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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Piercing Account of the Nez Perce
In "The Last Indian War," West has brought his exceptional storytelling skills to a compelling group of nineteenth-century Americans. I was particularly impressed at how he blended political and technological forces from across the country and at times around the world with the Nez Perce tale, demonstrating how they were connected to broader issues of the day rather than...
Published on May 18, 2009 by Derek R. Everett

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64 of 69 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some great work but does not fulfill its promise
In retelling the final negotiations between the nontreaty bands of Nez Perce and General Howard, Elliott West includes a quote from Toohoolhoolzote: "I would like to know who Washington is. Is he a Chief or a common man or a house or a place?"

In reading this book, I often felt the same. Elliott West has a tendency to lump: "A postwar Washington set out to...
Published on January 19, 2011 by WillisB


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64 of 69 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some great work but does not fulfill its promise, January 19, 2011
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WillisB (southwest, United States) - See all my reviews
In retelling the final negotiations between the nontreaty bands of Nez Perce and General Howard, Elliott West includes a quote from Toohoolhoolzote: "I would like to know who Washington is. Is he a Chief or a common man or a house or a place?"

In reading this book, I often felt the same. Elliott West has a tendency to lump: "A postwar Washington set out to consolidate into a tighter truer union..." and occasionally the narrative devolves into something bordering on rant. The lumping is often undermined by some of the more finely detailed evidence Elliott West provides.

The usual effigies are burned here. Custer gets numerous mentions though he was never more than a pawn. Kit Carson comes up once and that is regarding his "devastating campaign" against the Navajo. William T. Sherman gets a full page photograph but not a proper treatment. This is like blaming army generals for the Iraq war while leaving out names like Rice, Rumsfeld, and Cheney.

So who was "Washington"? Some armchair research suggests that the name Columbus Delano might be worthy of imfamy. Delano was the Secretary of the Interior who ordered the exploration (lead by Custer) of the Black Hills in 1872 "as it is supposed to be rich in minerals and lumber, it is deemed important to have it freed as early as possible from Indian occupancy." Delano had replaced President Grant's first pick, Jacob Dolson Cox, who resigned after feeling insufficient support from Grant to take on the widespread corruption under his post. The Department of the Interior was in charge of both the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Geological Survey. Elliot West does an excellent job of showing how devastating a gold strike on treaty lands could be in writing about the 1860 discovery on Nez Perce land. That discovery was illegal and opposed by Indian agents but they were powerless to keep the rush in check. So it is easy to imagine how much worse such exploration would be when officially sanctioned. Grant's pick to head the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Native American Ely Parker, also resigned in disgust over the same issues about six months after Cox. Like Delano, Parker and Cox are not mentioned in Elliott West's book, but their complaints seem necessary to understand the events that lead up to the Nez Perce War.

In reading primary documents from this era, one finds an ongoing debate about whether Indian Affairs should be placed under the Department of Interior or the Department of War. Elliott West mentions the debate only once near the end, in quoting someone who posed the question to Chief Joseph. Those who argued in favor of the Department of War present a picture of widespread corruption among Indian Agents in which both Indians and taxpayers were robbed outright. Elliott West presents a fair amount of evidence that the War Department might have been better custodians, presenting many instances in which the Army officers sympathized with Indians and were disgusted by treacherous and illegal acts of "Washington", territorial governments, and local whites.

