Pretty-Shield, Medicine Woman of the Crows by Frank B. Linderman

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I love reading about American Indian history, particularly historical fiction or memoir told by or about women. I’m surprised that I have not come across this book earlier.

The story is basically a series of interviews that the author had with Pretty-shield. He even tells you right there in the book and he goes on to describe each interview in detail to recount what she has told him. This is not a biography, but rather an outsider-lead memoir. During each interview Frank prompts a topic or Pretty-shield comes in with a story she remembered and wants to share with him. You get the feel for the reservation school house they are using and snippets about life for Pretty-shield at the reservation. However, the bulk of the information comes from the various stories Pretty-shield conveys to Frank through sign talk and an interpreter. The topics vary greatly and don’t follow any particular order. You learn about women’s jobs in the Crow nation, various ceremonies, cultural fears and beliefs, daily routines, buffalo hunts, marriage ceremonies, the importance of war between the tribes, mourning, family relationships, traditions, and even about the the Crows joining with General Custer and fighting with him at the Little Bighorn. There is a wealth of information in this relatively short book, conveyed by a very enthusiastic and likable woman. I wasn’t a big fan of the interview format or the disjointed story telling, but you did learn a lot. I think if he would have taken her stories and put them in chronological order it would have been a little better. However, he was staying true to his craft and intended to portray his information and source in the most authentic way possible.  You really got a feeling for the type of woman Pretty-shield was and got a strong sense of her personality and sense of humor. She is a fascinating woman and really brings to life the Crow nation and its lost lifestyle. I’m surprised there aren’t any historical fiction books based around her life and stories.

If you are at all interested in American Indian history, way of life, or an interesting woman, I would highly recommend this book for you. Like I said, you have to expect to read it as an interview and not really a story. She tells different tales within each chapter and varies between present day and when she was younger. You learn a mass amount of information about the Crows and their lifestyle and get a deeper understanding of their culture and belief system. I can’t say I’ll probably read it again, but I am definitely glad I read it now.

My rating:

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Dances with Wolves by Michael Blake

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This is one of those times where I watched the movie before reading the book. I absolutely loved the Dances with Wolves movie. I never actually knew it was based on a book until a few weeks ago. when I found that out I ordered it and started to read it the day after it came (I didn’t have time in the actual day it came to start LOL). I was not disappointed by the book at all. I actually have to remark that I was impressed with how well the movie followed the book. There was very little left out and the few things they added in the movie helped to add to the story rather than distance itself from the book.

The story follows Lieutenant John Dunbar as he is assigned to a fort in the middle of the Indian frontier. seven he arrives, the fort is abandoned and he is the only soldier. He begins to complete tasks and waits for more soldiers to arrive, all while finding a peace living alone in the frontier and making friends with the animals he shares space with. You learn about his past in the civil war and his attitude toward the world and its inhabitants. He inevitably encounters Indians, Comanche, and talked the first steps in learning their culture. Little by little he is drawn deeper and deeper into their culture, particularly with the help of a white woman who was adopted by the tribe as a child. You learn her story as well over time. The story comes to climactic ending after the arrival of new soldier at the fort.

I was greatly impressed with the depth of the main character. You get pieces of thoughts from other characters scattered throughout but you primarily focus on the thoughts and actions of the lieutenant. Through his eyes your learn of a new culture and way of living. You learn about personal peace and evaluate how you see the world. You gain a respect for living of the land and see beauty in nature. But must of all it opens your eyes to the destruction one race can have on the world, how one person can set of a chair reaction of catastrophic or wonderful events and how each individual action crates ripples that shape our lives. The story isn’t action packed, but it moves steadily on with new ideas and events and revelations within the characters that keep you engrossed in the story and lets you continue to think about the story after you’ve put it down for the night or when you had to go to work. If I could have I would have read the book in one sitting. However, I was not able to but am thankful I had the in-between time to think about what I read and how I can relate to it or what it means to the world.

