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Book Review: The Terrible Indian Wars of the West

By HistoryNet Staff
1/26/2017 • Wild West Magazine

The Terrible Indian Wars of the West: A History From the Whitman Massacre to Wounded Knee, 1846–1890, by Jerry Keenan, McFarland & Co., Jefferson, N.C., 2016, $49.95

Give Wild West contributor Jerry Keenan credit for this ambitious undertaking: a 492-page, single-volume narrative history of the trans-Mississippi Indian wars. Eliminating intertribal wars and focusing on white-Indian conflicts beginning in 1846—although he touches on the 1823 Arikara war and several skirmishes before Texas’ annexation into the Union—Keenan relies on secondary (and scattered primary) sources to chronicle “how these wars became part of the terrible legacy of our westward expansion.”

Stretching more than three pages, a time line shows just how bloody and consistent such wars were. Keenan divides the history geographically, opening with the Pacific Northwest and following the conflicts from the Whitman Massacre and Cayuse War to the 1856–58 Yakima and Coastal wars. Subsequent chapters—covering California and Nevada; New Mexico; the central Plains; the southern Plains; Iowa, Minnesota and the northern Plains; the Intermountain West; and the Desert Southwest—also follow the wars in chronological order.

Don’t expect groundbreaking scholarship; that wasn’t Keenan’s goal. As he writes in the preface: “Rather I set out to bring together the most recent works in the field and from them distill a comprehensive, readable narrative, historically accurate, yet without the minutiae found in more detailed studies of individual campaigns and battles.” For the most part Keenan has succeeded.

—Johnny D. Boggs

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