Unfortunately it may not have mattered which department was in control in the 1870s, as Secretary of War Belknap was indicted for corruption in 1876. Elliott West does not mention Belknap but calls Sherman "the man most responsible for sending the Nez Perces into exile." This doesn't seem accurate. According to Sherman's memoir, his position as the nation's top general was rendered powerless by the Secretary of War under U.S. Grant. Sherman seems to have gone into a form of early retirement, spending over a year in Europe (1872) remodeling his house in D.C. (1873) and finally moving to St. Louis to write his memoirs of the Civil War (1874-5). Prior to this, in 1868, Sherman had granted Navajo return to their native lands, writing: "Mr. Tappan and I found it impossible to prevail on the Navajos to remove to [Oklahoma]." This has an undeniable sweetness coming from the man who made Georgia howl. (For more on this, see Hampton Sides "Blood and Thunder.") Today the Navajo reservation is the largest, four times larger than the next on the list. In 1868, Sherman was one of those who offerred the Sioux an area that included all of South Dakota west of the Missouri River. It almost begs the question whether Delano, Belknap and their minions were deliberately undoing Sherman's work. But regardless, when Sherman came back to power in 1876, the Black Hills were crawling with miners, the buffalo were nearly extinct, and it was his job to fight the Sioux and Nez Perce. With the middle name "Tecumseh," Sherman has always been the favorite punching bag of anyone searching for a quick, cheap irony.

Another name curiously missing from Elliott West's book is Fremont, whose career was derailed by political overreaching before and during the Civil War. Tragic, as he was probably the most qualified to handle these issues of the 1870s. Fremont was a strong proponent of Westward expansion, but also loved diversity and was not overwhelmed by it. In 1843, Fremont was already worried about sharply declining populations of buffalo and the negative effects this was having on the Sioux Indians of the Upper Platte, leaving them the choice of either starving or raiding the stockpiles of others. Elliott West depicts the "Great Hunt" of buffalo in 1872 as being primarilly motivated by greed and quotes one hunter who was making an annual salary 3x that of the U.S. President. This rings true to anyone who lived through the recent housing debacle of 2004-8: smalltime greed and two-bit opportunists, writ large over the plains. Fragile populations required fair treatment and protection to survive, and the will was not there, either because those in charge were ineffectual leaders (like Grant) or were busy getting rich (Delano, Belknap).

Elliott West has done some great work here but it is questionable how much the book adds to the numerous tellings that have come before, and it does not fulfill its promise to deliver a full picture.
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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Piercing Account of the Nez Perce, May 18, 2009
In "The Last Indian War," West has brought his exceptional storytelling skills to a compelling group of nineteenth-century Americans. I was particularly impressed at how he blended political and technological forces from across the country and at times around the world with the Nez Perce tale, demonstrating how they were connected to broader issues of the day rather than treating them like an anachronistic group, as is so often the case in Indian history. By demonstrating the complicated nature of the Nez Perce's existence, and their struggle to retain independence from various Euro-American competitors, West has created a work that will stand not only as an excellent narrative of that society but also a model for other historians of how to tell more complete, overarching cultural stories.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Putting War in its Cultural Context, August 8, 2009
While the United States Army's campaign against the Sioux in 1876 has been immortalized by "Custer's Last Stand," the equally significant Nez Perce War of 1877 has received very little attention. There have been a few other books out on this subject, but nothing like the non-stop flow of Custer historiography. In The Last Indian War, Professor Elliott West (University of Arkansas) takes an academic look at the Nez Perce War and does a fine job casting it in a cultural context. Readers expecting a pure military history will be disappointed since only about half the book actually covers the war itself. Instead, the author's intent is to demonstrate how cultural misunderstandings between the United States representatives and the Nez Perce contributed to the deterioration of relations and eventual outbreak of war, as well as making it difficult for each side to understand the other's objectives once fighting did begin. There is a subtle nuance in these pages that greatly adds to our understanding of this conflict, yet without getting bogged down. Furthermore, the author demonstrates balance in not adopting an `all-Whites-are-bad, all-Indians-are-good' attitude or depicting the Nez Perce as noble victims, as they tried to depict themselves after they were defeated.

