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1-Page Summary of Blood and Thunder
Published in 2001, Blood and Thunder is a narrative history of the American West. It tells the story of Christopher Carson, who was instrumental in “settling” that part of America from 1820 to 1860. The author has also written several books on historical events and people; he’s been nominated for National Magazine Awards twice. Hampton Sides says his book does justice to Carson’s life story by providing a thorough account of it.
Book 1, “The New Men,” covers the beginning of the Mexican-American War through the arrival of the Army of the West in Santa Fe. President James K. Polk declares war on Mexico and wants to extend American boundaries from coast to coast. The Mexicans wait in trepidation for American troops, who suffer raids by an older enemy: Navajo Indians. Kit Carson becomes a mountain man in 1826 after marrying Singing Grass but his way of life is threatened by economic pressures and over-hunting; he joins John Fremont’s mapping team as they prepare maps for American expansion westward into Mexico; their work soon gets them entangled with America’s conflict with Mexico.
The personalities and cultural forces behind the concept of Manifest Destiny, including Polk and Benton, are introduced. Narbona is imagined to have grown up in a Navajo culture that’s increasingly fearful of American incursion. Meanwhile, Stephen Watts Kearney leads the Army of the West across the Great Plains to engage with Mexicans.
In the second book, “The Broken Country”, Kit Carson and John C. Frémont team up to fight the Mexicans in California and throughout the Southwest. They rescue Fremont from a Mexican prison, but they also encounter trouble when they try to negotiate peace treaties with the Navajo people. Narbona is a great leader who tries his best to keep peace between all of these parties, but he’s killed by an American soldier during one such negotiation attempt. This makes it more difficult for peace to be achieved because there are now factions within each group that want war instead of peace. Carson becomes increasingly famous as this story progresses through Book 2, “The Broken Country”.
In the last book, Sides focuses on a specific period during the Civil War and the Indian Wars. He tells of Kit Carson’s involvement with General Edward Canby to drive out Confederate soldiers from New Mexico Territory. Meanwhile, Navajo aggression increases and James Henry Carleton is introduced as a new agent for Native Americans. Carleton seeks to relocate many tribes including the Navajo to reservations he has prepared in their ancestral homeland. Carson joins him to defeat the Navajo, but his efforts fail miserably because they return to their old land after being relocated once again back home by white settlers taking over their lands.
Book 1, Prologue
Blood and Thunder begins with a description of the scene in Las Vegas, New Mexico on August 1846. The people were poor but they had faith that helped them fight against nature. They thought war was coming from America, not realizing that it would come from their own Navajo enemies.
The Navajo are known for their livestock raids. They would yell and make a lot of noise as they drove away the Las Vegan’s sheep and goats. The New Mexicans were in trouble because they had to fight two wars at once: one with the Americans, and another with the Navajo Indians.
Book 1, Chapter 1: “Jumping Off”
Kit Carson was a man who lived on the frontier and had already been there for two decades. His presence in the West made him seem almost mythical because he was present at so many important events.