Monday, February 11, 2013

Reads for Fun: Hampton Sides' "Blood and Thunder"



I picked this one up in a used bookstore, and it was well worth the reduced price. Kit Carson was both an interesting personality and an accomplished explorer; on the former account, he possessed a strange mix of humility and courage, such that although he was a bear in battle, at a time when he was at the height of his fame, he did all he could to remain out of the spotlight. He found it particularly annoying to be turned into a pulp fiction hero by contemporary writers.

This book is fascinating not only as a biography of Carson, though. It's also an accounting of the ill treatment of various Native American tribes, particularly the Navajo. Carson's relationship with these tribes is a big part of the book: He made every effort personally to ensure that they were treated fairly, but his moral sense was also such that he felt obliged to obey orders to go to war against them --  no conscientious objection here.

A number of other key figures in the history of New Mexico, and in Carson's life enter into the story as well: John Fremont, the self-assured (arrogant!) exploration leader who used Carson as a guide; James Carleton, the  general whose plan to resettle the Navajo ended in disaster (but who was too obsessed with it to admit the failure), and Narbona, a Navajo elder statesman whose death by American fire was key in starting a downslide in Navajo-American relations, are among those who make an appearance.

Hampton Sides is an excellent writer that does a good job bringing Carson's unique character to life. A fun read!

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