Friday, March 4, 2011
It's looking like my reading has been arrested by a history that entered the house and was put aside for next. Didn't want to get too curious about it, wanted to finish the one I was half way through and enjoying. But the cover said in big letters CRAZY HORSE with images above and below of an Indian drawing of Crazy Horse on his horse in battle at Little Big Horn. It was like a billboard in the house. I was so curious to get into it that I picked it up to read a page or two to get a feel for the writer's flow and have a brief glimpse into it, like peeping through a keyhole, to see something about Crazy Horse. First page, nicely written, lively prose, another page, another, the story is too good to stop now. Unaware of it during the reading, I'm seeing the people he writes about on my drive-in movie screen within, the landscape, the horses. No pictures exist of Crazy Horse. When it comes to white man's records, he's not there, until they stabbed him in the back with a bayonet and threw him in a dungeon where it took him 6 hours to die. He has been a mystery, not much concrete information to go by. A ghost. That is, to white people, the white world of publishing.
Thomas Powers, the author, I heard on Diane Rehm Show and sounded like he could write a book I'd like to read about Crazy Horse. I was a bit apprehensive, it gave the impression of being out of balance leaning toward scholarly, dry, boring. Pages and pages of notes at the end that I never look at. Somehow it seemed like an oxymoron, a scholarly book on somebody who left very few traces for historians. I flipped through the pages looking at it with hesitation, talking myself into believing it will be too boring to start. Since reading in it just a little bit, now I can't stop. Powers' writing has very much a you-are-there quality. It is not boring writing. In fact, not reading in it at this moment, I want to pick it up and start. The Indians of the Plains region in the middle of the country have interested me since childhood on first learning of them probably from television that came into the house when I was 8.
I pulled for the Indians in childhood and continue to pull for them. It's like pulling for a football team that never wins. The one time they did win, Little Big Horn, it only served to set the US Government into all-out assault intent on killing every last one of them. But for the liberals in New England cities, the genocide would have been successful, but thanks to the protests a few redskins have survived in concentration camps policed to this day by the FBI, the worst poverty in our country that is turning out to have more poverty than denial allows. Nothing I can do about that. I've read several histories, biographies and memoirs of the Indian Wars over the years. I'm going into this one acquainted with the names, the places, the culture. Crazy Horse has been a key figure in that place and time with little known about him. I'm actually excited to be starting this tome by Thomas Powers that expands my perspective of what happened then and who did it.
This biography of Crazy Horse falls in right behind one recently finished about the Comanche Indians of the Texas and Oklahoma region. The Crazy Horse story starts in northwestern Nebraska. Lakota country was largely north of there, the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana, where the buffalo roamed and the winters were from hell. I can't imagine staying in a tipi at 20 below, big wind. Considering, however, the buffalo hide blankets, the tipi sealed tight, a fire in the center. It might have been more comfortable than my house at 20 above. The history concerning the Comanches was Empire of the Summer Moon, by SC Gwynne, another fairly new publication. Gwynne is such a good writer, his tome of extensive research is alive with its characters and landscape. He gives a relatively thorough look into both the Indians and the first white folks to take up in Indian country. He depicted the original Texas Rangers something like Hells Angels bikers on horses, guys that loved killing Injuns and often didn't live very long. Injuns loved killing them.
Only 25 pages into Powers' writing about Crazy Horse, I am liking his way of finding people who knew Crazy Horse for their stories of him. His characters are clear as if present in the reading. His sentences flow from one to the next seamlessly. In the introduction, Powers noted that when he was a child playing cowboys and Indians, he always had to be the Indian. That's how it was for me. I felt such a strong pull toward the Indians, it would have felt like betrayal of my people to fight Indians with the US Army. I was usually the only kid who wanted to be an Indian, so I was missed by a lot of bullets or just slightly wounded in our gunfights to keep the play going on. I've come to believe that people who are Civil War "buffs" fought in the Civil War in a previous lifetime. In like manner, I suspect just as much that people who identified with Indians in childhood and throughout life had Indian lifetimes not long ago. Just speculation that convinces me enough to believe it, but not enough to call it fact any more than I'd call a dream fact.
Website with interviews on the writing of the book: http://www.thekillingofcrazyhorse.com/.