This book takes place circa 1845 during the Polk presidency, who is oddly obscured in history because of his status as president prior to the US Civil War, but this relative obscurity belies just how instrumental he was to the westward expansion of the US and to a kind of preparatory set of exercises for the Civil War. If you were to view the US-Mexico War merely as the crucible through which most of the primary figures of the US Civil War were forged and strengthen (Lee, Grant, Davis, Sherman, and others) you would already have a significant presidency on your hands. But the annexation of Texas, the theft of California and Arizona and other territories, the settling of Oregon, and lots of other important events and policies occurred within just this four year span.
This book takes that head-on in a way, but also primarily focuses on the war between the US Army and the Navajo people in what is now New Mexico. The book also discusses the history and mythmaking of Kit Carson in the West before and during the Civil War. A recent book I read and hated tried to “balance the record” of how we write about US/Native American conflict post-Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and this book does not. Instead, it wants to deal in both historical fact and analysis, but also a fair contextual argument. This means that conflicts are seen as part of larger series. The book also takes care to individualize Native American peoples and their experiences, beliefs, and actions, to avoid any kind of unsupportable broad commentary about “Native Americans” as a whole. It’s also an interesting book, well-told.