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MEslaymaker

MEslaymaker

 

 

Red Cloud's Folk: A History of the Oglala Sioux Indians - George E. Hyde, Royal B. Hassrick

Originally published in 1937, this is a frank account and fascinating read, ahead of its time in scholarship and perspective.

Hyde is fascinating as well. A stickler for facts, he was relentless in gathering them and beholden to no one, a mostly self-taught scholar intent on sorting out many mixed-up details of frontier history. Though almost deaf and partially blind, not much escaped him. He readily saw through false fronts, had an ear for prevarication, and mostly by way of a wry sense of humor maintained an even keel.

Every history is an interpretation of evidence, and Hyde's is not flawless. But he did an admirable job of pointing out mistakes and falsehoods that had accrued in interpretations of frontier history thus far, specifically those involving the Oglala Sioux. In other words he was a revisionist, revision being essential as more information and more takes on the information become available, and given his plain and thorough presentation, even the newly incriminated found it almost impossible to argue that he wasn't being fair.

Much has come along since Hyde offered his take on things; there are better and more thorough accounts of Red Cloud and the Oglala, but I consider this still well worth the read and am sharing the following as an example and enticement.

"The plains tribes were friendly in 1862 and judicious handling would have kept them so, but the Indian Office officials were asleep, and there was nothing judicious in the conduct of the military men who were in control of the West. Major General S.R. Curtis, who commanded the troops on the Platte and Arkansas rivers, was a pompous man who knew nothing about Indians but imagined himself an authority on the subject. Brigadier General James Craig, who commanded the Overland Road on the Platte in 1862, knew nothing about Indians when he came West and made no attempt to learn. Brigadier General Robert B. Mitchell, who succeeded Craig on the Overland, was a good-hearted, easy-going man, but he did not understand Indians and frankly said so. Lieutenant Colonel H.M. Chivington of the First Colorado Cavalry was a frontier product of the best Indian-hating type. He looked on the Indians as wild beasts to be hustled out of the way of progress and to be killed if they resisted. Lieutenant Colonel William O. Collins, who commanded the Eleventh Ohio Cavalry along the North Platte, was by far the best commander in the plains in 1863. He knew nothing of Indians when he came out, but he learned quickly; he honestly desired peace, made friends with the principal chiefs and never missed an opportunity to learn more of the tribes, their location, numbers and disposition. Just when he was equipped to do splendid service he was relieved of command and ordered East. The ignorance of some of the superior officers was really amazing." (p. 103)