Blood and Thunder: back to the history books

Dennis Warden

I recently completed my fourth book by Hampton Sides: “Blood and Thunder, The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West.” Thanks again to Barb’s Books in Belle where I discovered this book and added it to my collection of historical books by Sides.

My first book by Sides was “Hellhound on his trail.” This exciting story covers the largest manhunt in American history, the hunt for Martin Luther King Jr’s killer James Earl Ray. 

An interesting fact about Ray. He escaped from a maximum security prison in 1967 by hiding in a bread truck the year before he assassinated King. That prison was the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City.

From there I went on to read Sides’ best selling book “Ghost Soldiers” an heroic story of the rescue of American soldiers held captive on the Philippines at the end of World War II. Among those rescued were the last surviving members of the infamous Bataan Death March. 

Then last fall I read “In the Kingdom of Ice.”

One attribute I enjoy about Sides’ books — short chapters. Sometimes when I sit down to read I only have 15 to 20 minutes of time. Short concise chapters make it easy to find a stopping place. In the occasion where the chapter is longer he has dividing points.

I love to read books on history for the sheer joy of learning. To me history is often more exciting than fiction books. And let’s face it, reading, like watching TV, is a way to escape the pressures of daily life.

I am always intrigued when I discover a connection to Missouri, such as Ray escaping from the prison in Jefferson City.

There is more than one connection to Missouri in Blood and Thunder. Carson was raised in Boone’s Lick, Mo. At the young age of 17 he ran away from an apprenticeship and headed west on the Santa Fe Trail. When he was 19-years old he became a mountain man. From this experience he learned to speak Spanish, French and most of the Indian dialects of the west. 

But he never learned to read or write.

The next connection to Missouri from this book was Thomas Hart Benton, not the painter, but his great-uncle. Benton, the politician, was a Missouri senator. He was perhaps the greatest proponent of westward expansion called manifest destiny.

Benton lobbied for three expeditions to explore the west. He saw to it that his son-in-law John C. Fremont would lead them. It was Carson who Fremont chose as his guide.

In a side bar our seventh president Andrew Jackson died in 1845 with a musket ball in his lung that he carried since a dual with Benton in 1813. It’s amazing how many of the great leaders of our country are connected. That dual did not stop the two from becoming friends and supporting each other when Jackson was president.

If only our current politicians could get along so well after a disagreement.

Much of the Blood and Thunder story happens in New Mexico. Two interesting facts concerning New Mexico. The New Mexico capital, Santa Fe, is the oldest state capital city in the United States, founded by the Spanish in 1610. To put this in perspective, the pilgrims from the Mayflower founded their colony in the new world in 1620.

Second, the New Mexico territory in the 1800’s covered everything from Texas to California. During the civil war the southern third of New Mexico separated to support the confederacy calling itself Arizona. The Arizona we know now became the last of the contiguous states  to be admitted to the union, achieving statehood in 1912.

Last week The Advocate included some historical stories about the first ladies of America. I hope you took some time to read it. Each one of our first ladies made some great contributions to America and the each has a wonderful story. Did you know that our current first lady, Melaina Trump was not the first  president’s wife who was a professional model? She the second foreign-born woman to hold the title of First Lady. If you want to know who else was a model, and who was the other foreign-born First Lady read last week’s Advcoate. 

You can find most of this information on Wikipedia, but it is so much more interesting with the details from a good book.

Time to get back to my current book “Three Days In January” — by Bret Baier about Dwight Eisenhower’s final mission.