Hampton Sides

Blood and Thunder

  • 66-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 46 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer with a Master's degree
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Blood and Thunder Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 66-page guide for “Blood and Thunder” by Hampton Sides includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 46 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 46 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Kit Carson as the Personification of the West and The Power and Pitfalls of Celebrity.

Plot Summary

Published in 2001, Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West is a narrative history of the turbulent period from the 1800s to the 1860s, the “settling” of the American West. It frames the transformation of America into a transcontinental power through the life story of Christopher “Kit” Carson, a larger-than-life frontiersman, guide, and army officer who assisted the conquest every step of the way. Blood and Thunder is not author Hampton Sides’s first foray into narrative history and literary nonfiction. He is also the acclaimed author of Hellhound on His Trail, Ghost Stories, On Desperate Ground, and he has twice been nominated for National Magazine Awards. The New York Times calls Blood and Thunder “a full-blown history, and Sides does every part of it justice.” This study guide refers to the Google Play edition.

Book 1, “The New Men,” covers the beginning of the Mexican-American War through the arrival of the Army of the West in Santa Fe. President James K. Polk declares war on Mexico, eager to extend the boundaries of the United States from coast to coast. The New Mexicans, waiting in trepidation for American troops, suffer the raids of an older and more familiar enemy: the Navajo. Kit Carson goes and becomes a mountain man in 1826. He carves out a niche as a trapper and marries his first wife, Singing Grass, but the way of the mountain men goes belly up due to economic pressures and over-hunting. Carson joins John Fremont, son-in-law of the prime mover of American expansion, Thomas Hart Benton, to create guides and maps for American expansion west; they soon become entangled in the Mexican-American conflict.

The personalities and cultural forces behind the concept of Manifest Destiny, including Polk and Benton, are introduced, and the imagined upbringing of their greatest leader, Narbona, provides a crash course on Navajo. A wise and charismatic man, Narbona is increasingly fearful of what American incursion will mean for his people. Meanwhile, Stephen Watts Kearney takes up Polk’s war against the Mexicans, leading the Army of the West across the Great Plains to engage the Mexicans.

In Book 2, “The Broken Country,” the Mexican-American War intensifies. Kearny and Carson team up to rescue Fremont and others in California and fight the Mexicans all over the Southwest, sometimes to disastrous effect. Even after the war is over, the region remains unstable. Meanwhile, efforts are being made to negotiate peace treaties between the Navajo and the United States, but cultural differences mean peace rarely lasts long, despite Narbona’s best efforts. The great leader himself is killed in one such encounter, strengthening the pro-war factions of the Navajo. Intimately tied up in all these events, Kit Carson’s celebrity grows.

In Book 3, “Monster Slayer,” Sides turns his attention to the American Civil War and the Indian wars. Carson joins General Edward Canby to assist the Union in ejecting the Confederates, led by Henry Hopkins Sibley, from the Southwest. Meanwhile, Navajo aggression escalates, and the United States brings in a new Indian agent, James Henry Carleton. Carleton, determined to defeat and relocate many tribes of the Southwest, including the Navajo, innovates the concept of Indian reservations. He enlists the great Indian hunter, Carson, who crushes the Navajo and moves them to a reservation prepared by Carleton, but the experiment is a total failure. Blood and Thunder ends with Carson’s death and the Navajo returning to a new reservation—this time in their ancestral homeland.

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