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Great Plains, Ian Frazier, 1989

" Ever since the Great Plains were first called a desert, people have gone a long way toward turning them into one." (214)

"For bringing us the horse we could almost forgive you bringing us whiskey." John Fire Lame Deer (176)



Fort Apache, <br>John Ford, 1948


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Great Plains, Ian Frazier, 1989

Ian Frazier summarises the consequences of the exploitation and denuding of resources during "our" two hundred years on the Great Plains as follows: "we trap out the beaver, subtract the Mandan, infect the Blackfeet and the Hidatsa and the Assiniboin, overdose the Arikara; call the land a desert and hurry across it to get to California and Oregon; suck up the buffalo, bones and all; kill off nations of elk and wolves and cranes and prairie chickens and prairie dogs; dig up the gold and rebury it in vaults someplace else; ruin the Sioux and Cheyenne and Arapaho and Crow and Kiowa and Comanche; kill Crazy Horse, kill Sitting Bull; harvest wave after wave of immigrants' dreams plow the topsoil until it blows to the ocean; ship out the wheat, ship out the cattle; dig up the earth itself and burn it in power plants and send the power down the line; dismiss the small farmers, empty the little towns; drill the oil and natural gas and pipe it away; dry up the rivers and springs; deep drill for irrigation water as the aquifer retreats." (209)

Unlike the journalist author of the recent publication about the Custer debacle, Red Sabbath, Ian Frazier is knowledgeable enough to refer to the Arikara as aka Rees. If one uses a "singing voice" and says Arikara in the plural one will know why. But, like many historians he cites Glidden as "inventing" barbed wire when he actually patented technology used by Mexican vaqueros much earlier. Also he refers to Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show when authentically the last word was omitted, indeed the proprietor was touchy about it. Nobody's perfect and Frazier does a great job of combining historical detail and historical observation with an up to date travelogue which bursts with energy and humour. He makes a virtue out of being an excellent journalist and takes us on a journey in which he uses his skills, personal observations and eye for a story rather than merely rejigging extant material as so often happens with such books. The result is a great read which provides insight in an entertaining, enjoyable yet meaningful way. It is a book of great beauty, I highly recommend it.




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Chris Smallbone April 2016

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