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'I Will Not Surrender the Hair of a Horse's Tail': The Victorio Campaign 1879 - Dr Robert N. Watt

A very different book from anything I would normally read.

The first thing I noted about this book was the physical weight. The daughter asked to have a look at it, I passed it over and she nearly dropped it as the weight was so unexpected. The weight is due to the high quality glossy paper used, which in turn helps with the plentiful pictures.

The author is an academic who obviously has a sense of humour. He admits that watching the TV series ‘The High Chaparral’ sparked his interest in Apache wars. In fact, I found the preface the most readable part of the whole book, which is a little sad as there’s plenty of good information buried within the rest of the book. - I had never even heard of Victorio!

The problem (for me) is that most of the text is written in a very dry academic style with copious references at the bottom of each page. In fact, some pages are over half full of references. It just doesn’t make the easiest of reading formats from my point of view.

However, the topic is an interesting one, if not intriguing at times and the book dispels many of my childhood beliefs and long held myths about the Apache tribes. It also shows up by way of diligent research some rather large errors by the US army.

The core of the material is about corralling the Indians onto reservations that in many cases were inappropriate and were unable to support the tribes: causing as much as anything, inter-tribe feuds over the better lands. However, even though the Indians reluctantly agreed in the first instance, the agreement on the reservations was effectively torn up before the ink was dry, because the authorities wanted to rationalise the number of reservations. As much as anything, it was this rationalisation that triggered the Apache uprising. It must be said that the authorities largely brought the troubles and the resultant bloodshed on themselves. The material explores the full political background up to Victorio’s final campaign of 1879.

I was struck by the similarities of the Apache tactics when faced with bigger and better equipped armies and what we still see today; unexpected wildcat guerrilla attacks and the training up of children from a young age. Think Middle East or even Northern Ireland. Victorio, often with a force of less than 100 inflicted dreadful and disproportionate casualties on the US Army. Apparently the author is somewhat of an authority on Apache fighting tactics. A little more insight of these tactics in this volume would have been welcome.

The book runs to over 500 pages, but within that 500 it contains almost 200 pages which detail original information from the author’s research. Reading this research is actually quite interesting, but it does take time.

I think the market for this book is going to be very narrow, but to an enthusiast the contents are going to be like gold-dust. Although I have no real interest in the American Indians I felt I did learn quite a lot.

I’m happy to run to 4 anchors, but with the over-rider that the book will only interest a very select few.