Monday, September 9, 2013

Reviews of Chaky's Terrible Justice: Sioux Chiefs And U.S. Soldiers on the Upper Missouri, 1854-1868

Terrible Justice: Sioux Chiefs And U.S. Soldiers, A Review

Terrible Justice: Sioux Chiefs And U.S. Soldiers
A Review And Criticism Of An Otherwise Good Book
By Dakota Wind, The First Scout

BismarckND – I recently picked up a copy of Doreen Chaky’s Terrible Justice: Sioux Chiefs andU.S. Soldiers on the Upper Missouri, 1854–1868. The first paragraph into the first chapter, Terrible Justice, I immediately determined that this wasn’t a narrative of the Plains Indians conflicts, but a serious study about what happened, when it happened and who was there. A narrative is rather like a travel writer’s attempt to take the reader there. The purpose of the narrative is to make the event easy to read, and something is lost in that style.

Chapters like The Battle of Fort Rice are lengthy and detailed. Nearly no soldier or Indian goes unnamed, and I almost felt I was reading Homer’s Iliad. I had previously read, and re-read Ben Innis’ Bloody Knife: Custer’s Favorite Scout for basic information about what Innis describes as a ten-day siege of Fort Rice, and pretty much leaves it at that. Chakey has gone back and scoured every known published source (The Frontier Scout, military orders for the day, muster roles, etc.) and has delivered the most complete telling of Sitting Bull’s assaults on a military fort. More than just a siege or stand-off, with Chakey’s version, one sees the battle as a battle.

Terrible Justice features maps by a Bill Wilson. Maps which have been pain-stakingly reconstructed from explorers’, traders’ and military maps to show where many of the Sioux (Dakota and Lakota) were known to be in the time period the book focuses on. One of Wilson’s maps even features a breakdown of Sioux tribes and their dialects.

I love maps. I love maps that showcase the Northern Great Plains. Wilson’s maps are detailed with battles sites and forts, place names and state lines, all the standard fare and more that one expects in a map of Dakota Territory. I can appreciate the time and detail that has gone into creating the two maps that are featured in Terrible Justice.

There are only two maps in all of Terrible Justice’s 408 pages, but the book could have used one more. I’m sure that there are resources out there, but the only book with a map – a single map too – that attempts to recreate the landscape as the Great Sioux Nation knew it, is Royal Hassrick’sThe Sioux, though not enough detail was put into his single map, only major waterways and major landmarks.

Wilson's first map which appears in Terrible Justice, on page 20. 

I’m not tearing down Chakey’s book, nor Wilson’s maps, they’re both wonderful resources to have in your library collection. I’m just sighing at the lack of a map that have traditional native names associated with them. Wilson’s maps are only an indication of Western/American mentality, the landscape wherein the indigenous have been pushed out or wiped out and the landmarks renamed. The identity of the landscape is made over.

In the chapter hauntingly titled Babies On The Battlefield, Sibley’s 1863 campaign against the Dakota and Lakota covers the running conflict from Big Mound through Dead Buffalo Lake through to Sibley’s final conflict with the Sioux at Apple Creek between present-day United TribesTechnical College and the University of Mary. The running conflict is concisely covered in just two pages.

In this same chapter is the account of Ta’Oyáte Duta’s (His Red Nation; aka Little Crow) sonWówinapĥe (A Place Of Refuge) who reported that his father had attempted to find allies among the Arikara, Hidatsa and Mandan Nation at Fort Berthold, but they were in turn attacked for their recruitment effort. Wówinapĥe also shared with Sibley’s men that his father had attempted to reach out the Chippewa up at the Turtle Mountains and find allies, but too was unsuccessful finding friends there. I had only ever heard this story as oral history from Humanities Scholar Jerome Kills Small.

This same chapter, Babies On The Battlefield, goes into far more detail about Sully’s campaign which culminated at Whitestone Hill. Chakey’s strength is entirely academic and shows in this retelling. The only other place one may find a more complete account of the Whitestone Hill conflict is Clair Jacobson’s Whitestone Hill, the only difference here is that Jacobson includes as much of the native perspective of the conflict as well as the Sully’s and his command’s accounts.

On page 176 the reader learns the awful reasoning behind the chapter’s title. Soldiers’ accounts of the days display a kill and let die philosophy in their carnage. Shooting dogs who drug travois carrying babies were shot, and if they missed, the baby was at rest. The harsh use of language clearly dehumanizes the Sioux, and that’s the sad truth of Sully’s campaign. Babies who were found, the innocent survivors, were given to the women prisoners.

