I received this book via Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review.
The life of Red Cloud, let alone his name or accomplishments, were unknown to myself until seeing this book. I did not know what to expect about how the authors would treat both the Native and Settler sides of history nor did I know if it would be a readable narrative. After finishing the book, I found that Bob Drury and Tom Clavin did a wonderful job in producing an engaging life story of Red Cloud along with describing the context of the times he lived in.
I feel it important early in my review to note that I don’t believe that Drury and Clavin were 100% accurate in everything, in particular with Lakota society, though without that knowledge myself I cannot critique it. Another important thing is often cited Red Cloud autobiography, which turns out to be more a second-hand oral history than an actual autobiography as explained in the “Notes and Bibliography” section. While these issues do take away something from the book, they don’t undermine it.
Drury and Clavin recount Red Cloud’s life in a very engaging way first by setting the stage for the events leading to the conflict between the Lakota-Cheyenne-Arapaho coalition and the United States Army, then piecing together Red Cloud’s early life as well as a history of the Lakota and “Sioux” nation. Then the text details the events beginning in 1851 that led to the conflict known as “Red Cloud’s War” with particular attention paid to the military events during 1866 in the Powder River region. Although they are chronicling the life and achievements of one man, they don’t make him out to be a flawless human being they make it out to be a man of his culture, society, and time.
The authors are not shy about showing the very cringe worthy cultural clashes of Natives and Settlers during the time frame, there are no purely good or purely evil individuals characterized in the text there are just normal humans. The atrocities committed by both sides are told in detail as well as how the popular press at the time either sensationalized the events or barely noted it, depending on who the victims were. The authors also noted that when a victory was won by a Native tribe it was described as a “massacre” when Whites won a victory it was called a “battle,” in reality the two terms could be reversed the vast majority of the time. This is not a 21st-century politically correct whitewash of history; this is a full color slap in the face history.
The Heart of Everything That Is might not be absolutely perfect and accurate; however Drury and Clavin do a justice service to the life and times of Red Cloud along with numerous other individuals both Native and Settler who interacted with him. The authors show that the settling of the American West wasn’t the clear-cut Hollywood version of history, but a bloody clash of two utterly different cultures. In the end nothing could stop American expansion across the Great Plains, but the authors showed that for a time it was stymied because of the actions by one man.