Through Rushing Water
Richmond’s sophomore novel portrays life on an 1870s Native American reservation that the reader won’t soon forget. Russian immigrant Sophia Makinoff hopes to become a missionary in China, but instead is sent to teach school at the Ponca Indian Agency in Dakota Territory. Conditions are terrible: food and medicine are scarce, supplies that do arrive are shoddy, and government rules forbid Sophia to learn the Poncas’ language. The agency carpenter, Will Dunn, does his best to help the Poncas. He educates Sophia on their customs and explains the frustrations of dealing with the Indian Affairs department. Then a government decrees even more hardship for the Poncas: they must move to Indian Territory, in winter and without supplies.
I’ve read history books about how poorly the Native Americans on the early agencies were treated, but Richmond’s book really brings the details of that treatment to life. Even though I know one should be wary of judging the past by 21st-century standards, Richmond’s book still makes me ashamed of my country’s actions. This Christian novel is most alive while set at the agency. After the Poncas leave and Will and Sophia go to Omaha, the progress of their romance is comparatively anticlimactic.