Crazy Horse and Custer: Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors by Stephen E. Ambrose and translated by Josefina de Diego (buy here)
La history of the plains it is the story of the disagreement between the white man and the "wild" Indian. The author Stephen E. Ambrose is the great historian of XNUMXth century America. He traveled the country for 4 years collecting information to write the book.
I've always loved the Wild West era. North America in the 2th century, Indians, cowboys, and the army. I expected to find the biography of XNUMX very important characters that coexisted in time and place. And I have found a tremendously documented work on the life and customs of the plains Indians, from America and 2 of its main characters who physically coincided only 2 times although they have always been fighting.
Look, I've always thought that the "bad" Indians, the warriors who made things difficult for the white man, were the Apaches, and it turns out that the great Indian resistance were the Sioux. We already knew that the whites were bad, the book only confirms and documents it. As teenagers we get excited about western movies and spaghetti western, until we learn that history did not. When you read how they tried to create needs among the Sioux to be able to buy them, hooking them above all to alcohol, as the United States government breaks the agreements they had with them unilaterally, as it consciously starves them in the reserves, well , well that…. but history is a complicated subject.
The end of the 19th century in America is the story of a disagreement between the white man and the Indians. The Indians with an idyllic life and the white man in a world of capitalism expansion and endless greed. A torrent impossible to stop. There was no room for the two of them and the Indians had nothing to do. They could fight, win battles, but even if they had won all the battles, it was impossible for them to stop the entry of new settlers, a multitude of people, who were beginning to arrive, and that with time they would have invaded, yes or yes.
The main problem of the war with the Indians was that they could not find them and when they saw them they could not catch them. With all this, the way of fighting of the two sides was very different and I do not only mean that the American army was very disciplined and had weapons, but also that in the combats that the Indians had between them, for example Sioux against the Crowds. Few times there were deaths and if there were they were very few. What the Indians wanted was to get merits With what they called "the blow that counts," which could be getting very close to the enemy and touching him, or hurting him, the question was to show courage not to kill enemies. In addition, the Indians had a high concept of life and their people, if in a combat there were one or two dead, they retired, they saw it unjustifiable that someone died just because, knowing that they were inferior.
Fighting, hunting, stealing horses from other tribes or stealing from farms, was in the culture of the young Indians, who wanted to obtain merit to obtain prestige and a name within their tribe.
On the other hand, the army generals sought to obtain the highest number of casualties from the enemy, but and this is curious, even from their own men, during the civil war, generals who lost many men in battle got a lot of prestige for having shown courage, they appeared in the newspapers as true heroes. Without going any further, Custer, a true kamikace, would launch into battle with his men in conditions of clear inferiority, sometimes losing thousands of men and considering it quite an achievement.
But don't think that The war was not won by the US army, who managed to displace the Indians was the railroad. As it progressed through the plains, hunters and furriers traveled in it, hunting bison. The Indians having no food were forced to move further west. It is estimated that the great continental herd of buffalo consisted of 50 million head. After the passage of the white man, only 3.000 American bison remained.
A free people, truly free, Where courage and honor prevailed, and the laws of the market did not make sense, until the white man arrived.
Their life was idyllic, they spent their time doing what they liked, fighting randomly, resting, playing with the children. Without laws. His life did not consist of accumulating objects or possessions, on the contrary, the more you shared with others, the better seen they were within the tribe. I am surprised by many of the details that he tells us about his life throughout the book, from his vision of the children, who were allowed to experience everything, so much so that they could even let him touch the fire to learn that It should not be done, even his deep love for them, for an Indian it was unthinkable to hit or exercise physical punishment on a child, unlike the white man who was governed by the iron British education.
We see how for General Custer with the Seventh Cavalry or other regiments of the army, moving 80 miles a day was an odyssey of a titanic effort. An Indian camp with its tents, women, children and the elderly could travel up to 90 miles a day.
The young warriors' interest was in earning honors, either through fighting with other tribes or through hunting, but as they aged their concern was the safety of the camp and its people.
Fully adapted to the environment where they lived, it was said that if you left an Indian with nothing in the middle of the plains in a month he would have weapons, clothes, food and a store.
One of the main communication problems between the army and the Indians is that they had no chief, no one commanded a camp, much less a tribe. There was no one to represent the Indian nation, this was out of his mind. That is why no agreement or truce could ensure that it would be fulfilled.
Although well known, he had never thought that his figure was so important among the Indians. Possibly the best known indian, a Sioux Oglala Lakota who in a race without leaders achieved the never seen before, something that was unthinkable to bring together and lead a large number of tribes (Sioux and Cheyennes) all those who were free and many who left the reservations for the last great battle in Little Bighorn.
An incorruptible, intelligent man who learned to fight against the white man by repressing his men so that they would not attack for honors. He fought and defended his people. He had a lonely life within the tribe, due to his merits as a warrior he was appointed shirt bearer, a kind of leader of a warrior council, which brought him great personal problems. A shirt-bearer could do nothing to break the peace of the camp so that mad horse could not go away with the woman he loved who was married to another man. Divorces between the Indians were simple, the woman would take her things and go with the other man, he had some gift to reassure the old husband in case it was necessary.
