In the late 19th century, General Armstrong Custer embodied the mixed feelings of Manifest Destiny in the United States, and this book not only depicts the uneasy alliance people had with the handsome soldier, but also evokes the feeling in the reader as well. This novel weaves together the story of Custer, known as “Autie” to his wife, Libbie, with the story of a young, white pioneer girl who is captured by the Cheyenne during a frontier raid. The author does not shy away from the gruesome historical details, and there are times that one can almost smell the blood in the prairie dust.
What becomes troubling are the mixed messages: Autie respects the Native tribe members, both as scouts who work with him, but also as the elusive enemy who ultimately bests him. But the brutality and unrelenting U.S. Army crushes not just the homeland of native populations, but also their language, their culture, and their resources, and does so with thoughtful purpose. Just as the white captive must learn to speak a different language, learn how to skin buffalo and move camp, so must the native population adjust after the Army ravages their way of life. It is a strange time, those few decades on the frontier, and Custer is the strange figure who becomes its icon.
Vivid and unsettling, this book is an engaging read.