Southwestern Historical Quarterly
A Good Year to Die: The Story of the Great Sioux War. By Charles M. Robinson III.
(New York: Random House, 1995. Pp. xxxi+412. Explanations, acknowledg-
ments, list of maps, introduction, notes, bibliography, index. ISBN 0-679-
43025-3. $27.50, cloth.)
The Great Sioux War of 1876-77 was fought between U.S. Army troops and
Teton Sioux and Northern Cheyenne Indians in the Yellowstone and Missouri
River wilderness of the Wyoming and Montana territories, and in the Dakota
Territory and Nebraska. The war's climax came at the Little Bighorn River and
represented the zenith of the tribesmen, for ensuing army campaigning forced
their surrender or dispersion. The events constituted the largest Indian war in
the America's history.
Charles M. Robinson III, author of an acclaimed biography of Ranald S.
Mackenzie, has produced the first full-scale treatment of the Sioux War. Drawing
mostly on published sources, Robinson's narrative covers the causes of the con-
flict and emphasizes such combats as Powder River, Rosebud, Little Bighorn,
and Wolf Mountains. Although the volume extends the coverage of the war pre-
sented in John S. Gray's oddly truncated Centennial Campaign (1976), it in no
way supplants Gray's comprehensiveness. Robinson's book seems directed to a
broader audience, but the solid writing and thorough treatment evinced in the
early chapters subsequently languish, and the analyses present through the dis-
cussion of the Battle of Little Bighorn diminish as the work devolves more into a
recitation of successive episodes.
Granting the overall appeal of the single-volume treatment, there nonetheless
exist serious textual detractions, among them Robinson's inappropriate use of
the term "massacre" (pp. 19, 20, 110, 165, 313); his introduction of the Sioux as
"Teton Lakota" (p. ix), a redundant term (they are Lakotas, Lakota Sioux, or
Teton Sioux); a contention without documentation that Crazy Horse "knew that
the white tide was irreversible" (p. 86); a tendency to stereotype Indians ("in the
usual Indian fashion" [p. 132] and "as was customary among Indian scouts" [p.
133]); and confusion of tribal names ('Yanktonais," not 'Yanktons," is meant on
p. 31o and elsewhere). Doubtless because of Robinson's previous work on
Mackenzie, that officer's role seems disproportionately large in the war. Such
problems of fact and emphasis could have been avoided had the manuscript
been technically reviewed. As well, Robinson's assertion that the Dull Knife Bat-
tle was the "first real strategic victory" for the army (p. 303) must be challenged;
that signal recognition properly belongs to Col. Nelson A. Miles's council and
fight with Sitting Bull at Cedar Creek in October 1876, which served notice of
the government's resolve to occupy the country until the tribesmen either sur-
rendered or died.
This book contains area maps (some with inaccuracies), but no true battle
maps, along with photographs to highlight the narrative. Although this inclusive
treatment of the Great Sioux War is a first, it is hopefully not the last. The con-
flict deserves an effort appreciably better.
National Park Servzce, Denver
JEROME A. GREENE
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 100, July 1996 - April, 1997. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101218/. Accessed January 25, 2015.