The fourth in the madcap, picaresque series about Wild West rapscallion Luther "Yellowstone" Kelly has the wily scout ricocheting among rival paleontologists, a homicidal Indian, and an amorous tough-gal artist.
Having lost his Indian bride in Kelly Blue (1991), Kelly joins drunken spectators at the 1869 driving of the golden spike linking the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads. He has nothing more on his mind than a few hours of soused oblivion in Pignuts's saloon when the historical paleontologist Jonathon Cope blows in and asks whether Kelly has heard of Charles Darwin. "A British feller pissed all over the Bible," Kelly replies. That's enough to get him hired to take the fabulously wealthy Cope through the wilds of Wyoming in search of the fossil of Eohippus, or Dawn Horse, the mustang's prehistoric three-toed ancestor. Speed is of the essence, Cope insists, because his dreaded rival Othniel Marsh is also hunting. What Cope doesn't know is that his illustrator, the beautiful, wealthy, sophisticated, and miraculously sharpshooting Alys de Bonneterre (she puts bullet holes in Pignuts's ears when he tries to sell her a box of miscellaneous bones as the last remains of her dead brother), wants to beat both Cope and Marsh at their own game. Alys falls hard for Kelly, who finds himself cleaned up, well-clothed, married and riding back east on Alys's private rail car, pursued by Blue Fox, a Dartmouth-educated Cheyenne who intends to torture and kill as many white men as possible. Bowen's herky-jerky plot drags the reluctant Kelly to encounters with other historical figures, such as Red Cloud, Washakie, Buffalo Bill Cody, Brigham Young, and Ulysses S. Grant, against a coldly beautiful landscape where violence and death occur without warning.
Bowen's 11th distaff western delivers a lingering sadness for a fascinating era that, for all its monstrous cruelties, ended much too soon.