May 20

Killing Crazy Horse: The Merciless Indian Wars in America, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard ★

There is so much wrong with this book that it’s hard to know where to start. I’ve always had a sense of Bill O’Reilly being a neoconservative hypocrite, but this book more than confirms it.

My first complaint is the book itself. The print is 14/16 point serifed text, with block headings using a very old decorative typeface that is close to illegible. A large text typeface as used in this book suggests the Bill has little to say but wants to make it appear as a full volume text. Secondly, the style of writing is written as though it was a movie script aimed at the reading level of 8th grade—scarcely a scholastic work. The chapters were short, incomplete, and often written in the style of historic fiction; details were added that contributed nothing to the overall aim of the book. Even a chapter on the death of Wild Bill Hickok had little to do with the subject of the book. Several maps were repeated, some maps were entirely useless, and nearly all of the maps were misplaced in the text, not being in proximity to the running narrative, leaving the reader constantly in search of the appropriate map for the text at hand. It is as though the book was just randomly thrown together in haste to achieve publication. Bill should have done better than that. But then, maybe he couldn’t?

O’Reilly offers no critical analysis of the historical events but panders entirely to the new liberal notions regarding the Indians. He always sympathizes with the Indians, and fails to point out that the Indian encounters with white man were a clash of radically different cultures. It’s not that a foreign entity encroaching on their land was an Indian novelty. Until the white man arrived, the Indians were in a constant war with each other for territorial dominance. Even before the final demise of Crazy Horse, he attacked other Indians that didn’t quite suit his fancy. The Indians had no concept of land ownership, leading them to imagine that their concept would be accepted by the European settlers who had a strong Biblical and Asian/European sense of property and land rights. The Indians were true savages. One never declared a truce or surrendered to the Indians. This was true from the start of Indian-settler conflicts. One did not expect the Indians to spare the elderly, women or children. One expected the Indians to savagely mutilate the dead; killing them wasn’t enough to meet their brutal, uncivilized tastes. The Indian “gods” were also savage, calling for self-mutilating rituals in situations such as in preparation for battle. Little mention was given to the French-Indian War, which set the stage for conflicts with the white settlers. Indeed, the Indians were used by all sides, French, Spanish, and British, as well as Americans, to accomplish their ends. Soon after the first settlements in Virginia and Massachusetts, conflicts with the Indians arose, mostly generated by the Indians themselves. The Indians widely practiced raiding (stealing) at any opportunity, and did not fit with the Western moral system. If the Americans could not be trusted, then neither could the Indians. The Indians had the opportunity to assimilate yet chose to wistfully hope that their lives of roaming the forests and plains would never come to an end.  The demise of the Indian world was from an absence of foresight on their part. Indeed, O’Reilly refuses to suggest that Indian behavior was troubling at best. Instead, they were the poor victims of a Christian culture.

It is true that there was some tendency for the white Americans to view the Indian in the same context as the negro, being somewhat less than an authentic human being. This was not discussed. Indeed, the greatest failure of this book was the need to write as responsible historians and at least make an attempt to give us a mindset that existed in America at the time of the Indian wars. O’Reilly does nothing of the sort.

I am thoroughly amazed at the number of Amazon reviewers that lavished praise on this book, some reviewers even calling it a great book or one of Bill’s “best” books. I haven’t read any other of O’Reilly’s books, and after reading this tome, will probably not pick up anything else that O’Reilly has written. Only a few reviewers saw the book for what it is, a piece of trash. Don’t waste your time or money on this book, as it isn’t worth it. There are better Indian war histories out there.

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