In a mix of history, fiction, letters, and folk tales from two continents, Bruchac chronicles a particularly ugly chapter in the Indian Wars.
Whites are the villains here, from the paternalistic likes of those out to forcibly “civilize” African and Native Americans to buffalo poachers who decapitate their Indian victims and vicious rustlers who disguise themselves as Indians before slaughtering a family of black settlers. The primary narrative concerns Wolf, a teenage member of the Wutapio band of the Striped Arrow People (Cheyenne), and newly arrived young buffalo soldier Wash, who alternately witness (or more often hear of) major events in the Red River War of 1874-75. In between chapters, the author inserts short tales and speeches drawn from the Cheyenne and the Hausa heritages of the central figures, hinting at their parallel richness and wisdom. Within the Red River story, these cultures and the people who embody them are as idealized as the lying, violent “ve’hoes” (a greedy spider from Cheyenne folklore) are vilified. Despite glints of romance and irony, the story is weighed down with infodumps and lectures on the evils of drink and other topics. Although this acts as a corrective to the dominant historical narrative, it also makes for a slow and unsatisfying plot. Considering the grim ending, the moral that closes a final, otherwise amusing tale has a bitter edge: “There is always more than one way to solve a problem.” While no specific sources are given for the interludes, a large bibliography is appended.
Agenda trumps story in this loosely jointed account. (Historical fiction. 12-14)