The Last Campaign: Sherman, Geronimo and the War for America by H.W. Brands: 5*****

What is it about the American West that fascinates many of us? Is it the size, the scope, the stories and the legends that we have learned about? There are so many names associated with the American West, the Wild West, of the time when the American frontier expanded on that last push across country, and of course that meant that there would be a collision between The United states military and the Native American Indians. Once again, HW Brands has come up with a fascinating book about the last campaign, the last battles of the American Indian wars. It is a honest book, filled with fantastic research and probably one of the most balanced looks at this time period that I have read in the last few years. There’s no revisionism with Brands, instead he gives you Quotes, Diaries, and insight into what was going on in America beginning with the arrival of the first Europeans. As he writes early on,  when the Europeans arrived they merely joined in the war that was already going on in America. Oh yes, that myth of the noble savage is destroyed by evidence that shows that Native American tribes had been battling each other over territories for years. But today’s revisionist historians don’t want to tell you that. Instead HW Brands is not afraid to broach that topic and more in his most recent book.

            Many people don’t realize that William Tecumseh Sherman got his middle name from an Indian, that there is more to Sherman that his march to the sea during the Civil War, and that after that war had ended he eventually became the head of the military forces in the West. The books subtitle is rather misleading because Sherman never goes head-to-head with Geronimo, as a matter of fact Sherman has little to do with the Indians in the southwest, but rather has a much more difficult time with the tribes of the Northern Plains. The American Indian problem for Europeans began when  they arrived on this continent and wanted to expand to the interior. The Indians were in the way and Brands relates the moral difficulties that our leaders had trying to decide the best way to either remove or to try and incorporate the Native Americans into the society. Brands looks at this and so much more. We learn all about the battles it took place in the Northern Plains, we get to hear about the battle of Little Bighorn not just from official reports but rather from direct quotes of Indians who participated in the battle. The book tries to be evenhanded as it approaches this difficult subject, and to me this is the hallmark of any book by HW Brands. Even handed, but at the same time historically accurate.

            If you enjoy reading books about American history, then this is a book you will certainly want to add to your library. It is a fast read, as our all of his books, but it is a thorough analysis. The one part of the book that has me a little bit perplexed has to do with Geronimo, because the legend of Geronimo had grown out of incidents that occurred in Mexico. He relates his life story in such a way that despite being completely surrounded, as he was in all his incursions into Mexico, he always manages to escape unharmed. 20 Mexican soldiers shooting at him, no problems. The fact that every other one of his followers are killed and he managed to survive, no problem. It diminishes his credibility since there is no one who can substantiate what really happened until the U S military got involved. There’s no doubt that he took everyone on a wild goose chase, he just did not want to live on a reservation, but eventually it was a war of attrition that wore him out. More impressive, however, is the famous flight of Chief Joseph who took his tribe of Indians from Washington state across Idaho into Montana and almost made it to the Canadian border and safety. Again it was a war of attrition, but Chief Joseph comes off as a much deeper thinker as well as a leader who was much more concerned about his people and followers then Geronimo.

            A wonderful book, a book that will help you understand the American West, the Indian wars, and all the figures that we’ve come to hear about. it might dispel some myths and some legends, but maybe that’s what we need at this time, and there is no better person to write and document this than HW brands! This is a 5+ ***** book!

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