U.S. fight against Red Cloud committed 'for Civilization'

THE HEART OF EVERYTHING THAT IS. By Bob Drury and Tom Clavin. Simon & Schuster. 365 pages. $30.

OK, Red Cloud's War, the Sioux and the notorious Crazy Horse aren't going to redeem your notions of the Noble Savage:

"Crazy Horse, clad in only a breechclout and deerskin leggings ... was down to his final ploy. He turned his back toward the soldiers, flipped his breechclout up over his back, pulled down his leggings, and wiggled his naked ass in their faces."

But then, the U.S. Indian troops weren't your Upright Do-gooders either, indiscriminately slaughtering "friendly" tribes, women and children along with the warriors who were fighting for the Black Hills and the buffalo hunting grounds that were their lifeblood.

So "The Heart of Everything There Is" takes you on a pretty rocky bronco bucking ride along the knife-edge ridges of the Oregon Trail, as one of the great, and sometimes overshadowed, "chiefs" of the Indian wars gets his due. It's a piece of academic research about peoples and their ways that is so exhaustively uncompromising it rivets.

The due, by the way, gets pretty brutal. Red Cloud's tribe and other Sioux fought all out for a "barren" stretch of land that whites considered all but worthless until they found gold.

The reader isn't spared scalpings, genital mutilation, rapes and other tortures that were the cut of warfare for the Sioux:

"The next morning ... the regular wood train heading to the pinery discovered his body on the road two miles from the post. His head was found a few yards away. In addition to the tomahawk wound, he had been disemboweled, and a fire had been lit in the cavity of his belly."

Nor is the reader spared white ignorances, cheating, robberies and virtual slaveries that gave no quarter, the head-in-the-sand misconceptions that guided Washington policy coming out of the Civil War, with its feudal notions of warfare and societies:

"Years later, William H. Bisbee attempted to come to grips with an overriding rhetorical question of that bygone era: For what purpose did the United States fight Red Cloud?

" 'My only answer could be,' General Bisbee wrote, 'We did it for Civilization.' "

One can only hope that someday we achieve it.

Reviewer Bo Petersen is a reporter for The Post and Courier.