Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 5 - Tyrannical, Drunken Majesty

North, to Canada!  White Fox and Yellow Hair make what is usually a six-day trip in only four-and-a-half, because Yellow Hair is in a hurry.  The book at least mentions them "changing horses often," even though there's no indication that our heroes brought more than two, but I'm still a little dubious.  It's at least three hundred miles from the Marias River in Montana to Fort Chesterfield, Alberta, and according to the map provided in the book, Yellow Hair's route crossed no less than three rivers.  Of course, we're never told how they handled the river crossings, how difficult the untamed wilds were to navigate. what wildlife or other natives they encountered, or anything.  Guess the author wanted to get to the good stuff.

Yellow Hair is the only one enthusiastic about this mission.

White Fox was pessimistic about it.  No good had ever come to the Pikunis from white hands that he had ever seen, and he despaired of even recovering Yellow Hair's body.

Guns.  Those guns you're carrying, the ones you used to become the dominant tribe of the northern Great Plains.  Those came from white guys.  Also, I think there was mention of cooking pots, blankets and knives earlier.  But I guess those trade goods aren't good in White Fox's eyes.

Anyway, Fort Chesterfield has quite a bad reputation among the natives.  Its leader combines a quick temper with a quick trigger finger, while the men he commands are basically thugs and criminals.  "Ruled by despots, each and every Nor'West company man was something of a despot in his own small sphere," quick to bully any Indian they come across.

That quick-tempered Yellow Hair would take offense to these men was inevitable.  Cleanly bred and cleanly raised,

Do we have to bring breeding into this?  Why does it matter so much who someone's parents were?

Yellow Hair was not likely to appreciate the refinements of fur trading and, thought White Fox, a knife in the back would be his lot.

So why send him on this mission?

Yeah, yeah, I know he's white, but he's still a Pikuni.  He doesn't speak Honky, he doesn't know the white man's customs, he is more or less an albino Indian and nobody's going to mistake him for otherwise.  So why not send a Blackfoot down who isn't quick to anger and filled with the impulsiveness of youth?  Perhaps someone even-tempered and diplomatic, someone who's been to a trading post like this and knows how they work?

Ah, that's right, no one else volunteered.  Welp.

Yellow Hair and White Fox look down on the fort from the top of the hill, and for all we're told they could be standing on their own feet, sitting on horseback, or hovering by the wings of their buttocks.  Their objective is teeming with activity, the gates are open, and the voyageurs are all looking southeast expectantly.  White Fox concludes that perhaps the fort is at war, so maybe it's not the best time to send Yellow Hair down.  His little buddy ain't fooled.

"You can see for yourself it looks like the start of a feast.  No need to plead.  What's to be done must be done, White Fox."

"I wasn't pleading."

"Hyai, but that place looks interesting.  I wish I had come here before.  Why didn't you let me?"

Because of beer, actually.  Though the local tribes have decreed that none of their people should drink the white man's spirits should they come visit, many weak-willed Indians have been unable to resist what their hosts so eagerly pass around.  And so each time the Blackfoot come by, one inevitably gets drunk, gets mad, and kills his wife or child.  White Fox bitterly wishes that the "white fathers" would come down with the "red sickness."

Yellow Hair isn't even listening, but cries "Look there!" when he sees a fleet of canoes coming down (up?) the river.  And this is precisely why he shouldn't be going on this vital but dangerous mission.

The author spends nearly a page on the boat full of singing rowers with bright silk headbands.  In the lead is a fellow letting others do the work: "the most resplendent being Yellow Hair had ever seen," someone with a sword in one hand, a bottle of whiskey in the other, and several empty bottles at his feet.  Our hero is impressed by the "tyrannical majesty" of this red-coated drunkard.

The personage's face was large and red and floppy at the jowls.  His nose was massive, soft and blue.  His eyes were jiggly, but this did not detract in the least from his bearing and kingly appearance.

Yes, when I think of kings, I too picture jowls and an unsteady gaze.

From a jackstaff floated a bright and resplendent flag,

You used resplendent twice in half a page, Hubbard.  Personage, too.

which occasionally tangled the head and arms of the voyageur beneath it, but who went grimly on at his toil and who sang very loudly except when the cloth got in his wide black mouth.

Altogether it was a wonderful sight, full of martial blare and monarchial color.

Wait, I though the Blackfoot didn't use canoes or anything because of the importance of the river spirits for their medicine bundles?  Why is Yellow Hair impressed instead of insulted?

Anyway, though Yellow Hair and White Fox have no way of knowing it, that was the grand entrance of "Major" Alexander McGlincy.  "And when Alexander McGlincy arrived, he arrived."  Well said, Hubbard.

White Fox again suggests that Yellow Hair come back with him and tell the Council that they've had second thoughts, but Yellow Hair is quite impressed with this "great white chief" even though White Fox warns that the man is clearly drunk, and therefore capable of anything.  Our hero vows to go down and pay his respects, and boasts that White Fox can tell the others that soon "I'll have him eating out of my hand."  White Fox thinks it more likely that the chief will bite it off.

"Hyai, but we'll see about that," said Yellow Hair.  "If he tries anything with me . . . But I am wasting time.  Go home and tell them that I have arrived.  And tell Bright Star that I send my love and will presently send her a red coat with trimmings before the end of this Red Moon."

Whenever month that is, that Native American calendar website doesn't mention any such moon.

"Goodbye," said White Fox with an effort.

"Goodbye," said Yellow Hair.  And raising his hand, he rode down into the fort.

And there we get our only indication that they were on horses the whole time.

So that was all four pages of "Arrival of the Brigades," which is a dramatic way to say that a supply party came to the fort.  We had a lot of talking, some exposition, and a detailed character description that probably could've been saved for when Yellow Hair met the guy face-to-face, instead of having us marvel at our hero's eyesight for being able to study McGlincy's nose from the top of a hill.

What we didn't get were many thoughts or feelings.  We got to see White Fox's misgivings about alcohol, but nothing from our hero beyond what he voiced out loud.  No trepidation buried under bluster, no worries whether he'll never see Bright Star again, no sense that maybe this strange place is where he really belongs.

Hubbard seems to have started with the same notion of what makes a good action hero as he had at the end of his career: physical perfection, blond hair, a total disregard for danger, and staying emotionally distant if not totally closed to the reader.

Back to Chapter 4, part 2 


  1. Okay, scratch my comment from the last entry. This isn't tarzan, because Tarzan had some introspection that he felt ugly compared to the other apes, and a sense of wonder and discovery when he found the hut of his dead parents filled with British relics and books illustrating a species that looked like himself. There's none of that here. Just gary stu angst and badassery where the character's race hardly matters, except to the author who wants a blonde SI.

  2. At least we're not reading the petty and bigoted thoughts of a Hubbard villain like Soltan Gris.