Much has been written about the Lewis and Clark expedition to the uncharted territories of America’s Northwest, including biographies of Sacajawea, the young Indian woman who served as a scout for the Corps of Discovery. Along the way, the expedition leaders made friends with the Nez Perce people, a friendship that both sides believed would be everlasting. A little-known, but factual, result of this friendship was the birth of a boy to William Clark and an unidentified Nez Perce woman. The boy was named Daytime Smoke. He grew up with the Nez Perce when his father’s expedition left the area and headed back east.
As more whites move northwest, Smoke is torn between his white and Nez Perce identities, spending several years trying to live as a soyappo—a white—until disease and killings and treaties that are always broken, push him squarely into the Nez Perce camp.
This debut novel imagines the life of Smoke and accurately chronicles the relationship between the U.S. government and the Native peoples of the Northwest, particularly the Nez Perce. Osborne says the novel was ten years in the making, and the deep level of his research is obvious in this richly detailed story. Biographical information about Smoke is almost nonexistent, but the author weaves his imagined life effortlessly into the lives of the other characters, almost all of whom are real-life figures, to create an exciting and engrossing story.
The novel, mirroring U.S.-Native relations over the centuries, is often horrifying and heartbreaking. Yet there are many lessons to be learned here, not the least of which is about acceptance and tolerance of the Other. This novel is a must-read for those interested in Native American history.