The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend
Pros: fascinating story very well-researched
Cons: the details of Sioux savagery
It wasn’t until the 1990s that the little autobiography of Sioux War Chief Red Cloud was finally appreciated enough to put into print. Born in 1820 near the Platte River in modern-day Nebraska, he lived until 1909 where he died, a defeated man, on the Pine Ridge Reservation in today’s South Dakota. Before dying he told his story mingled with the story of the American West to a longtime, white friend and now Bob Drury and Tom Clavin have made use of it for their new book, The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend.
If you’ve never heard of this brilliant war chief, the only Native American to decimate the U.S. Army and instill in the American government due respect, don’t feel bad. Most Americans are unaware that Red Cloud commanded many thousands of Native American warriors living in all of the tribes of the West and handed the U.S. Army a horrific defeat they would never forget in 1866-7. The authors say it was called Red Cloud’s War. The government refers to it as Fetterman’s Massacre and the “Indians” think of it as the Battle of the Hundreds-in-the-Hands.
Reading this substantial book is like being right there watching the war unfold. Red Cloud, named for the sighting of a meteor on the night he was born (or something like that), was able to coordinate four raids on the Americans at the same time and kept them terrified all the time, especially of his extremely savage methods of torture and killing. I won’t go into it, but note that the natives believed that in an afterlife the dead could enjoy themselves if they were physically whole upon death. By having no limbs or organs, a body couldn’t do that. This was very grisly reading at times and I had to skip over some of it.
The Heart of Everything That Is gets its title from the Sioux name for their sacred Black Hills. It’s strange that they originally lived in the forests of Minnesota and wound up in the treeless, harsh environment by the Badlands, which to call a moonscape ‘does a disservice to the moon,’ according to the authors.
Red Cloud has been overshadowed by other Native Americans like Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, but both are players in this book as the American West is forced to act in response to hostile players seeking to take over the stage and round them up like dumb cattle. Crazy Horse actually began to act as a leader in Red Cloud’s War by being the lead decoy who taunted the army into battle. He mooned them! But it required a lot of strategy as well.
If you’re interested in American history from the perspective of Native Americans as well as the bluecoats, you should really find The Heart of Everything That Is an enthralling experience. I was reminded of Richard Wheeler’s Barnaby Skye novels that were inspired by the white frontiersman Jim Bridger who is part of the drama. The authors also include the story of Montana’s first millionaire who brought a herd of longhorn from Texas and how the transcontinental railroad, finished in 1869, completely rewrote the script for the West. Drury and Clavin have at last given Red Cloud the recognition he deserves.