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.