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Blood and Thunder An Epic of the American West

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In the fall of 1846 the venerable Navajo warrior Narbona greatest of his people’s chieftains looked down upon the small town of Santa Fe the stronghold of the Mexican settlers he had been fighting his whole long life He had come to see if the rumors were true if an army of blue suited soldiers had swept in from the East and utterly defeated his ancestral enemies As Narbona gazed down on the battlements and cannons of a mighty fort the invaders had built he realized his foes had been vanuished but what did the arrival of these “New Men” portend for the NavajoNarbona could not have known that “The Army of the West” in the midst of the longest march. Great narrative history account of Kit Carson's later years in Sa

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Trapper scout and soldier who embodies all the contradictions and ambiguities of the American experience in the West Brave and clever beloved by his contemporaries Carson was an illiterate mountain man who twice married Indian women and understood and respected the tribes better than any other American alive Yet he was also a cold blooded killer who willingly followed orders tantamount to massacre Carson’s almost unimaginable exploits made him a household name when they were written up in pulp novels known as “blood and thunders” but now that name is a bitter curse for contemporary Navajo who cannot forget his role in the travails of their ancestors. This is a truly outstanding bookhistory that reads like fiction;

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In American military history was merely the vanguard of an inexorable tide fueled by a self righteous ideology now known as “Manifest Destiny” For twenty years the Navajo elusive lords of a huge swath of mountainous desert and pasturelands would ferociously resist the flood of soldiers and settlers who wished to change their ancient way of life or destroy themHampton Sides’s extraordinary book brings the history of the American conuest of the West to ringing life It is a tale with many heroes and villains but as is found in the best history the same person might be both At the center of it all stands the remarkable figure of Kit Carson the legendary. This is an exuisitely written book All comes alive – the differ Whiskey Opus the vanguard of an inexorable A Year on the Farm (DK Readers L1) tide fueled by a self righteous ideology now known as “Manifest Destiny” For Rain Forest Explorer (DK Readers L3) twenty years The Complete Idiot's Guide to Ventriloquism the Navajo elusive lords of a huge swath of mountainous desert and pasturelands would ferociously resist The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hearing Loss the flood of soldiers and settlers who wished Afterlight to change The Complete Idiot's Guide to Raising Goats their ancient way of life or destroy The Complete Idiot's Guide to Elance themHampton Sides’s extraordinary book brings The Complete Idiot's Guide to Fondues and Hot Dips the history of The No Time to Cook! Book the American conuest of The Flower Book the West Heart of Coal to ringing life It is a Heartland tale with many heroes and villains but as is found in Ad Women: How They Impact What We Need, Want, and Buy the best history Screw You Dolores the same person might be both At Finding Tom Connor the center of it all stands Pete the Bushman the remarkable figure of Kit Carson The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Gnostic Gospels the legendary. This is an exuisitely written book All comes alive – The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Gnostic Gospels the differ


10 thoughts on “Blood and Thunder An Epic of the American West

  1. says:

    This is how history should be written This is the kind of book that spoils you for other books Hampton Sides’ Blood and Thunder is a sprawling account of the opening of the American southwest It starts in 1846 with American soldiers arriving in Santa Fe and ends roughly around the time of the First Battle of Adobe Walls in 1864 The two decades in between are stuffed with drama horror and heartbreak All the stuff that used to fill the dime store “blood and thunders” that lends this book its tongue in cheek title You have General Stephen Watts Kearny taking the Army of the West on one of the longest marches in US Military History You have the underrated political genius of James Knox Polk and his ambitious continental designs You have the Mexican American War that Polk orchestrated as fought in New Mexico and California There are battles and massacres explorations and discoveries triumphs and tragedies This is a sometimes wildly digressing story hopping manically from one place to the next like my kids on Christmas morning And on Halloween Easter their birthdays Pretty much any day involving candy One moment you’ll be reading about James Henry Carleton investigating the Mountain Meadows Massacre; the next you’ll be with soon to be Sand Creek villain John Chivington as he’s fighting the Confederacy at Glorieta Pass It’s enough to give you whiplash but the good kind of whiplash like when you turn away from your video game to see your kids doing something cute Despite the overstuffed nature Sides keeps things manageable by utilizing two backbones to carry the narrative The first is famed huntertrapperscoutsoldier Christopher “Kit” Carson The second is the sad story of the Navajo Indians whose “long walk” to their reservation on the Basue Redondo is a tale redolent of the “Trail of Tears” yet oddly unremembered today These storylines provide a moral framework for the rest of Sides’ story In some ways this is a very old fashioned book There are enough battles from San Pasual to Canyon de Chelly to satisfy someone looking for a military history It also relies heavily on the “great man” style of history There are perceptive biographical sketches of the aforementioned Kearny and Polk who Sides argues might be the most efficient and effective US President as well as explorer John C Fremont politician Thomas Hart Benton and Union General Edward Canby Over them all towers the diminutive Carson who Sides rightly finds the perfect embodiment of all the grim contradictions found in many of the men who helped open the West Carson was kind and humane except when he unleashed his terrible lethal rage He treated with the Indians respected them knew their customs and traditions yet could mutilate the body of a warrior he’d just killed without batting an eye He was on the forefront of a racial conflict yet loved and married both an Arapaho woman named Singing Grass and a Hispanic woman named Josefa He was illiterate yet spoke than half a dozen different languages Yet this is also a very modern book Sides writes in an incredibly inclusive style that seeks a diversity of viewpoints There are a lot of white males as might be expected see the preceding paragraph but there is also significant space devoted to Navajo leaders such as Narbona and Manuelito You are given the opportunity to see things from their perspective as they are forced to leave their ancestral homes for a reservation they're meant to share with long time enemies Sides also spends time with diarist Susan Magoffin as well as Fremont’s able and intelligent partner Jesse Benton Fremont He strives to fill in the blanks of Carson’s wives who elude us through a lack of primary documents There is not a perfect 50 50 split of course; I doubt that's possible with extant sources The fact that Sides makes an honest effort indeed goes out of his way to find other voices goes a long way with me More than that Sides is interested in the cultural context He is clearly riveted by the intricate customs and practices of the Navajo and spends a good deal of time exploring and explaining their worldview What’s Sides uses this information to amplify the historical record For instance after Narbona’s death he describes Navajo funeral rites This has the double effect of giving you a better understanding of the Navajo people while providing an idea of how Narbona was probably laid to rest The best part of all – yes it keeps getting better – is that Sides is an excellent writer He is a naturally gifted storyteller with a deep sympathy for his historical subjects This is a vanishingly rare book that connects you with the past in a tactile way I dare you not to be moved by the final agonies of Kit Carson dying from an aortic aneurysm a month after his beloved wife His last words fitting for a man who straddled cultures “Doctor compadre adios” He has an unerring eye for details both profound and small whether dealing with Navajo death taboos or James K Polk’s excruciating urinary stone surgery Sides seamlessly combines effortless prose competent research and astute judgments It melds the old way of historical writing with the new to create a marvelous hybrid Sides gives you the “blood and thunder” of the West while maintaining a moral clarity of vision He is not out to deliver harsh verdicts or to elevate undeserving heroes but he can recognize a calamity when it’s looking him in the face He is absolutely comfortable in the ethical ambiguities of America’s westward expansion navigating the many many competing impulses animating the men and women of this storyThis book represents an ideal for me A work that is both exciting and introspective that is both sharply incisive and generously big hearted It’s not an easy balance to strike and it’s worth reading when it happens


  2. says:

