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Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West

Updated: Aug 25, 2018

Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West, by Hampton Sides (read by Don Leslie) is a book on tape running 20 hours and 55 minutes. This book gives a broad view of the West told primarily from the perspective of United State's expansion. Centered around the famous Kit Carson, American trapper, guide, Indian liaison, and Army scout, Blood and Thunder uses this complex individual to represent the unique mix of American frontiersmen, Mexican, and Native American forces that clashed throughout much of the 19th century.

The book does an excellent job of portraying the often-downplayed military campaigns that occurred in the West. It first follows the trail of General Stephen Kearny and the Army of the West. During the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, this ragtag group of approximately 2,000 volunteers made the grueling march from St. Louis to Santa Fe, and then on the San Diego. This was the United States' first invasion into what was then Mexico, and it led to the first territorial American government being established in New Mexico. While it was largely overshadowed by the campaigns of Winfield Scott and Zachary Taylor farther to the south, Kearny's campaign played a significant role in the eventual U.S. victory over Mexico and subsequent land grab.

Blood and Thunder goes on to describe the small but intense western front of the Civil War, fought primarily in New Mexico. After raising an army of several thousand, Confederate Brigadier General Henry Sibley and his men struck out from San Antonio on a naive mission to occupy western territory from Texas to California for the Confederacy. Following the Rio Grande, he encountered Colonel Edward Silsby and his 4,000 Union soldiers protecting the territory of New Mexico. Largely echoing the pattern in the East, the South racked up early victories and momentum before eventually being outmanned and out-supplied by a stronger Union. Defeated and starving, Sibley accepted strange surrender terms whereby he and his men agreed to return to San Antonio, with the New Mexican Union Army escorting them from the opposite side of the Rio Grande all the way to Texas.

Blood and Thunder ends with a thorough account of the Indian wars that the nation turned its attention to once the West was definitively claimed by the United States. It details the relationships between Pueblo Indians of central New Mexico, the Navajos of the 4 corner regions, and the marauding Apaches and Comanches who raided across the region. It details the rocky relationship the local Indians and Mexican-Americans had with Charles Bent, the first Governor of New Mexico. Their disagreements eventually led to large-scale revolt and the violent death of Governor Bent and several others. It follows Kit Carson on his campaign into Navajo Country to subdue what was perhaps the largest, most resistant Native American Tribe in North America. These people were harassed and attacked until they relented and made the "Long Walk" to Bosque Redondo, their temporary reservation near Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Once there, the Navajo's bad luck and mistreatment almost led to their total demise before a last ditch effort allowed them to return to their native lands.

Mixed in with these topics are countless other interesting tales, from John C. Fremont's exploration-turned-military excursion in California's Oso Revolution, to Kit Carson's uncharacteristic visit to Washington, D.C. to visit with President James K. Polk. Overall, the book delivers a realistic view of the political, cultural, and military clashes that occurred in American expansion, while still preserving the adventuresome, gun-toting romanticism of the West we hold so dearly. Would highly recommend.


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