The westward push of the Americans followed a radically different course. Its vanguard was not federal troops and federal forts but simple farmers imbued with a fierce Calvinist work ethic, steely optimism, and a cold-eyed aggressiveness that made them refuse to yield even in the face of extreme danger. They were said to fear God so much that there was no fear left over for anyone or anything else.24
The first settlers ever to see true horse Indians were the Texans, because it was in Texas where human settlement first arrived at the edges of the Great Plains. The Indians they encountered were primitive nomads and superb riders, nothing at all like the relatively civilized, largely agrarian, village-dwelling tribes of the East who traveled and fought on foot and presented relatively easy targets for white militias and armies. The horse Indians lived beyond the forests in an endless, trackless, and mostly waterless expanse of undulating grass that was itself terrifying to white men. They resembled...
In the moments before Ross’s raid, she had been quite as primitive as any other Plains Indian; packing thousands of pounds of buffalo meat onto mules, covered from head to toe in blood and grease, literally immersed in this elemental world that never quite left the Stone Age—a world of ceaseless toil, hunger, constant war, and early death. But also of pure magic, of beaver ceremonies and eagle dances, of spirits that inhabited springs, trees, rocks, turtles, and crows; a place where people danced all night and sang bear medicine songs, where wolf medicine made a person invulnerable to bullets,...