Middle School (9 - 14) Books

BRAVE EAGLE'S ACCOUNT OF THE FETTERMAN FIGHT, 21 DECEMBER 1866, Paul Goble; University of Nebraska Press (Bison Books), 312 North 14th Street, Lincoln, NE 68588-0484; 800-755-1105, FAX 800-526-2617; original publication 1972, Bison Edition 1992; 62 pages, oversize paperback, illustrated, maps, $9.95; 0-8032-7032-1/p>

Welcome reprint of Goble's second book -- for older readers than most of his later story and legend books. This one is recommended for Middle School, and Young Adults up to, say 60 or more. This book is fictionalized in the same way as Goble's first book on Custer's last battle.A viewpoint character, the imaginary 19-yar-old Lakota warrior Brave Eagle, becomes the medium for telling the story of this fight, drawn from numerous accounts of Lakota people later recorded by historians. This book has a preface, because the fight is not so well known as the Custer battle 10 years later, and a conclusion, both expressed in a historian's objective voice:

"Throughout the summer of 1867 the seige continued, and no white men dard to use the Bozeman Trail....The Wagon Box fight was a defeat for th Indians, but if confirmed Washington's fears that Red Cloud was determined to continue the seige....They ordered the (Bozeman) forts to be abandoned. By the Treaty of 1868 the Bozeman Trail was closed and the Powder River Country given back to the Indians. It was a triumph for Red Cloud. Washington soon forgot the treaty and the soldiers marched again, but Red Cloud never went back on the promise he had given to fight no more."

The principal weakness of this book as vivid and well-written history for young people is that it doesn't really show how this fight -- and Red Cloud's war -- led to a military victory. There should be some more maps, and an explanation that the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, which defined Indian country as a fairly large area, including the Dakotas, northern Nebraska, all of the sacred Black Hills and the Powder River country bordering the Wyoming Bighorns. This treaty was unilaterally abrogated by the U.S. when Custer's 1870 expedition confirmed there was gold in the Black Hills, leading to the war of the Plains (in which Custer's last battle in 1876 was a final high point for the Indians fighting for their homelands). The 1868 Fort Laramie treaty was a strong one for the Lakota nation, and still figures in current history. The 1868 treaty was asserted by the American Indian Movement at Wounded Knee II in 1973; it resulted in a 1974 Black Hills claim settlement still rejected by most Pine Ridge reservation Lakotas today. Thus the conclusion of Red Cloud's War is more important historically for U.S. Native people than the better known Custer battle; a longer postscript, with this history (and some maps) would contribute greatly to the educational value of the next edition.

In his preface to the new edition, Goble says: "I wrote the book for Indian children because I wanted them to know about and feel proud of the courage of their ancestors. I have written all my books primarily with Indian children in mind, because I firmly believe that what is fine from 'buffalo days' can be transferred to life in these 'automobile days'. The essential truths contained in the mythology never change. They are like an anchor. Similarly the examples of their great leaders of history can be taken for today's inspiration."

Stylistically, Goble mentions another influence, besides the recorded Indian accounts of the battles, and his Lakota friends: "This book was written in the early 1970's at the time when the American Indian Movement was strong. I saw the AIM leaders in the image of the warriors I was writing about. It is fashionable to denigrate the movement, but as far as I was concerned they were courageously defending their people against the ever continuing aggression. It was an exciting period which influenced everyone in some way or other; I am sure a few extra warlike and bloodthirsty phrases were added to the book as a result."

I didn't find any. Brave Eagle says things like: "I think the soldiers were too surprised and frightened to shoot back. For a long moment, they stood, not knowing what to do. They did not have a chance. Many died right there before they had fired their first shot. If our arrows missed one soldier, then the one next to him would fall, because they were bunched up together in lines where they had stopped. I remember seeing a horse with arrows sticking in him and crazy with pain charge off down the trail straight into the decoys. The soldier tried desperately to rein him back, but fell from the saddle full of arrows; his horse dragged him bumping over the frozen earth. It was bad."

Brave Eagle honors brave enemies, he does not gloat at their pain and death, and there is only the slightest of ironies (Goble's emotions coming through) when many years later, he stands looking at one of those historical monuments where white people are being photographed, standing "unthinking on the earth and the growing grass which remembers.", memorializing the dead white soldiers of this fight, Most Indian people see these historical monuments of the Indian Wars as concrete instantiations of racist history. Brave Eagle is more philosophical.

Though Goble calls this a children's book, it is fine for upper middle and high school, and recommended for young adults. It is very good that University of Nebraska Press has brought it back from its out-of-print status. I hope this edition sells out fast, and that the next will have the postscripted history of the 1868 Treaty (and maps) that I think would add greatly to its educational value. This book, like Goble's Custer book, is inexplicably omitted from the current Bison Books-in-print catalog. As with the Custer book, the computers know about it, so you can order it from the info in the header, here -- do so. -- Reviewed by Paula Giese

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Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996

Last Updated: Wednesday, April 24, 1996 - 9:54:17 AM