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The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend Paperback – September 2, 2014
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“A ripping yarn . . . A quintessentially Western tale of bold exploits, tough characters, brutal conditions and a lost way of life, this sounds like the sort of story that practically tells itself. Yet you only realize how little justice most popular histories do to their source material when you come across a book, like this one, that does everything right. It’s customary to say of certain nonfiction books — gussied up with plenty of 'color' and psychological speculation — that they 'read like a novel,' but truth be told, most of the time we’d have to be talking about a pretty mediocre novel. The Heart of Everything That Is, on the other hand, resembles the good ones. There were times, turning its pages, when I could almost smell the pines of the Black Hills, feel the icy wind tearing down from Canada across the prairie and hear the hooves of the buffalo pounding the earth.” (Laura Miller Salon)
“Exquisitely told . . . Remarkably detailed . . . The story of Red Cloud's unusual guile and strategic genius makes the better-known Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse pale in comparison. . . . This is no knee-jerk history about how the West was won, or how the West was lost. This historical chronicle is unabashed, unbiased and disturbingly honest, leaving no razor-sharp arrowhead unturned, no rifle trigger unpulled. . . . A compelling and fiery narrative.” (USA Today)
“Vivid . . . Lively . . . A tale of lies, trickery, and brutal slaughter . . . In telling the story of Red Cloud, Messrs. Drury and Clavin appropriately bring a number of the larger-than-life figures from that time onstage . . . [and] chronicle in considerable detail the shameful treatment of the Indians across the plains and the destruction of their ancient way of life.” (Christopher Corbett, The Wall Street Journal)
“A page turner . . . Drawing on archives, letters, and a long-lost autobiography written toward the end of Red Cloud’s life, the narrative has a remarkable immediacy . . . [and] the narrative sweep of a great Western.” (Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe)
“Valuable . . . Meticulous . . . [A] remarkable story . . . The writers don’t shy away from the atrocities on both sides of the gruesome, long-running conflict between the Indians and the U.S. forces. But when, for the umpteenth time, U.S. officials break a contract as soon as the glint of gold is spotted in the hills, one cannot help but feel that there’s all the more reason to celebrate one of the Sioux’s most impressive fighters.” (Smithsonian)
“The authors paint a full and vivid picture of the Oglala Sioux leader . . . The story of Red Cloud is presented here with all the tension and excitement of a good Western novel. . . . The narrative is gripping but not sentimental, and it is well-sourced, drawing, for example, on Red Cloud’s autobiography, lost for nearly a century, and the papers of many others who knew Red Cloud’s War.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
“Astounding . . . A tour de force of historical storytelling . . . The Heart of Everything That Is is grand in scope and beautifully observed. . . . Together, [Drury and Clavin] have managed a feat of scholarship that interweaves ethnological brilliance and an insightful reinterpretation of Indian culture from the point of view of the Sioux.” (The Wichita Eagle)
About the Author
Bob Drury and Tom Clavin are the New York Times bestselling authors of Halsey’s Typhoon, Last Men Out, and The Last Stand of Fox Company, which won the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s 2010 General Wallace M. Greene Jr. Award for nonfiction. They live in Manasquan, New Jersey, and Sag Harbor, New York, respectively.
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Also, the level of detail given about every character and event is definitely satisfying. It doesn't reach the same depth as DW Donald's "Lincoln", but it is more akin to Hillebrand's "Unbroken". At least for me, the are no big questions that are left unanswered with a decent amount of evidence. For further info on this, the reader can skip to the end and read "Notes and Bibliography" which discusses some of the imperfect sources, such as the Red Cloud autobiography, and how they came to light.
Lastly, and probably most important, I found this book to be a very balanced take. It doesn't gloss over details on either side, but doesn't put conclusions in your face about how bad or good or heroic some person or thing was. The book leaves to you to decide those things, which I greatly appreciate. For example, none of the details of what the Sioux did to their prisoners or even their own women are left out, but they are presented in a fair light; and at the same time the book gives very clear picture of how idiotic and brutal the US Military was without simply saying "Sand Creek was an example of how depraved the US Military had become". Speaking of Sand Creek, I learned more essential information about that massacre in this book than I did from "Bury My Heart", although the latter provides more of the heart wrenching details. It was interesting to see how Sand Creek fit in with the bigger picture of Red Cloud's War.
Overall I came away from this book realizing that neither side of the conflict was free from the stains of innocent blood, as contrasted to "Bury My Heart" which really focuses largely on the atrocities of the US Military and doesn't leave you feeling anything besides anger towards that party (obviously different book, not saying it takes the wrong stance, I highly recommend that one as well). But fair warning, this is not a G-rated book, there are very gruesome descriptions (such as what happened on Lodge Trail Ridge, or what certain US soldiers did to women's corpses, and so on). I wouldn't want my 11 year old son reading some of this stuff.
I must confess that my knowledge of the mid-late 19th century Indian Wars on the American Plains was, and is extremely limited. In fact, while I am passingly familiar with Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, the Battle of the Little Bighorn is about the extent of my knowledge. In fact, until reading this work, I had never heard of Red Cloud, who the author proclaims was the greatest Native American warrior of the 19th century. According to the author, his relative obscurity is explained by the fact that much of his prowess was achieved at the expense of other tribes in the area of the Black Hills.
This book outlines the early life of Red Cloud and his ascendance to the pinnacle of Sioux leadership, despite a number of handicaps. It follows him through the Civil War years and those immediately following, in which Red Cloud was successful in uniting the various Plains tribes (his most impressive feat) to wage war on the encroaching American settlers and United States army troops along the Bozeman trail. It culminates in the Fetterman massacre, in which Red Cloud virtually wiped out an Army regiment at Fort Phil Kearney in present day Wyoming.
The battle itself was not impressive in itself, as Red Cloud outnumbered the American soldiers fifty to one, but the leadership required to unite the competing tribes and the strategy employed led to a success that rocked the Army establishment and led to a temporary withdrawal from the area. Red Cloud knew that the long term prospects of his people were poor and soon thereafter ceded leadership of the Sioux warrior class to his understudy Crazy Horse.
As I said, this biography does not rise to the level of some I have read, but it served its purpose well, giving me a better understanding of how the Sioux nation was organized and describing well some of the initial clashes between the Sioux and the immediate post-Civil War American Army.