Review: Moon Of Bitter Cold

Review: Moon Of Bitter Cold

Frederick J. Chiaventone's brilliant take on Red Cloud's War and the Fetterman fight

To a degree, this book is the historical fiction to Dee Brown’s The Fetterman Massacre in that they both take similar directions when narrating the story and feature many of the same people (i.e. Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, Colonel Henry Carrington, and, of course, Lieutenant William J. Fetterman, among others); he even entitles his chapters in a similar manner, using Indian descriptions of the moon’s phases (here rendered first in native tongue and then English bracketed by ellipses),

Chiaventone narrates with an eloquent pen, depicting everything from a Brule village in a snowstorm to a minstrel show on the trail as the 18th Infantry marches towards the Bozeman trail to Red Cloud and Colonel Carrington having a close brush at Fort Laramie during the tepid conference there between the “Great White Father” and the Indians determining whether or not they would allow the Bozeman trail to exist brining whites into their prized Powder River hunting country to, at last, the “Battle of the Hundred Slain” as the Indians under Red Cloud called the Fetterman fight, with an epilogue taking place at the dedication of the monument that stands on the sight of the fateful battle to this day, along with many more events and vignettes from this, the only war the Plains Indians ever managed to win.

The historical characters come alive quite vigorously via Chiaventone’s talented pen; none come across as a bore, or uninteresting.  Quite the opposite!  When done reading this novel, I believe one is bound to quickly grab themselves a copy of Dee Brown’s book just so they can learn more.

One thing that surprised me is that Fetterman, while depicted as somewhat boastful and a real pain in the rump for Colonel Carrington, also as not brazenly crossing the fatal Lodge Trail Ridge north of Fort Phil Kearny on the day he and eighty others lost their lives but, rather, allowing the men to snipe away at the Indians a little more before returning to the fort.  Even Crazy Horse mooning the whites (yes, mooning) does not make him mad as hell and barge ahead as Ralph Andrist speculated he did in his book The Long Death.

I was surprised that Chiaventone claims he moved forward in time John “Portugee” Phillips famous post-massacre ride to get help for Carrington; I could detect no such thing in the text dealing with the author’s depiction of the famous incident.

In sum, this novel is well-worth a read.