Spirit Lake is but one of many names in early American frontier history. The Spirit Lake massacre -- the raid along the Little Sioux River in Iowa- the somewhat abortive Relief Expedition, and other aspects of this story are rooted in fact, in contemporary records, in files of the early settlements, and so on. To all of this MacKinlay Kantor has brought the breath of life. He has recreated for the reader (who has the fortitude to stay with the whole of his 900 and 57 pages) the panorama of personalities, individuals and families from their known -- and suspected sources -- through the pattern of their journeyings until they put down roots in the far frontiers, strengthened by their dreams, their aspirations, their faith. Into a motley assembly of varying nationalities and backgrounds -- most of them were simple, untutored folk -- they found themselves bound by common hopes, shared dangers and hardships, cold and famine, and in ignorance of how to cope with what confronted them. A few brought training of sorts; most learned in the doing. The Indians -- they were told -- offered no threat, though wandering bands might seek food and create mischief. None expected the wanton ferocity and greed of one band of outlaws; none dreamed the grim end would be massacre. The story is told in successive panels which gradually fit into a whole. Separate incidents add color and drama, tragedy, and occasional humor. Together it is an integral part of the American panorama. Much of the telling is sheer poetry -- in the old saga tradition. Some of it is legend and myth. There is variety, and pace and a zest for story telling. That sometimes it drags could be forgiven were it not unduly long -- at times unnecessarily tedious. But in the main immensely rewarding.