Picks and Pans Review: People of the Sacred Mountain

updated 05/03/1982 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/03/1982 01:00AM

by Peter J. Powell

More serious students of Indian history might enjoy the 1,441 pages this two-volume work devotes to the history of the Cheyenne from 1830 through the 1870s. Written largely from the Cheyennes' oral histories, it relates bloody tribal battles of the 1840s and 1850s, internecine clashes with the U.S. military, and the final tragic retreat north in 1878 to Noaha-Vose, the sacred mountain in South Dakota. The volumes are illustrated with 77 priceless color prints of 19th-century Northern Cheyenne art, including previously unpublished paintings of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, where the Cheyenne led the fight against Custer. Powell brings a special understanding to his task. An Anglican priest, he serves the Chicago Indian community. He is one of the few white men who has participated in the Cheyenne Sun Dance. Powell's tale often reads like the screenplay of a modern Western. For instance, when Starving Bear, a chief of the Southern Cheyenne, met Lincoln in the White House in 1863, he said he wished no war with the white settlers; he wanted only to live in peace off the buffalo. A year later in Kansas, Starving Bear held his warriors back and rode forward alone to greet four companies of cavalry. On his chest he wore a medal from Lincoln; in his hand he carried safe conduct papers from Washington. When he was within 30 feet of the soldiers he was gunned down. The book is the 14th in Harper & Row's Native American publishing program; profits from the series aid Indian groups. (Harper & Row, $150)

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