Bantam, February 1997
This is the twelfth book in The Plainsmen series.
Four hundred and forty pages of quite small print make this book a long read. The Plainsmen books are billed as historical novels. Wolf Mountain Moon covers two lesser-known battles during one of the worst winters of the time. These are the Ash Creek Fight - Baldwin against Sitting Bull, and The Battle of the Butte - Miles against Crazy Horse.
During the Ash Creek confrontation Johnston’s fictional character, scout Seamus Donegan is riding with a message for Colonel Miles so he doesn't have a major role to play in the first part of the book. Miles asks Donegan to stay and help in his relentless pursuit of Crazy Horse and Donegan does so, even though he was intending to go home and see his wife and newborn son. I found the chapter dealing with Samantha Donegan’s lonely Christmas very moving, perhaps more so than the outcome of the battles with the Sioux/Cheyenne confederations.
As this series progresses it seems Johnston was able to uncover more and more facts and seemed intent on cramming them all into the book, while fascinating stuff, they do tend to overwhelm the story occasionally. Yes these newspaper reports are supposed to add flavour but at times I felt them getting in the way. Johnston’s descriptions of the conditions the soldiers find themselves in is well told and his writing of the battles very well done. Miles determination to bring an end to the Indian Wars comes across strongly; he will be the man to bring an end to Crazy Horse where others have failed. Although not known at the time the Battle of the Butte will be Crazy Horse’s last fight with the white man’s army.
If you’re interested in the history of the Indian Wars then I doubt you could find a much better series to read, and I think it’s a shame that Johnston died before he could complete the series. (#16, a 700+ page novel, being the last).
The final chapter of Crazy Horse’s life will be told in a later book.
Definitely not a quick read, or a book to provided light entertainment. A book that plods a little at times and could have, in my mind, benefited from being a little shorter. But still is a fascinating and absorbing read.