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Diane Merkel

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People of the Sacred Mountain: A History of the Northern Cheyenne Chiefs and Warrior Societies, 1830-1879

by Peter J. Powell
1981, HarperCollins Colllege Division

Review by Gary Leonard

This is Father Powell's magnum opus. Described as A History of the Northern Cheyenne Chiefs and Warrior Societies, 1830-1879 , this two volume work was published in 1981 and is still the leading work on the subject.

I am aware that Father Powell has come in for some criticism among Cheyennes who feel that he has exploited their culture and disclosed confidential rites. He has also been damned with faint praise by academics, with one leading authority upon the Cheyennes dismissing him as a "buff." (As a buff myself, I had not realised that this was a derogatory term until I read it in that context!)

Nevertheless, this is a wonderful book, replete with well reproduced photographs and ledger book illustrations that enhance the copiously documented text.

I first read this book over twenty years ago and re-read it last year. It has stood the test of time and is thoroughly recommended to all with an interest in the Cheyennes and their struggle to protect their homeland during the middle of the nineteenth century. It goes without saying that this includes a number of Custer related incidents, including the attack on Black Kettle's Washita village, the meeting with Stone Forehead on the Sweetwater and, of course, the Little Bighorn.

One of Powell's triumphs is to tell the history from the Cheyenne point of view. This involved not only research among the standard written records but also interviews with a number of aged Cheyennes. He gives the account in a Cheyenne centered way however without resorting to the sometimes tedious idiom used by Marie Sandoz.

The book has two drawbacks. Firstly, its size. You cannot take it on holiday to read on the beach! Reading it is a serious exercise. Secondly, its price. Long out of print, secondhand copies go for anything from $100 (if you are lucky) to $500+. Keep an eye out on e-bay for a cheap copy; you won't regret it.