DESPERATE CROSSING by Barbara Riefe

DESPERATE CROSSING

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 This 1865 tale of a young woman captured by warriors of the Oglala tribe in the Northwest re-creates the hatred seething among Indians, Army troops, and settlers--but with characters who sometimes fail to convince. In previous novels in Riefe's Iroquois series (Mohawk Woman, 1996, etc.), the author persuasively evoked torturous 18th-century tensions between whites and Native Americans. Here, Cincinnatian John Pryor, his young wife Jenny, and their seven-year-old adopted daughter Mary join a wagon train headed for Oregon. Near Fort Laramie, the party is attacked by Oglalas. Many of the settlers are killed, while Jenny, Mary, another woman, and a child are captured. Jenny plans an escape for the other three, who get away, but warriors return with their scalps. Jenny herself becomes one of the wives of the ancient chief, Ottawa. Meanwhile, John begins his frantic, furious search. The Army can't help; there are only 15,000 troops, and 300,000 Indian warriors are spread over a vast territory. John is sent for information to an ill-paid, but honest Indian agent, heavy-drinking Lincoln Hammer, who knows the score: ``The Indians know they're gradually losing everything . . . they know the sun's going down for them . . . every wagon they burn, every scalp they take delays extinction by a few minutes.'' At the same time, Jenny is living through her own ordeal, even keeping her junior high school guidance-teacherlike attitude intact (``Is being nice to him so hard?''). Before a ``happy'' ending built on tragedy, there are some fantastic treks and the slaughter of an entire fort's company. Jenny also deals not only with tomahawks and murder, but with a madman and his wagonload of corpses. Despite the limp characterizations, a rugged tale of survival with some haunting reminders of dark episodes in American history.

Pub Date: Dec. 9th, 1997
ISBN: 0-312-86071-4
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Forge
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1997




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