The Last Indian War consists of 18 chapters, plus footnotes and index, for a total of 397 pages. The author has also included 32 illustrations/photos, a chronology and five maps. Approximately the first third of the book traces the evolution of the Nez Perce and their interactions with White explorers, traders, missionaries, miners, politicians and settlers in the period 1805 to the 1870s. The author makes some good points here, that the Nez Perce were able to deal with Whites as equals to about 1855 and that the relationship established was beneficial to both sides (guns traded for resources). This period of relative equality came to an end in 1860 when gold was discovered on Nez Perce land and the resulting flood of new-comers left the Nez Perce a minority on their own land. The critical moment came with the treaty of 1863, which tried to force the Nez Perce onto reservations, which caused a split between `Treaty' and `Non-Treaty' Nez Perce. Although the author is at pains to point out deceptions and outright lies by Whites about their intentions, he does not spare the Nez Perce either. He points out that earlier, they had not only stood by while Whites took land from neighboring tribes like the Flatheads, but actually contributed scouts to help the US Army suppress their neighbors.

The war breaks out in the middle section of the book and the author covers the entire march from Idaho to Bear Paw Mountain in Montana and the three months of active campaigning. Although he does discuss the US Army, its leaders and its plans, more of the focus is on the Nez Perce. Battles are generally covered in a couple of pages, with adequate detail about casualties, but these descriptions don't include all the details that a military reader or specialist might expect. A big point that the author does make is to deflate the "Chief Joseph was in charge" legend. In fact, leadership of the Nez Perce was rather amorphous and battlefield leadership was often left up to individual warriors. In contrast, West makes the point that the US Army leadership was often deficient at the tactical level but the units had a level of cohesiveness and dedication to mission that the Nez Perce found difficult to comprehend. Amazingly, the Nez Perce apparently believed that when they left Idaho that `the war was over' and they were surprised to find other US Army units attacking them. The author succeeds in demonstrating that not only did cultural misunderstandings contribute to the war, but they made it difficult for each side to actually fight each other. Misconduct on both sides is also addressed: White violations of a flag of truce and Nez Perce murders and rapes committed against civilians.

The final section of the book covers the defeat of the Nez Perce at Bear Paw and the ultimate disposition of the `Non-Treaty' members, as well as Chief Joseph's successful song-and-dance routine to gain national sympathy (actually the author is quite merciless against Joseph). All in all, the Last Indian War does an admirable job putting this war in its cultural context although there were a few issues that were left not fully covered. For example, while the author makes clear that the "Treaty Nez Perce" did not side with those involved in the war and even provided scouts to the US Army to use against their fellows, it's still left a little murky why so many Nez Perce (apparently more than two-thirds) were able to move onto reservations and adapt without violence, while the non-Treaty's couldn't. It is clear that the anti-progressive `Dreamer Movement' among the Nez Perce played a part, but this seems insufficient in itself. Nevertheless, The Last Indian War adds to our understanding of the important Nez Perce War and makes some important observations about conflict between two radically different cultures.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fresh approach to an important story, May 13, 2009
The tragic story of the flight of the Nez Perce--a people long at peace with the United States--is familiar to most students of Western American history, a coda of deceit and betrayal so typical of relations between Indian peoples and the federal government. Elliott West's "The Last Indian War" recounts, in crisp and accessible prose, that story. But unlike many "popular" historians, he is also interested in more than just rehashing the same narrative for a new generation of readers. West sees the Nez Perce War as emblematic of deeper social and political changes that forever altered the course of the nation from the 1840s-1877, a period West argues should be known as the "Greater Reconstruction." This period saw the extension of the nation to the Pacific, the battle between regions and the increasingly powerful federal government, the spread of information and transportation technology, and most importantly, in West's view, a grappling with the meaning of citizenship and the inclusion of both newly free African-Americans and Indian peoples, the former willingly and the latter reluctantly. West has always been a master at showing the connections of seemingly unconnected events and in this book he uses O.O. Howard, particularly, to show both the issues facing freedmen in the South and Indians in the West as Howard was a crusader for African Americans (leading the freedmen's bureau and founding Howard University) and the officer in charge of capturing Joseph and the Nez Perce. West has written a book that should appeal to both serious scholars, who will find it especially useful for upper-division history classes, and those general readers who enjoy works by writers like Stephen Ambrose and Jeff Shaara.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Oft told Story, March 2, 2010
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The tragedy that West documents was repeated over and over again throughout the conquest of America. In my early reading of the book I reacted with a kind of weariness because I felt that I had heard it all before. But as I read on I saw that the author, while not presenting much new about White/Indian encounters, was able to knit together many diverse threads to gave the history a more nuanced telling. Rather than good/bad Indians, good/bad settlers. good/bad army, and good/bad government each of the actors had some of each even though settlers and the government were certainly more bad than good. In Lawrence Keely's War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage we get the sense that although people's like the Nez Perce could easily outfight their civilized enemies they could not sustain themselves while doing so. Civilized armies could call upon resources beyond the Nez Perse's imagining: in this case the assets included the telegraph, the railroads, and a hugely productive society, all hidden from the Nez Perse's view. The structure of Nez Perse society into families and clans with changing leadership led to what was probably the majority giving up their land. Those hundreds who resisted, among whom Joseph was a bit layer prior to their defeat, launched themselves against overwhelming forces. Both reservation Nez Perse and traditional Indian enemies assisted in the resisters' undoing. With their changing leadership, their fight and flee strategy their lack of communication with potential allies, they hadn't a chance. What they did have was a style of fighting which was very much like the wolves and natives that Berry Lopez describes in "Of Men and Wolves." In their last stand, they responded to the surprise attacked spontaneously yet in a coordinated fashion. Men women and children knew what to do without foreplanning. Joseph and some women went to protect the horses, fighters made use of cover, and others to aid the wounded. They effectively held off the army inflicting disproportionate damage. With the loss of the horses they knew they were defeated yet made possible the escape of those that could. The irony is that even if they had made it to Canada they would have fared no better than the Sioux who preceded them and eventually surrendered or were killed.

