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Oh What a Slaughter

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What at first seems a narrow, eccentric subject — six massacres involving the Army, white settlers, and Native Americans in the late 19th century — is, in fact, entirely universal and topical. Man’s inclination to perpetuate ”a perfect butchery,” as Kit Carson described the 1846 Sacramento River Massacre, lives on, as do the motivations for the savagery: apprehension, the coveting of land or mineral rights, and the affliction of thinking ”the worst about those who are not as we are.” Ferocious violence has played a role in Larry McMurtry’s fiction (Lonesome Dove) and nonfiction (Crazy Horse), and as always he approaches the topic with measured gentility and weary humor: ”Massacres may be many things, but they are never neat — they might be considered the very antithesis of neatness.” Among those many things is, especially in McMurtry’s deft hands, a riveting cautionary tale found in Oh What a Slaughter.