The View from Officers' Row
Army Perceptions of Western Indians
Capturing military men in contemplation rather than combat, Sherry L. Smith reveals American army officers' views about the Indians against whom they fought in the last half of the nineteenth century. She demonstrates that these officers—and their wives—did not share a monolithic, negative view of their enemies, but instead often developed a great respect for Indians and their cultures. Some officers even came to question Indian policy, expressed misgivings about their personal involvement in the Indian Wars, and openly sympathized with their foe.
The book reviews the period 1848–1890—from the acquisition of the Mexican Cession to the Battle of Wounded Knee—and encompasses the entire trans-Mississippi West. Resting primarily on personal documents drawn from a representative sample of the officer corps at all levels, the study seeks to juxtapose the opinions of high-ranking officers with those of officers of lesser prominence, who were perhaps less inclined to express personal opinions in official reports.
No educated segment of American society had more prolonged contact with Indians than did army officers and their wives, yet not until now has such an overview of their attitudes been presented. Smith's work demolishes the stereotype of the Indian-hating officer and broadens our understanding of the role of the army in the American West.
"Smith's sources are fresh and her organization is clear and logical. An essential guide to American ethnic, western, and military history."—Choice
"Based on original source material, her study concentrates on the perspective of junior officers and their wives on topics such as Indian women, and the use of Indians as Army scouts. The struggles in the Southwest are well-represented in this thought-provoking book."—Books of the Southwest
"Smith's research did uncover a good deal more thoughtfulness and curiosity and Indian culture, at least on the part of some military families, than the stereotype of the while conqueror might suggest. . . . a narrative with copious documentation selected and interwoven by the author, and as such the work is exemplary."—Bookman's Weekly
"Belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in the history of Indian Wars in the trans-Mississippi West. . . . Smith creates a context for a deeper understanding of the seemingly continuous stream of skirmishes, battles, and campaigns."—Annals of Wyoming
"Smith has undertaken significant research and has presented her findings in an engaging style. Minor flaws aside, she has succeeded in asking novel questions of known sources and has produced a thoughtful and pleasing addition to the history of the Indian-fighting Army."—Western Historical Quarterly
"A welcome addition to the ever-expanding collection of works on Indian-white relations in the West."—Southern California Quarterly
"Smith admirably illustrates that the view from officers row was a part of the greater American perspective."—Pacific Northwest Quarterly
"A fascinating study certain to persuade both anthropologists and historians of the need to shed some of the hoary legends about the army in the American West."—Ethnohistory
"This well-organized, solidly documented, and attractively written work is a major contribution to the literature on Indian-military relations."—Montana, The Magazine of Western History