Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West

by Hampton Sides

Hardcover, 2006



Examines America's westward expansion, describing the forcible subjugation of Native American tribes, including the fierce battles against the Navajo which ended with a brutal siege at Canyon de Chelly and the "Long Walk" migration.


(301 ratings; 4.2)

User reviews

LibraryThing member kvrfan
A terrific book. The topic is the clash between Anglo and Indian cultures (primarily Navaho) in the SW United States in the mid-19th century. Also important to the narrative is the story of Kit Carson, who turns out to be quite an interesting guy. Sides has a knack of bringing the history to life
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by adding novelistic touches (e.g., "The horse snorted as they followed the trail under a brilliant cerulean sky.") I have no idea how Sides knew what the horse did or what color the sky was on that particular day, but these little flourishes pull one into the story and keep one turning the pages.
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LibraryThing member chrisqhj
Excellent narrative - especially if you love the history and landscape of the Southwest. Incredibly even-handed treatment of the clash between American "Manifest Destiny" and the Western Native American tribes, as told through the individuals who lived it - Kit Carson, the Navajo Narbona, John
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Fremont, Manuelito, etc. Meticulous research, great story.
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LibraryThing member atheist_goat
Holy cow, is this good. I plowed through it in one Sunday, all in a gulp. Just fantastic, and of course heartbreaking, because it's not a pretty story. Highly recommended.
LibraryThing member iammbb
Another one of our purchases during our Santa Fe trip.

Blood and Thunder tells the story of Manifest Destiny and the expansion of the United States using Kit Carson as its fulcrum. Sides follows Carson from his birthplace in Kentucky to his childhood home in Missouri and then, finally in his myriad,
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fascinating journeys around the West as Carson, sometimes unwittingly, serves as one of the key architects of Westward Expansion.

A master storyteller telling an epic story, Sides enthralls the reader by weaving a complex tapestry filled with illuminating detail. Sides never takes the easy way out of making any of the players one dimensional. There are no absolute villains or no heroes, although there is plenty of villainy and heroics.
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LibraryThing member lyzadanger
A strong history, balancing critical and sympathetic viewpoints of Kit Carson and the American settlement of the southwest. Carson comes out a bit heroic, while Sides tends to cast aspersion on supporting characters more generously. In the end, an educating, entertaining back-story of the human
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history of the American southwest. Especially recommended for its good coverage of the Navajos' Long Walk in the 1860s, as well as Kearny and his Western Army's march to California.
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LibraryThing member co_coyote
I grew up in the American West and read about Kit Carson as a boy. But then mostly forgot about him. As this wonderful book by Hampton Sides makes clear, that was a terrible mistake, because Carson is a fascinating and complex person. Greatly admired and respected by Hispanics, Indians, and
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Americans alike, he was a fierce Indian fighter and loyal soldier (perhaps his most damning characteristic). He had a knack for turning up in the most interesting places at the most interesting times in Western history. Reading this book almost makes another trip to Indian Country this summer mandatory, as I believe I will see it this time through different, and maybe more understanding, eyes.
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LibraryThing member Altamari
I started this book and didn't finish it....couldn't hold my interest. I don't know if it was because I didn't like the writing style or that it just seemed like another old rehash of the history of the American West aka Kit Carson =hero, Native Americans=villians. I was looking forward to a new
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perspective, interpretation but alas didn't find one here.
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LibraryThing member Altamari
I started this book and didn't finish it....couldn't hold my interest. I don't know if it was because I didn't like the writing style or that it just seemed like another old rehash of the history of the American West aka Kit Carson =hero, Native Americans=villians. I was looking forward to a new
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perspective, interpretation but alas didn't find one here.
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LibraryThing member SParmelee
Marvelous account of the American West – centered on Kit Carson –
fom his expeditions with Fremont to his last years rounding up the
Navajos and then regretting it.
LibraryThing member buffalogr
I learned a lot about SW history from this book...spanned US Western expansion through the life of Kit Carson from the mountain man era through the end of the Civil War. Via Kindle, the book read well and coincided with a visit I made to Kit Carson's home/museum in Taos.
LibraryThing member Narboink
Perhaps the most remarkable characteristic of this book is how it covers such a vast amount of historical (and geographic) terrain so quickly and with such unencumbered ease. In a tale woven around a biography of Kit Carson, Hampton Sides accounts for the Mexican-American War, the settlement of
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California, the ignominious defeat of the Navajo Nation, and (as the subtitle states) the conquest of the American West. Thankfully, the story needs no sanctimonious moralizing or politically motivated revisionism to be riveting in its own right; the complexity of the central characters and the messy realities of their era make for a fantastically interesting read.
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LibraryThing member wesh
Hampton Sides' command of narrative prose makes his exhaustive research accessible and enjoyable. Carson was a hard man to characterize: a lover and admirer of Native Amereicans responsible for the deaths of thousands of Native Americans. Sides does a creditable job of making a life-size story out
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of a larger-than-life figure in the American West.
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LibraryThing member phyllis01
The true story of Kit Carson, and how the US really 'won' the west.
LibraryThing member Smiley
Well written and well researched biography of Kit Carson, juxtaposed against the Navaho story with the coming of Manifest Destiny Americans in the wake of the Mexican War. Reads fast.

