A man heads into Indian territory in 1837.
When the banking system fails and his work as a New Orleans musician dries up, Benjamin January, a free man of color, leaves his pregnant wife Rose to venture west with Lieutenant Abishag Shaw of the New Orleans City Guards. Shaw will pay him to help find out how his young brother Johnny came to be scalped at Fort Ivy, a fur-trade station some six weeks’ distance beyond the frontier. Shaw’s other brother, Tom, head man at the fort, discounts the story that Johnny ran afoul of a marauding Blackfoot. He believes that Johnny died because of Boden and Hepplewhite, two men intent on causing trouble at the summer Rendezvous. Tracking them, Shaw, January and his recovering opium addict friend Hannibal (Dead and Buried, 2010, etc.) learn of skirmishes between the Hudson Bay Company and the American Fur Company for beaver pelts; the near-rape of a member of the Omahas; and an old dead man left naked by hands that could have belonged to Omahas, Sioux, Blackfeet, Crows, Delawares, Shoshones or even Manitou Wildman, the raging giant whose boxing skills almost defeated January. Seven white men and many Indians will die before the New Orleans contingent is captured by the Crows and delayed justice is meted out.
An absorbing if appalling look at whiskey debauchery, suspect rifle trading, smallpox devastation, a mass poisoning endeavor, the decimation of the beaver population and grisly confrontations with warring tribes, all of which surround a classic whodunit.