Jan 2, 2008

The Last Free Man

the True Story behind the Massacre of Shoshone Mike and his Band of Indians in 1911
by Dayton O. Hyde

I pulled The Last Free Man off my father's shelf to read during a holiday visit. It tells the story of one of the last remaining native americans, a Bannock named Mike Dagget, who with his family remained living off the land in a semi-nomadic existence in Nevada after all other natives had been killed off by white settlers or driven onto reservations. In 1911, Mike's band was accused of murdering four sheepmen, tracked down and killed, leaving only four surviving children. Hyde became fascinated with the story of "Shoshone Mike" and determined to track down details and forgotten truths about what really happened to him. Part of the book relates his search for men who knew Mike or were involved in the posse that killed his family; and his journey to follow the trail of Mike and visit sites where his band had camped. Other sections of the book are told in a more narrative style, portraying what Mike's experience may have been like. In an attempt to understand the natives' perspective, Hyde even spent some time living in the desert solitary, attempting to support himself on what he could catch or gather, just as the natives had done. He relates how white settlers with their cattle and sheep altered the range so much that wildlife was driven out, making it so hard for the natives to survive in their traditional fashion that most gave up and moved to the reservations or assimilated themselves into white society. All except Mike. I cannot say that Hyde was entirely unbiased in his presentation of facts about Mike; but he was certainly attempting to tell Mike's side of the story, as most accounts before treated Mike in a negative light. This book is pretty interesting, although it gets kind of dry and at times I wondered where the text was taking me. I might have given it four stars if it had been easier (more pleasurable) to read.

Rating: 3/5            264 pages, 1973

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