Dramatic tragedy about Wyoming’s Fetterman Massacre, told in meticulously accurate, unsparingly gruesome detail by an eminent military historian.
On a cold day in December 1866, the pugnacious Lieutenant Colonel William Fetterman set out with 80 armed men from Fort Phil Kearney on the Bozeman Trail (just a few miles south of the Bighorn mountains, where Custer would meet his doom ten years later), and, against orders, tried to kill members of an Indian raiding party when he was ambushed by a diverse group of tribal warriors, Crazy Horse among them. Though the Indians suffered losses (the battle’s Indian name is The Fight of One Hundred Dead), Fetterman’s force was wiped out and hideously mutilated. Chiaventone (International Security/US Army Command College) shows that, though Fetterman himself was in fact a hot-headed fool, his commander, Colonel Henry Carrington, struggled valiantly afterward to keep an uneven peace with a variety of tribal adversaries, most notably Red Cloud, portrayed by Chiaventone as an explosively violent, hateful chief spoiling for a fight in the hope that an easy victory against the settlers would solidify his shaky position within the tribes. In what is essentially a prequel to his excellent novel of Custer at the Little Bighorn, A Road We Do Not Know (1996), Chiaventone points out that by severely underestimating their adversaries, both sides hastened on a horrific road to ruin. The story ends on a sad, almost wistful note as, years later, Red Cloud and Carrington encounter each other at the battlefield, where they wonder whether so much unnecessary bloodshed was the result of human frailties—or simply foreordained.
A microscopic examination that sets the entire Indian conflict in new light: gritty, evenhanded, starkly unsentimental view of good intentions—on both sides—gone bad.