December 2011

Review: The Wagon Box Fight

A look at Jerry Keenan's work on a little-remembered battle of the Plains Indian Wars

The Wagon Box Fight.  Few beyond dyed-in-the-wool students of the history of the American west remember this battle which took place in what is now Wyoming on August 2nd, 1867 during Red Cloud’s War aimed at closing forever the Bozeman trail leading to the gold mines at Virginia City, Montana ... and right through prime hunting country for Red Cloud’s people.    

The Wagon Box Fight,  in my opinion, is reminiscent of the battle of Rorke’s Drift in Natal, South Africa in 1879 in that both featured vastly outnumbered defenders standing off hundreds of attackers.  The defenders in this case being  U.S. soldiers and civilian wood cutters near Fort Phil Kearny which took refuge in a large corral made of wagon boxes and stood off several determined Indian attacks thanks in part to being armed with new breach loading rifles which allowed them to fire faster than their comrades in arms armed with the old muzzle loader type could during the Fetterman disaster the previous December when Captain William Fetterman and 81 men were wiped out near the same fort.

Review: Dakota Dawn

A look at Gregory F. Michno's latest book


Having read of the 1862 Sioux uprising in Minnesota in Ralph Andrist’s The Long Death, and having already read Mr. Michno’s Lakota Noon, I was curious as to his take on what the book’s subtitle calls “The decisive first week of the Sioux uprising, August 17-24, 1862.”   I was not disappointed.

Minnesota is known today for many things.  What has been forgotten that it once was the gateway to the northern plains because within its borders timbered forests gave way to prairie grasslands, and even more forgotten is that Sioux from the Dakota branch of the tribe once lived within its borders,  Dakotas who, despite some who were taking up “the white man’s road”, by and large detested being penned up on a reservation that had shrunk to a piece of land along the Minnesota River twenty miles long by ten miles wide in 1862 on which two Indian agencies were located: the Upper and the Lower, where white traders plied their dubious commerce with the Indians on credit until the annuity money arrived.

But by August of 1862, no annuity money had been forthcoming.

Review: Elizabeth Bacon Custer And The Making Of A Myth

A look at Shirley Leckie's take on George Custer's wife Libbie

Was Elizabeth Bacon “Libbie” Custer a reliable narrator about herself and her husband?  Not really, Shirley A. Leckie claims in this book.

 “But while her life was interesting, rich, and rewarding, it was also based on the perpetuation of an idealized version of the past.  If one values the ability of individuals to live honestly and confront the truth, then one finds little to celebrate in the Widow Custer’s achievements.”  She writes.