Thursday, July 18, 2024

George MacDonald Fraser - Flashman and the Redskins

George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman novels are not particularly fashionable these days. They are very dated in places, not particularly because of Flashman's offensive beliefs, but more so, I suspect because of Fraser's politics. Had Fraser lived longer, there's no doubt he would have written more of the Flashman series, and fans would have gobbled them up. But Fraser's rightwing ideas do not sit well with a new generation coming to terms with colonialism and the legacy of the British Empire.

So why pick up the unpleasantly named Flashman and the Redskins? I re-read this for deeply personal reasons. I first read the book in the late 1980s when I was besotted with Flashman's cowardly run through history. As a teenager the title character's racism and misogyny did not distract me. I was there for the adventure and escapism. This book in particular has a personal importance as it was one of the reads that led me into a lifelong interest in the Battle of the Little Bighorn. At the books climax, Flashman finds himself, through ill-luck, and misogyny, at the Greasy Grass wearing a dinner jacket. A close acquatinance of Custer's he fails to get them to retreat and only luck saves him.

Fraser's telling of the battle closely follows many accounts, and he is unearring accurate in details. As fans of Flashman will know, Fraser seeks out historical accounts where a suitable anonymous person is present at some historical juncture and inserts Flashman there. But it is Fraser's romatic retelling of the Bighorn and his own visit there which inserted the Montana battlefield into my subconcious. Nearly forty years later I too was able to visit the Greasy Grass.

But what of the novel? It is in two parts, one telling Flashman's experiences as a Forty-Niner, travelling with a wagon train to Santa Fe, two waggons full of prostitutes and slaves for a brothel with his (third?) concurant wife. There's plenty of unpleasantness here. Flashman uses racist terms, sells slaves and enjoys bigamy and adultery. He sneers at (and fears) the Native Americans and hates anyone who isn't of European extraction (though it doesn't stop him having sex with them). 

But what shines through is two fold. The first is Fraser's unscruipilous attention to detail, drawing heavily on contemporary eyewitness accounts he is able to paint a very realistic picture of life on the Plains and the North West frontieer. The second thing is Fraser's own remarkable duality when it comes to the oppressed and the victim. He has his main character decry them at every opportunity, yet he also avoids romantacising the Native Americans (though Flashman's wife certainly does this) instead recognising that they have a particular way of life that suited the Plains and was destroyed by the European settlers. But while it's wrong to place the beliefs of a character in the mouth of an author, it is  also hard not to see Fraser as agreeing that the Natives were violent and uncivilised. It makes for an contradictory read.

Part two of the book deals with Flashman's return to America in the 1870s, his presence at the failed attempt by the US government to buy the Black Hills and then at key moments in the preparations for the military encursion into Sioux terrority that led to the defeat at the Bighorn. Again, Fraser's research is exempliary. His footnotes are full of references that I really want to follow up for background on events, and Flashman's presence fits well into the real history.

Here is Western history in its gory, violent, racist detail - Flashman is present at a scalp hunt by White militia as they hunt Apache men, women and children for scalps. Its unpleasant, but the problem is that it is played merely as a way to get Flashman from one sticky situation into another. Fraser doesn't avoid the unpleasantness, but it does not detain him. I have noted elsewhere that Fraser's Flashman liberally uses the N word. Fraser might think this is reflective of the language of the times, but its not something that appears in contemporary accounts such as this one of the Indian Rising of 1857.

Given Fraser's worldview then, it is notable that his comupance in this novel, is closely related to his racist, philandering, sexist and arrogant behaviour. Flashman is suitably hoist by his petard. It makes for a satisfying ending. But should you, dear follower, read the book? I would argue that for all its attention to historical accuracy, its not a book that stands up well. Those of use who read it for nostalgic reasons are one thing. But if you are new to Flashman, the language, framework and ideas are likely to cause offence. While Fraser mentions many genuine heroes through the book, his anti-hero is the centre of the novel and it leaves far to bitter a taste in the mouth. When I was a teenager I wanted Flashman to escape. Now I hate him. A transition that you can follow through the various reviews below.

Related Reviews

Fraser - Flashman
Fraser - Flashman on the March
Fraser - Flashman in the Great Game
Fraser - Flashman and the Tiger
Fraser - Flashman and the Mountain of Light
Fraser - Quartered Safe Out Here

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Jeanne O'Neill & Riga Winthrop - Fort Connah: A Page in Montana's History

Cover of the Fort Connah book
Fort Connah is likely the oldest standing building in Montana in the United States, but has an importance far beyond its age and architecture. It was one of the original “forts” constructed by the Hudson Bay Company to assist in the extraction of millions of furs from North America through trade with furtrappers and Native Americans. While called a fort, the building had no military value, and was not garrisoned - it was living accomodation and storage for the McDonald family who lived and ran the trading post.

I was determined to visit Fort Connah earlier this year following my reading of James Hunters’ book Glencoe and the Indians. While on a visit, when we had been shown around by very kind and friendly members of the Connah restoration society, I picked up this short book by Jeanne O’Neill and Riga Winthrop. 

The book was published in 2002 when restoration of the Fort was still in the early stages. For those who know the history the book offers little new information. It is really a short introduction to the sigificance of Fort Connah to Montana’s history. As such it deservers a wider readership as I certainly felt that the site was little known, even to locals.

O’Neil and Winthrop locate their history very much in colonial development of the region. The fur industry, they write, “was just the beginning of a history of rape and plunder, of a cycle of boom and bust”. In fact the determining history of Fort Connah was not events on the ground, but wider economic and political contexts, which the authors do due justice too.

Fort Connah in May 2024
Fort Connah in May 2024
The book is short and typical of the peculiarly American local history publication that proliferates in locally in the States. It gives great insights into niche areas, normally only of interest to locals, and in the case of Fort Connah those with the surname McDonald. For, as Hunter’s work has shown, the influence of Scottish migrants on Flathead was significant. Angus McDonald who is buried near the Fort along with his Native American wife Catherine, where the head of a new tribe of locals who have come to play an important role in local history since the end of the 1800s. Angus was, it must be argued, not a genocidal immigrant and clearly, from this account at least, cared deeply for the indigenous  people and their knowledge. O’Neill and Winthrop repeat accounts of him telling Native American history while sharing a drink with visitors. Angus’ life - from Scotland to fur-trapper, Fort manager and then cattle farmer - forms the backbone to this story. But the book does cover more. SOme of this is a little peripheral, but adds to the flavour.

This book is perhaps somewhat specialised, but ought to be read by those heading to Flathead for their holidays. It is an good general introduction to a history of the area that deserves to be better known and would help ensure that Fort Connah and it’s intriguing history is preserved even further.  

Related Reviews

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Scott H. Hendrix - Martin Luther: A Very Short Introduction

This Very Short Introduction to Martin Luther's life and ideas is a step above the previous one I read on the Reformation. It is a readable, concise and surprising detailed account of Luther, in just over 100 pages. It is particularly good in understanding how Luther's work can be understood and misunderstood because of the complexity of Luther's own approach:

Luther's hermeneutical principles were flexible, a mixture of things that modern interpreters tend to keep searate: what a text could have meant in the past and what it could or should mean today. Sometimes [Luther] would apply a biblical statement literally to his 16th-century classroom or congregation, and other times he would dismiss a passage because it belonged to yesterday and had no direct relevance for today.

But, Hendrix adds, that Luther "lived in the world of the Bible". This is something that can be hard to grasp - Luther's worldview and his experience was the Bible. But Luther was also shaped by wider politicals and society. This is perhaps where the Introduction is less helpful. Here we should not fault the author too much. Hendrix does note that "like other reforms, Martin Luther failed to find in the Bibe many features of the piety practised by believers around him". Like other theologians, Luther could not find everything in the Bible he needed to respond to world events, and here he responded as a man of his class and material interests should. I think, principly of Luther's reponse to the Peasant War, which was no doubt fuelled by the Reformation, but was simultanously rejected by Luther.

This "real politik" from Luther, meant he saw in the Princes and Nobles, not threats to the people, or corrupt hypocrits, but as Hendrix suggestions, potential allies. For instance, "the consolidation and expansion of the German Reformation resulted from steadfast cooperation between evangelical rulers and theologians, because the threat of suppression, stemming from Emperor Charles and his Catholic advisers, was noth political and religious."

