Jean Afton, David Fridtjof & Andrew E. Masich,
Cheyenne Dog Soldiers: A Ledgerbook History of Coups & Combat
(University Press of Colorado & Colorado Historical Society, 1997)

Cheyenne Dog Soldiers: A Ledgerbook History of Coups & Combat is a very different kind of art book. This is the warrior-artists' artwork that was found in a ledgerbook when the 5th U.S. Cavalry attacked Tall Bull's Cheyenne Dog Soldiers village on July 11, 1869. This is the authentic history of the Cheyenne Dog Soldier's exploits in retaliation for the massacre of Chief Black Kettle's people at Sand Creek.

More importantly, it is the authentic history as recorded by the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers themselves! As such, it is a historical first and takes its place among the true collector's items of rare American Indian books.

The Dog Soldier Ledgerbook is a hardbound, composition-type ledgerbook with ruled pages. It originally contained 144 pages, but 30 pages were missing when it was found. Experts believe the ledgerbook was taken during the Jan. 7, 1865 raid on Julesburg, Colo., but there is no way to be certain.

The introduction provides the background information about the Cheyenne's problems with the U.S. government and incidents leading up to the Dog Soldiers' open war against the whites. It explains about ledgerbook artwork in general and this particular ledgerbook specifically. It is extremely interesting to learn how they established the dates of the artwork and battles in the book. The most minute details, and lack of specific details, provide clues to the identity of the persons and the battle. That portion of the book has much in common with logic puzzles.

This book includes each plate (page from the ledgerbook) with at least one page of written explanation that includes an introduction to the art, a section each for the warrior depicted, the enemy depicted, commentary and style. The style section tells the name of the artist, if known, and tells what patterns he follows with his artwork.

Photographs are scattered throughout the book that show the people and components found in the art. Some examples are a collection of bullets and cartridges, Whirlwind holding his tomahawk, a bear paw shield, sheet-iron arrowheads, a collection of carbines and a private on his horse.

The final 125 pages are an eclectic mixture of information that includes "Chronology of Cheyenne Military Actions, 1864-1869," "Name Glyphs & Warrior Identification" "Horse Nomenclature," "Structure of the Ledgerbook," "Identification of Ledgerbook Artists by Stylistic Elements," "Layout of the Ledgerbook," "Indian Equipment," "Cavalry Equipment" and a complete, full-color reproduction of the oldest Cheyenne ledgerbook art -- a pocket notebook -- other than the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers Ledgerbook, known to exist.

Cheyenne Dog Soldiers is a huge book. It is big and thick, with 400 pages. Everything about this book is excellent and it should appeal to almost anyone with an interest in history, art, American Indians, battles, action or just one heck of a good story. The authors did a fine job of providing the history in story form alongside the drawings and in many cases you will actually hold your breath as you read the accounts of the skirmishes. These warriors recorded the good, the bad and the funny. Their artwork will elicit every emotion you possess. This is one fine read! (I suspect that this book would also especially appeal to the cartoon lovers of the world.)

book review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

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