In 1846 Navajo warrior Narbona looked down upon the town of Santa Fe, the stronghold of the Mexican settlers he had been fighting his entire life. He had come to see if the army of blue-suited soldiers had defeated his ancestral enemies. He saw the mighty fort the invaders had built and realized his foes had been vanquished – but what did the arrival of these “New Men” portend for the Navajo? He could not have known that these men were the vanguard of a movement known as “Manifest Destiny”, and for twenty years the Navajo would ferociously resist the flood of soldiers and settlers who wished to take away their mountainous desert and pasturelands and change their ancient way of life – or destroy them.
Hampton Side’s book, Blood and Thunder, brings the history of the American conquest of the West to life. It is a tale with many heroes and villains, and the same person might be both. At the center of the story stands Kit Carson, the legendary trapper, scout, and soldier who embodies all the contradictions and ambiguities of the American experience in the West. Carson was an illiterate mountain man who twice married Indian women and understood and respected the tribes better than any other American at the time. Yet, he was also a cold-blooded killer who willingly followed orders tantamount to massacre. Carson’s exploits made him a household name when they were written up in pulp novels known as “blood and thunders”, but today that name is a bitter curse for contemporary Navajo, who cannot forget his role in the travails of their ancestors.