Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 4, Fall 2009, pp. 321-322


Copyright 2009 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska- Lincoln


Known as the Battle of a Hundred Slain to the Lakota and the Fetterman Massacre to most other Americans, the 1866 battle has been as mythic as the Battle of the Little Big Horn that followed it by a decade. The story is a simple one: Captain William Judd Fetterman viewed his superior, Colonel Henry B. Carrington, as a overcautious coward in dealing with Indian affairs. Seeing an opportunity to defeat a large gtoup of Lakota warriors in northern Wyoming territory, Fetterman disobeyed his orders and attacked what he thought was a small party of Lakotas in the Peno Valley. There were, in fact, more than a thousand warriors in the valley, and this brash move cost Fetterman his life, along with the lives of all eighty-one of the men under his command.

So the story has stood for 140 years-until this book, in which Shannon D. Smith sets the record straight by looking at the powerful tole that women, especially commanders' wives, played in shaping their historical legacy. In Give Me Eighty Men, Smith thoroughly rehabilitates William Judd Fetterman's reputation, revealing him to be a committed army officer with a solid Civil War background who sought to support a contingent of Army cavalry as they charged into a Sioux trap. The heart of this story, however, is not about Fetterman, but about Carrington's first and second wives, and ultimately about the critical role that women and their writings played in creating truth and legend in the post-Civil War West.