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About The Book

This acclaimed New York Times bestselling biography of the legendary Sioux warrior Red Cloud, is a page-turner with remarkable immediacy…and the narrative sweep of a great Western” (The Boston Globe).

Red Cloud was the only American Indian in history to defeat the United States Army in a war, forcing the government to sue for peace on his terms. At the peak of Red Cloud’s powers the Sioux could claim control of one-fifth of the contiguous United States and the loyalty of thousands of fierce fighters. But the fog of history has left Red Cloud strangely obscured. Now, thanks to the rediscovery of a lost autobiography, and painstaking research by two award-winning authors, the story of the nineteenth century’s most powerful and successful Indian warrior can finally be told.

In this astonishing untold story of the American West, Bob Drury and Tom Clavin restore Red Cloud to his rightful place in American history in a sweeping and dramatic narrative based on years of primary research. As they trace the events leading to Red Cloud’s War, they provide intimate portraits of the many lives Red Cloud touched—mountain men such as Jim Bridger; US generals like William Tecumseh Sherman, who were charged with annihilating the Sioux; fearless explorers, such as the dashing John Bozeman; and the memorable warriors whom Red Cloud groomed, like the legendary Crazy Horse. And at the center of the story is Red Cloud, fighting for the very existence of the Indian way of life.

“Unabashed, unbiased, and disturbingly honest, leaving no razor-sharp arrowhead unturned, no rifle trigger unpulled....a compelling and fiery narrative” (USA TODAY), this is the definitive chronicle of the conflict between an expanding white civilization and the Plains Indians who stood in its way.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Heart of Everything That Is includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Though he was the only American Indian ever to defeat the United States Army in a war, the incredible story of the Sioux warrior Red Cloud was, for a long time, lost to history. In an era when expansion westward was at the forefront of the U.S. government’s mind, Red Cloud and his army of Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors mounted a powerful defense against the white man’s invasion of their lands—so powerful that they ultimately forced the U.S. government to sue for peace on their terms. This was an outcome that had never occurred before—and would never occur again. In The Heart of Everything That Is, Bob Drury and Tom Clavin tell the story of Red Cloud’s rise to power against the backdrop of an exciting, dangerous, and in many ways tragic epoch, when American Indian warriors like Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull battled for the lushest hunting grounds and the prospect of gold and adventure lured men like John Bozeman and Nelson Story to the West. But even among these great men, Red Cloud stands out as having lived nothing short of an epic life, first overcoming his lack of patriarchal lineage to become an elite headman and great warrior, and then managing to gather many disparate, angry tribes under his leadership and proving to the U.S. government that he and his warriors would not abandon their land or their traditions without a long and bloody fight.  

