Johnson draws the reader into the book from the first page by starting with a well-written account of Sitting Bull’s first foray into battle at the age of fourteen. She describes the preparation in the tepee village, the riding out of the war party, the fight with enemies, and the triumphant return of the tribe and the young Sitting Bull. In doing this she uses writing techniques more often associated with fiction—she details thoughts and dialogue not on the historical record. This style, which is used mainly in the early part of the book, sketches a vivid account of traditional Sioux ways—ways that, according to Johnson’s book, Sitting Bull thought would continue throughout his life.
Johnson is sympathetic to Native Americans but does not sanitize Sitting Bull or the Sioux warrior life-style. People were routinely killed in the struggle for control of territory and animals. Cruelty to members of other tribes was common. Johnson describes a mercy killing by Sitting Bull—when he shot a captured Crow woman rather than see her be burned alive by Sioux women—as an act of compassion. By detailing the anthropological background and the beliefs and integrity of the Indians, Johnson justifies their behavior. For example, Sitting Bull had several wives throughout his life, a common practice among the Sioux of the time. Johnson explains it by citing the greater number of women and the fact that Native Americans always married. She brings out the comic side of the culture clash in a scene describing how a priest, Bishop Marty, tried to persuade Sitting Bull to give up one of his two wives. Sitting Bull agreed—but only if the bishop got...
(The entire section is 675 words.)