"George Black rediscovers the history and lore of one of the planet's most magnificent landscapes. Read Empire of Shadows, and you'll never think of our first—in many ways our greatest—national
park in the same way again."
—Hampton Sides, author of Blood and Thunder
Empire of Shadows is the epic story of the conquest of Yellowstone, a landscape uninhabited, inaccessible and shrouded in myth in the aftermath of the Civil War. In a radical reinterpretation of the nineteenth century West, George Black casts Yellowstone's creation as the culmination of three interwoven strands of history - the passion for exploration, the violence of the Indian Wars and the "civilizing" of the frontier - and charts its course through the lives of those who sought to lay bare its mysteries: Lt. Gustavus Cheyney Doane, a gifted but tormented cavalryman known as "the man who invented Wonderland"; the ambitious former vigilante leader Nathaniel Langford; scientist Ferdinand Hayden, who brought photographer William Henry Jackson and painter Thomas Moran to Yellowstone; and Gen. Phil Sheridan, Civil War hero and architect of the Indian Wars, who finally succeeded in having the new National Park placed under the protection of the US Cavalry. George Black¹s Empire of Shadows is a groundbreaking historical account of the origins of America¹s majestic national landmark.
Black (The Trout Pool Paradox) takes the reader on a momentous and bloody ride through the terrain of the unconquered West. Black warns readers against "presentism" "the danger of relying on contemporary values to pass moral judgments on people of a different time." Divided into five sections and beginning with the familiar expedition of Lewis and Clark, the book spans nearly the entire 19th century. Lewis and Clark were "uninvited guests in an unknown land, and any tribe they encountered were assumed hostile until proven otherwise," while the Indians were "driven by fear or superstition to avoid the upper Yellowstone." Of course, the dangerous myth surrounding Yellowstone accelerated the explorers' desire to conquer it. As the book continues, the government enters with paleontologists, entomologists, botanists, and mineralogists, among others. Black's clear and concise prose offers some humorous moments; names from a Montana population record include Whiskey Bill, Bummer Dan, Old Phil the Man Eater, and Geo. Hillerman, "The Great American Pie-Biter." Though his book is highly readable, Black must remind the reader of all the players using a dramatis personae that is almost as daunting as the wild landscape itself.
This is an absolutely amazing book that doesn’t pull any punches in addressing the incredible history of the Yellowstone region.