The danger is that we can end up seeing the Reformation (and Luther) simply as a set of ideas to be implemented and for people to be won to, rather than as a process that arises, in part, from the material circumstances of society.

So while this is an excellent introduction to Luther, read is alongside other biographies and accounts of the period to grasp Luther's full impact and place within German society.

Related Reviews

Marshall - The Reformation: A Very Short Introduction
Shaw – Ancient Egypt: A Very Short introduction

Tuesday, July 09, 2024

Peter Marshall - The Reformation: A Very Short Introduction

Peter Marshall is the author of a number of significant and important works on the Reformation, including his book on the English Reformation which I recommended a few years ago. This, one of the excellent Very Short Introduction series, is a straightforward introduction which covers the main events and in the broadest way. Readers who know Reformation history will no doubt find their particular interests or favourite bits are covered, but superficially, but it is a good broad overview of events.

Marshall is good on some consequences of the Reformation. For instance he explores sexuality and society, including the position of women. He argues the Reformation "reinforced patriarchy", because it reasserted the role of the family, the "Protestant social institution par excellence, the building-block of the Christian community". Consequently he argues that the Reformation left women in a diminished position, offering "women on the dual package of marriage and motherhood".

The problem is that Marshall doesn't really offer much deeper analysis. He opens (and indeed finishes) by saying that the Reformation created the world we live in today. Which is a bit obvious really. But what created the Reformation? Here he rejects those "Marxists, as well as subscribers to treny sociaological and literary theories" who want to "deconstruct" the real "political, class-based or economic motivations" behind the Reformation. Here he suggests that "any approach which beings with a rigid... distinction between the religious and the secular is unlikely to get us very far". But Marxism didn't do this. In fact, it notes that social and economic changes were precisely what created the tensions that allowed Luther's ideas to get a mass holding.

In fact I suggest that Marshall is wrong to imply that Marxists have only seen the Reformation and the German Peasant War as being "secular". 

By avoiding the wider social drivers behind the Reformation, Marshall ends up suggesting that it was the ideas that drove events forward. This is, of course, partly true. But the ideas got a resonance because of their context.

While I was frustrated with this aspect of this short book, it is a valuable book in terms of how it summarises the evens of the Reformation and the ideas at its core. In particular Marshall is very sharp on what happens in areas outside of Germany, and the religious consequences (in terms of religious organisations) of the Reformation. If you need a quick introduction this is good, but it is limited. 

Related Reviews

Marshall - Heretics & Believers: A History of the English Reformation

Monday, July 08, 2024

C.L. Moore - Northwest of Earth

Imagine a space smuggler whose adventures rarely bring wealth and fortune, whose luck is proverbial, yet often leaves him in situations even more dangerous, whose roguish good looks attract many women whose good looks hide their danger, and a man who is handy with a blaster. You know who I'm describing of course? No. It's not Han Solo, but C.L.Moore's strangely named Northwest of Earth. C.L.Moore was one of the pen names of Catherine Lucille Moore, whose work was extremely popular in the 1930s. Interestingly she didn't use a pseudnym to hide her gender, but rather to protect her in her main employment.

Northwest of Earth is a collection first published in 1954 containing most of the stories about Northwest Smith. Nearly a century after they were first printed it is a fascinating read. Eschewing any contemporary knowledge of the solar system, she populates Mars, Venus and the other planets with steamy jungles, deserts filled with civilisation and moons and other planets filled with weird and wonderful people. The solar system is filled with civilisations, all of whom are human, but all with their distinct characteristics. The spaceports are filled with smugglers, criminals, dodgy bars and sex workers. And beautiful women.

The latter are, of course, a staple of the science fiction genre. Heroic spacemen blast the baddies/aliens and get the "girl". "Tell me," says one character to Smith "do you have such girls on Earth". Except in Moore's stories it is usually the woman who leads Northwest down a dangerous path. Almost invariably when he meets a female from Mars, Venus or anywhere else she is asking him to accomplish a dangerous task, and often lying through her teeth. It is a neat inversion and Moore deserves a little more credit for her female characters.

