Historical adventure with a conscience set in 1930s Mexico.
At a retrospective of his work in 1999, crusty, impoverished photographer Ned Giles sells his last print of La Nina Bronca, the lithe, wild Apache Indian girl whom he stumbled on, starving, in a Mexican jail when he was 17 and whose portrait made his career. Newly orphaned Ned had left Depression Chicago for the lure of the Great Apache Expedition in Arizona, organized ostensibly to rescue a kidnapped boy but in fact to give rich whites an excuse for a hunting jaunt (by this time, the Apaches of the Sierra Madre are in actuality being driven from the land and bounty-hunted to extinction). A sequence of lucky breaks lands Ned a role on the exclusive expedition, along with training as a photographer. He and other colorful members of the group—Tolley, a privileged gay; Margaret, an anthropology student; Albert and Joseph, two Apache scouts—liberate La Nina Bronca (real name: Chideh) and try to swap her for the kidnapped boy but are themselves captured by the Native Americans, led by a white man, a famous kidnap victim himself named Charley McComas. Now it’s Chideh’s turn to save the whites from torture and rape—in Ned’s case by claiming him for her husband. After bursts of violence and derring-do, trips between the two camps, and an idyll for Ned and Chideh, villainous Police Chief Gatlin and the Mexican colonel force a confrontation between the Apache and the “White Eyes,” an event that naturally results in betrayal, bloodshed and dispersal, as well as constituting a rite of passage for Ned. Chideh (possibly pregnant), Margaret, and Albert disappear with the Apaches, leaving Ned to a long life of photojournalism and rueful reflection.
Fergus (One Thousand White Women, 1988) writes simply and sincerely in a brisk tale that offers a compassionate portrait of the beleaguered Native Americans. Still, predictable in form and stereotyped in character, it rarely rises above the conventional.