The heroic nature of the story and also its tragedy is that the Nez Perse tried to live with a kind of integrity, an integrity which had some pretty harsh values, but connected them to their homeland and essentials of life which often seemed a lot more noble than that of the missionaries, traders, miners, and soldiers who displaced them. (See Wade Davis' brilliant book on this connection.The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World (CBC Massey Lecture)) The Indians did not believe in democracy but those who did, including the nobility of freeing the slaves, did not seem to apply those values to the Indians. Some did and thought the Indians thoroughly abused and cheated but when push came to shove dispossession and abuse were the order of the day. Joseph, whose leadership on emerged in defeat, seemed able to understand the growing romance about Indians and nature in the last part of the 19th century, and used it to spring his people from their captivity in Oklahoma. So some remnants were able to return to near their homes and live relatively degraded existences on reservations or amidst the whites.

In the movie, "Dances with Wolves," an old Indian pulls out a Spanish helmet, if I remember correctly, and says something about defeating the invaders some two centuries before. The Nez Perse tragedy reads like a history of unintended consequences. The, horse, the fur trade, Indian prosperity, population shifts and growth, the buffalo trade all contributed to the undoing of the natives of the inland northwest. Unlike the natives of the East the Nez Perse had no interest in hunting beaver but they had horses which the mountain men needed to assist in their trapping and the later buffalo hunt. So the Nez Perse unwittingly assisted in their own undoing. Like the catastrophic saying, "Rain follows the play," In the West the utter transformation of native life followed the horse," bringing the Indians out onto the plains making hunting more efficient and creating raiders like the Apache feared by both Indians and whites alike. As the Apalachicola of Florida did to the Narvaez expedition in 1528, the Nez Perse should have murdered Lewis and Clark on first seeing them, but then again it was probably too late, even at that point to stem the flow. So the Nez Perse gained a kind of nobility, but it was nobility not granted to other native groups. Through the romantic creation of Joseph's words by admirers, he and other Nez Perse were able to free themselves from the worst of captivity but not until after most of the damage was done. West gives us a window into the whole process: heroism is not uniform, villainy has a few dissenters and nature is the ultimate background. This is a good read.