Because this isn't really science-fiction. This is Weird fiction. There is much of Lovecraftian work here, tentacles, and dark, dank, misty places. A touch of magic and scary scenarios. C.L. Moore's solar system isn't filled with shiny spacecraft, but with weird tentacled things and slide and slither. Invariably Northwest gets away, usually firing his flame or ray gun (the technology varies from story to story) and cuts his way out.

So these are unusual stories, and the language takes a bit of getting used to. In fact, Moore shares a tendancy to overwrite a little and sometimes the stories' language betrays their origin in pulp magazines. One story, Dust of Gods, has the opening line: "'Pass the whisky, MW' said Yarol the Venusian persuasively."

The modern "Masterwork" edition would be improved by an introduction that tells the reader more about the context and CL Moore's life and work. But all in all these are fun examples of a nearly forgotten genre, by a woman writer who is mostly ignored today, but who was writing intriguing tales that turned the genre(s) upsidedown. Worth digging out.

Related Reviews

Monday, July 01, 2024

Corinne Fowler - Our Island Stories: Country walks through colonial Britain

Having thoroughly enjoyed Corinne Fowler's previous book Green Unpleasant Land I was very pleased to pick up this, her most recent book. It takes a look at the close links between the British countryside, colonial history and class struggle. Unusally, as the subtitle suggests, it is constructed around ten walks, in landscapes as varied as the Western Isles of Scotland, the Lake District and North Wales. On each journey Fowler is accompanied by a historian, artist or writer who adds their own perspective to the events and landscape, often in deeply personal ways.

I was expecting much of the book to focus on the way that Britain's wealthy had benefited from slavery. Fowler has been central to the investigations that have highlighted the extensive links between National Trust properties and slavery. So I expected that much of the book would focus on how the wealth from slavery had been used to construct huge country houses and large estates. This is, of course, true. Fowler writes about the Conservative MP Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, whose "massive portfolio of property still includes the Drax Hall estate on Barbados, which, founded by the Draxes in the 1650s, still cultivates sugar cane today. His planatations, historically, were worked by enslaved people." Drax, like many other landowners, owes the family wealth to the labour, blood and sweat of enslaved people.

Important though these insights into our countryside are, this is not all there is to Fowler's book. I was repeatedly struck by a more dynamic relationship between colonialism and the landscape. This is, perhaps, best shown by the walk Fowler takes us on around the town of Dolgellau in North Wales. Now principally known as a base from which visitors can explore Snowdonia, it once was at the epicentre of a global trade in wool. Dolgellau's wool was "distinctive" and often called "Welsh plains". It was a "cheap, coarse and durable... strong fabic" and "at the height of production, 718,000 yards of webs were produced almost entirely for export with around eighteen mills operating in and around Dolgellau."

The nature of Welsh Plain cloth made it idea for clothing enslaved people in the Americas and the West Indies. Fowler quotes the historian Marian Gwyn, "who found that in 1806 just three plantations in Clarendon, Jamacia ordered over 8 miles of fabric; 15 percent of this was woollen and from north Wales". The brutal reality of this is brought home to the reader as Fowler quotes from various advertisments from the 1700s which aim to identify and recapture escaped slaves. These frequently note that slaves escaped wearing Welsh wool.

As the example of Welsh Wool demonstrates, Fowler's book explores much more than the flow of  wealth from slavery into the hands of wealthy merchants and bankers in Britain. It also shows how that money was used to transform Britain's landscape, its people and its economy, in order to squeeze more wealth out of the slave trade. Dolgellau's growth was driven by the money the local economy made from manufacturing wool for the slave trade: "Around 1690, Welsh plains clothed 97,000 enslaved people in the Caribbean and North America.. by the mid-eighteenth century - the period when Dolgellau's smart houses started going up - this number grew to just under 2 million yards for some 279,000 enslaved people."

Thus the slave trade, in terms of the development of the town, is literarily written into the landscape if we look for the expansion of housing and development. It is also written there in terms of the transformation of the local economy and, as Fowler further develops her argument in later chapters through the enclosure of land and the transformation of the peasantry.

