'Hancock's War' winner of Great Plains book prize

Released on 05/12/2011, at 2:00 AM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Lincoln, Neb., May 12th, 2011 —
William Y. Chalfant (courtesy University of Oklahoma Press)
William Y. Chalfant (courtesy University of Oklahoma Press)
Dust cover of
Dust cover of "Hancock's War"

"Hancock's War: Conflict on the Southern Plains" by the late William Y. Chalfant is this year's winner of the Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize from the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

James Stubbendieck, director of the center, made the announcement this month at the center's annual fellows meeting.

When Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock led a military expedition across Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska in 1867, his purpose was a show of strength that would intimidate the Indian tribes -- mostly southern Cheyennes, Lakotas, southern Arapahoes and Kiowas -- and curtail Indian raiding sparked by the Sand Creek massacre of 1864. But the havoc Hancock and his troops wrought on the Plains only served to further incite the tribes and inflame passions on both sides, disrupting United States-Indian relations for more than a decade.

Chalfant explores the vastly different ways of life that separated the Cheyennes and U.S. policymakers, and argues that neither side was willing or able to understand the needs of the other. Hancock's efforts were counterproductive, brought untold misery to Indians and whites alike, and led to the wars of 1868.

Chalfant, who died in January, was the author of four other books, including "Cheyennes and Horse Soldiers: The 1857 Expedition and the Battle of Solomon's Fork," a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year for 2002.

In a foreword, Jerome Greene said, "William Y. Chalfant offers the most comprehensive, well-documented and accurate treatment of the so-called Expedition for the Plains to date. Using techniques that have defined his other works about Indian-white warfare on the Plains, Chalfant employs Indian and non-Indian sources to create a narrative reflecting multiple cultural perspectives. This fine work will stand as a literary cornerstone in the history of the West."

Judges for the book prize were UNL faculty members Margaret Jacobs, Andrew Jewell and Robert M. Joeckel. Jacobs said, "'Hancock's War' covers a little-known, but incredibly significant, period of the Indian wars on the Great Plains. The author demonstrates not only an outstanding grasp of the military maneuvers involved but also displays uncommon sensitivity to Indian perspectives."

A cash prize of $5,000 will be presented to Chalfant's family. "Hancock's War" was published by the Arthur H. Clark Co., an imprint of the University of Oklahoma Press. The book also won the Louise Barry Writing Award from the Santa Fe Trail Association.

The Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize was created to emphasize the interdisciplinary importance of the Great Plains in today's publishing and educational market. Only first-edition, full-length, nonfiction books published in 2010 were evaluated for the award. The other finalists were "Bad Land Pastoralism in Great Plains Fiction" by Matthew J. C. Cella (University of Iowa Press); "Bloodshed at Little Bighorn: Sitting Bull, Custer, and the Destinies of Nations" by Tim Lehman (The Johns Hopkins University Press); and "Frontier Feminist: Clarina Howard Nichols and the Politics of Motherhood" by Marilyn S. Blackwell and Kristen T. Oertel (University Press of Kansas).

The Center for Great Plains Studies is an interdisciplinary, intercollegiate, regional research and teaching program chartered in 1976 by the University of Nebraska Board of Regents. Its mission is to promote a greater understanding of the people, culture, history, and environment of the Great Plains through a variety of research, teaching, and outreach programs. For more information, contact the Center for Great Plains Studies at (402) 472-3082 or visit its website, www.unl.edu/plains.

WRITER: Linda Ratcliffe