Death on the Prairie, The Thirty Years’ Struggle for the Western Plains will definitely take any reader to the edge of dismay and shame.
Cruelty and maltreatment of the Indian by the military and Indian Agents, along with disrespect and a complete lack of understanding and empathy for the misplaced, cheated American native, led the Western Plains Indians to wage brutal war with the whites. Time and again, however, Wellman points out that these wars were prompted by the white man’s betrayal of the Indian.
Famous Indian Chiefs of the Western Plains
Chief Joseph of the Nez Perces, Sitting Bull of the Sioux, Little Crow of the Cheyenne, are just a few of the famous chiefs and their tribes that Wellman details in this book. In every single case, with every tribe, war was declared by the Indians against the whites because of the white man's flagrant, ruinous transgressions and violations of the very treaties that they insisted the Indians agree to. Repeatedly, it was the white man who first violated these treaties.
Every time the Indians were given a “reservation” and were unhappy but managing to get along amicably, the whites would uproot them and send the residents off to a worse location, usually because gold was discovered on Indian lands, and earth grubbers would arrive and destroy the hunting grounds, water and habitat where the Indian lived.
Buffalo Herds Slaughtered
Equally appalling, however, as the slaughter of the native Americans, whose land it was before the whites simply grabbed it, was the mass slaughter of the buffalo by the white man. According to Wellman, what happened to the buffalo was “…the most disgraceful slaughter of animals the world has ever seen” (p. 103). The Plains Indians depended entirely on the buffalo for their existence, using every single part of the buffalo for food, clothing, shelter, etc.
Custer and His Infamous Last Stand
American History tends to dwell on the pompous Custer and his last stand. Text books may mention the few times the Indians went on a rampage and killed civilians, but it conveniently overlooks the tens of thousands of Indians that were humiliated, dishonored and killed, including mass numbers of women and children. Always these deaths were for white man’s profit or because of white man’s ignorance and paranoia.
Death on the Prairie just involves so much murder and destruction that it can be difficult to keep reading. The numbers of deaths reported are horrendous. The Indian war parties often numbered over a thousand members, sometimes as many as two thousand, resulting in astronomical death tolls. Also, it was appalling how the military hunted these people down, even when they were just trying to escape to Canada, to live peacefully, like Chief Joseph and the Nez Perces. One must ask, why would the military care if they left the country? This happened with other tribes also who rebelled against being locked up, fed foods not fit for a dog and treated like vermin.
All in all, both Death in the Desert and Death on the Prairie are dismaying, despite their veracity. They are excellently well documented, well written, and riveting. Unfortunately, the truth seems to be that the white man was the savage, arrogant, conceited miscreant who lusted for blood and death, something history books tend to overlook. As Chief Joseph so succinctly put it, "It does not require many words to speak the truth."