Two Books About Two Great Indian Chiefs Miss the Point

The two books were written by different authors but they have one thing in common; they denigrate the American Indian while patting him on the back at the same time.
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The two books were written by different authors but they have one thing in common; they denigrate the American Indian while patting him on the back at the same time.

Empire of the Summer Moon, by S. C. Gwynne, a book advertised as "Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History" and The Heart of Everything That Is, a book that claims to be "The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend" are both guilty of making the most cruel observations of American Indians under the guise of white guys attempting to define the hearts and minds of the Indian people.

On the back of every book, written on the dust jackets, are short blurbs written by individuals that have read the book and wish to comment on it in a very brief sentence. On both books all of the blurbs are written by white men. As a matter of fact a blurb on the dust jacket of "The Heart of Everything that is" is written by S. C. Gwynne, the author of Empire of the Summer Moon.

It's almost as if these two writers are trying to reinforce the inaccurate observations of the other. What did Rinker Buck, author of Flight of Passage, learn from the book about Red Cloud? He wrote, "Finally we have the full story of Red Cloud, told without the sentimentality and delusional romance that too many white historians bring to the American native tribes. The Powder River Country of the West entrapped two equally objectionable groups -- the soldiers that Washington sent to decimate the tribes, and the tribes themselves, who had been slaughtering each other for centuries. The stirring but bloodthirsty era deserves an honest treatment like this." An honest treatment?

The irony here is that both authors chose other white men to confirm their misguided interpretations of what it was to be an American Indian in the old west. They both missed the mark by miles.

When I wrote my book, Children Left Behind, I asked Native Americans totally familiar with the Indian mission and boarding school era to comment on the book. I asked Wilma Mankiller, former principal chief of the Cherokee Nation (now deceased), Richard B. Williams, the CEO of the American Indian College Fund, and Ryan Wilson, then president of the National Indian Education Association, to review the book and comment on it. All three had a deep understanding of the topic I wrote about and I knew they would not pull punches when commenting on the book.

The same cannot be said of the authors of the two books I write about today. The depiction of ALL Indians of that time period as blood thirsty, ignorant savages shows clearly that neither author understands that what they describe as atrocities against the white settlers was tit for tat for the hideous acts of murder and violence perpetrated against innocent Indian men, women and children by the United States Army and the white invaders of Indian Country.

Why did not Mr. Gwynne, and Bob Drury and Tom Clavin ask an American Indian academic, historian, author or journalist to review their books for honest comments about their content? At least they would have garnered an opinion from someone who does not think as they do or see the Indian world from their perspective. It would have been a most welcome contrast in my opinion.

There is little doubt amongst American Indians that Quanah Parker and Red Cloud were great men who fought to save their nations, their people and a way of life from total destruction, a way of life often mistakenly interpreted as primitive and ghastly, by these two authors. How could they not know that those years in the West before the advent of the white man were probably the most wonderful of times for the people of the Indian nations.

I was sent the book on Red Cloud by former United States Senator Larry Pressler because he had read it and wanted the opinion of an American Indian. He said he learned much from the book and he is probably right because there is a lot of accurate historical data in the book. Residents of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation will recognize some of the names like Deon, Bordeaux, Janis, and others that became common names amongst the Lakota.

To their credit Drury and Clavin did a lot of research in compiling the data for the book and from a historical perspective one can learn from their research. But so did Gwynne while writing his book about the Comanche. It is too bad they did not understand the people, their undying love of the land, and their powerful determination to survive. This is something that only those survivors of their attempted extermination would know and understand. To the white American psyche there is no word for "genocide" when it comes to the American Indian.

Ask the descendants of the victims Sand Creek, Washita, Bear Creek and Wounded Knee and their interpretations of Indian history will be quite different than the authors of Empire of the Summer Moon and The Heart of Everything That Is.

There is an ongoing debate and contemporary history of The Heart of Everything That Is since the title of the book describes the sacred Black Hills of the Sioux Nation, and it is a topic that the authors barely touch upon. It is a living history of the Lakota and should have been explained in depth since the authors were so presumptuous as to use it for their book's title.

For me, by totally misunderstanding and misinterpreting the internal history and lives of the Comanche and Sioux, the objectives of the books are lost.

Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the author of Notes from Indian Country, Vol. I and II, and Children Left Behind. He is the editor and publisher of the weekly newspaper Native Sun News. He can be reached at

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