Michno: "THE DEADLIEST INDIAN WAR IN THE WEST: The Snake Conflict, 1864-1868"

‘Snakes’ was a crude amalgamation of the scattered Indian tribes of Bannocks, Paiutes, and Shoshonis that were residents of the Columbia Plateau and the Great Basin in the western United States. This was a large area that included parts of California, Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho. These tribes were not part of any treaty and they were fed up with the encroachment on their livelihood by the thousands of while miners and immigrants invading their territory seeking new opportunities. Even though they remained isolated previously, the combined to form into one unit and fought with vengeance. Unfortunately, there were very few reports about the hundreds of incidents, skirmishes, and battles that comprised of the 1864-1868 Snake War and the heavy casualties in these battles had remained mostly obscure. In fact, not only the whites but even the Indians of the Plains treated the Snakes as undignified, unmilitary, and backward ‘dirt eaters’.  The abuses undergone by them were not properly recorded.

Michno had painstakingly reconstructed the major conflicts involving the Snakes between 1864 and 1868 by mainly using the official records and other source materials published on this subject. He not only recounts the major battles in detail as interesting chapters but also provides a summary of the innumerous minor encounters and skirmishes. He points out that the Snakes initially encountered the territorial and state volunteer units of California, Nevada, Washington and Nevada when the fighting started in 1864. However, in 1866, these units were replaced by regular army forces of the United States. George Crook led the forces against the Snakes. George Crook enjoyed a high positive coverage in the literatures on Civil war and the various Indian Wars that praised him for effective command of the army under his control. However, recent writings, particularly those that cover the campaigns by Crook in the Shenandoah Valley and West Virginia during the Civil War had been able to bring out the other side of his military reputation.

To his credit, Michno points out that General Crook did not achieve any groundbreaking tactics, since he took command only when the Snake Conflict was nearing its natural end. He only continued the previous military pressure exerted on the Snakes during the previous three years. The continued strain on the Snakes exhausted their resistance and Crooks was able to bring the conflict to its logical conclusion without too much effort. The volume of information presented by Michno about the movements of the Snakes and the U.S. Army and the various locations in which the battles and skirmishes took place clearly emphasis the actual scale of the conflict. From the way Michno has described the Snakes Conflict, it becomes clear that it can be included among the deadliest wars against the western Indians. The estimate by Michno that the number of casualties on both sides during the Snake Conflict of 1864-1868 was about 1,800, which was the highest among the thirteen major Indian Wars in the Trans-Mississippi area between 1865 and 1891. Hence, the title of the book by Michno, ‘The deadliest Indian War in the West: The Snake Conflict, 1864-1868’ appears to be completely justified. The book is further strengthened by the several appendices on the events and matters related to the Snake Conflict and the photographs of people and places involved in the conflict that are cleverly distributed in the book at the appropriate places.