Monday, March 21, 2011

The Killing of Crazy Horse superb history, superb story telling

Book 28: The Killing of Crazy Horse by Thomas Powers

My daughter noticed the book on my reading table.

"Haven't you read enough books on that subject?" she asked.

Whether that subject is Crazy Horse or Custer or the settling of the West, the answer, which must first be considered against the book itself, Thomas Powers' stunningly vigorous The Killing of Crazy Horse, is "no." Absolutely, completely, a thousand times "no."

The answer might well be different if it were a different book on the table, but Powers has taken a story familiar to so many of us and made it fresh again. The Killing of Crazy Horse is that rare work of non-fiction -- informative, yet entertaining. It is both superb history and superb story telling. 

Impeccably researched, part of the strength of this book is the approach Powers takes. An approach unlike any other author has taken.  The standard riff is to write about Crazy Horse and Custer, these two crazy kids on wildly disparate paths that are destined to intersect on the high plains of Montana. 

Custer's appearance here is little more than a cameo.  While the story, principally, belongs to the Lakota warrior Crazy Horse, Powers spends a great deal of time focusing on the soldiers (George Crook and William Philo Clark) and their Indian scouts (William Garnett and Frank Grouard) who were charged with ending the depredations of the hostile northern Indians by means either fair or foul.

Powers also delves into the relationship between Crazy Horse and Red Cloud, Woman Dress, He Dog and Little Big Man. Although Crazy Horse cared little for the power and recognition that followed his legendary exploits, other Indians leaders, including some who had been his friend since childhood, were envious of his reputation and sought to undermine his standing with the soldiers.

Undermining Crazy Horse was all too easy to do. He talked little, often letting others speak for him. He kept himself isolated, not only from the soldiers and settlers, but other Indians too. Finally, it seems clear that many soldiers -- who saw Crazy Horse as the Indian responsible for the slaughter of Custer and his troops -- wanted his death.

To re-tell a story we know so well, a story whose ending can never change, and to make it come alive again is an extraordinary feat.  Powers' prose -- stately, vibrant, colorful -- is a splendid match for this near-mythic tale of the American west.   

A story told in The Killing of Crazy Horse as if for the first time.

No comments:

Post a Comment