I’m surprised this book is not recommended reading in high school or college. It paints a beautiful picture of Comanche life and the impact white civilization had early on in their movement west. It also gives insights into sitting others, self evaluation, and how to view the world. I recommend this book to everyone. I’m very interested in reading the sequel to this book as well, The Holy Road.

My rating:

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The Chamomile by Susan F. Craft

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I wasn’t all that sure I’d like this book when I started to read it. It seemed a little too simple and it drug a little bit. However, a couple chapters in the story line really picked up. I was actually impressed with how much happened in the book without it seeming packed with ridiculous events pilled on top of each other.

The story follows Lilyan and is told solely from her point of view. She lives in Charleston with her brother, Andrew, and her companion, Elizabeth. After her brother is arrested for joining the Patriots, Elizabeth begins to work as a spy and pass along information. She meets Nicholas, a Patriot captain, and the two have a slow building, cleanly written love story.

The author did a fabulous job of incorporating some history into the story line. You didn’t learn a whole lot of history through the book, but you got enough to get a sense for the time period, learn some interesting tidbits, and follow the story and its place in history. The story line moved at a great pace, not too fast and not too slow. After the first few chapters, which kind of dragged on a little bit, the content really propelled the story along. I can’t really say action because a lot of the book was talking and getting information.

The characters were quite complex for a shorter book. You got a real feel for the characters and their personalities right from the start which is somewhat difficult to do. The book also really pulled you in to what Lilyan is feeling throughout the story and you feel what she’s feeling and hoping for her dreams. It’s also not a book where you start yelling at the characters because they’re doing something stupid. You don’t really feel that they are acting counter-productively to their wish, which is what happens in some books. The events happen in a logical order and are plausible enough that you don’t start wondering if this could actually happen.

I strongly recommend this to people who like historical fiction. It’s supposed to be for teens and young adults, but it can be read by adults as well. The story is complex and this would be a great read to start historical fiction. There is a love story wrapped up in the more complex war story line. It’s also a clean book, so it would be good for anyone. There is some violence, but it’s not over-the-top and it’s in a normal context. There are some rough scenes so I probably wouldn’t recommend it for below middle school. It was a great book, but probably not a re-read.

My rating:

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One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus

I was disappointed by this book. That’s not to say it was bad or had a bad story line and plot. No, my issues were with how the information and story were presented. The book is the story of a group of women that volunteer for a government program called the Brides for Indians. The goal is to meet a trade suggested by the Cheyenne chief Little Wolf that the Indians would get one thousand white brides for their warriors to help assimilate the Indians into white society in exchange for one thousand horses. The trade was agreed to in secret to avoid the public outrage and volunteers for the program were taken as regular volunteers and recruits from the lunatic asylums and prisons. May Dodd had been placed in a lunatic asylum for promiscuity by her family (i.e. she was living with a man as an unwed woman – the man was below her social class as well). When the offer came she took it and the story follows her and the other twelve or so women that were the first recruits.

It is an interesting book idea and the story unfolds in a good and interesting way. However, the story is supposed to be a series of journal entries and letters written by May Dodd. The whole time I was reading it, it did not feel like a woman writing it – it read like a man trying to write as a woman. The information presented was not what a woman would have focused on, it’s too logical and clear cut compared to how a woman would think, consider, decide, and write. You hear almost nothing about her pregnancy other than she is pregnant where a woman would have focused on this as well. Additionally, I was hoping to learn about how the Cheyenne lived, how they did things, etc. Unfortunately in the book, you get an overview. You know she learns to skin animals, butcher, cook with local vegetation, tan hides, and learn the language because she says she does. You don’t get any disgust, uneasiness, wonder, or any other emotion a woman would talk about in a diary, let alone any of the details. Also, you never feel like she has assimilated to the native culture even though the journal entries say she does. It is all just rather jarring.

I do give the author credit for a great story idea and a good plot. The story does have its interesting areas and when just looking at how the story unfolded, it is rather good. If you are looking for an interesting social read, this isn’t bad. There is an interesting band of women you come to love in the book. I did like the women that were described because they were so realistic. There are areas of graphic violence, so be prepared for that as well. However, if you have ever read anything about Indian life, it should not shock you.

My rating:

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