Monday, April 27, 2009

Paul Wellman's Historical Account is Fascinating

Paul Wellman's amazing account of the wars waged between the Indians of the Southwest and the United States Military is filled with memorable, historical characters. This book is difficult to put down!

First copyrighted in 1936, Wellman’s excellent treatise on the conquering of the Indians in the southwest, has more than withstood the test of time. Death in the Desert: The Fifty Years’ War for the Great Southwest is one of the most superlative historical accounts of the battles waged between the indigenous Indian tribes of the Southwest and the invading white man.

While most U.S. History books dedicate a paragraph to the phenomenon of the brutal skirmishes in the southwest that lasted fifty years and culminated in the deaths of thousands of people, Wellman’s account of this half century of war and mayhem brings the reality and truth to this sad period in American history.

Indian Wars in the Southwest

Covering primarily Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, Wellman’s book talks about many famous Indian leaders who were continuously deceived and betrayed by representatives of the American government. It is little wonder that history books gloss over this particularly shameful part of American history.

Most of the Apache and Navaho Indian leaders discussed in Wellman’s book attained their fame, and infamous reputations, because of the ruinous treachery of the military and early settlers in the region. All too often, according to Wellman, leaders of Indian tribes would meet in good faith with military officials, only to be betrayed at the whim of whoever the Indian Agent at the time was. While many military leaders, such as General Crook, strived to work with the Indians and to treat them fairly, their efforts were almost always undone by the greed and corruption of political powerbrokers.

Geronimo, Mangus Colorado, Cochise and Victorio

Of all the tribes discussed in Death in the Desert, the Apaches were undoubtedly the most crafty, able, gifted fighters. The strategies employed by these war chiefs in most cases was far superior to the strategies employed by the military. In most battles, a relatively small handful of Indians often escaped from, or defeated, large military forces. When Indians used good strategy, however, they were described as “treacherous” and “sly.” When military leaders performed well, they were praised for their “superior stratagem.”

Many complain that the Apaches were ruthless and merciless in their attacks on people, yet most forget that the Apache (and other tribes) were pushed to the edge by the deception of the white man. Almost every Apache leader lost his wife and children to massacre by the white man. They lost their land and were forced onto reservations that were often situated in the worst areas. When given opportunities, however, the Indian proved himself to be incredibly industrious and excellent farmers. Yet every time the Indian was successful, they were routed from their land and moved to a worse location.

Indian History in the Southwest

Wellman’s book is perhaps the most engaging book written on the wars waged in the Southwest. It’s exciting, interesting and at the same time dismaying. It may be difficult for some to believe that the United States government could be so duplicitous and unethical in its treatment of the American Indian. Some military leaders even promoted complete “Indian extermination.” And in this they were largely successful, despite the allegiance and dangerous work that many Indians performed. When Geronimo, the last of the great Apaches, finally surrendered, those Indians who had worked for years for the military as scouts and had sworn loyalty to the United States, were packed into cattle cars along with the renegades and shipped off, torn from their homes, families and friends.
Meaningless Moonlight Publisher Comments
The only difficulty with this otherwise excellently written historical account, is that the footnotes are in such a small font it makes reading them very difficult. This is unfortunate, because the footnotes are in themselves entertaining! There is, of course, the possibility that this publisher's eyes are older than she cares to acknowledge, but even still...

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