    Blood and Thunder The Epic Story of Kit Carson the Conuest of the American West by Hampton Sides was a powerfully written and meticulously researched tale of the American West primarily from the early nineteenth century through the Civil War when President Polk's vision of Manifest Destiny was the ideological vision of the United States of America sweeping from the Atlantic to the Pacific Having grown up in Colorado New Mexico and California I loved this book not only for its rich history but for its vivid descriptions of the southwest They all had Spanish names and had had them since before the pilgrims sailed to Plymouth Rock The Sandias Manzanos Ortiz Jemez Los Cerillos Sangre de Cristos San Mateos Atalaya Some seemed so close they could plucked as effortlessly as pendulous fruit others than a hundred miles off thin blue phantoms rising from the Navajo country in the hazy westThe sagebrush gave way to cornfields and sheep pastures and then scattered houses and finally the men dropped down to the somber capital the Royal City of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi Although it had a fabled name with a venerable history it was founded in 1609 Santa Fe was not a town that sought to impress anyone numbering at most seven thousand inhabitantsBut at the heart of this saga is Christopher Kit Carson who was an integral part of this story There was something uncanny about Carson in the way he popped up from the shadows and impressed his name on the scenes of history he did have a curious knack for making himself present at the critical instant Whenever an expedition was in trouble real trouble he was there to bail it outIt was also the chilling tale of the Navajo nation who found themselves unwilling participants in the last stages of Manifest Destiny It was not a single migration but a series of them But taken all together it was a forced relocation of biblical proportions one of the largest in American history second only to the Trail of Tears of the Cherokees


  3. says:

    Great narrative history account of Kit Carson's later years in Santa Fe that encompasses the twisted threads of the several tribes residing in the area the longstanding Mexican settlements the growing numbers of American settlers and the US Army operating under the mandates of Polk's Manifest Destiny Overall Carson is portrayed sympathetically as a complex character marked both by a love of Native Americans he married one and by skill in fighting bands who carried out violent incursions against settlers An important part of the narrative is an accounting of the pathway that led him as a regional administror to accede to the tragic eviction of the Navaho from their sacred mountains to a barren reservation on the plains The conseuence was such a major loss of life that the event has been likened to a second Trail of Tears Cherokee eviction from the South to Indian Territory later Oklahoma A well written history that reads like a novel what can we ask for


  4. says:

    This is an exuisitely written book All comes alive – the differing personalities and cultures the never ending clashes between SpanishMexican Americans and native Americans Navajo Ute Apache Above all we get wonderful portraits of the landscapes of the Southwest United States present day New Mexico and Arizona It is a diverse terrain that is beautifully stark and unforgiving; so unlike the lush green land that the newly arriving American settlers and soldiers from the East were accustomed to But it was home to the many Native American tribes who had been there for centuries and the SpanishMexicans for over two hundred yearsThis book covers the life span of Kit Carson 1809 1868 and the abundant events surrounding his uniue life Manifest Destiny swept in The brutality that already existed was augmented by the western expansion of the United States government They wanted this land and the Pacific Coast outlets; they ran roughshod over any of the inhabitants of this region to attain this goal All was accomplished under President James K Polk during his 4 year term 1845 1849This was aided by men like Kit Carson He was an intrepid mountain man who served as guide to the initial explorers and then the United States Army We are also provided with remarkable views of Navajo life and the SpanishMexican American settlements that dotted the Southwest US Very tragically Kit Carson was instrumental in the devastation of Navajo life He led army forces that destroyed the crops of the Navajo Nation and reduced them to a subsistence and starvation levelThe Indian tribes were simply overwhelmed by the move west of the Anglo American settlers migrants and armies As is the case to this day when a nomadic people encounter a superior technological society with a numerically greater population their culture and way of life alters permanently and they become marginalized in a land where they were previously dominantThis book is remarkable in capturing the many different historical nuances of this time period It is a highly engaging history full of the diversity of the era


  5. says:

    Sides depicts an icon of the western frontier the exploitation of the land and subjugation of Native Americans Kit Carson’s life follows the frontier’s fortunes from his early days as a fur trapper to his role leading three Fremont expeditions to his exploits in the Mexican War and his chronicled battles with the Indians Throughout Carson’s skills integrity loyalty and unerring sixth sense were so prodigious that he seems the stuff of fiction However soft spoken standing only 5’4” with a slight build; he belied his characterizations in 19th century dime novels While it is easy to view Carson as a willing tool in the slaughter of the Indians Sides portrays Carson as a proponent of fair treatment who tried to prevent their total destructionEscaping as a teenager from a bonded apprenticeship in Saint Louis in the 1820’s Carson became one of the last generation of mountain men trapping beaver in the unexplored western plains and Rocky Mountains When the beaver population was depleted Carson put his knowledge of the country to use as a guide Serving the Fremont expedition in its trek over the Oregon Trail he first earned notoriety from the praise of the famous general While in California his bravery in the fight against Mexico earned him accolades as he went on to serve General Kearney He fought for the Union in New Mexico in the Civil War and later led US forces against the Indians most notably defeating the Navajo with a scorched earth policy reminiscent of Sherman that forced them onto reservations Illiterate Carson learned to speak fluent French Spanish and numerous Indian languages He was a man of immense practical knowledge with a deep appreciation of the land and of its native inhabitants Carson seems to have been caught up in history as much as he made it His pragmatism embodied a fatalistic sense of the future of Native Americans who he both fought and admired Carson acknowledged that the white man initiated the conflict But he believed that the Indians’ way of life made it impossible for them ever to coexist peacefully with whites Thus he felt that reservations were the only way they would survive Race did not matter in Carson’s personal relationships His first two wives were Indians his third and last was Mexican He loved his first wife Singing Grass an Arapaho who gave him two children His second marriage to Making Out Road was short lived She divorced him in the Indian way by simply placing all his belongings outside the Teepee He also loved his third wife Josefa from an established Taos family and converted to Catholicism for her She gave him eight children Singing Grass and Josefa both died from infections following childbirth Carson died a month following Josefa’s death and was laid beside her in her still fresh graveSides gives us a gritty account of this remarkable man the transition of the West from unexplored frontier to the white man’s domain and the Indians’ demise He shows us the abject cruelty that permeated the conflicts He describes in graphic detail the slavery torture brutal killings wanton destruction of homes and livelihoods practiced by Hispanics Anglos and Native Americans alike Sides writes crisply with a smooth flow and flourish that makes this history engaging and his book a fast read Just be prepared for the sad disturbing realityA good preuel to this slice of history is Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage covering the Lewis and Clark expedition showing us the land mountain men and Indian life before Carson’s time A good compliment is Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon describing the white man’s conflict with and the demise of the Comanche in a strikingly similar story to that of the Navajo


  6. says:

    One of the best narrative histories I’ve read in recent years Hampton Sides’ impressive work cuts through the legends and myths that have developed around Kit Carson provides a balanced view of his personality and in the process draws a vivid picture of what life was like in the 1820’s – 1860’s in western America Carson became famous during his time but shunned celebrity He was unschooled but spoke many languages He was seen both as a hero and villain depending on perspective This book explores his complex personality fierce loyalty uiet demeanor and decisive actions Almost like an 1800’s version of Forrest Gump Carson had a knack for being at the center of significant historical events Sides focuses on Carson’s remarkable life as a focal point and common thread in conveying the often brutal history of the American West covering the panoramic drama that shaped the history of the region I gained an appreciation for the personalities involved – not only Kit Carson but also John C Fremont James K Polk Stephen Watts Kearny Edward Canby Thomas Hart Benton Jessie Benton Fremont James Henry Carleton Navajo leaders Narbona Manuelito and Barboncito and a host of others This book covers Carson’s many roles as a trapper scout explorer soldier and family man It never strays too far from his life in relating historic events It covers a vast swath of history the expansion of the United States into current day California Oregon Nevada Arizona Utah Colorado and New Mexico the Mexican American War the American Civil War battles in New Mexico and the internecine clashes with the Navajo and other tribes A significant portion is devoted to the encroachment of white civilization on the aboriginal people as well as related salient issues such as reservations relocation and attempts to change their customs and ways of life I particularly enjoyed the author’s writing style which flows artfully and elegantly His descriptions of the terrain are stunning He has a gift for telling a compelling story while imparting historic facts The structure of this book is like a dog herding sheep shifting among different perspectives but keeping the multiple storylines moving along I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in gaining a better understanding of American western expansion and corresponding impact on its people land and culture


