POWDER RIVER by Ralph W. Cotton


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 The sequel to Cotton's debut novel, While Angels Dance (1994), takes Jeston Nash, a horse thief formerly attached to the James gang, to Sioux territory for a new adventure that raises serious moral questions in a chaotic, violent environment. Nash is an amoral opportunist who arrives in Wyoming with a string of stolen horses and a forged purchase order from the US Cavalry in Fort Phil Kearny. From the moment he arrives, things go wrong: A man steals one of his horses, and Nash shoots him in the back as he rides away. It turns out that the dead man was one of the Pope brothers, a notorious outlaw gang with a reputation for vengefulness. As if that weren't enough, the cavalry is besieged by Sioux; every settler in the territory is fleeing south; and Nash is wanted for murder in Missouri, under one of his aliases. With the sardonic Quiet Jack Smith and the black giant Shod for accomplices, Nash is determined to complete the horse trade with the cavalry, despite formidable opposition: hostile Indians, outlaws bearing grudges, predatory government agents, and random drunks, refugees, and scavengers. The storyline becomes hyper-complicated as almost everyone Nash meets turns out to have some stake in his mission; ultimately, he decides to cast his lot with Chief Red Cloud and deliver a load of rifles to the Sioux. Having made an uncharacteristic commitment to honor, Nash then discovers that nearly everyone is willing to betray him for some personal gain. In a convoluted conclusion, though, he manages to escape intact--and a good bit wiser. Overly complex at times, but, still, an innovative, rewarding, and well-researched historical Western.

Pub Date: May 26th, 1995
ISBN: 0-312-13146-1
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1995