Savage Mountain

Written by Sean Belanger
Review by Meredith Campbell

Belanger’s thoroughly researched historical, set mid-19th century, carries readers into the heart of California’s two-million-year-old Yosemite Valley, where continual glacializations carved valleys exposing great mountains of granite–some nearly a mile high. Depredations, common to western fiction, occur: Indians are corralled onto military posts and onto a reservation on the Fresno. In spite of promises of food and care they starve, leading to rebellion and the escape of a Yosemite chief with a band of warriors. Pioneers formerly attacked by the Indians and Indian enemies of the Yosemite give chase, forcing a final, poignant standoff.

Interspersed throughout, minor conflicts between the various Indian tribes, white trappers, gold seekers, pioneers, and the U.S. Army give a kaleidoscope of intrigue, mystery, and murder. Three companions carry the point of view that shifts to an extent making the story, at times, unintelligible. Tennessean Jim Savage; Doug, an Irish survivor of the doomed Donner party of 1849; and Ramon, an Indian raised by Catholics, establish trading posts along the Fresno, Mono valley, and Merced rivers, trading rejected army blankets and worthless trinkets. Worst–they trade raisins for gold in equal weight, a scam discovered by a Yosemite chief’s son.

Adventure is the spirited ‘warp’ of the story. Dialogue presents the ‘woof’–the culture, sayings, and moral values of the native tribes. Belanger weaves both into the story, helping readers to understand Indian thinking and the motivations behind events. This yarn will please those interested in Indian lore and the gold rush days in California.