The cowboys and Native Americans of the Wild West Shows ride again in this debut historical novel.
Brian takes readers back to 1904 and ’05 Oklahoma, and the beginnings of the Wild West Shows, those staged re-creations of the Old West that delighted audiences with the antics and skills of cowboys and Native Americans. Although Brian fills his cast with numerous historical personages (Will Rogers, Geronimo, Tom Mix, rancher/show promoter Zach Mulhall, and champion cowgirl Lucille Mulhall, to name a few), he makes clear at the start that the book “should be read solely as a work of fiction.” The narrative action centers around the shows themselves—the preparation, the early events, the rivalries between the Texas and Oklahoma cowboys, barroom brawls, and the big show in Madison Square Garden in New York City—but the drama’s heart lies in its focus on the plight of tribal members of the Ponca Nation who have been dislocated by a forced move from Nebraska to Oklahoma. Fictional Charlie White Horse, Zach’s right-hand man, personifies the cultural disruption of the Ponca, standing as he does with one foot in the white man’s world and the other still planted in tribal tradition. He knows the Ponca eventually will be cheated out of their remaining land, especially now that oil has been discovered near their sacred sites, but he remains determined to take care of his extended family and preserve the tribe’s spiritual connection with nature. A plethora of subplots, a large cast of good and bad guys, and an ample supply of humor should keep readers engaged. This impressive and entertaining romp features the wonderful Red Shirt, a medicine man, with his special cure for arthritis; young, love-struck farmer and ranch hand Cooder Gooch, and his best friend, Robert Black Elk, who can calm the most anxious horse; and Bible-thumping, ax-wielding, temperance leader Carrie Nation. The occasional copy editing stumbles (of the crowd at a show Brian writes, “An estimated 65,000 thousand people were watching”) and some anachronistic dialogue (“Oh my God, this is soooo fun”) are annoying but not fatal in this well-paced, poignant yarn.
A showbiz tale that successfully mixes spirituality and compassion with rollicking storytelling.