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The Great Indian Wars: 1540–1890

 five-part documentary series, Mill Creek Entertainment, 235 minutes, 2005, $14.98.

 It was well worth taking another look at this DVD. Unlike some such programs about the Indian wars, this documentary doesn’t smother the viewer in a revisionist approach. The battles and skirmishes were sometimes one-sided but not always on the same side, and overall, both sides in the extended “war” suffered many casualties. Not every white soldier was out to butcher as many American Indians as possible, and not every Indian was a noble victim of ruthless “invaders.”

Soldiers often met their match and then some in well-trained and skilled warriors. Most everyone knows what happened at the Battle of the Little Bighorn when George Custer attacked Plains Indians who had a manpower and firepower advantage. Indians almost never attacked or ambushed without a numbers advantage. And even when at a total disadvantage, the Indians inflicted some damage. The Colorado volunteers responsible for the Sand Creek Massacre still sustained 60 casualties. The 7th Cavalrymen who carried out the Wounded Knee Massacre took some 70 casualties. Natives and non-natives alike killed, raided, tortured, enslaved and conquered during the 350-year struggle depicted here. The frontier was truly a violent place at times. Hardly any of the participants were either angels or devils. Photos of some of them flash on the screen a little too fast (and in the case of Crazy Horse, the photo is not really of him). You also won’t hear any Indian voices. Still, the commentators strive for a balanced look at the motivations, follies and successes of all the combatants.

Gregory Michno, a frequent contributor to Wild West and author of such books as Lakota Noon and Encyclopedia of Indian Wars, demonstrates he can talk almost as well as he can write. Other commentators include knowledgeable hands-on historians Jeff Broome and Jerry Keenan, who have also written for Wild West. They sometimes appear on location, at places that seem mighty nice to visit when there is no fighting going on.


Originally published in the August 2010 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here