliography, that his account is as poorly written as it is. All of the books to which he refers, with the exception of Juanita Brooks' landmark volume, are decidedly anti-Mormon and lack proper referencing and research. Sally Denton's work, from which McMurtry quotes ad nauseam, is a pathetic, poorly written rag that reeks of prejudice and small-mindedness.

But again, what the Mountain Meadows Massacre has to do with the removal of Native Americans by white settlers remains a mystery to me. Moreover, by including its account, McMurtry marks himself as an apparent bigot and as tiny minded as the authors whose benighted works he chose to consult.

Unfortunately, OH WHAT A SLAUGHTER never really recovers from the chapters about the aforementioned misfit massacre. McMurtry's research seems flawed and limited and, like Sally Denton, McMurtry seems to have forgotten what he had to have learned early on in his editorial education: no notes, footnotes or responsible bibliography--about any and all of the massacres included here--is practically unforgivable. McMurtry should stick to fiction (which he capably does in the two chapters about Mountains Meadows). That's what he's good at.

THE HORSEMAN
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2011
I found this book to be extremely boring, especially coming from a guy that produced the best western the modern world has seen. This book is a collection of accounts of some of the worst massacres in American history. I felt as if each page was dragging on and on leading me nowhere.
The accounts are extremely one sided; the people who massacred are animals, those that perished are innocent people mowed down. I'm not trying to take anything away from history, there have been some awful things done in the name of expansion for the US, but this book is a little heavy in anti-American rhetoric.

I applaud Mr. McMurty for trying his hand in non-fiction. Most writers never try anything other than their standard format, but he did. Unfortunately he failed.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2006
These six massacres were dreadful events, leaving scar tissue which will always be a part of our history. This book is well documented and researched, and Mr. McMurty gives the reasons he decided to do this 'inquiry.' I will leave out the blood and gore but it is right here in this research.

The Sacramento River Massacre, Spring 1846, is the least known, but the beginning of bigger things to come;

The Mountain Meadows Massacre, September 11, 1857, by the Mormons;

The Sand Creek Massacre, November 29, 1864;

The Marias River Massacre, January 23, 1870;

The Camp Grant Massacre, April 30, 1871; and

The Wounded Knee Massacre, December 29, 1890.

John Charles Fremont, called the Pathfinder, worked for the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers. Kit Carson was his guide on the popular explorer's three expeditions into the American West, and spent forty years as a Scout in the dangerous West.

John Wesley Powell was with the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1890 at the time of the last and biggest massacre in this study. The anthropologist James Mooney became a pupil of his there. His investigations of the problems connected with the massacres were presented in a study which appeared in the 14th Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology. "Very fortunately, for students and historians, James Mooney happened to be in the right place at the right time, and with the right training -- training enough, at least, to allow him to make some sense of what happened on the northern plains in the second half of 1890." Many people dream of a return to a time when life was good rather than bad. "Visions of Eden, as Mooney notes, are woven into the religion of many people."

McMurty gives the reason for the slaughter at Wounded Knee when U. S. troops were readied to put down a "nonexistent revolt." It took just one shot, accidental or not, as occurred at Wounded Knee, to "set off one more unnecessary slaughter." The perhaps "unintentional shot" by Black Cayote changed things and possibly re-wrote history. "The most solid facts about any of these massacres are the dates on which they occurred. All other statements need to be regarded with caution. Will Bagley cheerfully restates this principle in BLOOD OF THE PROPHETS, his recent book about Mountain Meadows. The principal fact, in each case, is that a lot of people turned up dead. How many, exactly, and why, is, in almost every case, still disputed." There is much controversy surrounding the facts of a given massacre; only the date on which it happened is undisputed. "Almost everything else remains arguable, including body counts. What I have to say, after having spend some months with the books about these bloody events, is often opinion, conjecture, or surmise -- or just a best bet."

This book is full of pictures scattered throughout, in relevant places, of the people involved. James Mooney's book contains pictures of some of the children who survived. His study "provides a fairly full account of millennial beliefs among native people in all parts of North America." Larry McMurty wrote SACAGAWEA'S NICKNAME: ESSAYS ON THE AMERICAN WEST, 27 novels (many turned into movies), three memoirs, two biographies, and 30 screenplays. He's the cowpoke who could write; his novel, LONESOME DOVE, won the Pulitzer Prize.
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As the author points out in his forward: "What I have to say, after having spent some months with the books about these baloody events, is often opinion, conjecture, or surmise - or just a best guess." This is pretty much what we get here, but as far as I am concerned this is okay. I like opinions and guess work, and enjoy reading McMurty's just as much as the opinions and guess work of anyone else. The potential reader should know though, that this is not a tabloid type review of various massacres. There is very little sensational "blood, guts and gore" involved in this work. The author does attempt to show that there always has been a potential for such horrible events and probably always will be. I do feel the author could have avoided being quite so politically correct at times...hey, there were good guys and bad guys on both sides of any conflict, but he does point out over and over again that there are events in our history that certainly should not make us proud. There again, can any country or society since the beginning make the claim that did ever thing right? I think not. This is not a particularly scholarly work, but I don't get the impression that the author ment it to be. He has given credit to those historians he bases his opinions on and given credit where credit is due. I like to think of this sort of work as a "tickler," one that prompts me to do further reading on the subject. Even if you do not agree with all the author has to say, it is a short read (a couple few hours) and you will certainly be no worse the wear for having read it. All in all I recommend this one.

Don Blankenship
The Ozarks
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