An eventful tale of a renegade Chickamuga Indian’s resistance to tribal oppression and the US government’s oppression of Native American populations, from the prolific Cherokee author (The Cherokee Dragon, 2000, etc.), a three-time Spur winner.
We first meet Conley’s biracial (eponymous) protagonist as he fights a nearly fatal battle with a warrior from the Osage tribe, with whom Jack’s people (though not he himself) had made a truce. The story thereafter offers brief glimpses of Jack’s violent past, while concentrating on a melodramatic—as well as contrived and heavily coincidental—series of encounters and adventures. These latter, which fill Jack’s days of wandering throughout the postbellum Southeast and near Midwest (as “an outlaw in the Cherokee nation”), include his exploits as horse-trader and -thief, an unlucky meeting with three larcenous cavalry soldiers, a brief period of peace with a compassionate westering family (the Upbates), who are subsequently victimized by the murderous Peek Eder gang, and a climactic settling of old scores. At the close, Jack earns both employment as an army scout and a formal pardon, enabling him to head “home” to Arkansas—having first become educated to the numerous errors of his ways (“I have become as bloody a monster as they,” Conley actually allows him to declare—referring to his foes) and lectured us on the need for racial and ethnic harmony. Spanish Jack is actually closer, in substance and style, to the western historical novels of Douglas C. Jones than it is to the work of other Native American authors (such as Louise Erdrich and James Welch) to which Conley’s books are frequently—and to their detriment—compared. As an example of action narrative, it’s more than competent, and sometimes genuinely exciting. As serious fiction, it’s flat, formulaic, and egregiously preachy.
For fans of the genre and of Robert J. Conley only.