Topics & Questions for Discussion 

1. Part I opens with a quote by Walter Prescott Webb: “East of the Mississippi civilization stood on three legs—land, water and timber. West of the Mississippi not one but two of those legs were withdrawn—water and timber. Civilization was left on one leg—land. It is a small wonder that it toppled over in temporary failure.” How does this quote set the stage for the book? Do you think this quote aptly sums up the conflict between the U.S. Army and American Indians?
2. In one sense, before and during Red Cloud’s War, both sides were fighting for land. But the reality was much more complicated. Is it fair to say that the Indians were fighting to preserve their way of life, while the army was fighting for ownership of territory? How would you describe the motivations of the two sides?
3. Consider that during the Revolutionary War, the U.S. Army employed the same guerilla-style tactics that Red Cloud was using against them, and was successful in defeating the British. Given this, do you think if the U.S. military had re-planned its strategy and adopted the Sioux style of warfare, it would have been more successful in driving off Red Cloud’s forces? Conversely, do you think that if Red Cloud had tried harder to adopt some of the militaristic maneuvers of the army, he might have kept the white invaders out of Indian lands for a longer period of time?
4. The authors mention that it was said after the Civil War that “Abe Lincoln may have freed all men, but Sam Colt made them equal.” How true do you find this statement? If the Indians had been equipped with the same caliber of guns the U.S. Army had, do you feel that the outcome of Red Cloud’s War might have been different?
5. The battle for western territory took somewhat of a hiatus as the Civil War was being waged back east. What do you think of Lincoln’s attitude toward the Indians? Do you find it incongruous that he was fighting a war that was, at least in part, about abolishing the slavery of one people, yet on the other side of the country, his own men were fighting to, at the very least, severely rein in the freedom of another people?
6. How did Red Cloud’s childhood determine the man and warrior he grew up to be? If he had not been forced to struggle so hard for acceptance and work so hard to earn his status among his people, do you think the fight against the white man’s invasion would have meant nearly as much to him?
7. Did the tragedy of Red Cloud’s romance with Pine Leaf change the way you viewed him? Did it surprise you that he chose to remain monogamous after Pine Leaf’s suicide?
8. The authors point out that “Sherman was slow to recognize that the progress of civilization would be more effective in subduing the Indians than any act of war.” Do you think a lot of bloodshed and hardship might have been saved if the United States had stepped back and simply let modernization (for example, the construction of the railroads) do the work of conquering the West, rather than soldiers?
9. One of the biggest problems Red Cloud faced was that it was impossible to truly unite so many tribes, even though they all wanted the same thing. Given the ingrained lifestyle of many of the Plains Indians as small bands of nomadic, conquering peoples who were constantly fighting each other, do you think their fate, heartbreaking as it was, was inevitable? Can you think of an example in history that proves otherwise?
10. Do you feel the authors maintained impartiality throughout the book? Did you find yourself consistently sympathetic to Red Cloud and the Sioux, or was it hard for you to reconcile the brutality of their warrior mindset with the difficulty of their situation? Is it fair to judge them for their violent methods, given that they held all opponents (other Indians and white men alike) to the same standard, while the U.S. soldiers obviously did not? Do you feel the Indians had no choice but to be vicious in the face of U.S. edicts such as “kill every male over the age of twelve”?
11. The writing of this book would not have been possible without the discovery of Red Cloud’s autobiography. Yet given that human error and human emotion play a large part in how we recall and record events, how accurate do you feel our picture of any historical event truly is? The authors also drew heavily on correspondence and diary entries from the period. How would you compare the importance of letters and journals in the nineteenth century to the present day? How have our methods of keeping records and sharing news changed? What sources do you think historians will use to piece together stories 100 years from now?
12. One thing Red Cloud’s War proved was that newspapers and other news sources could dramatically influence collective opinion. At the time, many newspapers exaggerated incidents, or simply reported facts incorrectly—and people (understandably) believed what they read, much to the Indians’ detriment. Do you think the same problem still occurs with news reporting today?
13. After the loss to Red Cloud, everyone involved in the so-called Fetterman Massacre tried to avoid being held responsible. Who, if anyone, do you think was to blame? Was it Fetterman himself, or Henry Carrington? Do you think Ten Eyck truly played a role in the defeat, as Carrington subtly implied in his written reprimand to the captain (“You could’ve saved two miles toward the scene of action if you had taken Lodge Trail Ridge”)?
14. When asked why the United States fought Red Cloud, General Bisbee wrote, “My only answer could be we did it for Civilization.” What is your interpretation of this answer? Do you think it is an honest response, and that this is what most of the U.S. soldiers truly believed? Do you think the United States would be a very different place now if we had learned to accept different interpretations of the word “civilized” during this time?
15. Were you surprised to learn that, despite his immense victory in getting the U.S. Army to agree to peace on his terms, Red Cloud’s coup lasted only one short year before the U.S. began to renege on the deal? Do you think the government should have done a better job of ensuring that the men on the ground followed the orders coming from Washington regarding this treaty?
16. Once he moved onto the Pine Ridge Reservation, Red Cloud decided he would adapt to the “white man’s lifestyle.” What do you think of his decision? In your opinion, what is the legacy of Red Cloud?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Nelson Story is among the many famous men mentioned in The Heart of Everything That Is, a cowboy and trailblazer who journeyed from Fort Worth, Texas, to Montana, eventually becoming Montana’s first millionaire. His “epic cattle drive” was one of the inspirations for Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. Read McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel as your next book club pick (or schedule a viewing of the TV miniseries starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones), and compare the fictional and nonfictional portrayals of the American West.
2. In the notes, the authors also mention a little-known DVD titled The Authorized Biography of Crazy Horse and His Family. Watch it together to learn more about the daring warrior who played a vital role in Red Cloud’s offensive.
3. Listen to authors Bob Drury and Tom Clavin discuss The Heart of Everything That Is in an interview with NPR’s Renee Montagne. You can download the interview and read the transcript on NPR’s website:
4. Pemmican, a nutritious and energy-laden jerkylike mixture, was a staple food of the western Indians. Whip up a batch and enjoy it at book club (or plan a hike and carry it along as fuel for the way). If you are feeling adventurous, you can even use buffalo meat! There are many websites with recipes and resources (for example, see
5. During the time of Red Cloud’s War, photography was a just-emerging art, and the ill-fated Ridgeway Glover traveled out west specifically to take tintypes (photographs shot on metal plates that had been coated with a light-sensitive emulsion). While you may not be able to use the original equipment Glover carried, you can create your own faux tintypes by following this great Instagram tutorial:

About The Authors

Photograph © Anne Drager

Bob Drury is the author/coauthor/editor of nine books. He has written for numerous publications, including The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Men’s Journal, and GQ. He is currently a contributing editor and foreign correspondent for Men’s Health. He lives in Manasquan, New Jersey.

Anne Drager

Tom Clavin is the author or coauthor of sixteen books. For fifteen years he wrote for The New York Times and has contributed to such magazines as Golf, Men's Journal, Parade, Reader’s Digest, and Smithsonian. He is currently the investigative features correspondent for Manhattan Magazine. He lives in Sag Harbor, New York.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (November 5, 2013)
  • Length: 432 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451654707

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Raves and Reviews

“A ripping yarn . . . A quintessentially Western tale of bold exploits, tough characters, brutal conditions and a lost way of life, this sounds like the sort of story that practically tells itself. Yet you only realize how little justice most popular histories do to their source material when you come across a book, like this one, that does everything right. It’s customary to say of certain nonfiction books — gussied up with plenty of 'color' and psychological speculation — that they 'read like a novel,' but truth be told, most of the time we’d have to be talking about a pretty mediocre novel. The Heart of Everything That Is, on the other hand, resembles the good ones. There were times, turning its pages, when I could almost smell the pines of the Black Hills, feel the icy wind tearing down from Canada across the prairie and hear the hooves of the buffalo pounding the earth.”

– Laura Miller, Salon

“Exquisitely told . . . Remarkably detailed . . . The story of Red Cloud's unusual guile and strategic genius makes the better-known Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse pale in comparison. . . . This is no knee-jerk history about how the West was won, or how the West was lost. This historical chronicle is unabashed, unbiased and disturbingly honest, leaving no razor-sharp arrowhead unturned, no rifle trigger unpulled. . . . A compelling and fiery narrative.”

– USA Today

“Vivid . . . Lively . . . A tale of lies, trickery, and brutal slaughter . . . In telling the story of Red Cloud, Messrs. Drury and Clavin appropriately bring a number of the larger-than-life figures from that time onstage . . . [and] chronicle in considerable detail the shameful treatment of the Indians across the plains and the destruction of their ancient way of life.”

– Christopher Corbett, The Wall Street Journal

“A page turner . . . Drawing on archives, letters, and a long-lost autobiography written toward the end of Red Cloud’s life, the narrative has a remarkable immediacy . . . [and] the narrative sweep of a great Western.”

– Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe

“Valuable . . . Meticulous . . . [A] remarkable story . . . The writers don’t shy away from the atrocities on both sides of the gruesome, long-running conflict between the Indians and the U.S. forces. But when, for the umpteenth time, U.S. officials break a contract as soon as the glint of gold is spotted in the hills, one cannot help but feel that there’s all the more reason to celebrate one of the Sioux’s most impressive fighters.”

– Smithsonian

“The authors paint a full and vivid picture of the Oglala Sioux leader . . . The story of Red Cloud is presented here with all the tension and excitement of a good Western novel. . . . The narrative is gripping but not sentimental, and it is well-sourced, drawing, for example, on Red Cloud’s autobiography, lost for nearly a century, and the papers of many others who knew Red Cloud’s War.”

– Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Astounding . . . A tour de force of historical storytelling . . . The Heart of Everything That Is is grand in scope and beautifully observed. . . . Together, [Drury and Clavin] have managed a feat of scholarship that interweaves ethnological brilliance and an insightful reinterpretation of Indian culture from the point of view of the Sioux.”

– The Wichita Eagle

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