If you throw a stone

In the spirit of Peter Matthiessen

By William Wetherall

A version of this article appeared in
Mainichi Daily News, 2 May 1992, page 9 (Spring Paperback Roundup)

A review of
Peter Matthiessen
In the Spirit of Crazy Horse
New York: Viking Penguin, 1991 (1983)
646 pages, paperback

If you throw a stone at a pack of dogs, the one you hit barks. Peter Matthiessen's In The Spirit of Crazy Horse (Penguin, US$14.00) caused a former state governor and the FBI to bark in court, but all libel charges against the author and Viking, his hardcover publisher, were dismissed. The key decision upheld the right "to publish an entirely one-sided view of people and events" in order to provide the public with alternative opinions on a controversial issue: the trial of Leonard Peltier (part Sioux, part Ojibwa, part French, other parts unspecified), accused and convicted of killing two FBI agents in a shoot-out near Oglala on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in 1975. Faced with censorial litigation, Viking withdrew the book soon after its 1983 release, but it issued a new edition in 1991, with an epilogue updating the Peltier case (which, in 1987, the Supreme Court refused to review), and an afterword summarizing the libel suits. Oliver Stone and others have shown interest in the story. But whoever's camera faithfully follows the arch of Matthiessen's stone will have to show how, over the past 150 years, the best liars, cheaters, thieves, murderers, and censors in the United States government have been unable to entirely conquer the spirit of the racially amalgamating descendants of America's original settlers.