Book report: Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides

Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West by Hampton Sides is a narrative history of the American Southwest/ Mexican Northwest in the middle of the 19th century as well as a biography of Kit Carson and the army men he worked for. This book did a great job of filling in what the rest of the country was doing during the Civil War. It also helped me understand the land grab by President Polk who provoked Mexico to war in order to seize their New Mexican and California territories. It shed some light on the players of the Civil War who fought together against Mexico. His sympathies are obtuse. His biases are well hidden. He doesn't blame Mexico for the war. He only finds one or two atrocities committed by Carson. He doesn't find much pardon for the Navajo raids and murders that eventually provoked Carson's scorched earth campaign to starve them out of their country.

New Mexico tensions before the US invasion are shown as not unlike the Israeli/Palestinian situation today. The reprisals are endless. Navajo steal livestock and women and children and kill men. New Mexicans raid for women and children to serve as house slaves. After the Civil War was won by the North, Gen. Sherman toured New Mexico and found slavery alive and well there, just not with enslaved blacks, but instead enslaved Navajo. The Navajo were the test subjects for a reservation apart from their homeland in the middle of the desert on the banks of a bitter river. The Christian general who moved them there was ultimately responsible for the 3rd of the population that died there over 4 years. Its interesting how the tribes sometimes worked with the US Army since they shared enemies. As usual, American reciprocation was a pittance or an insult.

Sides paints great images of the Southwest. I wish there were more pictures included in the book. He also tries hard to paint fair images of the worst characters in the story. Even Pastor Chivington, the Sand Creek slaughterer of women and children, gets fair treatment by the use of sources who knew him in a friendly way.

In a way, there are no heroes in this story, only perpetrators and victims and many of them occupied both roles. The history is tragic and was recognized as such by a few contemporaries. Sadly, Christians played roles in the atrocities and tragedies. One such tragedy included in the history was the Mountain Meadows Massacre in which Mormon settlers killed at least 120 adults from Arkansas on a wagon train to California. The children under 8 were spared and taken into Mormon families who then asked the federal government for reimbursement for their care after blaming the raid on a local tribe. Only one person was found guilty and later Mormon leader Brigham Young tore down the memorial set up in the victims' honor.

What a sanguine nation we are...


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