Sober but stinging account of one of the saddest chapters in American history.



Richardson (History/Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst; West from Appomattox: The Reconstruction of America after the Civil War, 2007, etc.) argues that the Wounded Knee massacre was a direct result of Gilded Age political expediency.

The author examines partisan wrangling in the decades after the Civil War that observers of the current scene will find all too familiar. Looking to expand their power, President Benjamin Harrison and a Republican-controlled Congress admitted South Dakota to the Union in 1889. Few in Washington cared that much of the state’s land was the Sioux reservation. The plans of railroad and mining companies, reliable supporters of the Republicans, trumped the welfare of the indigenous peoples. Enlightened whites of the day saw the “civilization” of the Sioux—by which they meant turning them into ersatz whites—as the highest goal for the natives. Others, remembering Custer’s defeat at Little Big Horn, would have been just as happy to see them exterminated. Indian agents, who were usually unqualified if not outright corrupt, doled out rations stingily. So when in 1890 Sioux (and other tribes) responded to the threats to their way of life by adopting the Ghost Dance religion, which promised the disappearance of whites and the return of buffalo and open land, the whites perceived it as a rebellion. The U.S. Army was called in to stabilize the situation. The stakes were raised by an unresolved election that could determine control of the Senate and a power struggle between the Army and the Department of the Interior, which oversaw Indian affairs. The atrocity, during which soldiers mowed down some 300 Sioux men, women and children, was probably preventable, but few of those who participated seemed to know how to stop it—or made any great effort to do so. Richardson brings the actors, both Sioux and white, into clear perspective, and paints the broader context with a deft hand.

Sober but stinging account of one of the saddest chapters in American history.

Pub Date: June 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-465-00921-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2010

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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