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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 15, No. 1
March, 1937
BOOK REVIEWS

Page 116

Death on the Prairie. By Paul I. Wellman. (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1936. 298 pp. Bibliography. $3.00).

Beginning with the Sioux massacres in Minnesota in 1862, the book describes the major engagements fought between Indians and whites on the western plains, to include the Messiah troubles of 1891. As the title indicates, it is mostly a story of violence and blood-shed. There is no attempt to discuss the ethnological phases of Indian life, no study of the efforts of the government to civilize the Indians by peaceful methods. It is purely a tale of warfare.

The chapter dealing with the hostilities at Fort Phil Kearney is especially good; and of course the campaigns in the north in 1876-77 are given adequate treatment. The reader's admiration is aroused for the more noted of the Sioux leaders—Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse. Oklahomans will find interest in those parts recounting the Washita campaign, the Adobe Walls and Buffalo Wallow fights, and Mackenzie's affair in Palo Duro Canyon, The major portion of the action, however, occurs in the north. This is natural, since the Sioux and related tribes were more numerous than the southern Indians, more cohesive in their efforts, and probably more ably led; as a result, their battles with the troops were in general more noteworthy, and frequently resulted in victory for the Indians.

In spite of the rather wide scope of Death on the Prairie, the battle descriptions are given with a wealth of detail which suggests that the author may have used sources additional to the excellent yet secondary bibliography cited. This detail adds to the value of the book by giving it a flavor of authenticity which is genuine, and aids the reader in a visualization of what occurred. The student may rely on the general accuracy of the book. Doubtless Mr. Wellman would be the last to deny that it does not contain errors; how-

Page 117

ever, those evident to this reviewer do not appear of any consequence. For example, Mackenzie's name is not spelled as that officer himself spelled it; and Satanta was not captured as a result of the Wichita agency fight in August of 1874, but surrendered at Darlington some weeks later. However, it is unlikely that these mistakes would have annoyed either Mackenzie or Satanta.

Death on the Prairie deals very fairly with the Indians. It emphasizes clearly the basic fact—now widely recognized—that the Indian wars on the plains were caused primarily by the acquisitiveness of the white man. The author did not touch on that less-known side of the controversy, that after the Civil War the government made sincere efforts to civilize the Indians by peaceful methods. Whether we now agree that the white man's civilization was what the Indian desired or needed, we cannot deny that a group of high-minded idealists made more-than-reasonable attempts to wean the prairie tribes from their nomadic and warlike habits by an application of the Golden Rule. That this Peace Policy failed was not wholly the fault of the white man. For example, we cannot excuse all the scalpings and kidnappings in Kansas and Texas, nor the forays on the unoffending inhabitants of northern Mexico, on the ground that the Indians were defending their home reservations against white aggression. No; Mr. Wellman spoke truly when he stated that the Indian made war for sheer individual honor and renown. Nevertheless, readers of Indian descent can feel a thrill of pride in the courageous exploits of their fathers, accomplished against a foe who had superior weapons and other material advantages. And no one can fail to regret the martyrdom of such great leaders as Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull.

Death on the Prairie contains a number of valuable photographic illustrations, many of which will be recognized as having come originally from the famous Soule' collection.

—Captain W. S. Nye

Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Page 118

Military Posts and Camps in Oklahoma. By William Brown Morrison. (Oklahoma City: Harlow Publishing Corporation, 1936. XVI.+ 180 pp. Bibliography. $2.50).

This account pictures the establishment of military posts and camps in Oklahoma. The author presents in rather interesting fashion the part they have played in the history of the state. He also describes the final chapters in the history of each which is non-existent today. One of the most helpful features of the book is the account of the daily life of these frontier garrisons. In this work are found worthwhile discussions of topics relating to the military field. The author has also treated the relation of the missionaries to the military posts in Oklahoma. He traces the development of Fort Coffee Academy, at old Fort Coffee, the work of saintly Cyrus Byington at Fort Towson, the development of Prairie Grove Mission near Fort Washita, and other aspects of early missionary endeavor. In addition he includes other topics which have a bearing upon this subject.

While Dr. Morrison has published some of this material as separate articles, much new data is presented. The study is based partly on primary source material. Dr. Morrison has also consulted a number of the best secondary works in this field, including Dr. Grant Foreman's scholarly work, Advancing the Frontier. He, too, has gained information through letters and personal contacts. However, he may have occasion to change some of his conclusion when he has read Capt. W. S. Nye's painstaking manuscript study of the history of Fort Sill. While certain minor errors may be detected, on the whole this work is a worthwhile contribution to the history of the western military frontier of the United States.

An attractive feature of Military Posts and Camps in Oklahoma will be found in the artistic pen sketches attractively drawn by Phoebe Ann White.

—James W. Moffitt

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

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