Review by Elliott West
Malcolm Clarke, a West Point graduate, was among that cadre of young white Americans drawn westward in the 1820s by the trade in beaver pelts. Employed by John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company, he married into the Piegans, the largest of three branches of the Blackfeet, parlayed his position and profits into a large, successful ranch, and with his wife, Cutting Off Head Woman, sired a large family. Their lives, like those of so many of mixed blood, open a window onto a West rarely seen in the usual histories. Andrew Graybill leads us through three generations of Clarkes, a fascinating tour of a world tilting between two cultures, in The Red and the White.
The story begins in tragedy. In 1869 the hot-tempered Malcolm was killed by Piegans as part of simmering feud stemming from horse theft and perhaps rape. His murder led the next year to the brutal, nearly forgotten massacre of a peaceful, smallpox-ridden Blackfoot camp among Montana’s Marias River. One of the attackers was Malcolm’s son Horace, who had survived a gunshot to the face during the assault on his father. Despite his role in the slaughter, Horace remained among the Blackfeet throughout his more than eighty years, amassing considerable property (part of it sold to help establish Glacier National Park) and serving as a trusted advisor in tribal relations with the government.
Horace's sister, Helen, left home after the murder and as a young actress won rave reviews in America and Europe, but like the other Clarkes she could not stay away. She returned to Montana and in 1882 became its first woman elected to state office, as superintendent of schools. There and as a federal agent, she straddled two ways of life, working to integrate Indians in Montana and Indian Territory into white society, pressing them to take up individual landholdings carved from reservations and giving dramatic readings at Carlisle Indian school.
Horace's son, the extraordinary John Clarke, despite being struck deaf and dumb by scarlet fever at age two, became an acclaimed sculptor of western wildlife and, increasingly, tribal figures and life. Encouraged by Montana's most famous artist, Charlie Russell, he was praised for shows in eastern galleries and won the loyalty of wealthy patrons, including John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Artistically, John wove his Blackfeet and white legacies together, portraying native life and traditions to audiences across the nation and Atlantic world.
Like the best of recent works that use family history to illuminate far wider forces and themes, Graybill artfully sets the larger stage yet always keeps our eyes on the individuals who, by filling it, teach us much about the in-between world of a West evolving over a century and a half.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Elliott West is a specialist in the American West and Professor of History at the University of Arkansas. He is the author of several books on Western history, including The Contested Plains, a past HBC Editors’ Choice.
- SKU: 000000000001380197
- Author: Andrew R. Graybill
- Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co. Inc.
- Release date: Oct 7, 2013
- ISBN: No
- Format: Hardcover
- Commitment Credit: 1
- Book Search Plus: No
- Warnings: No warnings
- Height: 0.000
- Length: 0.000
- Width: 0.000