SHADOW CATCHER by Charles Fergus


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 Deftly written account of a 1913 cross-country expedition to record the surviving members of Indian tribes and offer them citizenship, after which they were conveniently to fade forever into the sunset. In his novel, in which some of the characters are real, Fergus takes for his text the Rodman Wanamaker expedition. Wanamaker, the department store nabob, has conceived of a colossal Indian, dwarfing the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor and housing pictures and mementos of the great tribes pledging allegiance. A collecting expedition leaves via Wanamaker's private railroad car, carrying, among others, Dixon--a shady ecclesiastic who has toadied favor with Wanamaker--and Fry, the ``shadow catcher'' who wears a concealed camera under his clothes. The expedition proceeds from triumph to triumph: in Mescalero, an Apache attempts to knife Fry; in Pueblo, the Indians refuse to sign the Declaration of Allegiance unless they get something better than a piece of paper from it; Kickapoos reply to Dixon's stirring oratory (``...this bold new century! ...this stirring modern age!'') with jeers, finally flinging their cigarettes on the stand, saying, ``Bullshit!'' and departing. Along the way, Buffalo Bill Cody turns up: he's starring in a movie shoot with real Indians. Only problem is, he's so drunk he keeps passing out in the saddle. From the wings of a subplot appears Annie Owns the Fire. In the last 40 pages, Miss Owns the Fire (boy, does she ever) is raped, takes her revenge, falls in love with Fry, splits, then ``tracks'' Fry down and they are promptly united in everlasting bliss. Despite this last contrivance, Fergus compellingly evokes the twilight of the Indian and the Old West, with the tribes' attending train of vultures. Readers who usually skip history as too dry will enjoy this. (Thirty-two historic photographs.)

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 1991
ISBN: 0-939149-55-9
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Soho
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1991


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