VOYA - Tom Pearson
This book examines the question: What if Native American tribes of the West joined forces, employed modern warfare, and struck back at an expanding United States in the post-Civil War era? Sargent answers by revealing an alternative chain of events that might have led to a very different United States continent by the end of the nineteenth century.
An obscure Lakota chief has a vision that he can prevent the white man from breaking the Indian treaties, stopping the miners and settlers from overrunning his lands. He organizes a successful campaign to dominate the lands west of the Mississippi River. Further visions suggest that he could conquer the entire continent as did Genghis Khan in another time and place. But will he pursue this dream? The story unfolds through the lives of a Russian jack-of-all-trades and an Americanized Indian woman who has similar visions to the chief. Historical figures are interspersed throughout, and some meet untimely ends not found in your standard textbook. The author has obviously done an astounding amount of research about the era's people and events.
The visions and "shadow worlds" seen by the Native American characters are beautifully described. Sargent's descriptions of the Sioux villages and customs are interesting as are the gradual steps taken to attain dominance, such as the tribes' luring of Thomas Edison to their territory so he can develop his technologies for them. The novel bogs down toward the end when too much attention is given to the political in-fighting in Washington, however. Thinking about what might have been, in comparison with the sad reality of the many broken treaties in our actual history, makes the novel that much more poignant. Young adult readers of historical novels will enjoy this thought-provoking work.
VOYA Codes: 4Q 2P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, For the YA reader with a special interest in the subject, Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12 and adults). H
Read an Excerpt
Five days ago, White Buffalo Woman's husband had mounted his horse and gone east, telling her that he would return in two days. She did not begin to worry until the fourth day after he had left her. In the days when she was suckling her youngest child, and in the time before the visions had come to Touch-the-Clouds, she would not have worried at all when Soaring Eagle was often gone with the other men for many days, but she worried now.
Her husband had gone alone this time, and after a man had ridden here from the camp of Touch-the-Clouds. Soaring Eagle had gone east to be his chief's eyes and ears. He had ridden east to be a spy for Touch-the-Clouds.
White Buffalo Woman scanned the horizon to the east. Outside the circle of tepees near her, other women tended their fires or scraped with their bone chisels at buffalo hides laced to wooden frames. The camp looked much as camps had when she was a girl, but her people were not the same.
Everything had changed for them after Touch-the-Clouds had seen his third vision. That vision had come to the chief during the great war among the Wasichu, when the white men in the north had been fighting the Wasichu. to their south. The whites had already been growing more numerous on the plains, and the buffalo herds were thinning. The Tsistsistasthe Cheyenne-spoke bitterly whenever they camped near the Lakota of the way the Wasichu shot at the buffalo along the Iron Horse trail to the south, of how they left most of the animal to rot.
In his vision, Wakan Tanka and the spirits had told Touch-the-Clouds that he and his people would have to make peace with others, even with those whohad been enemies of the Lakota for generations, if they were to keep the Wasichu from stealing all of their lands.
In only five years, Touch-the-Clouds had won treaties with the Shawnee, the Cherokee and the other red men who tilled the soil in the manner of Wasichu, and even with the Crow, who did not. White Buffalo Woman had hoped that securing promises of peace and friendship from the Comanche, a treaty even Soaring Eagle had not believed could be won, would be enough to keep the Wasichu from taking more of the land.
"To fight the Kiowa, to hate the Crow, only makes us weaker," Touch-the-Clouds had said many times. "Together we can keep the Wasichu from this land." White Buffalo Woman's husband had agreed with him, as nearly all of the Lakota had. As for those who disagreed-she did not want to think of them. Touch-the-Clouds demanded loyalty. He had killed his own brother for raiding a Crow village, for forgetting that the Crow were now their brothers.
Still the whites came to the Plains, more of them now that their war among themselves was over. Even some of the allies of the Lakota had made their marks on the treaties offered to them by the Wasichu, only to find out later that they had promised to give up lands that were never mentioned in the treaties that had been read to them. The visions of Touch-the-Clouds, even the fear some of his allies had of him, would not be enough to hold their hunting grounds. For that, they would need more weapons, more guns, more bullets.
Touch-the-Clouds had a way to get such weapons. White Buffalo Woman's own son was one of those who had gone northwest with other men, and with the yellow-haired Wasichu. who called himself a friend of the Lakota, in order to secure more weapons. She did not want to think of the tales she had heard, of Lakota and Cheyenne who had begun to scar the land near the sacred Black Hills, the center of the world.
She looked to the north over the flat grassland and saw a rider. Her eyes were not as sharp as they had been in youth, but she saw that the rider was her husband, and knew that he had ridden north of here to the camp of Touch-the-Clouds before returning to her. Others in the camp, among them her son's wife, also watched the approaching rider, obviously curious about what news he might bring.
By the time Soaring Eagle reached their camp and had entered their tent, White Buffalo Woman had a supper of dried meat mixed with wild cherries ready. He sat down in the back of the tepee, opposite the entrance, near their small stone altar.
"You went to Touch-the-Clouds," she said as she set out her husband's food.
"He heard that there were two red men journeying up the Missouri River, red men wearing the blue coats of the Wasichu soldiers but who call themselves our friends. I went to see if it was so and to tell him what I found."
"So that was what he wanted." She chewed her meat. "And did you find such men?"
"I did. They have Wasichu names, Parker and Rowland, and they live among the white men and are said to know their medicine. They even fought in the Wasichu. warParker wears a blue coat with eagles on the shoulders, like one of the Wasichu war chiefs. Yet he calls himself a friend, and says that he wants to help us. That is what I was toldI saw him myself only from a distance."
"And how will they help us?" White Buffalo Woman asked.
"By helping us to settle our differences. By finding out which of the agents on our lands are cheating us and seeing that they are stopped."