Essential Histories 59: The Plains Wars 1757-1900
Prices for book: Essential Histories 59: The Plains Wars 1757-1900
Book ISBN: 9781841765211
Author(s): Charles M. Robinson
Document type: Trade Paper
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The Cliff Notes of military history
The "Essential Histories" series from Osprey could easily be compared to the Cliff Notes series. They'll give you a nice introduction to a topic you are not familiar with, but no real depth. Most volumns are under 100 pages; therefore, don't expect many "man in the trenches" stories.
This series tends to run into problems when the time periods stretch out. Nearly 150 years is a bit difficult to present in such a small book. The more length in years, the more background necessary for items not related.
Hiram Grant (Amazon.com)
Not a Comprehensive Survey
In Osprey's The Plains Wars 1757-1900, Charles M. Robinson III, a history teacher at a Texas community college, attempts to provide a broad survey of the Indian Wars fought on the American plains in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Unfortunately, Robinson's account is written with too much of a Texas bias and too narrow a geographic focus. Robinson's narrative - while sometimes interesting - is undermined by conceptual errors and lack of data. The Plains War includes seven maps: Texas, the South Plains (1874 Red River War); the North plains; 1869 Battle of Washita; 1876 Battle of Rosebud; Red River War (again - confusing); 1876 Little Bighorn (a copy of the map from the campaign volume). There is also an appendix with a list of Principal Indian characters.
After a short introduction that clearly states that the bulk of the volume will focus on the Red River War of 1874-1875 and the Great Sioux War of 1876-1877, a 6-page "background to war section" that reverts to the period of Spanish settlement in Texas in the mid-17th Century. In this section, Robinson begins a conceptual error - driven by Texas lore - that attempts to link the late 19th Century Plains Wars with early 18th Century Spanish colonization, with not a word given to what occurred east of the Mississippi. Robinson also demonstrates a tendency to exaggerate the historical significance of minor incidents; for example, he describes the 1758 "massacre" at the San Saba mission in Texas (10 Spanish killed) as "disaster" that stopped Spanish expansion onto plains and started "full-scale warfare between Indians and whites on the Southern Plains." Even though the first Americans didn't show up in Texas until 1821 and the Spanish never committed more than a few hundred troops to defend Texas, Robinson sees this as a continuous, full-scale war. Later, Robinson describes the 1836 Indian raid on Parker's Fort as "one of the worst raids" in Texas history - five Texans killed, five captured (four ransomed). These were actually small raids in comparison to what occurred in other areas of the country, and certainly not loaded with great historical import.
Robinson's underlying thesis, presented in the main campaign narrative, is that the Plains Wars were "handed down through the generations" and that "the conflict between those tribes [from the Great Plains] lasted about 150 years and required the resources of five nations - Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States of America and the United States - before fighting ended in the mid-1890s." However, no serious threat was posed to the Plains tribes before the Lewis & Clark expedition and pressure only really began to build in the mid-19th Century. While Indian warfare had been a constant in American life since the 17th Century - never alluded to by Robinson - the actual period of sustained warfare against the Plains tribes was only half of the 150 year period he claims. Indeed, the independence of the Plains tribes was smashed in a few decades and with less than 10% of the effort needed to subdue the Confederacy. Despite Robinson's thesis, Spain and Mexico never put serious demographic pressure on the Plains tribes and indeed it was the paucity of Spanish settlers in the region that encouraged Americans to migrate into Texas. The Republic of Texas and CSA were on the defensive against the Plains Indians, and neither was made a major push to expand westward. Only the USA made a major effort to expand into the Great Plains, and it was the only power to offer a major threat to Plains tribes. All the major battles on the Plains were fought between American soldiers and Indians. If warfare was "handed down," it owed more to the tradition of Fallen Timbers and the Seminole Wars than it did to obscure Spanish missionaries.
Another problem that plagues this volume is a lack of reliable data. Despite a 4-page bibliography, Robinson fails to provide basic statistics like: how many Plains Indians were there in this period (only about 300,000 by 1850 versus 23 million Americans)? How large was the U.S. Army commitment in the region (about 7,000 prior to the Civil War and about 15,000 afterwards)? How many casualties were incurred by both sides in the Plains Wars (about 2,000 military versus 6,000 Indians in 1865-1890)? Robinson does not even list casualties from major battles like the Rosebud or Little Bighorn. Furthermore, Robinson tends to treat all Plains Indian tribes as more or less the same, which ignores differences in methods and temperament. Robinson also chooses to exclude the Nez Perc
R. A Forczyk (Amazon.com)
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