“Blacksnake” is William Wells, a boy from a Kentucky settlement who was captured by the Miami in 1784. He underwent initiation among them, and fought his first battles on their side, most notably at the defeat of General St. Clair. After reconnecting with his birth family, Wells rethought his loyalties. He returned to the American side at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. He then worked for the army as scout and translator, and finally as an Indian Agent, although everything he tried to do for his adopted people was undermined. Wells met all the “big names” of the period, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Anthony Wayne, William Henry Harrison, Gilbert Stuart, Tecumseh, Blue Jacket, Little Turtle and The Prophet.
The novel begins with Wells’s capture, training, and his daily life among the Miami. This is, however, primarily a military novel, without much characterization. It is, however, well fleshed out with marches, battles, strategy sessions, and politics. It is also a carefully researched account of American expansion into the Ohio Valley, and the resulting violence as First People and Europeans fought for the land east of the Mississippi. Like a blacksnake, Wells was an opportunist, his life’s path a crooked one. He was no hero, but he was a warrior, a man with a large presence at pivotal events in U.S. history. Although the book is long and detailed, this less-than-familiar story made fascinating reading.