Book Review: The Heart of Everything That Is, by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin

The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, an American Legend, by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2013, $30

The subtitle of this book doesn’t hold much weight in some circles. Wild West readers have encountered Red Cloud many times on these pages over the last quarter century, and as recently as the April 2012 issue the Lakota legend was on the cover in glorious color. In the late 1990s Red Cloud got much deserved attention with Robert W. Larson’s solid biography Red Cloud: Warrior-Statesman of the Lakota Sioux and the too-long-forgotten Autobiography of Red Cloud: War Leader of the Oglalas, edited by R. Eli Paul. Earlier books of note on the subject include James C. Olson’s Red Cloud and the Sioux Problem (1965) and George E. Hyde’s 1937 classic Red Clouds Folk: A History of the Oglala Sioux Indians.

Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, two other Lakota standouts who didn’t accomplish as much as Red Cloud, remain more visible in the public eye (even if there are no fully accepted images of Crazy Horse). And considering how many books have come out about George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn (with mentions of participants Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse), there is certainly room for another book or five about Red Cloud and the Indian war of 1866–68 that became known as Red Cloud’s War. Yes, the Lakotas and Cheyennes won the Battle of the Little Bighorn, but they didn’t have long to celebrate that triumph, as the Great Sioux War of 1876–77 ended as expected with the defeat of these so-called hostiles. But on December 21, 1866, Red Cloud achieved an earlier Plains Indian military rout known today as Fetterman’s Fight. What’s more, he is credited with winning his war, since the U.S. Army abandoned its three Bozeman Trail forts, and in 1868 Red Cloud’s people gained legal control of the Powder River country. That triumph endured for eight years.

Red Cloud needs to be put in context to understand his full story—as a fierce warrior who showed little mercy for his tribal enemies, as an effective guardian of the Powder River country against white invaders in what became the state of Wyoming and, finally (he lived until 1909), as an Indian wars survivor who tried to minimize the damage the U.S. government inflicted on his people and their culture.

Coauthors Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, though they have no background in Old West writing or research, have done quite well in that regard. They cover considerable ground in frontier history and the history of white-Indian relations, enabling the lay reader to better grasp Red Cloud’s actions and statements. Occasionally they move a bit too swiftly, such as when they mention Sand Creek and seem to rest blame for that deadly affair on the shoulders of Ned Wynkoop. And their insistence on using the incorrect spelling “Fort Kearney” (the Nebraska fort was named after General Stephen Watts Kearny) might annoy those of us who have long made an effort to delete that extra “e.” Others no doubt could care less. The authors make Red Cloud come alive as a flesh and blood man, albeit one with extraordinary qualities, and they seem to have done plenty of homework on that never-dull era. In short, their hearts are in the right place. In The Heart of Everything That Is they tell a good yarn, even if the story has been previously told.

Editor

2 Responses

  1. Bryan Brattin

    This is a very good book, and it agrees well with earlier works on the topic by Black Elk and Marie Sandoz.

    It does have one glaring error in fact on page 206, where it claims the area around the Bridge Station attack (Casper today) would become the state capitol. As anyone who lives around here can tell you, Cheyenne is and always has been the capitol of Wyoming.

    It’s a minor point admittedly, but it does make this reader wonder just how far from NY and NJ these authors traveled to compile this story. And if this story does not inspire one to see the lands where it played out, nothing ever will.

    Reply
  2. Daniel Rosenthal

    Your book contains one very serious error. The officer commanding
    Fort Lyon who accompanied Chivington’s troops to Sand Creek
    and participated in the massacre was Major Scott J. Anthony.
    Major Edward Wynkoop was the officer who was Anthony’s
    predecessor and who arranged the peace agreement with
    Black Kettle. Chivington claimed to have killed 500 native
    people and captured 8; The Cheyennes later put their dead at
    about 130 and the Arapahoes their dead at about 46. His own
    losses were 14 killed and 40 wounded–some by riendly fire.

    An interesting historical note. Four years after Sand Creek,
    Black Kettle’s village was attacked a second time–this time by
    Custer and the seventh cavalry; Black Kettle and his wife were both killed. Custer reported killing 103 Cheyennes and capturing 53
    more.The Cheyennes said only 38 of their number were killed.
    As usual, many of the dead and all of the prisoners were women
    and children. Custer did not set out to attack Black Kettle; he seems to have blundered into Black Kettle’s village by mistake
    while following a Kiowa war party. He lost 4 men killed and 14
    wounded in the attack on the village. There were many other
    native encampments in the area; some of their warriors rode to
    the rescue of Black Kettle’s village, and cut off and wiped out
    a detachment of 17 men lead by Major Joel Elliot–a foreshadowing
    of what would happen to Custer at the Little Big Horn. Custer made
    no attempt to retrieve the bodies of Elliot’s detachment–an act for
    which he was much criticized.

    Reply

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