Sprawling frontier saga of love, loss, and revenge spanning several decades: a first from Colorado lawyer Gilchrist.
Spirited 22-year-old Mary Bullitt of Louisville, Kentucky, has tried her parents’ patience long enough. Her oh-so-refined mother is determined to marry her off without further delay, even though the likeliest candidate, General Henry Atkinson, is 44. The General has distinguished himself in campaigns against the British and the Indians; perhaps he will also be able to tame Mary. She, a headstrong hoyden, thinks he’s too old but is nonetheless intrigued by his dramatic tales of life on the edge of civilization, “where the most reckless desires of men were manifest.” This turns out to be Missouri, for the most part. On her way to St. Louis, the new Mrs. Atkinson demonstrates her pluck by coping with coarse types of every description, including a passel of backwoods brats who just for fun slowly break the neck of a trussed goose. The General is often away, fighting complicated battles with one tribe or another, and Mary fears for her own life when his nemesis, Black Hawk, appears. The General is too soft where Indians are concerned, people whisper, and no one understands why. Mary is perplexed by her husband’s evident attachment to an Indian woman known as Bright Sun, whose connection to Black Hawk troubles her. The General, however, offers no explanation. Years pass, relatives come and go between Kentucky and Missouri, the Atkinsons’ two children die of cholera, and Mary’s youthful beauty and vigor fade away. Here and there, other points of view take over: we hear from Mary’s cousin, Lieutenant Philip Cooke; the General’s diary is quoted at length; and even Bright Sun gets to tell her side of the story. But all lives revolve around the compelling persona of the old man, whose one great sin will at last be revealed.
A cast of thousands moves sluggishly through an interminable plot. The turgid prose doesn’t help.