One problem. Sides, like all late 20th century authors and beyond, suffers from historical guilt and seems to place
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all evil squarely on the white side of the conflict and gloss over or justify any actions by the Navaho nation to big to be ignored. I think a more balanced approach would have served better. In a war that was cruel on both sides and where neither would compromise if it could be avoided. The Americans were more numerous, technologically advanced and better organized, so they won.
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LibraryThing member marshapetry
Really interesting but mis-named. Should be "Kit Carson's role in the western US expansion". I love reading about Kit Carson but he wasn't the ONLY actor in the west and I was disappointed there wasn't much else. I kinda thought before reading that this book was suppose to be more general in
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regards to western expansion - maybe I just misread the synopsis. Anyway, it's *mostly* about Kit Carson and some of the people who figured in along side of him.
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LibraryThing member nbmars
Review by JAB:

Hampton Sides, the author of Ghost Soldiers, has written another real life page turner. The story follows the United States as it pursues Manifest Destiny through conquest of northern Mexico, today's California, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Most of the action takes place in New Mexico,
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starting with John C. Fremont's exploratory trip from Santa Fe to California, guided by the soon to become legendary Kit Carson. Fremont's yellow prose account of the trip stimulated much interest in the territory as well as in Carson. Presently President James K. Polk provoked the Mexican war, and the USA added the whole southwest to its territory.

The Catholic New Mexicans and the Indians still had to be assimilated, which occurred in due course with the help of the cavalry. The New Mexicans proved to be easier to assimilate. The Indians, especially the Navajo, didn't like submission to the government in Washington.

The Navajo saga is a sad one. They had been in a kind of cold war with the Hispanics of New Mexico, raiding each other's live stock and stealing children for about 2 centuries before the Americans came. To win the loyalty of the Hispanics [and maybe find gold], the U.S. Army waged a war of extermination against the Navajo until they finally submitted and made the "long walk" to a reservation south of their traditional lands.

Kit Carson plays a significant part in most of the major events of the period. Although illiterate, he was uniformly admired by both Indians and Whites for his courage, honesty, fair dealing [except when at war], and resourcefulness. His final two adventures were leading a regiment in the American Civil War and leading the cavalry against the Navajo.

An interesting read for us because of all the quality time we have spent in northern New Mexico and Arizona.


Review by JAF:

This "epic of the American West" (as the book is aptly subtitled) is mostly the biography of Kit Carson, with a bit of the genocide of Native Americans on the side. It is a tale of bravery and pain. The author summarizes the effects of "Manifest Destiny" at the onset of his story:

"The trappers murdered Indians in countless kill-or-be-killed scenarios, and some made a practice of hammering brass tacks into the stocks of their rifles for every native dispatched. But their greater slaughter was unwitting: As the forerunners of Western civilization, creeping up the river valleys and across the mountain passes, the trappers brought smallpox and typhoid, they brought guns and whiskey and venereal disease, they brought the puzzlement of money and the gleam of steel."

An interesting aside in the book calls attention to the underappreciated presidency of James K. Polk. The author asserts that "Despite his insufferable personality, he [Polk] was possibly the most effective president in American history - and likely the least corrupt. He outmaneuvered his critics. He established an independent treasury. He confronted the British and conquered Mexico. He seized the western third of the North American continent. By the time he left office, the American land mass would increase by 522 million acres. Four years was all he needed."

Sides writes that there was a great deal of pressure for the Native Americans to be herded into reservations. Some acted from racism and greed, but some, like Kit Carson, wanted to preserve and protect them from white settlers. There were some horrible massacres, and some insensitive efforts at relocation. (The effort to turn the Indians into farmers at Bosque Redondo was more than insenstive and resulted in three thousand Navajo deaths.) Carson was enlisted in a slash and burn strategy to starve the Native Americans into submission. He was appalled, however, at the techniques of some of the soldiers.

