Monday, August 24, 2015

Oh What a Slaughter: Massacres in the American West: 1846-1890 by Larry McMurtry

Americans do not know much about our Indian Wars.

Think about it. Many of us know so much about the American Revolution, the Civil War, the world wars, and the Vietnam Conflict (war never being proclaimed in Congress). These wars are revisited often in books, movies, and television documentaries. My library has many shelves of books about these wars because we have reader demand.

What about the Indian Wars in our history, starting on the East Coast at the time of colonization and working their way west. If the shelves of my library and the reports of book circulation are an indication, we are not thinking about native tribes and the wars of their displacement. There are books a couple of shelves about the conflict but few are new. The readers are also few. Even our local schools seem to have dropped their Native American assignments. Some of the books have not been out in years.

In a way, the Indian Wars are hard to know. They stretched over centuries and involved many different tribes in many remote places. There was no concentrated focus of place and/or time as there was in World War I or World War II. Many of the battles have been forgotten nationally. What memory remains of many of the battles is often local and like legends.

I also think that many of us do not want to think about the Indian Wars. They do not show our ancestors in a favorable light. Subsequently, we are often surprised by what we learn when we visit historical sites or read a book like Oh What a Slaughter: Massacres in the American West: 1846-1890 by Larry McMurtry. Though I have read a handful of other books on the forced displacement of the tribes, I did not know half of what I read in the popular novelist's compact book.

McMurtry has often written about the West, publishing many novels, essays, and histories. As always, in Oh What a Slaughter he is forthright and compels the reader to hear him out. It is a fine introduction to the history of the Indian Wars about which we should be reading more.

McMurtry, Larry. Oh What a Slaughter: Massacres in the American West: 1846-1890. Simon & Schuster, 2005. 178p. ISBN 9780743250771.

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