Paid Advertisement
Historynet/feed historynet feedback facebook link Weider History Group RSS feed Weider Subscriptions Historynet Home page

Blue Water Creek and the First Sioux War, 1854-56 (Book Review)

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: June 12, 2006 
Print Friendly
4 comments FONT +  FONT -

Reviewed by Chrys Ankeny
By R. Eli Paul
University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2004

Anyone with an interest in the Wild West or the Indian wars knows about the fight the Sioux (or Lakota) Indians put up against white settlers and the U.S. Army. During the American Civil War, the Sioux fought settlers and soldiers in Minnesota and along the Platte River road. Soon after, the Sioux fought the soldiers along the Bozeman Trail in what became known as Red Cloud's War. In 1876-77 the Sioux put up their most famous fight in what has been labeled the Great Sioux War. And the Sioux made their last fight at Wounded Knee in 1890. All that fighting has somewhat overshadowed the First Sioux War, which began in 1854 with a debacle once known as the Grattan Massacre but now generally referred to as the Grattan Fight—since 2nd Lt. John Lawrence Grattan's foolish, inflexible behavior outside Fort Laramie brought on the tragedy. That one-sided engagement led to General William S. Harney's punitive expedition and the September 1855 Battle of Blue Water Creek in what is now western Nebraska. The Sioux (or Lakotas) signed a treaty in 1856 that brought peace for a while, but neither the Plains Indians nor the United States would forget this first war, which set the stage for greater wars between these two expanding powers.

Eli Paul, who edited the autobiography of Red Cloud, first visited the battlefield along Blue Water Creek in 1977 and has gathered information on it ever since. He uses many contemporary sources, including accounts by participants, to tell the story of Grattan's deadly folly in '55 and Little Thunder's disaster (Harney attacked his village, killing dozens of men, women and children) the next year. "A goal of this book," Paul writes in the preface, "has been to find and use new sources of Lakota history, as well as to distill old accounts, in order to tell this story thoroughly, concisely, and fairly." He achieves his goal, incorporating statements from such Indians as Man Afraid of His Horses, who tried to reason with Grattan; Big Partisan, who saw his friend Conquering Bear die; and Little Thunder himself. As the title suggests, the focus of this well-researched book (the main text is 166 pages, while most of the rest of the 260-page book is devoted to his sources and end notes) is what happened at Blue Water Creek. Paul writes: "The longer term significance of the First Sioux War is that, no matter the commander, his personality, or the decade, the destruction of Indian villages continued to prove an effective military tactic. It remained the goal and the practice, not the exception, even after the Lakota nation was broken."

Some 16 pages of maps and illustrations accompany Paul's fine text, which does justice to a war that, as he writes, "is the foundation for understanding the entire history of conflict between the United States and the Lakota people." Some readers might wish that the author had devoted a little more space to the Grattan Fight, which is covered concisely in his first chapter ("Origins"). Never fear, for another 2004 book on the subject has appeared. Paul N. Beck's The First Sioux War: The Grattan Fight and Blue Water Creek 1854-1856 (University Press of America, Lanham, Md. $28, paperback) delivers more details on the Army's first real military disaster in the West. Congressman Thomas Hart Benton complained about the "heavy penalty for a nation to pay for a lame runaway Mormon cow, and for the folly and juvenile ambition of a West Point fledging." Although obviously much of the same ground is covered, Beck's account is worth a read, too, if you want to find out more about that cow and Grattan's foolishness and you aren't bothered by the fact that the 182-page book includes just one map and no illustrations.


4 Responses to “Blue Water Creek and the First Sioux War, 1854-56 (Book Review)”


  1. 1
    Jonathan says:

    Who were the Sioux indians and cheifs ?

  2. 2
    Alex says:

    They were the Brule (in their own language the Sicangu) Lakota. Their Chief was a man named Little Thunder who was a notorious peace keeper, despite the Brule's reputation with other tribes (i.e. the Ponca) as being very aggressive and violent.

    • 2.1
      Runes says:

      If you would like additional information from the Indian perpsective, I recommend "CRAZY HORSE" by Maria Sandoz – a truly great Western historical writer many award winning works. "Crazy Horse" was written in 1942, with 9 additional printings in 19 years. Ms. Sandoz was born and raised on the Niobrara. Thank you to all seeking truth and fairness in these important matters of our history. WRP

  3. 3
    Plainsman says:

    It's MARI (not Maria) Sandoz.

    The tie-in with the Bluewater Massacre* is that Crazy Horse, as a boy, was at the Bluewater and is said to have helped a woman with a baby escape Harney's dragoons. Couldn't have done much for his opinion of the white man.

    (I live near the "battlefield.")

    * The operative rule would seem to be that if the Indians win a battle it's a massacre. But if the white man commits a massacre it's a battle.



Leave a Reply

Human Verification: In order to verify that you are a human and not a spam bot, please enter the answer into the following box below based on the instructions contained in the graphic.


Related Articles


History Net Images Spacer
Paid Advertisement
Paid Advertisement
History Net Daily Activities
History net Spacer
History net Spacer
Historynet Spacer
HISTORYNET READERS' POLL

Which of these wars resulted in the most surprising underdog upset?

View Results | See previous polls

Loading ... Loading ...
History net Spacer
STAY CONNECTED WITH US
RSS Feed Daily Email Update
History net Spacer History net Spacer
Paid Advertisement

Paid Advertisement
What is HistoryNet?

The HistoryNet.com is brought to you by the Weider History Group, the world's largest publisher of history magazines. HistoryNet.com contains daily features, photo galleries and over 5,000 articles originally published in our various magazines.

If you are interested in a specific history subject, try searching our archives, you are bound to find something to pique your interest.

From Our Magazines
Weider History Group

Weider History Network:  HistoryNet | Armchair General | Achtung Panzer! | StreamHistory.com
Today in History | Ask Mr. History | Picture of the Day | Daily History Quiz | Contact Us

Copyright © 2013 Weider History Group. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
Advertise With Us | Subscription Help | Privacy Policy