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Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West

Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West, written by Hampton Sides, is a wonderful biography of the legendary Christopher “Kit” Carson (1809-1868). But it is also much more.

Blood and Thunder - Hampton Sides

America’s wild west was full of many interesting characters, and Kit Carson is near the top of the list of most iconic. Starting out as a meager saddle-works apprentice, Carson quickly moved on to become an expert trapper and military man. Traveling thousands of miles on horseback, he crossed paths with many important military and political leaders. Sides intersperses biographical information on many of these people: James K. Polk, Senator Tom Benton, Stephen Kearney, James Harvey Simpson, Colonel John Washington, and John C. Fremont among others.

Much of Kit Carson’s mystique is centered around his violent interactions with various Indian tribes. This includes many atrocities but also includes many friendly relations. Carson ended up in many situations where he had to fight and when he did, it was often to great success. Tribal relations with the expanding United States was greatly troubled, but Carson took each situation as it came and largely wanted everyone to get along.

Sides describes the many battles with Indians in vivid detail, yet it is difficult to fully fathom how wild and dangerous the west was at this time. One of the saddest situations is when the elder of the Navajo, Narbona, is killed because of a gross misunderstanding about an allegedly stolen horse.

Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West truly lives up to being an “epic”. Western history is full of harrowing tales, true situations that would be difficult to make up. As a biography of Kit Carson it is top notch. With all the additional side tales and characters, Hampton Sides provides an amazing read that I’d recommend to anyone interested in America’s west.

The book ends with a beautiful story of the Navajo forming a circle around a young coyote. The circle of people move closer and closer, trapping the scared pup. They eventually release him unharmed. Then General Sherman arrives, informing the tribe they will have a reservation on their ancestral lands. These lands are to the west, in the direction the coyote ran off.