Authors: Larry McMurtry
The Colonel and Little Missie
Folly and Glory
By Sorrow's River
The Wandering Hill
Sacagawea's Nickname: Essays on the American West
Still Wild: A Collection of Western Stories
Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen
Dead Man's Walk
The Late Child
Streets of Laredo
The Evening Star
Some Can Whistle
Anything for Billy
Film Flam: Essays on Hollywood
The Desert Rose
Terms of Endearment
All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers
The Last Picture Show
In a Narrow Grave: Essays on Texas
Horseman, Pass By
Pretty Boy Floyd
Zeke and Ned
OH WHAT A
Massacres in the American West 1846-1890
SIMON & SCHUSTER
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Copyright Â© 2005 by Larry McMurtry
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Oh what a slaughter: massacres in the American West, 1846â1890 / Larry McMurtry.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Indians of North AmericaâWarsâWest (U.S.) 2. Indians of North AmericaâWest (U.S.)âHistoryâ19th century. 3. MassacresâWest (U.S.)âHistoryâ19th century. I. Title.
978'.02âdc22 Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 2005051849
Photo credits will be found on page 177.
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.
I Buried Custer
OH WHAT A
Of “massacre” (the noun) the
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 thatâthough the word is very obscureâthe 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.