As an anecdotal comment to say that they are building a sculpture carved in the mountain in honor of Crazy Horse, just like the ones on Mount Rushmore. but I leave this for another occasion as it deviates a lot from the subject.
General Custer, went from a farm to West Point, to fight in the civil war and fill himself with honors and end up traveling west in the fight against the Indians together with the 7th Cavalry as the great hope of the North American army. A strong personality, a man of excesses, who attracted his soldiers, who managed to get the most out of them but at the same time full of shadows, in a society in which we find ourselves full of political questions and favors, corruption, ... All this? It seems that many things have not changed.,
But Custer, in addition to having a superhuman perseverance, was a good general, tenacious arrogant and a good strategist. Fearless in the fight, but very intelligent. His going through the civil war made him a hero to his country. His self-confidence brought him defeat and death in the Battle of Little Bighorn.
As a curiosity I leave you some of the songs with which they marched and charged against the Indians music that you could use to read the review
The Girl I left behind me
With lyrics I like more
In addition to his life, his time in West Point, the affair with his wife that accompanied him obsessively until the end of his days,
Without wanting to go into details, the battle of Washita has been shocking to me, a true massacre of an Indian town that was considered a success of the war on the plains. It was the first time they had managed to kill so many Redskins.
His life deserves a separate biography, there are many studies on his figure and his person, thanks to the abundant annotations he made and the endless letters to his wife.
Clearly Red Cloud, has become the villain of the book. Although it is very easy to judge the actions of people, without knowing for sure the triggers of them. Crazy Horse remained faithful to his people until the end, incorruptible, like Sitting Bull and many other Sioux. Custer with whom we can have more or less affinity defended his ideas, and like Crazy Horse he did it until the end.
They made us many promises, more than I can remember. But they never complied with any of them, except one: they promised that they would take away our lands ... and they took them away
However, in Red Cloud shows a corrupt Sioux leader, who has just "sold" to the white man, who gets into political games to maintain and preserve the power he had within his reserve and who betrays Crazy Horse out of envy and to preserve his power.
It is not that he abandoned the fight to go to the reservation, this may be understandable for someone who wants to save his people and who knows that the war is lost, someone who believes the promises of the government. But the image the book gives is that of a politician. Yes Red Cloud became a politician of his people, mediating with the government and getting favors to preserve power within his reserve.
The white man knows how to make everything but does not know how to distribute it (Red Cloud)
As always, biographies are dangerous, we should not get carried away by the first impression, but we should read and analyze the context and the life of Red Cloud, but this will be left for another time.
Along with Crazy Horse one of the leaders who offered resistance until the end. The next passage from the book describing the Sitting Bull's Dance of the Sun It seems sublime to me.
It was great, it was talked about for decades. All the Sioux and Cheyennes gathered in a huge circle. everything was done according to the old ways, with a strict and elaborate ritual. The virgins cut down the sacred tree, the chiefs carried it to the circle of the camp, the braves counted blows on it. The buffalo skulls were prepared, along with the sacred pipes and other paraphernalia. Many men entered the dance, submitting to self-torture so that the Wakan Tanka, the All, would smile at its people. Sitting Bull - his chest was already marked by previous Sun Dances - was the leader and sponsor. He sat on the ground, with his back to the Sun Dance pole, while his adoptive brother, Jumping Bull, lifted a small piece of Sitting Bull's skin with an awl and cut it with a sharp knife. . Jumping Bull cut 50 pieces of meat from Sitting Bull's right arm, then another 50 more from his left arm.
With blood running down both of his arms, Sitting Bull danced around the pole, staring constantly at the sun. He danced until after the sun went down, all night and the next day, for 18 hours he danced. Then he passed out.
He ended up in Canada, had to return and after 2 years in jail, participated in the Buffalo Bill Cody show, where he acquired fame and money.
With the Sioux and Cheyennes together the end came in the last great battle, which ended with the lives of Custer and his seventh cavalry, through poor strategy and relying too much on their own forces. Later came more battles, with Apaches and Geronimo, but this is no longer included in this book, because although there were battles left, the war was won.
Everything I have told you is very crude, I would need a book to talk about all the details and nuances of the life of the Indians that I have learned. Also in this review despite being quite extensive I have left some of the main characters who lived and fought with and against Custer and Crazy Horse. Libbie Custer's wife would need a special mention. But what I want is to show the nuances, many, many nuances that I am unable to reflect well here, it is like when you see a movie and they tell the main facts but you leave with the assurance that without the nuances people do not he may well have understood what happened.
And for that we already have Ambrose's book, practically perfect. An ideal introduction to life on the plains. The best thing is that if you are interested in the subject or you have been wanting more, you read the book. I was impressed. I leave you a link in case you want to buy it