Friday, October 05, 2007

McMurtry examines six Western massacres

Books now read in ’07: 96
Title: Oh What A Slaughter
Author: Larry McMurtry
Genre: History
Date Completed: 10-4
Pages: 161

All six of my regular readers are aware of my penchant for the brief biography as best represented by Penguin Lives. This book, by novelist Larry McMurtry, fits squarely into that mold. With the pictures and white space, it is generous to describe it as 161 pages of narrative. (There is also an index and bibliography. Bibliographies are always welcome.)

McMurtry isn’t trying to provide a comprehensive account of six western massacres, from 1846 to 1890, which are the subject of his brief inquiry. Oh What A Slaughter is more of an essay than history, an extended rumination on the violence that man can do (and did) to fellow man in the settling of the West.

The massacres that McMurtry examines are the Sacramento River Massacre, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the Sand Creek Massacre, the Marias River Massacre, the Camp Grant Massacre and the Wounded Knee Massacre. Three – Mountains Meadows, Sand Creek and Wounded Knee – are well known. The others less so.

For my taste, McMurtry strikes exactly the right balance between too much and too little. Those who want to know more (and I don’t) can turn to the helpful bibliography at the end of the book.

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