The Navajos were eventually beaten, and driven to sign treaties they didn't understand so they could survive on land that was not their own. But "progress" was inexorable, and the western lands that once held the promise of fur and gold, are, ironically, now full of fur and gold. And golf and country clubs. And Native Americans, on reservations, suffering from diabetes, poverty, short life spans, unemployment, and despair.

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LibraryThing member ArtRodrigues
Author Hamption Sides does his research and weaves together a gripping saga of the American Southwest and the major characters who shaped its history.
LibraryThing member Tinamonster
I loved this book. It made me want to drive out into the desert and enjoy some solitude so I could read straight through to the end in a few of the places the book was set.
LibraryThing member Stbalbach
Lots of adventure stories from the 1840s-1860s mostly in New Mexico. Kit Carson is the protagonist but there are many many others, if you can keep track. Gives due attention to Indian points of view, as well as Spanish and Mexican. There's a sense of rapid change, one period ending and another
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beginning. Ultimately a very sad story, and one that didn't have to be. Compare in Asia where the Soviets destroyed the nomadic horse people of Kazakhstan but in Mongolia they still exist without interruption. The book is wide ranging and a greatest hits tamed into a narrative.
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LibraryThing member foof2you
This a history book that reads like a novel. Sides does a good job of introducing the reader to Kit Carson and the American west.
LibraryThing member pennsylady
A fact filled history of the American conquest of the West
Kit Carson is a focal point from his youth to his death.
Excellent insight into Indian tribes of the west and early hispanic settlers .

4 star
LibraryThing member untraveller
Excellent book in all respects. Well-written, researched, w/ great source info. Learned a lot from this book....and I got it signed in Pecos by the author!
LibraryThing member labdaddy4
This is a very well researched history of the American Southwest in the mid 19th century, focusing primarily on conflict between the Mexicans, Americans, and the native Americans. The central figure is "Kit" Carson. He is portrayed as a simple man of extraordinary skill that was thrust into an
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amazing life of involvement in many key aspects of the history of the region. Carson is also shown to have been a very complex individual capable of extreme violence even sadism while maintaining respect and admiration for his "opponents". To me, the book does not portray him as a hero - rather as an important cog in the American expansionist "machine" that ultimately almost exterminated the Native Americans. By the end of his life he seemed to understand the impact of his life and actions on the tribes - with some regret. Unfortunately, too little - too late.
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LibraryThing member jeterat
I enjoyed this history read and found it a page turner, but doubt the sourcing and veracity of most of what's contained within it. The text contains few indicators for source and the descriptions of people, places, and events favor a novel. It was a good holiday week read, but not one that I'll
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LibraryThing member Castlelass
One of the best narrative histories I’ve read in recent years, Hampton Sides’ impressive work cuts through the legends and myths that have developed around Kit Carson, provides a balanced view of his personality and, in the process, draws a vivid picture of what life was like in the 1820’s
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– 1860’s in western America. Carson became famous during his time, but shunned celebrity. He was unschooled but spoke many languages. He was seen both as a hero and villain, depending on perspective. This book explores his complex personality, fierce loyalty, quiet demeanor, and decisive actions. Almost like an 1800’s version of Forrest Gump, Carson had a knack for being at the center of significant historical events. Sides focuses on Carson’s remarkable life as a focal point and common thread in conveying the often-brutal history of the American West, covering the panoramic drama that shaped the history of the region.

I gained an appreciation for the personalities involved – not only Kit Carson, but also John C. Fremont, James K. Polk, Stephen Watts Kearny, Edward Canby, Thomas Hart Benton, Jessie Benton Fremont, James Henry Carleton, Navajo leaders Narbona, Manuelito, and Barboncito, and a host of others. This book covers Carson’s many roles as a trapper, scout, explorer, soldier, and family man. It never strays too far from his life in relating historic events. It covers a vast swath of history: the expansion of the United States into current-day California, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, the Mexican-American War, the American Civil War battles in New Mexico, and the internecine clashes with the Navajo and other tribes. A significant portion is devoted to the encroachment of white civilization on the aboriginal people, as well as related salient issues such as reservations, relocation, and attempts to change their customs and ways of life.

I particularly enjoyed the author’s writing style, which flows artfully and elegantly. His descriptions of the terrain are stunning. He has a gift for telling a compelling story while imparting historic facts. The structure of this book is like a dog herding sheep, shifting among different perspectives, but keeping the multiple storylines moving along. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in gaining a better understanding of American western expansion and corresponding impact on its people, land, and culture.
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Doubleday (2006)

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