Mark Van De Logt,
War Party in Blue:
Pawnee Scouts in the U.S. Army

(University of Oklahoma Press, 2010)

In Western movies we always see the cavalry ride with maybe two Indian scouts, who read the trail and communicate with the handsome young lieutenant through hand signals. As is the case with everything else in Westerns, that image is wildly inaccurate. In War Party in Blue, historian Mark Van De Logt corrects our perceptions.

The Pawnee tribe actively assisted the U. S. Army during the western expansion. From 1864 to 1877, they rode with the cavalry, formed units of their own and helped lead the fight against other tribes. Why? Because the tribes the army was fighting were their enemies and the Pawnees saw a strategic advantage in allying themselves with the white troops.

Not only did they fight side by side with the troops, they led missions, protected the men brought in to build the railroads and served as dispatch runners -- a sort of early military version of the Pony Express. In fact, their service was so pervasive and so necessary, it is questionable whether the western expansion would have happened as it did without them.

In hindsight, it is easy to see that ultimately they served their own destruction by helping to create conditions that enabled white settlers to take their land, but that was not obvious back then. In fact, a strong motivation for their cooperation was that being a part of the government's action prevented the government from either assimilating them into the majority culture or being forced onto a reservation. The other major reason was that the Pawnees had a strong martial tradition and, by joining forces with the government, they were able to fight their traditional enemies with the superior weapons that the Unites States gave them.

War Party in Blue is a solid history of an important and misunderstood time in America's history. It should be widely read.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

22 January 2011

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