Old West Book Reviews Archives

Book Review: First Territory

41mmmwV02TL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_This novel tells of a young white man’s experience during the 1855-1856 Yakima War in the Pacific Northwest. The protagonist is Andrew Eaton, who works as a translator between American politicians, the U.S military commanders, and the Indians, thus he is traveling with important people and getting in on all that is happening.

Andrew has learned the Indian language from his friendship with a beautiful Indian girl named Lalooh who ultimately does some translating too, since she has learned passable English from Andrew. However, throughout the story she stays with her family and as the story unfolds, she and Andrew only catch glimpses of one another.

Some background leading to this story, while only touched upon here, is the true debacle of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman who, ten years earlier before this story begins, had been brutally massacred along with twelve other white persons at their Mission in the Waiilatpu in what is now Oregon. Marcus was an American pioneer, doctor, and missionary among the Indians. Narcissa was one of the first white women to cross the continent. Their deaths occurred November 29, 1847. It is believed the Indians Marcus was trying to convert to Christianity became suspicious and enraged when a number of Indian children died in a measles epidemic and the Indians thought the Whitmans had poisoned them. Not until several white children died did the Indians understand the situation, but by then it was too late.

Now, ten years after the Whitmans’ deaths, there is continued feuding between the U.S. government, the various Indian tribes and white religious groups. Young Andrew finds himself caught in the desperate struggle between all these people as the Indian Wars in the Northwest finally grind to a close. Indian reservations are being established while leaders of the various tribes struggle between themselves as well as the new white government. Many misunderstandings, deep personal hatreds, loss of life and old traditional ways all come to a tumultuous clash by the end of the story.

Meanwhile, Andrew is in love with Lalooh and probably she has feelings for him too, but the situation is far too desperate and emotionally-charged for these two young people to resolve their differences and live happily ever after. Lalooh is faithful to her own people, even though she is roughly treated by an Indian who takes her for his wife. Andrew must watch and record while translating, and becomes embroiled in all the brutality on both sides. Andrew travels with his own people, while always on the lookout for Lalooh. His hared for the white governor becomes deeply entrenched in his feelings as he is caught between his job as translator and what is happening to the Indians.

Author Richie Swanson spent nearly thirty years beginning in 1977 exploring Indian reservations in the Northwest and researching the People’s long traditions. He writes with carefully crafted original detail, painting word pictures that sometimes cause the reader to flinch. Swanson’s writing is bold and unforgiving, some battle scenes are painfully revealing. The surprise, the sudden and fearful attacks and their aftermath remind us of all our years of human tragedy, war after war. Swanson’s writing goes deeper than an easy to read novel, he teaches truth along with entertainment. He really drives home what a gutsy, well-schooled novelist can do when endeavoring to rise above the average story-teller. Get your copy HERE.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous published books about the Old West, including the novel Widow’s Peak, published by Silk Label Books, P.O. Box 700, Unionville, New York 10988. Www.silklabelbooks.com

Book Review: Thunder Canyon

Thunder CanyonThe novel Thunder Canyon is informative as well as fun reading for teenagers and adults alike. It is a fantasy/historical fiction about three modern teenage cousins who are magically transported back to the 1900 rip-roaring gold mining town of Cripple Creek, Colorado. The kids are both delighted and awed by the boardwalks, gambling saloons, Chinese workers, miners, gamblers, horses, wagons, no indoor plumbing, and the hustle and bustle. The contrast showing modern kids in a historical setting is amusing as well as filled with surprise. Occasional expressions like “awesome,” and “Hey, dude,” keep the reader chuckling as the kids are put to work spying on various members of a dangerous outlaw gang.

The real protagonist in the story is the grown up Eddie Donnally from New York, a Secret Service operative on the trail of a gang of counterfeiters who have set up shop in Cripple Creek. The gang consists of an angry woman bent on revenge, and her three brothers who are her accomplices. Unbeknown to Eddie, he has had a run-in with this family several years earlier in New York during which time their leader was sent to prison. Now, after moving to Colorado, the remaining gang members plan to kill Eddie when they discover their old nemesis is hot on their trail again.

The kids work as sleuths, passing information about what they have seen and who they have followed, while Eddie works the gambling saloons looking for signs of counterfeit money and who the culprits might be.

As readers turn the pages, we find sharp photos of 1890s rail cars, color photos of gold pieces known as Eagles, Double Eagles, and Half Eagles. There are pictures and descriptions of telegraph keys, burro descendants of those who worked in the Cripple Creek mines, arrest cards and photos of several real female counterfeiters apprehended in the old days by the Treasure Department, counterfeit coin-making equipment, Gold Mine Stock Certificates and counterfeit coin detectors from the 1890s.

The story includes train rides between Cripple Creek and the nearby town of Victor, a bit of romance between Eddie and an attractive town lady who runs a haven for stranded persons, and a helpful connection with the Chinese community. The story ends in a big shootout inside the gang’s mine hideout, right in keeping with a good old fashioned Western story.

The Appendix gives a detailed description of the game of faro including photos and information about dealers, players, and cheating (which sometimes ended in gunplay).

The author of this book is Donald Brewer, a 26-year veteran with the United States Secret Service. He was the Special Agent-In-Charge of the Counterfeit Division in Washington, D.C., and at one time worked undercover as case agent in the Atlanta Field Office. Later, in Miami, he spent eleven years closing down counterfeit manufacturing operations when Miami was known as the counterfeit capital of the world.

While retired now, Brewer’s obvious love for his job comes through in this story which is the second book in the “Mouse Gate Series” of adventures about catching counterfeiters. When not giving speeches and presentations regarding counterfeit U.S. currency, he is busy writing a third book for this series. Brewer has appeared on both the Discovery Channel and Learning Channel in an effort to educate the public on the issues of newly designed U.S. currency.

Thunder Canyon is not only an informative book for adults, but perhaps a step toward encouraging teenagers to read about life in the Old Wild West. Get your copy and get in on the fun HERE.

*Courtesy of Chronicle of the Old West newspaper, for more click HERE

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