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The author of The Crater (1980) takes a long look at the life of an Oklahoma Cherokee outlaw--from his days as a young bank-robber to his life as a silent-screen actor in Tulsa, portraying his own career. Henry Start, a real, live, turn-of-the-century badman, is painted here as a most engaging fellow--a short, smart scrapper with a stern eye for justice rather than law and with a real gift for robbing banks. The story picks up in Tahlequa, Oklahoma, where the federal government is buying out the Cherokee land from a demoralized tribe that backed the wrong side in the Civil War. Henry, nephew of the outlaw heroine Belle Starr, watches as his greatly admired grandfather is humiliated by the federal agents who turn the grandfather's land payment over to a sleazy debt-collector. The next day, hot on the heels of a spectacular rodeo victory, Henry begins a string of 28 bank robberies, one for each of the 28 farms taken from his family one way or another by the white man. His partner in crime is one Cherokee Bill, a great hulking and evil presence who is in almost every way the opposite of Henry. More black than Indian, Cherokee Bill fear's a black man's death above all else. When the two are captured and about to be hung, Henry must buy his own life through a betrayal of Cherokee Bill, but he promises his partner that he will get his story onto film. Which he does. Or tries to. Years later, after another stretch in prison, Henry hooks up with a movie company in Tulsa and becomes partners with an enormously attractive young woman who tries to put his life into a screenplay. Starr proves a worthy subject for this intense and heavily researched and slightly overlong effort. His story is fascinating and so is the uneasy transition from the Wild West to the 1920's--though the poetic passages appeal rather less than the action.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1988
Publisher: Atheneum