Charlie Fisher author of Dismantling Discontent: Buddha's Way Through Darwin's World
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but too pedantic, June 7, 2011
By 
Alsand (Ellensburg, WA United States) - See all my reviews
I just finished listening to the audio book on a long vacation drive. The author is an able historian and writer and tells the story with accuracy and balance. I have two bones to pick.

First, while you could not tell the story of the Nez Perce war without an adequate introduction, West's introductory sections are lengthy and laborious. They cover issues in far too much detail and spend too much time drawing grand conclusions. I don't know that I disagree with any if his conclusions, but the book spends way too much time setting the scene. After all, this book was about a specific conflict, not a general tome about the history of native North American interaction with Europeans settlers.

Second, he tends to take too many lengthy flights into side topics. I didn't buy this book to read about the history of the telegraph, the prehistoric horses, or many of the other elements of the story that could have been handled in a few sentences instead of a few pages. He is also prone to repetitions of themes and ideas that simply don't need to be restated time and time again.

If I had a physical copy of the book, I could have skipped through these extraneous parts, but you can't do that easily with an audio book.

When West is actually writing about the Nez Perce's themselves or the events of the "war", it's very well done and I appreciate what I have learned. He could easily cut this book by a third and actually have a better work (IMHO).
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful Read, August 2, 2010
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Eliott West's detailed look at the relationships and cultural disconnect between the "Americans" and the Indians provides a new perspective on the development of the West and the nation. At times it appeared that the U.S. military was either clueless regarding the inner dynamics of these societies or deliberately exploited it. Either way, the agenda was the same. The most striking part of this story is that after-the-fact public outcry emerged to protect and defend Native American civilizations, but at what cost to them? Their homelands had been taken, their way of life was in shambles, and Americans still expected Native Americans to assimilate. West not only explores this dichotomy, but connects the events transpiring in the west and draws parallels to the developments in the South during Reconstruction. Thoughtful, concise read, but definitely emphasizes military and political strategy.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book brings to life the truth of the American Indian through the story of the Nez Perce, July 4, 2009
By 
M. Owings (Durango, CO USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Not since I read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown has a book about the plight of the Native Americans so consumed me. Elliot West's The Last Indian War is an easy read for the lay-person, yet well-researched and documented enough for even the most persnickety historian. I was emotionally touched by the simple life of these people and found myself cheering for the Nez Perce knowing full well that they never made it to the freedom they so desired. These people befriended Lewis and Clark and remained peaceful for decades with the whites until finally forced into retaliation for the many broken treaties and abuses by the U.S. Government and the unquenchable greed for land and gold by farmers, merchants and gold miners. The Nez Perce--forced to flee for their lives with only a few possessions were finally overcome, not by a superior fighting force, but by new technologies such as the Gatling gun, the telegraph, and the railroad. Elliot West tells the story of these spiritual, proud people not to elevate them or to demonize the U.S. Army, but in a factual, detailed accounting of Western expansion by a country destined to engulf everyone that stood in its way. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness," were words extended to the freed slaves on the one hand, but taken from the Native Indians with the other hand. West weaves the cultural, political, technological, and emotional themes together into a book worthy to be called a Western epic.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing!!!, December 28, 2011
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Extremely pleased. Mr West did his research and has put together a great book. Having grown up in the area and enjoyed many outings with my Father learning much of what is in this book, I had thought that some day I would write a book that would address all the faulse myths surrounding this great and noble tribe. Just think of all the time you saved me Elliot. Thank you so very much for all you have done putting this together.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wide context for a tragic event, October 11, 2010
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This is another of many books about the 1877 flight of the Nez Perce from from the U.S Army. I thought: Why read it? Here's why:

If you read Alvin Josephy's The Nez Perce and the Opening of the Northwest, a detailed and readable narrative history of the Nez Perce from Lewis and Clark to the end of the 1877 "war," this will take those accurate details and put them in context with the broad sweep of history and the collision of cultures.

If you have not read Josephy's book, I would suggest that you read that before West's.The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest (American Heritage Library)
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The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story (Pivotal Moments in American History)
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