THE AMERICAN WEST (mostly): Fact and Fiction (mostly fiction)

"NOBODY GETS TO BE A COWBOY FOREVER." -- Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) in MONTE WALSH (NG, 1970)

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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

ARREST SITTING BULL (1977) by Douglas C. Jones

"Jones displays sympathy for whites and Indians but never slips into a maudlin sentimentality.  The villains of his novels are not the people caught up in the event but a government that repeatedly dealt with Indian-White conflict ineptly and insensitively." 
-- Cheryl J. Foote, Twentieth-Century Western Writers

Douglas C. Jones’ first novel was THE COURT-MARTIAL OF GEORGE ARMSTRONG CUSTER (1976); a “what-if” story that asked (and answered) the question of what Custer’s fate would have been had he survived the battle of Little Bighorn.  His second novel, The Arrest of Sitting Bull (1977), was also a fictional account of a controversial chapter in the history of Indian-white relations.  This time it is the events surrounding the death of Sitting Bull on December 15, 1890. 

At the time, the Lakota Sioux chief was living on the Standing Rock Reservation on the borders between the recently created states of North and South Dakota. The authorities had become deeply concerned about the Ghost Dance movement that had spread among the Lakota.  The movement, sharing many of the characteristics of a religion, promised the eminent arrival of an Indian Messiah who would bring back the buffalo and free the Indians from their white oppressors.

The U.S. Indian Agent at the reservation, James McLaughlin, who believed that Sitting Bull was one of the moving forces behind the movement, sent a group of Indian policemen, thirty-nine in all, to Sitting Bull's cabin to arrest him. The botched effort by the policemen ended in tragedy.

Ten days later the Wounded Knee massacre occurred on the Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  That tragedy was the subject of Jones’ third novel, A Creek Called Wounded Knee (1978). 

As in his first novel, and as he would do in subsequent novels, Jones intertwines historical and fictional characters, intermingles fact and fiction, and uses the eye of a painter (which he was), the ear of a journalist (degrees in journalism and mass communications), and the research skills of a historian to bring history alive in a way that no historian could.

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