Blood and Thunder: Indians and Manifest Destiny
Perhaps the most striking part of Blood and Thunder is the famed and fabled Kit Carson himself. He begins the book as a duty-driven youth who is able to kill anyone or anything without a sense of remorse, likely because of his experiences with the harshness of life as a child. However, once he begins to have a family—a real family, one he raises and takes care of and looks after—he begins to shift. Carson begins to balk at some killings, even going so far as to decry the killing of indian warriors at Carleton’s order.
Whether it was the need to take care of his family or the need to find peace in the face of his increasingly failing healthy, Carson provides a look at the changes a man can undergo over the course of his life. He starts as one man, filled with certain ideals and desires, and over the course of his life, his goals and priorities shift. His sense of duty that was instilled in him from his childhood days fails him in his older age, leading him to increasingly attempt to leave behind the front lines and seek solace at home.
This shift in character seems odd when the book is merely skimmed; however, the book structures Carson’s life in a way that provides clear understanding of the changes. This was not an abrupt shift, nor was it a conscious one. This change, rather, came as a result of the overall human need to adjust, to shift with the changes that life presented. This change makes Carson truly feel like a “real person,” someone who isn’t merely a character from a book. It makes Carson human, and thus served to catch my attention.
The second part of Blood and Thunder that caught my attention was the conflict between the American mentality and the mentality of the Native Americans who already lived in the area. As is noted throughout the book, the Native Americans could not understand the point behind many of the “white” traditions that men like Carleton tried to impress upon them. The “white” ways had no resonance with the Native Americans because everything differed between them.
The concept of “ownership” of the land meant nothing to the Native Americans because they saw themselves as stewards, caretakers of the land. The concept of Christianity meant nothing to Native Americans because they came from a rich, diverse, usually polytheistic religion that held nothing that mixed with Christianity. The concept of a single spokesperson for an entire race of Native Americans (i. e. for the entire people [Navajo, Ute, Kiowa, etc. ]) broke the tradition of having spokespeople from many tribes forming a council for the people.
This imposition of mentalities on Native Americans caused at least some of the breakdown in communication; however, there were some aspects that the Native Americans chose to learn and accept in order to deal with the white men. Showing their ability for change, the Navajos elect Barboncito, at the end of the book in the epilogue, to serve as their spokesperson to Gen. Sherman. This collaboration between the Navajo need for the separate tribes and the white men’s need for a single person to deal with led to the eloquent plea to Sherman that ended with the Navajo returning to their home lands.