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by Robert F. Jones

Pub Date: July 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-374-27759-1
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 Jones favors vividly observed wilderness settings for his fiction (Blood Tide, 1990, etc.), and this latest novel is no exception. It's set in the American West during the last days of the old frontier--when the slaughter of buffalo is ending one way of life to make room for another. In Wisconsin in 1873, Jenny Dousmann awakens one morning to a life radically altered by the nation's financial panic, as her mother follows her father in suicide at the threat of losing their farm. Her buffalo-hunting brother Otto comes home to settle family affairs, and Jenny decides to return west with him, unmoved by warnings of danger and deprivation. Joining him, his partner Raleigh, and their two skinners--the half-breed Tom and the southern cracker Milo--as the camp cook, she's content with her new lot until fate intervenes. Milo and Otto are attacked by Indians, but the southerner runs, returning to camp with a tale of Otto's death. Then Jenny saves Tom's life when the white men turn on him, only to be raped by them when he escapes. She rides off to search for Otto, finding him alive just before a howling blizzard descends; afterward, he's saved from death only when Tom persuades his Indian friends to take severely frostbitten Otto to an Army fort for care. He loses an arm, and his will to live, but Jenny takes him with her to stay with Tom's people, the Cheyenne, with whom she and Otto find respect and a new life. On a mission to sacred Buffalo Butte to save the buffalo, they encounter Raleigh and Milo, now serving as guides to a foppish English nobleman and his entourage, and old scores are settled with bloody finality. No major variations here on the noble savage theme, and no significant depth of character, but substantial research and sharp detail give this an arresting authenticity.