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Esquire
Wednesday, November 1st, 2006
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Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West

by Hampton Sides

Manifest Destiny (Unrated and Uncut)

A review by Tyler Cabot

It's the scalps that draw you in, pulled jubilantly from the heads of the freshly slain, sometimes-stillwrithing bodies. And whether taken by Navajo streaking into Santa Fe in search of sheep or child slaves, or whites marching back into Navajo lands for revenge, they fueled the battles of the American West. And they fuel Hampton Sides's new narrative history of America's western conquest, Blood and Thunder.

Sides's title comes from the pulp novels of the time that mythologized the trapper-turned-scout-turnedsoldier Kit Carson. Slumped and slight shouldered, illiterate yet able to speak six different Indian dialects, Carson led the first explorers west. And so it is Carson who -- after helping defeat the Mexicans and Confederates and driving a humiliated Navajo nation to its ruin -- serves as our guide to this violent story of American muscle and so-called Manifest Destiny.

There are foreign invaders. Raids and counterraids. Turncoats and spies and long-distance couriers. A governor is gutted. The wife of a white trader raped and shot through the heart. Providence invoked. War cries shrieked. Acres of corn and wheat burned to the ground. And there are scalps. Lots and lots of scalps.

In the end, once all the land has been cleared, the Indians and Mexicans tamed, the United States united, there is Carson, a grizzled old man whose only want is to go home to his wife and kids. Whether you bemoan his actions or not, it's a truly American story about a soldier who got the job done.


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