DANGEROUS PASSAGE by William Y. Chalfant


The Santa Fe Trail and the Mexican War
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 Focusing on the importance of the Santa Fe Trail in the Mexican War, attorney and Western historian Chalfant (Cheyennes and Horse Soldiers, 1989, etc.) vividly and eloquently explains how the war and the incursions of rapacious Americans along the trail violently ended the local Native Americans' traditional way of life. Chalfant tells two stories. The first is the frequently ignoble, often harrowing, sometimes heroic tale of the conquest by the Army of the West under General Stephen W. Kearny of the territory of New Mexico in 1846-48. Chalfant's second, and more gripping, narrative tells of the strife between whites and bands of Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Kiowas, Comanches, and Apaches that became increasingly bloody as commercial traffic along the Santa Fe Trail expanded and the embattled natives became more desperate. Chalfant devotes several engrossing chapters to the travails of the Indian Battalion, a ragtag troop of undisciplined volunteers organized for the sole purpose of protecting travelers along the trail from Indian attacks. After suffering repeated indignities, this band had its day of glory at the Battle of Coon Creek on June 17, 1848; in the first Indian battle fought with rapid-firing, breech-loaded carbines, a small group of recruits defeated a larger force of Comanches accustomed to fighting whites armed with slow muzzle- loaders. Although warrior bands remained active after Coon Creek, and the Indian Battalion was disbanded later in 1848, the battle marked the beginning of the end for the Indians: Chalfant's tale ends with the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill that same year and the beginning of the vast migration to California. Absorbing and well researched, Chalfant's study is a signal contribution to Western and Mexican War literature.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-8061-2613-2
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Univ. of Oklahoma
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1994