For the slave commodities made and sold from Britain like wool, iron, or copper required labour. They also required the creation of a new proletariat, and the destruction of historic ways of organising the rural economy. For many landowners the wealth they got from slavery drove these processes forward, impoverishing local workers, destroying traditional agriculture and manufacturing and concentrating workers in bigger and bigger industrial concerns. As Fowler points out, the wealth from slavery did not "trickle down" to the employees in Britain, instead if was concentrated in the hands of the already rich, and allowed them to exploit workers more:

Transatlantic slavery permeated the lives of rural working people: sheep-shearers, wool-carders, spinners and weavers. Not that these people were made rich by slavery: on the contrary, their lives were often harse. The money was bing made by people far higher up the economic ladder: landowners with sheep-grazing pasture, wool-merchants, slave-traders and their backers.

In fact I would go further. The wealth from slavery allowed the destruction of older economic relations, to the detriment of the population. British workers ended up sicker, poorer and dying earlier as a result of the industrialisation bring by the slave trade.

These workers, even in times of great hardship, often spoke out against slavery. Fowler describes the Lancashire cotton workers whose struggle to support the North in the US Civil War was born out of opposition to slavery. She also notes the rebellions and revolutions of the slaves themselves who fought their masters and occasionally, such as with the Haitian revolution, won.

The final aspect of this book that is worth noting is the personal stories of Fowler's walking companions. Their knowledge of the history of colonialism adds greatly to Fowler's work, as does their art and poetry. But it is perhaps most interesting regarding the modern countryside. Repeatedly her Black and Asian friends tell her about their own negative experience of such walks. Feeling like and outsider, experiencing racism or, for instance, never seeing someone like them working or living in the country. 

Part of challenging that racism has to come from a real recognition that the British countryside was never a pastoral idyll. The history and landscapes of rural Britain have been shaped by capitalism, class struggle and colonialism. As Corinne Fowler's wonderful work shows, slavery, imperialism and colonialism are written into the very countryside, into the shapes of small rural towns, and into the history of the people who lived there. For those of us who love the country, and who want to know its history, this is an indespensible work.

Related Reviews

Fowler - Green Unpleasant Land
Howkins - The Death of Rural England
Groves - Sharpen the Sickle
Blackburn - The American Crucible: Slavery, Emancipation and Human Rights
Fryer - Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain
Rediker - The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery & Freedom

Friday, June 28, 2024

Gregory F. Michno - Lakota Noon: The Indian Narrative of Custer's Defeat

One of the notable things about visiting the site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn today is how it has been changed, under pressure from Native Americans, to incorporate their viewpoints and history into the memorial. While the location is dominated by an overt US militarism, there are multiple, moving testimonies and memorials to the Native American casualties. The story is told from the viewpoint of the victors as well as the victims.

Pursuing this approach to the battle I was pleased to pick up Gregory Michno's book Lakota Noon, whose subtitle indicates that it looks at the Indian narrative, something distinctly lacking from most accounts of the battle. The book is, it must be said, a boon to anyone who wants to do this and it would have been an excellent read prior to the battle. Michno has not just gathered many different indigenous accounts together, he has arranged them in a novel way. Rather than reading different accounts, from different viewpoints at one time, he has collected the parts of peoples' accounts together at the estimated times that they happened. Thus we can read differing points of view from the moment of Reno's attack, or during the chaos of the final moments of Custer's defeat. 

The accounts are often shocking. Rarely do we read the actuality of conflict, and this was violent, hand to hand fighting, and the accounts by the Native Americans do not diminish that. But these are not just the reminiscances of arrogant victors, rather they are from soldiers who understood that they were fighting a great and significant battle. For many of them it was to be the most important milestone in their lives, their Lakota Noon. Thus we also also learn about Native American beliefs, their preparations for war, their understanding of US Cavalry tactics, and above all, their praise for the brave men they defeated. 

There are some fascinating things among these accounts. One is that of the role of women. One Native American, Antelope, spent significant time on the day close to the action as she searched for a relative. Antelope "had seen other battles and had always liked to watch the men fighting, though she had been teased about it, for not many women followed the warriors to battle". Another example is that of Chief Gall, who recollected his personal experience of losing non-combatant relatives to the US cavalry, "his lodge was vacant. He extended his search around the point of timber a short distance o the south. There he finally found his family. Dead. His two wives and his three children, killed." Another account by Rain in the Face, recollected that a woman Moving Robe, whose brother had been killed was among the fighters. "Behold, there is among us a young woman! Let no young man hide behind her garment" shouted Rain in the Face to inspire the other warriors.

