The Elk-Dog Heritage
The third novel written by Coldsmith in his Spanish Bit Saga narrates an episode of the Elk-Dog People of the American Great Plains during the mid-sixteenth century. Their chief, Heads Off, was formerly a soldier from Coronado’s expedition to the Great Plains, left behind when they turned back and adopted by the tribe when sick and injured. He introduced Elk-dogs (horses) to the People, and as a result, the tribe has become powerful and affluent. After a great battle in which the Elk-dogs defeated the Head-Splitters but lost most of their warriors, Heads Off was asked to assume chieftainship of the tribe. As the story begins, Heads Off has become a confident, almost arrogant leader. But youths of his own tribe, eager to prove their manhood, instigate a war with the rival Head-Splitters. The spiral of violence divides the tribe proves a challenge to Heads Off’s leadership and threatens the tribe with extinction during the harsh winter.
Coldsmith’s narration from the Native American point of view is convincing and well-paced. Although Heads Off is really Spanish, he has integrated into his adopted people almost completely. Information on tools, weapons, food preparation, and clothing seems to be authentic, without overwhelming the reader. Coldsmith writes with respect for the People’s philosophy and religious belief system but tells an entertaining tale as well, written from a different perspective than the usual Western.