Philip Kimball takes the myth of the closing of the American frontier and turns it into gritty, yet poetic reality. From 1852, when a little white girl is captured by Indians, to the tragic massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, we follow a sharply-drawn cast of characters through an uncompromising country full of hope and treachery – Indians, cowboys, freed blacks, homesteaders and itinerant preachers – all seeking to make a new life on the prairies, or to hold on to the one they have. Central to the story are two children, one black, one white, raised by coyotes and eventually dragged back into the world of humans. They seem to represent the pure yet unfulfilled potential of the West.
There is rugged actuality here, as well as lament and legend and not a few tall stories, the disparate elements held together by a lyrical narrative voice that is as exuberant and harsh as the landscape itself. A book to savor.