  7. says:

    This is a truly outstanding bookhistory that reads like fiction; my favourite kind As the title suggests the book details the conuest of the American West Of course conuering the West was virtually synonymous with subjugating the American Indian which is what this book is really aboutKit Carson does hold the story together being involved from the first chapter to the last but it is a Kit Carson I was not expecting to meet I anticipated a larger than life brawling drinking Injun scalpin' mountain man instead I learned that Carson was a family man an Army officer a Freemason He was a sober and shy introvert whose word was his absolute bond This book does a good job of outlining his past and detailing his achievements but Carson came up short of my expectations somehow I don't think it was the writing that shortchanged him I just think that Carson came out as human and therefore flawed just like the rest of us In one encounter with Mexicans he was unhorsed and his rifle broken essentially sidelined while his comrades in arms clashed with the foe at close range On another occasion the kidnapped settler's wife he attempted to rescue was murdered before he could overcome the raiders that took her Full points for effort but everything Carson touched seemed doomedWhat really made the book work for me is that I learned a lot about the American westward expansion which really amounted to the virtually unopposed absorption of a large piece of property belonging to another sovereign state a la Ira and Kuwait Mexico must still be pissed off And the Indians I am still giddy over the wealth of knowledge that was imparted to me by this book Mr Sides gives them all their due but the Navajo get the Royal treatment mostly because they were Carson's special relocation project This is where the man lost a lot of my respect although I suppose you could say he was only following orderswe heard a lot of that line in 1945 But Mr Sides is sympathetic to the Native American tribes and has really researched the heck right out of them I learned for example that captured Navajo were retained as slaves for some time after the Emancipation Proclamation I was also surprised to learn that the Navajo are likely originally Canadian as their language and appearance and apparently DNA match that of tribes in the Canadian northOne bit of info I intend to take with a grain of salton page 353 Mr Sides comments about Carson's being petitioned into a lodge of Freemasons tough Western stalwarts wearing funny hats and chanting mantras in a dark hall I don't know if the author is taking a cheap shot to try to make a group look silly or if he's been watching too much of the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes on The Flintstones but nor group of Freemasons I have encountered has worn headgear and chanted mantras Just sayin'That minor observation aside this book is really worthwhile I mined the vast bibliography and came up with a lot of titles dealing with the Navajo and I will be looking into those when time permits And I am sure that this is not the last Hampton Sides book that I will be reading


  8. says:

