Thursday, March 30, 2017

SPIRIT LAKE

     I picked up a few new books this month. When I say "new," I actually mean "used," as you might be able to tell from the photos. I really wanted to get these books -- and all books -- in Kindle format. But they're just too expensive. As I understand it, publishers are intentionally over-pricing e-book editions in order to prop up paper books (and paper bookstores). LOL! Good luck with that. It's interesting to see these buggy whip manufacturers go down kicking and screaming.
     For example, Frontiersmen in Blue sells for $24 on Kindle. I mean, c'mon man, that's not even serious. Hate to tell ya, but I'm not paying that for a trade paperback, either. I got it used for a couple of bucks. I'm glad, too, because, well, it's just not all that good.

     But let's start with a book that is all that good...mostly. If you read Andersonville by this same author, then you know what awaits you in Spirit Lake. It's a novel of the 1862 Sioux uprising and the massacre that occurred in the Spirit Lake region of Iowa. It's written in a kind of stream of consciousness. Not for everyone. You have to really love language as much as story to enjoy this. As you remember from Andersonville, Kantor can be a tad over-exuberant in his use of words, to put it lightly. To put it heavily, there are times when he just vomits words all over the page. So prepare yourself for that. I'm 300 pages into this 800+ page novel, and so far the author paints a compelling picture of mid-19th century America. 

800 pages of densely-packed verbiage. A 1/2" square chit for scale.
      This book is out of print. I've long wanted to read it, so didn't mind paying $14 for a used mass market paperback. Impressed with the book, I went to purchase Andersonville for my Kindle only to find that the publisher has set the price at $20. I guess they think they can stem the tide of progress. If so, they'll be the first! Off to the used bookstore again. Sigh...

     A couple more, both by Robert Utley: Frontiersmen in Blue and Frontier Regulars. These are something like parts 1 and 2 of a military history of the American West. The first covers the years 1848-1865, the second from '65-'91.
     I read Frontiersmen in Blue and found it informative but dry. Utley, I think, is an academic, and he definitely writes like one. Very by-the-numbers. But I found some good Indian Wars gaming scenarios in there from some little-known campaigns (at least to me) in Oregon and Washington among other places. It's a good reference book, if nothing else. I don't expect anything more from Frontier Regulars. They're both heavy, meaty books with some maps and plenty of photos.

     Forty Miles on Beans and Hay is a much better choice for enjoyable reading than the Utley books. It's pretty much everything you wanted to know about the frontier army during the Indian Wars. Rickey's a good writer and offers a complete -- and personal -- portrait of the frontier soldier of the day. Essential reading for reenactors and wargamers. You won't find any formal description of proscribed tactics used during battle, however -- because there weren't any. Tactics were pretty much improvised on the spot. The formal tactics of the day were for use against modern armies and not Indian bands, who were not considered a significant enough threat to warrant a tactical doctrine. Still, the book discusses weapons and tactics, at least as they were employed in the field. But I was a little disappointed in this aspect of the book. An entertaining read, though.

     If you want a good book on army life on the frontier, Eugene Ware's book is the one to read. He was an officer at Fort Kearney Nebraska during the Civil War. He's also a top-notch writer. The Indian War of 1864 is the somewhat mis-titled account of, well, just day-to-day life on the frontier. I love eye-witness accounts and this is one of the best out there. You learn stuff you've never heard before, such as how the Indians had a superstitious fear of telegraph wires after a group of them were hit by lightning while cutting some down and attempting to steal it. Just the parade of colorful characters that show up at the fort as they travel west (or back east) is almost unbelievable. Like characters from Mark Twain. If you have a Kindle, this book is free on Amazon. I recommend it without reservation.

     While I'm thinking about it, another good first-hand account is My 60 Years on the Plains. The author was a mountain man and Indian fighter. In those days, the Blackfeet were the main nemesis. Also, free, if I remember, on Kindle.




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