Set in Montana near the Marias River in the vicinity of historical Fort Conrad, it traces the complicated story of Cole Anthem and his unlikely style of heroism. If you have read other stories by this writer you may be aware that he has penned quite a few Old West Stories that includes a series under the banner of “The Texas Anthem”. These books chronicle the life and times of the Anthem family in Texas and in this work of one the sons, Cole Anthem, has become a bounty hunter.
After fellow bounty hunter Glory Doolin is gunned down by the subject of her bounty hunting efforts, she calls in Cole Anthem to help deal with Sam Dollard. Cole sets off on his mission with utter dedication because Glory is not just his friend, not just a fellow bounty hunter; Glory and Cole are lovers. He hits a hurdle when he finds that Sam Dollard, the miscreant that shot Glory, is working with the Army and has effectively enlisted their protection for as long as he keeps his job as a Scout.
The story weaves together the path of several disparate characters that come together in unexpected ways as they head for an encounter with a group of the Cheyenne Red Shield warriors. The group, including sworn enemies, would need to work together to stay alive. The group included:-
- Ben Wheatley – An educated black man with a command of Shakespeare but no knowledge of how to stay alive in a wild country. He is a gentle man but when the need arises he quickly learns how to fight and defend his friends. When challenged with racial slurs and threats to his woman, Zack Hammond learns that Ben has learned a bit about boxing and that the colour of a man’s skin is no way to judge the quality of the man;
- Captain Andrea Morgan – Known to her friends as Andy, the Captain operated a trade post and keel boat on the Rogue River. A fifty year woman as tough as any man, this crew would not survive without her and she uncovers the true reason that the Hammond brothers have earned the hatred of the Cheyenne;
- Cole Anthem – The Bounty Hunter with gun skills to match the legend of Billy the Kid and and a sence of justice to equal that of Wyatt Earp, a man who knew how to survive under the most savage and dangerous of circumstances;
- Corporal Dutiot – A Frenchman who claimed to have been a Captain in the French Army who has now lost his grip on reality and wants to relive his glory days in France. When the moment comes though, Dutoit would show his valour in battle and by saving the life of a key member of the group whilst sacrificing his own, give his companions one last chance to survive;
- Jay Lee Hammond – Over weight and slow but with a valuable intelligence and thoughtfulness under pressure but a man who played his part in his father’s death. Jay Lee was involved in illicit dealings with the Indians and created much of the danger being experienced by this group;
- Journey – A prostitute travelling with Silas Dean. You never learn her real name but your should read the book to learn why she goes by the handle “Journey”. You will also learn the quality of the woman under pressure, how she was forced into her profession and how she yearns for the same things in life every other woman wants;
- Sam Dollard – The Criminal and woman killer. Dollard was an expert at self preservation and taking advantage of any situation. His one big mistake; trying to kill Cole Anthem’s woman;
- Silas Dean – A reporter from back East who believed that the word is mightier than the sword. Too late he learned that the Cheyenne did not share his conviction and were happy to use a knife to prove their point;
- Sergeant Danny Mckane – An Irish Army Sergeant that dreams of returning to Ireland to retire but will never get the chance. His name will be remembered forever though by those whose lives he saved through his courage under fire; and
- Zack Hammond – The brother of Jake Lee hammond, a wiry and athletic figure that is less worthy of trust than Bill Brocius of the Cowboys or Butch Cassidy, has killed his own father to claim his gold and his wife.
Kerry brings these players together and sweeps them toward an encounter with Medicine Bear and his Red Shield Warriors. Traditional Cheyenne society operated with two separate but equally important parts to their tribal governance system. The council of fortyfour were the tribal chiefs and were responsible for the overall governance of groups and the tribe as a whole.
The heads of the military societies such as the Red Shields were responsible for maintaining discipline, hunting, ceremonies and military matters. With the encroachment of the white man on their lands, these societies become responsible for defending the land and the people.
The Red Shields were one of the most feared of the military societies and Medicine Bear was one of the chiefs of that time. The Medicine Bear pictured here played a prominent role in the Black Hills wars and more can be read about him in several places.
The Medicine Bear in this story does not get to live long enough to fulfil his longed for destiny. Right when he thinks his victories are complete and glory is his, death comes as a surprise from a source he never thought of.
Bringing a degree of historical accuracy into a tale of the old west is always a major plus for me and added to my enjoyment of the overall story. Fort Conrad operated between 1875 and 1878 before changing hands and is located near the Marias River in the famous “Big Sandy”. As the ramshackle crew come together on Captain Andy’s keel boat, the suspicions held by Cole Anthem are confirmed and they find themselves on a boat full of illicit guns the Hammond family had sold to the Indians. Medicine Bear would leave no stone unturned to get them and everyone on the boat was in the firing line.
Fighting for their lives through every turn of the river as they fled to Fort Conrad, their only hope was to band together as one until they reached their destination. Cole Anthem understood this but others did not and would show their willingness to risk anyone else, or kill anyone themselves for personal advantage. Without the discipline of a team operating as one and following one leader, not all would make it.
In the end, of course, the hero (Col Anthem) does survive and he kills many enemies to do so. Another survivor is Journey and you will learn that she was sold into prostitution at the age of eleven and had known no other life. With Col Anthem’s help though, Journey will survive and win a prize she never thought herself worthy of.
In the end of course, Col Anthem dealt with his quarry and was free to return to the love of his life, Glory Doolin.
The portrayal of the Indians may not be very accurate in this story but is probably an accurate portrayal of how white society viewed the Indian “menace” in the 1870’s. A review that is coming in Old West Stories in the next few weeks is on Dee Brown’s wonderful work, “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” and this was one of the first major works that gave a different view of American Indians and their treatment (first published 1988)
A good read, firmly set in the tradition of Old West Stories, Rogue River is recommended reading.
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