    This review is not a summary of the events discussed in the book itself Instead read the book to learn of America’s expansion westward to the Pacific in the middle of the 1800sand of fascinating details about Native American customs and beliefsThe further you get into the story the better and better it getsHere is what I liked The atrocities committed by both sides those by the Indians and those by the conuering Americans are presented without bias These atrocities are factually presented but also in a moving manner The events are supplemented with interesting details that add depth The atrocities committed upset the reader and they should do just that The book both teaches and yet is not dry Learning about different Indian tribes and their respective customs was fascinating Here is what I had trouble with Unexplained jumps are made between chapters which lead to confusion maybe so in an audiobook listening Yes you are soon straightened out if you listen very carefully but this is annoying It demands both patience and sometimes rewinds You can be thrown into a new chapter where you have no idea who the people are There is an abundant use of maybes perhaps possibly it is thought it was said to have it must haveand yet if the facts are not known for sure how else should the author express himself Still I didn’t enjoy this Sorry but even Hampton Sides captivating prose doesn't prevent me from falling asleep when listening to military stratagems There are battles galore; they are NOT my favorite theme What exactly IS the central theme of the book? Is it a biography of Kit Carson1809 1868? Is it about the opening up of the West? Yes to both of the above but its central focus is the history of what happened in New Mexico during the Mexican War and the Civil War in relation to the Indians in this area the Spanish settlers long residing in this same area and the invading Americans infused by their belief in “Manifest Destiny” the land was theirs for the taking The history is woven around Kit Carson’s role in both wars and in the subjugation of the Navajos You definitely learn a lot of history and you leave the book with an unbiased realistic understanding of who Kit Carson really was not just the heroic figure of the Blood and Thunder dime novels so popular in the 1800sDon Leslie narrates the audiobook His narration is clear and his tone attempts to enliven the battles with excitement This works sometimesThis is a heart rending episode of American history one that deserves to be read by all In this book history is easily swallowed yeah maybe even the battles The book is very very good I highly recommend it What I loved most was learning about Native American beliefs and the gritty truth of the injusticesatrocities committed against them


  9. says:

    Hampton Sides is a wonderful writer of history Blood and Thunder details the continuing conflict between the Navajo tribes and the successive occupants of New Mexico from its original occupation by the Spanish through the Mexican government and finally the United StatesIn addition to covering this lengthy cultural conflict Sides weaves the biography of Kit Carson and his significant involvement in the New Mexico Territory The title of Side's book is drawn from the term Blood and Thunder which was a popular name for sensationalized pulp novels portraying the lives of those individuals who caught the imagination of the American public during its westward expansion Carson was the topic of many of them He had little regard for this literary phenomenon of his generation considering them over blown and untruthfulSides' book provides a treatment of the Navajo wars reminiscent of SC Gwynne's excellent Empire of the Summer Moon which detailed the American conflict with the Comanche Indian bands occurring from Oklahoma into Mexico Both are commendable and highly readable accounts of this turbulent historical eraOf course the book could not be complete without the story of the development of the system of Indian Reservations Naturally this volume focuses on that created for the Navajo bands and the common belief of American authorities that each tribe was a nation held together by a head man who spoke for all members of the tribe This misconception was the fundamental basis for the failure of so many Indian treatiesAnother reason to pick up Sides' book is his excellent recounting of American Civil War battles and skirmishes occurring in the New Mexico Territory As in each of his books Sides captures the uniue personalities of the men and women who lived through the times Hampton Sides consistently produces well researched works of American history without resorting to the academic tediousness found necessary by some authors whose names I will not mention here Bottom line history doesn't have to be boring When Hampton Sides writes it it isn't Highly recommended


  10. says:

    If you don’t know much about Kit Carson or his life and times Hampton Sides’ Blood and Thunder is probably a fine place to start Carson was one of those rare historical figures whose life would intersect numerous times with important moments and people in American history Primarily Sides focuses on Carson’s role with the whole Manifest Destiny movement which was initiated by President Polk in the 1840s Still this is an enormous chunk of history that literally covers the entire continent But Sides handles this huge sweep well supplying numerous mini biographies on various figures that historians usually don’t spend a lot of time on such as the often drunk Confederate General Sibley or New Mexico Governor Charles Bent I found these “side trips” wonderful adding texture to the overall story of Carson’s life There were a few times when I felt Sides went a little too far in his historical renderings For example I found the funeral of Navajo leader Narbona to be a recounting that arises primarily from Sides’ imagination I have no doubt that Sides captured the ritual correctly but Sides makes it sound like a first hand accounting complete with what participants felt and thought There were also few other bumps along the way For some reason Sides repeats himself numerous times giving the impression that the book’s chapters were written independently and that there was no editorial attempt to smooth out these repetitions Still in general this is a very well written book with some fine descriptive writing that brings dramatic events colorful people and beautiful landscapes to life A great read from which I learned a lot


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