Number 13 of 16
By Terry C. Johnston
St. Martin’s Paperbacks, May 1998
They came from the fires of the Civil War, from the rolling hills of the Eastern states, and some from out of the West’s rugged mountains. For two decades they fought for an open land, and earned the name The Plainsmen.
The U.S. Army’s goal: wipe out the remnants of scattered starving people on the frontier’s Northern Plain. But before Colonel Nelson A. Miles, the Bear Coat, launched his Spring campaign into the heart of Indian country, the commander took one last stab at negotiations – and called on a Cheyenne woman and the famous half-breed pony scout named Johnny Bruguier. Together, they travelled to the valley of the upper Rosebud River to urge the Sioux to surrender. But a personal grudge exploded in the ranks of the U.S. Army. Now, as a man and a woman risk their lives for peace, the culmination of the great Sioux War is set in motion, as the Bear Coat takes on the last of the fierce Lakota warriors…
This series is billed as historical fiction, and reading these books certainly makes you admire the amount of time Terry C. Johnston put into researching his novels. They are packed with historical detail and most of the characters are real people. There are a handful of fictional characters, and in this book, we get Seamus Donegan, his wife Samantha and their son Colin Teig – the latter being extremely young and this book features his christening. Seamus is Johnston’s linking character in most of the Plainsmen books.
The vast majority of this book deals with peace talks as Miles tries to convince the Indians to lay down their arms and surrender. The various bands of Indians discussing their options means a lot of the story is told through them. Their conversations are fascinating, but also became a little tedious as the author includes so many different bands of Indians having almost the same deliberations, with pretty much the same outcome.
Johnston starts many of the chapters with historical telegraph messages telling of events happening in the West, mainly to do with the attempts to get the Indians to surrender, but also includes other interesting news such as what was happening in Deadwood. These notes help give a period flavour to the book.
Johnston adds many footnotes at the bottom of a lot of pages that explain the meaning of Indian terms and names, along with notes as to which Plainsmen books earlier events can be found in. In fact, there is quite of lot of past reflection in the story as both Indian and white men remember previous battles and struggles.
It takes around three hundred pages before we get to the Lame Deer Fight which took place on May 7th, 1877 which marked the end of the Great Sioux War. I’ve always thought Johnston described his battles in excellent prose and the Lame Deer Fight certainly fits with my belief. The descriptions of panic, fear, bravery and cowardly acts, are grippingly told and you can clearly visualize the horrors of combat.
If you’ve been reading this series, this book is certainly one not to miss as it does draw some kind of conclusion to the Sioux War that has been taking place over the entire series so far.
One observation I will add, is that the book contains maps and lists of characters at the beginning. I’d advise against reading the character lists as they highlight those who die, both Indian and white man, and could spoil some of the tense life and death scenes if you have no prior knowledge as to who lived or died. I’ve always wondered why such list aren’t added to the end of the book rather than the beginning.
If you have an interest in true events, in this case the struggles between white man and Indian, then I can’t recommend this series enough.