Dovetails in Tall Grass

Written by Samantha Specks
Review by Janice Ottersberg

The personal stories of two young women representing clashing cultures, white settlers and Native Americans, are told in two viewpoints. We meet Emma Heard and Oenikika in the months leading up to the Dakota-Sioux War in 1862 and see the tragic impact of the war’s aftermath on their lives. Emma’s family has settled near the town of New Ulm, Minnesota, along with other settlers lured west by promises of land by the government. Emma gains independence by helping out in her father’s law firm, and learns to see the good and bad in both sides. Oenikika is the daughter of Chief Little Crow of the Eastern Dakota tribe. She is a proud member of her tribe and struggles to accept the changes forced upon her by white men.

Oenikika’s father has returned from Washington, DC, after talks with Abraham Lincoln. The tribe must move to a reservation. In exchange for the loss of their hunting and gathering lands, and way of life, they will receive annual compensation in gold and supplies. They are forced onto increasingly smaller lands, and the promised gold and provisions do not arrive. They are starving. The fear, hatred, and conflict between the native people and settlers escalate. As the tribe’s patience runs out and the desperation for food escalates, disaster is inevitable. The result is a massacre of hundreds of white settlers with a revengeful public hanging of 38 Dakota Sioux men, the largest mass execution in U.S. history.

The Native Americans’ unity with nature and the land that sustains them is told in lyrical language. The author acknowledges that she is non-Native. Her goal was to gain understanding of the complexities on both sides, and acknowledge the many wrongs that occurred. She accomplishes this goal. This extraordinary novel is thought-provoking and heartbreaking, and should be read by all.