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Avatar (2009)

Review by Chris French

Ah, who am I kidding? Pretty-much everyone's reviewed this epic POS by now - most of whom managed to do so before the bloody thing was even released - and every review reads the same: "Great Visuals", "Lousy Plot", "Dances with Smurfs", babble babble BS.

Instead, I'm going to provide some Practical Data, and relate a few details of the actual event upon which this, and every other story where Settlers Suffer From Terminal Injun Trouble, is based. Therefore, I present:

Red Cloud's War - The Fannish Edition

Settlement of the middle section of North America-- the bit between the Rockies and the Alleghenies, from 48 degrees N latitude to the Gulf of Mexico-- generally followed a pattern: Indians living there; White Folks show up; Indians complain about White Folks' presence ("complain" here meaning anything up to and including Schlock Mercenary's Rule #1...); Indians and US Government sign treaties; more White Folks continue to arrive; more Indian complaining; repeat ad nauseam until US Government sends US Army to "resettle" (which here means "shoot anyone who resists; force-march to death anyone who surrenders; starve anyone who survives") Indians onto "reservations" (which here means "the kind of suckhole moonscape which makes The Road Warrior look like the Elysian Fields"); Indians get resettled; White Folks overrun area.

In this conflict, the Indians had a serious problem with their rear echelons-there weren't all that many Indians to start with, and they didn't have the kind of industry required to fight a sustained conflict. Most tribes therefore settled on irregular warfare as their preferred means of dealing with White Folks-- pop over the horizon, shoot a few people, steal whatever wasn't fully nailed down, and vanish. The idea was to convince the White Folks that this wasn't exactly the nicest neighborhood to live in, and perhaps they'd be happier somewhere else (like, say, back in Europe).

Of the various tribes to try this, the second-least-unsuccessful (because, let's face it, none of the tribes actually pulled the move off-- if you don't believe me, look at a map sometime) were the various subsets of the Sioux; of the Sioux, the least-unsuccessful was a fellow by name of Red Cloud, a warrior of some reputation among the tribes.

One suspects his name may have been an apt description of how he looked in 1863, when someone discovered unobtainium-- sorry, gold-- in his bailiwick (the area about where Wyoming and Montana meet). In much the same way blood in the ocean attracts Large, Ill-Tempered Fish, the gold attracted Large, Ill-Tempered Miners... and their families... and the folks who sold them supplies... and the folks who provided, to use the period euphemism, "horizontal refreshments"... and pretty much the entirety of White Folk society. The problem wasn't that bad when the gold was first found-- the White Folks at the time being preoccupied with killing each other, for a change-- but when that period wrapped in 1865, Red Cloud and his folks found themselves inundated with White Folks' mobile homes; and if you think Jeremy Clarkson hates caravans, well...

The pattern followed its usual course-White Folks move through along what was called the Bozeman Trail (and should have been called "Is This Trip Necessary Trail"); Indians shoot and burn some of the convoys; eventually, the US Government and the local tribal topkicks get together to hash out their differences. However, the idiots running the US at the time committed the usual mistake made by people bargaining in bad faith-- they started moving their troops in before the treaty was signed. Needless to say, Red Cloud et Cie. were a tad put out. In overly simple terms, this was "Get off my lawn", writ large.

The resulting conflict is mainly notable for what ranks at the second-stupidest military action of the Indian Wars period (the first, of course, being Little Big Horn-- and there's some interesting coincidences here, of which more later): The Fetterman Massacre. The titular character of this Mike-Charlie-Foxtrot was one Captain William Fetterman, a figure who had been promoted repeatedly for gallantry during the Civil War, but in the post-war drawdown had been returned to his "normal" rank. Fetterman may have been brave, but this was coupled to an overwhelming arrogance, which here manifested as complete contempt for the Indian foe he faced; he is on record as stating "with 80 men, I could ride through the Sioux Nation". Guess how many men he had with him when he set out from Fort Phil Kearny on December 21, 1866 to rescue a supply train out cutting wood for the fort? (The sad part of this is that the best-armed members of the party were two civilians with Henry repeating rifles; maybe 25% of the force were cavalrymen with Spencer repeating carbines, while most of the force was equipped with muzzle-loading rifled muskets, which have a rate-of-fire considerably slower than a bow.) On top of this, he disobeyed direct orders to remain within line-of-sight of the fort, instead pursuing a solitary Indian warrior-- a decoy, as it happened. (That decoy? Some guy named "Crazy Horse"-- yeah, I've never heard of him either.) The 2,000 or so Sioux and Cheyenne he ran into on the far side of a nearby ridge were unimpressed with his actions, his numbers, and his firepower-- in pro wrestling terms, what ensued was a "squash match", and it has nothing to do with fresh vegetables.

By the way, if the above sounds familiar, it should-- it would be repeated ten years later along the banks of the Little Big Horn river by some idiot named George Custer.

This is not to say everything went the Indians' way-- it didn't. August 1 and 2, 1867 saw two attempts by large (500+-man) Indian forces to destroy small groups of White Folks, incidents respectively named "the Hayfield Fight" and "the Wagon Box Fight". Guess where the White Folks defended themselves from in each instance? Most credit for the successful defenses the White Folks managed in these fights goes to the "trapdoor" 1886 Springfield breechloading rifle, plus the odd Henry or Spencer repeater, any of which fired considerably faster than a muzzle-loading weapon, which rendered the one combat advantage the Indians possessed useless.

Superior firepower, however, could not make up for the wholly-inadequate number of troops the US deployed to the area-- for example, the initial deployment numbered 950 men, of which 2/3 had no combat experience at all. This was intended to cover the whole Powder River valley-- and this predates satellite feeds, radios, et cetera. The Indians could, and did, move freely and attack at will. (The notion of the "winter campaign" to destroy their supplies and starve or freeze them into reservations would not be implemented until after Little Big Horn.)

In most histories, Red Cloud is credited with "winning" the war-- in 1868, the Treaty of Fort Laramie led to US troops leaving the Sioux lands, destroying the forts, and abandoning the Bozeman Trail. However, this was not a case of the Indians winning outright victory; the fact is, between the creation of the transcontinental railroad (finished officially in 1869, but in use prior to then), and the existence of the slightly longer Bridger Trail near the Bozeman, there simply wasn't any reason to continue using Bozeman. But, since the US forces pulled out, various groups have, for various reasons, tried to use this as an example of "the little guy beating the big one". (Tell that to the Sioux nowadays...) But it is the second-closest any of the Indian tribes have come to beating the US Government, first place going to a certain group of Indians in Florida; thus, in American Indian History, it is a Seminole moment.

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