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Authors: Larry McMurtry

Oh What a Slaughter

 

 

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URTRY

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B
Y
L
ARRY
M
C
M
URTRY AND
D
IANA
O
SSANA

Pretty Boy Floyd

Zeke and Ned

LARRY
McMURTRY

OH WHAT A
SLAUGHTER

Massacres in the American West 1846-1890

SIMON & SCHUSTER
Rockefeller Center
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
www.SimonandSchuster.com

Copyright © 2005 by Larry McMurtry
All rights reserved,
including the right of reproduction
in whole or in part in any form.

S
IMON
& S
CHUSTER
and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc

For information about special discounts for bulk purchases,

please contact Simon & Schuster Special Sales at

1-800-456-6798 or [email protected]

Designed by Karolina Harris

Photography consultant: Kevin Kwan

Manufactured in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

McMurtry, Larry.

Oh what a slaughter: massacres in the American West, 1846–1890 / Larry McMurtry.
           p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

1. Indians of North America—Wars—West (U.S.) 2. Indians of North America—West (U.S.)—History—19th century. 3. Massacres—West (U.S.)—History—19th century. I. Title.

E78.W5M35 2005

978'.02—dc22               2005051849

ISBN-13: 978-0-7432-5077-1

eISBN-13: 978-1-4391-4149-6

ISBN:10: 0-7432-5077-X

Photo credits will be found on page 177.

Contents

The Meat Shop

The Vulnerable Pioneer

The Big Massacres and Some Others

The Moral Taint

Did Kit Regret?

Counts

Images, Heroes, Stars

The Sacramento River Massacre, Spring 1846

The Mountain Meadows Massacre, September 11, 1857

Mountain Meadows (II)

Sand Creek, November 29, 1864

The Marias River Massacre, January 23, 1870

The Camp Grant Massacre, April 30, 1871

The Broken Hoop: 1871-1890

Wounded Knee, December 29, 1890

Wounded Knee (II)

Wounded Knee (III)

The Waning Moon

Bibliographical Note

Index

Comes the most heartrending tale of all. As I have said Before General Custer with five companies went below the village to cut them off as he supposed but instead he was surrounded and all of them killed to a man 14 officers and 250 men There the bravest general of modder times met his death with his two brothers, brotherinlaw and nephew not 5 yards apart, surrounded by 42 men of E Company. Oh what a slaughter how many homes made desolate by the sad disaster everyone of them were scalped and otherwise mutilated but the General he lay with a smile on his face.

P
RIVATE
T
HOMAS
C
OLEMAN

I Buried Custer

OH WHAT A
SLAUGHTER

The Meat Shop

Of “massacre” (the noun) the
OED
suggests “shambles, butchery, general slaughter, carnage,” a definition that would probably work for the great scout Kit Carson, who called the 1846 massacre of an undetermined number of California Indians, in which he took part, “a perfect butchery.”

Of “massacre” (the verb) the same authority offers “to violently kill, mutilate, mangle,” a fair description of what was done to the victims in the course of the various massacres I intend to consider in this book.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica
, eleventh edition, allots the subject a hasty paragraph, concluding that—though the word is very obscure—the etymology suggests something like a meat shop: a very bloody place, a shambles, with discarded and undesirable pieces of meat scattered around.

The image of a meat shop seems apt to me, since what massacres usually do is reduce human beings to the condition of meat, though the bits of meat will be less tidily arranged than the cuts would normally be in a decent butcher shop.

If we know anything about man, it's that he's not pacific. The temptation to butcher anyone considered undesirable seems to be a common temptation, not always resisted. The twentieth century, just passed, more or less began with the million-plus
massacre of the Armenians by the Turks, and ended with the terrible low-tech chopping up of some 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda, an old-style massacre mostly accomplished with hoes and hatchets. When it ended a good deal of Rwanda resembled a meat shop.

What I want to do in this book is look at several massacres that occurred in the American West during the several decades when the native tribes of our plains and deserts were being displaced from their traditional territories by a vast influx of white immigrants. This process began in the 1830s, but accelerated sharply in the 1840s and 1850s: it was mostly completed, insofar as the native tribes were concerned, by 1890.

Judged by world-historical perspectives these massacres were tiny. The Custer defeat in 1876, a military encounter that, to the great surprise of the general who was soon to lie dead with a smile on his face, was the only one of these encounters to involve more than two hundred dead, a figure hardly to be counted among the world's huge cruelties. Though I describe here and there some tiny massacres, involving only a handful of people, I am mainly concerned with the famous massacres, with death tolls over one hundred people.

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