Robert Wooster - Perilous Pursuit: The U.S. Cavalry and the Northern Cheyennes (review) - Journal of Military History 67:1 The Journal of Military History 67.1 (2003) 251-252

Perilous Pursuit: The U. S. Cavalry and the Northern Cheyennes. By Stan Hoig. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2002. ISBN 0-87081-660-8. Maps. Photographs. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. ix, 292. $34.95. [End Page 251]

In spring 1877, following a long winter of hard campaigning, most of the Northern Cheyennes turned themselves in to the United States Army. Reluctantly, they agreed to leave their traditional homelands in the Black Hills and go south to the Indian Territory, where they might be attached to the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho reservation. Once there, however, the Northern Cheyennes found few of the government's promises to be true. Annuities were inevitably shorted, relations with their southern cousins quickly soured, and the buffalo had been hunted nearly to extinction. In September 1878, the Northern Cheyennes left their reservation in a desperate effort to go home. Over the next ten weeks, they outmaneuvered, outmarched, and outfought numerous army columns as they wound their way through Kansas and Nebraska. In the end, however, the government's overwhelming superiority of resources proved too much, and the most of the tribe was returned south.

The story of the Northern Cheyennes and the U. S. cavalry—a mixture of hope, heroism, broken promises, ineptitude, suffering, and tragedy—has been told many times, but has only recently received the systematic scholarly attention it deserves. Relying heavily on previously ignored materials from several military courts-martial and the papers from the Cheyenne/Arapaho Agency, Stan Hoig's Perilous Pursuit provides a detailed description of the flights, imprisonments, escapes, and captures of the Northern Cheyennes. He demonstrates that the Indians employed superior tactics and capitalized on the longer range of their weapons to consistently best their regular army foes. Moreoever, army officers, few of whom ever "really comprehended the full desperation of the Northern Cheyenne" (p. 53), frequently underestimated their enemies. Mixed with misguided policies and general bureaucratic ineptitude, Hoig finds the resulting brew to have been an embarrassment to the army and a black stain on the government's handling of Indian affairs.

Author of over a dozen books on the West, the Indians, and the army, Hoig is a seasoned professional with a journalist's flair for the dramatic. His Perilous Pursuit will inevitably be compared to John H. Monnett's recent book (Tell Them We Are Going Home: The Odyssey of the Northern Cheyennes, 2001) on the same subject. This reviewer finds Monnett superior in capturing the Northern Cheyenne world view and in setting these events within a larger western context, whereas Hoig, incorporating materials from a greater range of sources, covers similar ground in greater detail while more effectively explicating the army's failures and frustrations. Collectively, these two accounts contribute a nuanced and sophisticated analysis of both the Northern Cheyenne odyssey and the army's inability to implement a flawed national policy.


Robert Wooster
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
Corpus Christi, Texas

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