Bound to Have Blood: Frontier Newspapers and the Plains Indian Wars by Hugh J. Reilly

A book review By Larry P. Maddenbook cover

The book, "Bound to Have Blood," is the story of how the Midwest newspapers affected politics and opinion during the Great Plains Indian Wars. By today's standards, journalism of the late 1860s to the 1890s was as freewheeling and wide open to staking a false claim as the frontier the settlers were encroaching upon. Although the term ‘yellow journalism’ had yet to be coined, a form of red journalism was widely practiced — very rarely to the benefit of the Indian populace. With Omaha as the most progressive city, and closest to the conflicts, most the text’s examples stem from articles from the Omaha Bee, Omaha Daily Herald, and the Omaha Republican.

The book covers many of the commonly known conflicts, such as Battle of Greasy Grass (Custer's last stand), misuse of power concerning the Ponca’s in the Standing Bear Trial, and the Nez Perce’s attempt to flee to Canada under the leadership of Chief Joseph. The newspapers editorial comments and misunderstanding of Indian People reflects the general attitudes of the day. The common denominator of the opinionated reportage is that the Indians have to buckle down and learn how to work within the ways of the white man. Sometimes editorials would speculate upon how best to handle the “Indian Problem”. Many times a problem’s complexity lay in the hands of the party in power, and, as in all politics, the ruling party was ultimately to blame.

The way the newspapers reported interactions with Indian people in attempts to one-up their competition and win more readerships was an art form onto itself. Horrific and often highly fabricated accounts of whites being massacred, villages burned, women violated, and children slaughtered were all printed based upon 2nd, 3rd, and 5th hand accounts with no proof (or truth) to accompany the story. Sometimes these falsehoods were reprinted north in the Dakotas and east in Washington D.C. The fear of the “Great Indian Uprising” was always a pen stroke from existence. The constant beating of the war drum by editors of the press had the government sending its bloodiest commanders to the West.

Not all of the press pushed for extermination of the red man. The Sand Creek Massacre by the Colorado 3rd militia was accurately recognized as what it was an outright genocide of Black Kettles’ people, and it struck a cord for the Indians’ plight when the gruesome details surfaced. Mutilation of Indian women and children didn’t set easy on many eastern breasts. Still, it would take the senseless slaughter of “Big Foot's” band at Wounded Knee in 1890 before the idea of Indians being human beings widely circulated.

Right now a form of constricted news is being fed the American public concerning the Standing Rock Nation and pipeline protest. People are once again misinformed or under-informed as to the people's status and intentions.

In this man’s life, I have seen people burned out in Philadelphia and Waco, Texas and killed at Wounded Knee in the 1970s. I fear for the well-being of others at the Standing Rock protest. Let’s hope that the press practices the 1st Amendment wisely and reports modern Indian affairs accurately and free from political persuasion.

Larry P. Madden (Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Wisconsin) was born and raised in the Sturgeon Bay area. A recent graduate of CMN, he enjoys the Powwow trail and strives to maintain balance on the red road.