But mostly readers will want to learn the accounts of the battle by Native Americans, like Low Dog:

They came on us like a thunderbolt... The Indians retreated at first but managed to rally and make a charge of their own. Low Dog called to his men, "This is a good day to die: follow me." They massed their warriors. So that no man should fall back, every man whipped another man's horse as they rushed the soldiers. The bluecoats dismounted to fire, but did not shoot well. While firing, they had been holding their horse's reins with one arm. The frrightened horses piulled them all around and many of their shots went high in the air and did the Indians no harm. Nevertheless, the white warriors stood their ground bravely, and none made an attempt to get away.

But there are problems with the book. One of the largest was that the Native American accounts are not direct quotes. Michno acknowledges the problems of the sources - they are biased, sometimes recorded many decades after the battle, often contradictory and frequently have grown in the telling. Memory plays its tricks, but so does the reality of a confusing, scary, noisy and smoke obscurred battle field. Disappointingly though, Michno's narratives are not direct quotes, but are his rewriting of the various testimonies in order to make a readable account. This makes things clearer for the reader, but its not the  collection of eyewitness voices I expected.

Michno presents the book as being a final word in understanding what happened. Rightly, he argues, it has been near impossible to know what actually happened to Custer's direct command on the day. By piecing together the Native American accounts, together with a close analysis of the battlefield site, he hopes that he has presented a definitive history of the day. He is dismissive, sometimes to the point of pomposity of some other historians. But by and large his arguments about events on the day are persuassive, as does his unpicking of the conflicting and sometimes extremely unclear accounts of different Native Americans. He points out, probably accurately, that the famous charge by Crazy Horse likely never happened.

Michno is keen to tackle what he sees as the political correctness of recent scholarship of the battle. In fact the book is really an attempt to state a particular viewpoint of the battle using definitive studies and eyewitness accounts, in order to defend a particular historical approach. This is, I think, most notable when considering the Reno-Benteen fight and defense. After Reno is driven off, the battle recentred on Custer's attack. This is not surprising. The Native Americans had to regroup to drive off the bigger threat to their village. But the Reno-Benteen command did make a stand, and faced many hours horrificaly besieged. Michno provides no eyewitness accounts to this. Perhaps there are none. In which case it would have been useful to know. Or perhaps Michno thinks that because Cavalry troops from these events survived, then there's no need to give accounts (though this does not prevent him giving them about earlier parts of the battle). I suspect the real reason is that Michno is focused on other events because the purpose of his book is actually to polemicise about the significance of Custer's final defeat for latter day accounts of the Indian Wars.

This is especially visible in his critiques of those who argue there was "no last stand" in the sense that the battle did not have a definitive ending, rather pettering out into smaller and smaller clusters of killing. These he says are often motivated by a "those more concerned with officious moralising than with finding historical truths". For instance, he bemoans one author whose book contains multiple references (Michno gives them all!) to "genocide, greed and injustice". 

The problem with Michno's approach here is that it is difficult to write a genuine history of Native America and its encounter with the US government without acknowleding the "genocide, greed and injustice" that was directed at them from the earliest days of European colonialism in the Americas. Indeed, the books concluding focus on the reality of a "last stand" is less about actual events and more about defeating "revisionist interpreations and political correctness". 

The problem of course is that the last stand can mean different things to different people. Those who enjoyed the historically laughable They died with their boots on at the cinema in 1941 and since have a different understanding of the heroism of that day to that of the Native American eyewitnesses here. Indedd they would also probably not agree with Michno himself who is not dismissing the Native Americans as savages. 

The point is not the battle, but the context - culturally and historically. Endless debates about about cartridge numbers from battlefield archaeology cannot overcome the wider historical backdrop which is far more important to understanding the aftermath of the Lakota Noon.

Those interested in the battle should read Lakota Noon, if only for the eyewitness accounts and the discussion about events on 25-26 June 1876. For those wanting a subtle study of the context, there are other, better books, polemical in their own way.

Related Reviews

Hämäläinen - Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power
Estes - Our History is the Future

Donovan - A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn
Tully - Crooked Deals and Broken Treaties
Philbrick - The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull and the Battle of the Little Bighorn
Cozzens - The Earth is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West