January 02, 2009

Larry McMurtry's Crazy Horse

Curiously, Larry McMurtry's short biography of Crazy Horse has an average rating of only three stars on Amazon.com. That's not very good for a major author like him.

I haven't read the book, but I wonder if it reinforces my claim that McMurtry was biased against Indians in Lonesome Dove and Comanche Moon. There are hints that it does.

Crazy Horse: A Life (Penguin Lives Biographies)brief encounter, February 13, 2003
By Randy Keehn (Williston, ND United States)

[T]his book goes in some strange directions dealing with this paucity of information. For example, in trying to describe the great gathering of Indians at the Ft. Laramie Council of 1851, McMurtry inexplicably quotes Wilfred Thesiger's account of an Ethiopian gathering of African tribesmen. Shortly thereafter, he describes the tribal warfare of the Sioux by quoting Peter Matthiessen's description of tribal warfare in New Guinea in the early 1960's. Well, the primary resources on Native Americans may be limited but not so much that we must wander to other continents for our facts.

McMurtry unqualified, March 9, 1999
By A Customer

What are McMurtry's qualifications to write about Crazy Horse, one wonders? Does he know the Lakota people? Has he lived among them? Has he heard their oral traditions? Does he have the vaguest idea of what Crazy Horse means to Crazy Horse's people? In general, James Atlas, editor of the Penguin series of short biographies, is on the right track in not seeking academic scholars and similar authorities to write these books, but SOME expertise, one would think, would not be amiss, especially in dealing with a figure so lost in myth as this compelling Oglala. The best book on Crazy Horse is STONE SONG by Win Blevins. It is a novel. McMurtry also writes novels and needs to stick to the form.

A waste of time, September 13, 2000
By A Customer

This book was absolutely pathetic. For anyone seeking any understanding of Crazy Horse, Lakota culture, the history of the American West, look elsewhere. I find it hard to believe that anyone would publish such a flimsy and insubstantial piece of writing. This book contributes absolutely nothing to our understanding of Native Americans or of our history. What an insult to the intelligence of any reader.
Larry McMurtry

"Crazy Horse"The author takes the known facts about the period, as well as material garnered from documented interviews with Native Americans and whites who knew Crazy Horse and creates a vivid portrait of the warrior, the human being who cared first and foremost for his people--for the very young, the sick and elderly--the man of such moral authority that he sparked deadly jealousy amongst some of his own men. "Among a broken people an unbroken man can only rarely be tolerated." Crazy Horse "became a too-painful reminder of what the people as a whole had once been."Comment:  The quotes in the second article are what inspired me to post this. The Lakota were a "broken people"?! Would they agree with that characterization? Somehow I doubt it.

These quotes suggest McMurtry's Eurocentric bias. Indians used to be brave, noble savages in some distant, romantic past. But by the time the Americans confronted them, they were broken, pitiful remnants of their former glorious selves. They were on their way to dying out despite the efforts of a few valiant exceptions such as Crazy Horse.

Crazy Horse and Winnetou

This is exactly the attitude Europeans take about their beloved Winnetou in Karl May's Old Shatterhand books. Namely, that Winnetou was a brave, noble savage among the corrupt and degraded bands of skulking Indians. One European has even argued that these portraits of a noble savage means the books were pro-Indian.

Wrong, I told him. Look at the corrupt and degraded bands of skulking Indians, not at the single noble savage. These "broken" Indians are the norm in May's (and McMurtry's) books. They determine whether the author was pro- or anti-Indian.

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Books.

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