An Army intelligence officer investigates an obscure republic in a search of his Native American ancestors.
In the first book he’s published under his own name, Stanton (Tales of Ramasun, 2012, etc., as M.H. Burton) rifles history’s overlooked pages to track down the real story behind the Sioux Uprising of 1862 and its gruesome aftermath. In the process, he stumbles on a nearly forgotten Utopian colony on the banks of the Minnesota River and discovers the dark fate that befell the Native Americans and whites who briefly lived there together in hope. As the novel opens, the narrator, Billy Hartman Lindeman, ponders his Great Aunt Helen’s strange tale about “Indian blood,” purportedly his own, and his family’s connection to a mysterious place called the New Hazelwood Republic. The Rev. Stephen R. Riggs founded Hazelwood in 1856 for peaceful Sioux who “pledged themselves to take on the ways of the white man and give up their Dakota habits, customs and beliefs.” The colony was destroyed during the uprising, and figuring out how, why, and in what way this old war relates to his “Indian blood” requires all of Hartman’s abilities as a researcher/cryptologist (skills he last employed as a cold warrior manning the Army’s Russia desk). Along the way, he reconnects with an old flame and uncovers an ancient land theft he vows to set right. Stanton has done his legal research even if the dialogue in which such information is revealed reads a bit awkwardly (legal terms appear in bold but are otherwise unexplained). Dialogue in general is the book’s weak spot: characters often moan, laugh, or giggle with mouths full of too many words to make that possible (“ ‘A sickening story, I knew our treatment of the Dakota was awful, but never that horrible. Nothing any white man did, not even well-intentioned white men like Reverend Riggs, helped them. Most white men had no thought but to exterminate them, like the buffalo’ moaned Ann”). This is largely a work of reports and conversations, but such scenes can be full of drama and illumination, and there’s plenty stirring in Stanton’s vision of Hazelwood. Its aim to develop “vigorous bodies and independent unfettered minds,” in a place where “public enterprises would be operated for the benefit of the whole,” is a fine thing to contemplate.
A complex and inspiring hymn to the powers of dogged research.