The title of Paul Goble’s book Death of the Iron Horse alone is an interpretation of how the Cheyenne Native Americans felt about westward expansion. The Iron Horse is their description of the train. The tone of the book is mythical. It begins with a prophecy that the “white men” would destroy the Cheyenne’s way of life. As this prophecy is coming true a group of young Cheyenne warriors embark on a mission to destroy the “Iron Horse.” Their attempt is successful when they use tomahawks and knives to chop the railroad ties, though they know their victory will be short lived as another train approaches carrying soldiers.
Death of the Iron Horse is an engaging book told from the perspective of the Cheyenne people. It details the struggles the Cheyenne faced as Westward expansion encroached on their land. It focuses on the railroad that was being built at the time. With the train came settlers and soldiers who threatened their way of life.
Death of the Iron Horse is a fictional account of a factual event. Author Paul Goble provides an introduction at the beginning of his book explaining the real event that took place in 1867. He states, “On August 7, 1867, a Union Pacific freight train was derailed by Cheyennes. The tribe opposed the construction through their land. The Civil War had recently ended, and the might of the army was turned to driving the Indians onto reservations. The unequal struggle was almost over. The derailment was only a minor incident, but one that the Cheyenne people have remembered with pride and amusement. This book is loosely based on the incident. It tells a story of courage against the steam locomotive.”
The title of the book itself is authentic to the time. Death of the Iron Horse represents how the Cheyenne perceived this new invention, the train. “The Iron Horse was coming...Thundering and panting and breathing black smoke, it was a fearsome thing.” The Cheyenne people had never seen a steam locomotive before, and it terrified them. The names used in the book are in English; however they represent names used by Cheyenne at the time. The prophet’s name is Sweet Medicine and the young warriors have Cheyenne names such as Spotted wolf, Red Wolf, Yellow Bull, Big Foot and Sleeping Rabbit.
The story takes place in 1867 during construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. It depicts the true events of the time when American soldiers relocated Native Americans from the Great Plains. The story describes the fear many Cheyenne had of the “Iron Horse,” they were unfamiliar with this new technology and mistrusted it with reason.
Other immigrants who struggled with inequalities and injustices during the time. Freed slaves who faced issues of discrimination. To gain a full understanding of the inequalities, injustices and discrimination faced by numerous groups during this time, other books will have to be incorporated into the lesson. Narratives from American soldiers and settlers would provide insight from the opposing side.
This book details the injustices that were carried out by the “white men” on the Cheyenne. Goble states, “Soldiers attacked and burned the tipi villages. They killed women and children and drove off the horses.” The book illustrates how even though defeat was imminent, the Cheyenne displayed courage as they stood up to the Iron Horse. It also exposes the impact modern transportation has had on the environment. A Cheyenne prophet in the book recalls a dream he had where, “hairy people tear open our mother, the earth, exposing her bones and they bound her with iron bands.”
Students can locate on a map Omaha Nebraska where the event took place. They can research the culture and traditions of the Cheyenne and determine what impact Westward expansion had on their way of life. Students can continue to investigate the conflicts other Native Americans had with American Soldiers, for example, The Battle of Little Big Horn.