There is no mention of the two pictographic accounts of the Whitestone Hill conflict. The absence of these two recorded primary documents is a resounding silence, the Lakota and Dakota remain voiceless without the inclusion of these firsthand accounts.

My concerns are few (maps and pictographs) but I feel important. Chakey’s Terrible Justice deserves a spot on the bookshelf of the student of American History or Native American history. Footnotes rest at the bottom of nearly each page; a wonderful bibliography follows the conclusion of the book which takes the reader up to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. 

Terrible Justice: Sioux Chiefs and U.S. Soldiers on the Upper Missouri, 1854-1868, by Doreen Chaky

Originally published on Published Online: May 31, 2013 

Terrible Justice: Sioux Chiefs and U.S. Soldiers on the Upper Missouri, 1854–1868,
 by Doreen Chaky, The Arthur H. Clark Co. (an imprint of the University of Oklahoma Press), Norman, 2012, $39.95.
Moving from an early conflict "sparked by a cow" through the turbulent creation of the Great Sioux Reservation, North Dakota journalist and scholar Doreen Chaky crafts a thoroughly detailed and mutually sympathetic overview of the Sioux conflict before 1870. More specifically, she explores major conflicts between the Sioux and U.S. soldiers during the 1850s and 1860s, and also delves into the relationships between the various Sioux bands themselves. It is an enlightening work that encompasses a range of both time and people that has rarely, if ever, been so thoroughly explored.
Chaky relies on countless primary source materials (such as journals and military records from the time), which are comprehensively footnoted in a list spanning more than 25 pages. Such detail might cross the line into obtuse academia, but in Chaky's hands one gets the sense of being immersed in the culture and environment of the times.
Consider, for instance, this gem taken from the report of General Henry H. Sibley during his 1863 campaign, and attributed to Sergeant J.W. Burnham: "The lonely lake, the rocky hills, the naked, yelling Indians, soon discomfited and flying, the battery of four guns all doing their best, the charging cavalry with sabers drawn, the infantry following, while over all was the darkened sky, the heavy rolling thunder and the incessant lightning with but little rain."
The book is a deserving finalist for two awards, including the 2013 Spur Award from the Western Writers of America, and the Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Martin A. Bartels

Great Plains Studies announces Distinguished Book Prize finalists
Released on 03/18/2013, at 2:00 AM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Lincoln, Neb., March 18th, 2013 — 

The Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska has announced 
the finalists for this year's Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize.

The two books selected by a panel of judges are:
"Blackfoot Redemption: A Blood Indian's Story of Murder, Confinement, and 
Imperfect Justice" by William E. Farr (University of Oklahoma Press); and "Terrible
Justice: Sioux Chiefs and U.S. Soldiers on the Upper Missouri, 1854-1868" by 
Doreen Chaky (University of Oklahoma Press). 

In "Terrible Justice," Chaky gives one of the first complete accounts of Sioux 
conflict before 1870. Chaky examines the 1850s and 1860s, the period between 
the first major conflicts between the Sioux and U.S. soldiers and the creation of the
Great Sioux Reservation. The book also looks at the relationships between 
different bands of Sioux and how they were affected by conflict. Chaky is a 
freelance journalist and independent scholar. She resides in Williston, N.D.

In "Blackfoot Redemption," Farr reconstructs the events of a Canadian Blackfoot 
called Spopee who shot and killed a white man in 1879. Through the narrative, he 
reveals a larger story about race and prejudice as the transition to reservations 
began. Farr is a senior fellow at the O'Conner Center for the Rocky Mountain West
and professor emeritus at the University of Montana in Missoula. He is the author of "Montana: Images of the Past and the Reservation Blackfeet, 1882-1945," among others.

The winner of the $5,000 cash prize will be announced April 26. The author will be 
invited to travel to UNL to present a lecture on the topic of the book. Only 
first-edition, full-length, nonfiction books published and copyrighted in 2012 were 
evaluated for the award. Nominations were made by publishers or authors.

The Center for Great Plains Studies is an intercollegiate regional research and 
teaching program. Its mission is to promote a greater understanding of the people,
culture, history and environment of the Great Plains through a variety of research, 
teaching and outreach programs. For more information, contact the Center for 
Great Plains Studies at 402-472-3082 or visit its website,
Writer: Kaylene Nieland, Publications Specialist, Center for Great Plains Studies,