Larry McMurtry

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"Crazy Horse"

(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie JUN 4, 2006)

"Among a broken people an unbroken man can only rarely be tolerated."

Crazy Horse by Larry McMurtry

Crazy Horse has been one of my American heroes ever since I read about him in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown back in the 1970's. When I discovered that Larry McMurtry, a favorite author of mine, had written a biography of Crazy Horse, the book immediately made the top of my TBR list! And I am glad that I did immerse myself in this brief but rich biography. As usual, McMurtry does not disappoint - nor does his subject.

Despite extensive writings about the great Sioux warrior Crazy Horse, there is actually a dearth of hard facts about his life. The man was born around 1840, at a time when the nomadic way of life of the Plains Indians was dying....or to be more accurate, at a time when the traditional way of life was stomped out though the US government's broken promises, lies, ineptitude, and the sheer number of US soldiers with rifles and their seemingly never-ending supply of ammunition. Manifest Destiny was very much a reality and it could not be fulfilled while nomadic tribes roamed the Great Plains hunting buffalo, "impeding progress," the westward march of settlers, the building of the railroads.

What kind of written historical record would there be of a man who lived the life of a Sioux warrior, "raiding and hunting on the central plains?" He rarely had contact with whites until the end of his life. And what translations exist are appalling.

Worm, his father was an Oglala healer; his mother was thought to be the sister of Spotted Tail, the Brule leader. From the first, Crazy Horse, called Curly as a boy, marched to the beat of his own drum. He was a loner and although he lived in the traditional way, he was not interested in the usual rituals of purification, like the sundance rite. "He took his manhood as a given and proved it in battle at an early age."

He went on a journey as a young man, to seek a vision. Never orthodox in his beliefs or behavior, Curly did not purify himself in the ancient ways nor did he speak with a holy man, such as his own father, before making the trip. The vision or dream he achieved on this quest, and the interpretation, were to prove very significant throughout his life. There are enough consistent reports about this episode to prove its authenticity.

The author takes the known facts about the period, as well as material garnered from documented interviews with Native Americans and whites who knew Crazy Horse and creates a vivid portrait of the warrior, the human being who cared first and foremost for his people - for the very young, the sick and elderly - the man of such moral authority that he sparked deadly jealousy amongst some of his own men. "Among a broken people an unbroken man can only rarely be tolerated." Crazy Horse "became a too-painful reminder of what the people as a whole had once been."

McMurtry, also paints a clear and accurate portrait of the large Native American councils of the times, of the Ghost Dance, the battles, the betrayals. He recounts a much reported conversation Crazy Horse, near the end of his life, had with his old friend He Dog. General George Cook wanted all the Sioux at Red Creek "to move across the creek, nearer to White Butte, so he would have them handy for a big council. He Dog thought it might be best to do as he was told." Crazy Horse did not want to make the move for his own reasons. He Dog, concerned about what the move might mean for their friendship asked Crazy Horse if "such a move on his part would mean they were enemies now. Crazy Horse laughed, perhaps for the last time; then he reminded He Dog that he was not speaking to a white man. Whites were the only ones, he said, who made rules for other people. Camp where you please."

Larry Mc Murtry invites the reader to camp where we please amid the recountings and recollections of the life of the legend who was Crazy Horse. This is a brief but beautifully written story of a life...and of a death. It is also a tribute to a great man.

  • Amazon reader rating: from 50 reviews
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"Lonesome Dove"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark APR 14, 1999)

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Lonesome Dove is the tale of the last days when cowboys drove cattle over long distances. We meet two former lawmen, Augustus McCrae and W.F. Call, who make their living by going over the Mexican border to steal horses and cattle. They've been doing this for about 15 years, long enough for them to raise Call's boy. One day another old Texas Ranger friend rides into Lonesome Dove (he's eluding the law for having killed a man in Arkansas) and suggests that they drive a herd of cattle to unsettled Montana. This is where the real fun begins as McMurtry portrays an accurate picture of the American western frontier in the 1870s.  We meet pioneers, river boat men, gamblers, murderous Indians, buffalo hunters, scouts, cavalry, and prostitutes. We cross open plains, cow towns, the Nueces River, the Platte and the Yellowstone. We set horses to easy lopes, eat cook's food, experience stampedes, gunfights, hangings and horse stealing. During all this there are hundreds of tales, subplots, both violent and heroic scenes that keep us glued to the saddle. Lonesome Dove is the quintessential western, the Great American Cowboy story, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1986.

Larry McMurtry has been writing prequels and sequels to Lonesome Dove over the past few years. I read Streets of Laredo, but didn't really enjoy it. It felt empty like it was trying to fill a spot that is left by Lonesome Dove, but it's like eating diet candy, it just doesn't match the craving for a real piece of chocolate.  If you want more of Lonesome Dove, then I suggest simply re-read the book.

  • Amazon reader rating: from 327 reviews
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"Buffalo Girls"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark FEB 3, 1998)

Buffalo Girls by Larry McMurtry

In a letter to her daughter back East, Martha Jane is not shy about her own importance: "Martha Jane -- better known as Calamity." She is just one of the handful of aging legends who travel to London as part of Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show in Buffalo Girls. As he describes the insatiable curiosity of Calamity's Indian friend No Ears, Annie Oakley's shooting match with Lord Windhouveren, and other highlights of the tour, McMurtry turns the story of a band of hardy, irrepressible survivors into an unforgettable portrait of love, fellowship, dreams, and heartbreak.

It's funny, but sad..  It's really a book about extinction and growing old.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 14 reviews


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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

The Last Picture Show Series:

The Terms of Endearment Series:

The Lonesome Dove Series:

The Barrybender Narratives:

Written with Diane Ossana:

Non-Fiction:

Movies from books:

 

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Book Marks:

 

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About the Author:

Larry McMurtryLarry McMurtry was born in Wichita Falls, Texas in 1936.  His father and eight uncles were all ranchers. He graduated with honors from Archer City High School, received his B.A. from North Texas State College. He earned a masters degree from Rice University in 1960 then quickly rose to international fame as a premier American writer. McMurtry served a two-year term as president of P.E.N. American Center in New York City and operates antiquarian bookstores in Washington, D.C., Texas, and Arizona. He lives in Texas.

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