Turning history on its head
Joseph Marshall brings blueprint for leaders to Durango

SideStory: Meet the author

by Joe Foster

Joseph Marshall is one of my favorite authors. I’ve had the opportunity so see him speak a few times, most recently (and notably) when he accepted a regional Book of the Year Award for his book The Day the World Ended at Little Bighorn. Gracious, commanding, funny and profound, his acceptance speech has been one of the highlights of my book-dork career. He’s written almost a dozen books, and continues to garner a very loyal following among smart people who like good books. I cannot stress enough how much of a joy it is to see this guy speak.

The first Marshall book I read was The Journey of Crazy Horse, a biography of probably the most revered Lakota Sioux. There have been countless books written about Crazy Horse, a few of which I’ve read, but few if any from the Lakota perspective. It’s usually white guys, probably the ones who wear bolo ties without irony, who tackle the subject; a devastatingly appropriative phenomenon. Marshall’s take was fantastic reading; Crazy Horse as a man, rather than a symbol. In his award-winning follow-up, or at least it felt like a sequel to me, The Day the World Ended at Little Bighorn, Marshall uses the same treatment to explain that fateful battle known to most of us as Custer’s Last Stand. Taking the history previously known only through the Lakota oral tradition, Marshall stands previous histories on their heads. This is an important historical work, and I loved it.

His latest project has been a series of historical fiction titles that retell the Lakota history in terrific detail, breathing life into the legends. Starting with Hundred in the Hand and continuing with the latest, The Long Knives are Crying, he calls these Lakota Westerns. Seriously, if you’re into the Western genre at all, you have to check these out. Truly outstanding works.

Marshall is currently touring, though, for his latest title The Power of Four, a treatise on character-based leadership using the character traits the Lakota revere, and that Crazy Horse embodied so well. Very much a critique of politics and politicians, The Power of Four makes a strong case against our current form of government in which a political leader is, first and foremost, a politician. Let’s face it, that system is broken and ugly, despite the awe-inspiring events of this past week. Actually this inaugural week was brought to you by character, and a leader with enough of it to change the way we view the office of POTUS, which goes toward the premise of the book, I think. With examples, stories and history, Marshall shows the ways in which Crazy Horse evolved into the great leader whose name we all still know. The culture that raised Crazy Horse was largely responsible for his character – small, close-knit communities that care and nurture its members wind up raising men and women who care about their communities, naturally. Marshall’s view made me yearn for a culture in which character, humility, skill, fortitude and humor were rewarded as strongly as ambition and hubris are in our current state.

One has to wonder how much we have truly lost as our communities have dissolved in the shadow of modernity. What loneliness will future generations inflict on themselves? At what point will we realize that the good parts of being human have disappeared, and that awful lonely abyss that Nietzsche warned us about has stopped staring because we’re too boring? Community, fellowship, friends and family are the answers, and we need leaders to show us how to find our way back. The Power of Four is a blueprint, of sorts, for those leaders. •



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows