Book Review of The Earth is All that Lasts by Mark Lee Gardiner

First of all, I would like to personally thank the author, Mark Lee Gardiner, and HaperCollins, for sending me a review copy of this book. I am very grateful for that and it honestly means a lot that I received this.

Despite my love of the history of the Wild West, I must admit that I have always sympathised more with the plight of the Native Americans. Throughout, I have often come across many accounts that make it sound as though the Native Americans ‘deserved’ their fate. For many years I have often wished for someone to correct this narrative and push for the Native American point of view. Whilst I know there have been attempts previously to do this, I feel that Mark Lee Gardiner’s efforts in The Earth is All That Lasts shows at every corner that the white man had lied and cheated its way to get land belonging to the Native Americans, as told through the Lakota chiefs, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. As Sitting Bull has always been a hero of mine, I have read and written quite a bit about him in the past. This prior knowledge did give me a certain excitement, as well as high expectations, before I started reading this book. Whilst my expectations may have been high, I can gladly say that I wasn’t disappointed.

After recently reading one of the author’s other books, To Hell on a Fast Horse, which told the connected stories of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (I would highly recommend it), I had high hopes for this latest book. As I have come to expect with Gardner’s writing, it was easy going, which sounds like a bit of a contradiction considering that the subject matter at times was tough to deal with. I must admit I initially found it hard to get into, as there are lots of descriptions of violence and battles, this is only to be expected as it provides context to the negative relations between the Lakota and the white men, particularly the army and officials, who intended to either fight them or pacify them with treaties that were not understood. At every point the argument that white men had forcibly wanted to get their way by getting land the Lakota lived on, as well as either their assimilation or extermination, is driven home. I utterly commend the author for this as I feel in general that this is not nearly used enough elsewhere. As I was reading, there were many moments that I found were very emotional and poignant, which again shows just how well the whole subject was portrayed.

There is a lot of information, names and locations to take in, but with the easy writing style, as well as a handy map of the forts and battles mentioned at the beginning of the book, there is some help towards this. The amount of information just shows how wonderfully researched this book is, as is mentioned in the acknowledgements, it took the author five years to research and write. For the reader, who may not be that well informed of the culture of the Lakota, I feel that this aspect in particular was very well researched and portrayed. The analysis of the culture that both Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse lived in provides the reader with a better understanding of just what made both of these figures the people they were, rather than just the stereotype of them both being involved in Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

As previously mentioned, this is not a book for comfortable reading, but it is definitely one that is needed in order to portray the realities of how settlers really came to populate the Great Plains of America. It was done by robbing, lying, cheating, massacring the Native Americans and desecrating their sacred sites and entire way of life. However, this reality is something that needs to be told as far too often, the general narrative is very much about how manifest destiny was a given. This narrative has been written by the white men who eventually ‘conquered’ the West, which is also shown very well throughout the book, but is in stark contrast to the truths that the Native Americans were living. I challenge anyone, whether already sympathetic to the Lakota, like myself, or not, to come away still thinking and believing the whole manifest destiny narrative to be the whole truth.

The epilogue is dedicated to the ones involved in the murders of both Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, showing what happened to them all after these events. I found that the majority of them didn’t actually reap the rewards that they had hoped for, particularly the Lakotas who had chosen to follow the white men governing them when they were forced onto the reservations. One man who did seem to be promoted was James McLaughlin, the agent in charge of the Standing Rock Reservation that Sitting Bull lived on in the last years of his life. From what I had read previously, I found him a very hard man to like, mainly due to his hatred of Sitting Bull. The author showed just how McLaughlin didn’t want to understand the Lakotas he was in charge of, unless they wished to assimilate to a Western way of life. Again, I commend the author for writing about McLaughlin in such a way that shows just how strong his hatred was of Sitting Bull, leaving the reader in no doubt as to what his intentions were towards surrounding the famous chief’s death.

This is yet another book that I would recommend to anyone, whether they have an interest in the final years of freedom for the Lakota or not. I feel very much that this is the written equivalent of what Dances with Wolves was for the big screen, in that it very much shows the Lakota viewpoint, which is not shared often enough. This work is a vital piece to the history and understanding of Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and those final years before the Lakota were forced onto reservations. Most importantly, I feel that those mentioned, whether white men, the US army officers, or any of the Lakotas mentioned, including Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull themselves, had their true characters revealed, whether for good or bad.

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