Author Michael Blake is best known for his fictional accounts of the often-violent cultural misunderstandings between Euro-Americans and Native Americans; his novel Dances with Wolves was made into a film and won several Academy Awards. But in his latest book, Indian Yell, Blake shifts his focus from historical fiction to historical fact.

Chronicling 12 of the most significant battles between the U.S. cavalry and tribes during the latter half of the 19th century, Indian Yell is audaciously large in scope but, unfortunately, too small in execution to live up to its subtitle: The Heart of an American Insurgency. Most battles are skimmed over, and the often complicated circumstances leading up to them are either superficially described or omitted altogether.

When Blake does delve a bit deeper, it’s not with new information but with his own interpretation of events, which, he tells us somewhat apologetically, is that of a storyteller rather than a historian. Some of his interpretations are categorical almost to the point of absurdity. A chapter on Crazy Horse ends with the declaration: “To the sentient of all races, the simple fact of Crazy Horse’s existence confirms that divinity can be found in human form.”

But Indian Yell has some fresh insights and moments of eloquence, too. Perhaps its most poignant statement is found on the last page: “The thousands of people living on reservations … are ignored except when the potential for commercial exploitation of their holdings arises. Their blood is praised far and wide, but their lives are avoided.”

The book lacks a bibliography, but at the end of each chapter, Blake lists a book for further study. Indian Yell works best as a sort of travelogue for people interested in the battle scenes of yesteryear. However, those interested in grasping the heart of Native history should pay attention to Blake’s reading recommendations, and consider leaving Indian Yell on the shelf.

Indian Yell: The Heart of an American Insurgency
Michael Blake
170 pages,
hardcover: $21.95.
Northland Publishing, 2006.