Saturday, October 30, 2010

Thomas Powers

From a Q & A with Thomas Powers about his new book, The Killing of Crazy Horse:

Q: What is the most important difference between The Killing of Crazy Horse and previous accounts that have been written about his life?

A: The Killing of Crazy Horse differs from previous books in its focus on the event—the killing itself—not a formal biography of the chief. Many different people played a role on the fatal day—the brooding General George Crook who was determined to get Crazy Horse out of the way; the great Oglala Sioux chief Red Cloud, who was the only American Indian ever to win a war against the government of the United States; the young West Point graduate, Lieutenant William Philo Clark, who thought he could “work” Indians to do the bidding of the Army; the mixed-blood scouts William Garnett (half Oglala) and Frank Grouard (half South Sea Islander); the war comrades of Crazy Horse, He Dog and Little Big Man. Crazy Horse stirred all these men to action, some to defend him, some to get him out of the way. The question at the heart of the book is why was he killed? I found the answer in what a dozen different men thought, felt, intended and did. Seeing the event whole, from all sides, is a good way—in my view, perhaps the best way—to understand what the Sioux and other Plains tribes suffered when they were confined to reservations.

Q: You are perhaps best known for your work on the CIA (although you have written about a wide variety of topics). What made you want to tell the story of Crazy Horse?

A: My writing life has been spent largely trying to uncover things that were hidden, not writing about the CIA as a professional intelligence service. What the CIA was like—its operational style, the tensions between analysts and case officers, the personal histories of the agency’s early leaders—wasn’t classified and it wasn’t even secret in the usual sense when I began, but it was hidden, and it required a lot of patient asking of questions to coax up to the surface.

The first thing that caught my attention about Crazy Horse was the sorrow of his killing. Everybody involved understood almost immediately that it had been a tragic blunder. That sorrow made me wonder why historians had mainly treated the killing as a kind of afterthought. It made a deep and abiding impression on the Sioux, and over time it came to haunt the country as a whole—a painful but perfect example of the way the United States treated its native population. I wanted to know what happened and why it happened. Bringing the whole episode back to life after more than a century seemed almost...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue