Friday, May 29, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 22 - Didn't We Just Do This?

So... you know how last chapter, Yellow Hair was reunited with Father Marc, who persuaded him to come to Fort William rather than attempt a dangerous trek west?  This chapter is titled "Yellow Hair Persuaded," and it's about Yellow Hair's decision to go to Fort William rather than attempting a dangerous trek west.

I don't know either.  Maybe Hubbard thought last chapter (7 pages) was long enough without these four pages added to it, even though he's had big chapters before.  Maybe he wanted to spend just a sentence or two describing how Yellow Hair sat and thought at the fire in the previous chapter so we would get that he's a decisive man of action, and then elaborate on his thought process in this chapter.  Or maybe Hubbard wanted to use his "wry historian" voice again.

To attribute the underlying causes of Yellow Hair's decision to go down to Fort William to petty and mean revenge is the most vicious kind of slander.

It has been said by men whose reputations are beyond cavil that this was the one and only motive for such a move.

However, judging the man by the actions which have already been related, and by the light of his early training and environment, the foolhardiness becomes minute and even the most biased observer could not help but see something of heroism in his decision.

And so on, as though this were a serious historical document and not a borderline Real Person Fic with a Gary Stu protagonist.

The author assures us that Yellow Hair isn't doing the old "agree to parley so you can scope out the enemy camp" trick.  No, in that paragraph last chapter where he sat "for a long time" at the fire, "many thoughts had sped through his mind" - the fact that the Blackfoot's lands were filled with beavers, the fact that whites were willing to kill to get those animals' pelts, and the fact that there turned out to be a lot of whites, like, at least two forts' worth, man.  He's also mindful of the death sentence hanging over him, and realizes that if he went home, he'd give those nasty whites an excuse to attack his people.

Or maybe I should say he "realizes" this, with sarcastic quotes, because last chapter Father Marc rather explicitly warned Yellow Hair that he would be endangering his people if he returned to them without clearing his name.  But for whatever reason the author isn't giving Marc the credit for that thought.

We're told that "An Indian has a fierce nationalism which would make any European's patriotism look like treason" by comparison, and that it's this nationalism that makes Yellow Hair resolve to settle things at Fort William before returning home.  Not common sense or a desire to protect his loved ones, but nationalism.  Whatever, the Cree get it, though Father Marc is under the impression that Yellow Hair isn't xenophobic and wants to meet more whites.

So they prepare to leave, and there's immediately a problem because Yellow Hair's wound will make it impossible for him to properly carry a pack.  But lo and behold, that nameless Cree chief has really bonded with Yellow Hair over the course of their sign language conversation last chapter.  I say nameless because Hubbard never gave him one, and apparently "It is unlucky for a warrior of any rank to pronounce his own name aloud," which must make two strangers meeting incredibly awkward until they find someone to introduce them to each other.

Anyway, that Cree fella surprises Father Marc by pulling a toboggan out of absolutely nowhere, a sled "he seemed to have produced straight out of the earth."  I'm sure the author had a good reason for including this little miracle rather than a passage explaining that the three Cree got a hatchet, found a suitable tree, and really impressed everyone by whipping up a sled in no time flat.  And I guess he just had a harness on him?

Whatever, it's snowing enough that Yellow Hair and Marc can now haul their gear on the sled.  It'd be better if they had dogs, of course, but the Cree remarks that there's less of those now that the British have moved in, which allows the author to comment on and dismiss the slander that these Indians like to eat them.  The chief jokes that maybe they could find some dogs at an HBC outpost, and the author tells us that that's exactly what will happen, thus smothering the tension of the "will they find sled dogs?" mini-arc in its infancy.

Aaaand they're off.  The last half-page of the chapter is all about hyping this phase of the novel, with Father Marc and Yellow Hair trying to elude the men hunting them.  Which someone like Yellow Hair only sees as "high adventure" due to his "gallant daring."  And given how long he held out against his attackers at Fort Chesterfield, and how easily he escaped from York Factory after finally being inspired to make an attempt, it's hard to feel like he's overconfident.

Thus they started on their long and dangerous journey, their game of fox and hounds with the English where the stakes were the gallows vs. Fort William.

So to recap, things that happened this chapter: Yellow Hair and Father Marc got a sled and officially left on their journey.  New things we learned this chapter: Indians don't introduce themselves.  We probably could've skipped this stuff, or at most added a paragraph about the sled to the previous chapter.  But at least we can see that Hubbard was experimenting with pointless padding even in his first novel, skills he would develop until at the end of his career he could stretch out an awful story into a ten-book epic.

Back to Chapter 21

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 21 - When Yellow Hair Smiles, He's Lying

This would be a very different book if Yellow Hair was the type of Indian who knew how to listen to the language of chipmunks, wouldn't it?  The half-page of tension in this chapter would be negated, for one thing, and all the blood and murder would feel a bit out of place.

Anyway, Yellow Hair dramatically steps out of cover, and there's a paragraph helping explain why last chapter's cliffhanger was so dangerous - escape is useless, he won't be able to flee to Pikuni territory, etc.  Though he's moving quietly, the pair of Cree the chipmunk was yelling at spot him instantly, aiming their trade rifles at him.  They're also wearing HBC blankets and are "quite obviously closely associated with the company," and Yellow Hair similarly knows that they're here to collect the reward on his head.

But our hero doesn't do anything - no sudden evasion, no Hubbard Action Sequence, which seems a bit odd given the sort of stunts he's pulled earlier in the book.  Either he's really tired or Yellow Hair has read ahead a bit and knows that he's not in any danger.  As it happens, the Cree stand motionless for a few moments, then one of them gestures off to the side, and try to act surprised when Father Marc enters the scene.

Yellow Hair's face flared into an expression of joy and then, as suddenly, stiffened up a trifle.

"Hello," said Yellow Hair.

Father Marc's joy was not held in check by the presence of the two strange Crees.  He lunged forward with a great laugh and jerked Yellow Hair toward him and almost suffocated the warrior.

Wow, turns out Yellow Hair and Father Marc were really close.  I mean, we pretty much skipped their entire relationship beyond the first day when Marc took him to the river, and that time he asked about the murders.  And as I said before, nothing about Father Marc made Yellow Hair reconsider his loathing for the white man.   But judging by this reunion, they must've really bonded over those nine months we didn't see.

Let's spend the next four pages talking.  The padre asks how Yellow Hair escaped, our hero says "Never mind that" and immediately asks how Marc found him.  Father Marc explains that while he was at camp last night, these Cree came by and told him the news, then they all backtracked and watched the river for Yellow Hair.  They actually saw him land but apparently didn't yell or anything, then the Cree started tracking him and here we all are.

Speaking of Father Marc's camp, he takes Yellow Hair there for some medical attention. There's a third, older Cree there who signals the other two to step out, and Yellow Hair understands that they're on watch for the English.  I'm almost, but not quite interested in how he knows this - has he picked up the sign language of neighboring tribes?  Do the Maškēkowak, or "Swampy Cree" of the Hudson's Bay area, even use the same hand signs as the Nēhiyawēwin that extend into Montana?  Or does Yellow Hair once again have a copy of the book?

Evidently not, since he's still confuzzled that these guys have HBC blankets but are willing to go against the fur traders' interests.  Rather than pursue the matter, Yellow Hair instead talks with Father Marc about their next move.

Marc wants to go south to Fort William, avoiding the HBC and reaching Old Simon MacIntosh, whoever he is.  Then he and Yellow Hair can set the story straight and expose McGlincy's lies - excuse me, then Old Simon will "see how wrong McGlincy was."  The "major" who laughed about raiding his business rivals, then kept his Indian guest locked down for days before accusing him of killing his business rivals, isn't a liar or a murderer, but incorrect.  Once that's all cleared up, Yellow Hair can be sent home with a brigade of friendly traders and live happily ever after.  So,

"Don't think all whites are bad, my boy."

"Oh, I don't!" said Yellow Hair, but with a smile.

Hmm.  Guess his lying or stubborn racism is meant to be endearing or amusing?

Yellow Hair isn't interested in seeing the inside of Fort William's "butter tub," and doesn't believe Father Marc's insistence that he can explain the situation.  Instead our hero wants to go west and home to his own people, as quickly as possible, and doesn't see any reason to go south with Father Marc.

"I think it very foolish," said Yellow Hair.  "I have no dislike for a good round fight, but when the odds mount up like they have, I begin to see some reason in the things White Fox taught me.  'Never attack an enemy unless you have done everything possible to make your position good and his position bad.'"

"What do you mean by that?"

"What I said."

"You mean Fort Chesterfield . . ."

"I didn't say that."

So what, does Yellow Hair think he's fighting a one-man war against the entire HBC?  Or all white fur traders in general?  Didn't White Fox have any advice about not antagonizing enemy nations when passing through their territory?

"You mean you'll attack---See here, Yellow Hair, this has all been a big mistake.  Don't let it sour you on all your own people."

"My people are the Pikunis."

I think we all knew this was coming, like the "I don't know who I am anymore" line from Avatar.

"Oh, come now.  There's a call you can't deny.  If you see the whites, you won't think they're so bad."

"I've seen the whites and I'm now sitting altogether too close to white country."

Yellow Hair is only dissuaded when Father Marc points out that, if he clears his name at Fort William he won't be a hunted man, while if he doesn't, "you may visit death and war upon your own people."  It takes a "long time" of Yellow Hair sitting next to the fire, thinking, for him to admit that okay, that might be a good point.  So it looks like we're going south.

Now, about those Cree - Yellow Hair has been unconsciously signing alongside his conversation with Father Marc, so the other natives have been able to listen in, so to speak.  The old Cree man at the fire with them deduces that Yellow Hair is of the "Spotted Robes" from the three lines on the toes of his moccasins. The most I can find about Yellow Hair's people's footwear is that their moccasins often had black soles, hence "Blackfoot," you see.  And I can't find anything that suggests that "Spotted Robes" is another name for the Blackfoot in general or the Piegan in particular.  But I'm sure Hubbard knows this stuff better than me since, after all, he was made a blood-brother of the Indians as a kid.

Anyway, the old Cree man thinks Yellow Hair is smart to keep the English "dog-faces" chasing him instead of causing trouble for his nation.  It's then that Yellow Hair asks why the traditional partners of the fur traders are helping him - which is to say he's a dick and asks "Are you people not the servants of the English?"

Speech time.

To the last question the Cree gave an emphatic and angry "No."  To the first he signed, "My people have heard them talk of you and we thought you were one of the western tribes.  For many years your people and my people have been at peace.  We have no interest in dog-face justice as we have suffered from it ourselves.  Our people have been bought by the metal cooking pot, a three-point blanket and a few bad guns.  But we can do nothing.  We think we need these things and so we hunt beaver and skin them.  Your people were once called slaves.  No man has ever dared call my people slaves, but we are and you are not."

A sad tale of a once-proud culture now subjugated by foreign imports.  On the other hand, according to Wikipedia there's over 200,000 Cree left compared to 32,000 Blackfoot, so maybe things worked out for them better in the long run.

Yellow Hair and the old Cree talk their fingers off until Father Marc, feeling left out, produces Yellow Hair's gun and kit.  The author spends several paragraphs discussing the dimensions of the "Robert Woods" rifle (Wikipedia has no idea), the caliber of Yellow Hair's pistol, and the fanciness of his hunting shirt.  All this to say, Yellow Hair is now properly clothed and armed.  Once he rests they'll be on their way to Fort William, though he still does "not feel right" about going there.  Which explains why he... is.

"You'll get a fine reception," said Father Marc.

"Most likely," said Yellow Hair with an ironic grin.

There ought to be a good fight scene either there or on the way, this book is hardly living up to its reputation of ending every other chapter with a dead paleface.

Back to Chapter 20

Monday, May 25, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 20 - Unfriendly Woodland Rodent

One of the nice things about a trial, beyond being a sign that the society holding one is at least pretending to be civilized and lawful, is that it helps put things into perspective.  In the courtroom you can assemble the facts, try and get to the bottom of what really went on, and consult legal precedents when rendering judgment, to ensure that the punishment fits the crime.

Or in the case of that notorious renegade, Yellow Hair, you can refuse to take him to trial, stick him in a miserable cell for half a year, then flip your wig when he breaks out before "justice" is done.  The soldiers at York Factory have made new oars and are pursuing him along the river "With the glee and questionable mercy of fox-hunters," while Nameless Governor has promised a fifty pound bounty (that's half a year's pay!) on his scalp, before adding "As a sort of apology for this barbaric cry" that there'd be a seventy-five-pound reward if he was taken alive.

And I dunno, I'm not the head of a colonial outpost, but this just seems to be like a bit of an overreaction.  I'm not trying to make light of the five men Yellow Hair killed and the others he was framed for killing, I'm just suggesting that you may want to keep some men around to defend the place instead of chasing this guy across the continent.  If he is so dangerous to justify this manhunt, maybe you should've tried and executed him once you had him in custody.

Well I say "manhunt," but this is Canada in the pioneer days, so it's not like every white trader is now out to get

The word, traveling mouth to mouth, post to post, river to river, did not take long to hit the Rockies and echo back.  It was astonishing to note that the news went farther in a day than a brigade could travel in a month.  But then, in the world's every wilderness there have been swift and wholly unaccountable communication systems so mysterious and complete that nothing short of mental telepathy could account for them.

I... that...

Well, uh, don't get too alarmed, the author's not actually suggesting that psychic messages spread word about Yellow Hair's bounty across Canada.  Instead he explains that trading posts along Canada's lakes and rivers were all close together and linked with hunter's cabins.  So it makes perfect sense that even before Yellow Hair had spent one day fleeing York Factory, "the word that he was on the river had leaped two hundred miles ahead of him and H.B.C brigades all along the banks were on the alert to intercept him."  One of those river traders must've passed him without realizing it, obviously.  Yeah.  As soon as anyone heard the news, they immediately raced off to the nearest outpost regardless of whatever they had been doing beforehand.

Now, Yellow Hair is well aware that the alarm has been raised all around him, because "he had more than once witnessed the speed of spreading news on the plains."  The open plains with herds of horses, as opposed to the Canadian forests in early winter, or its freezing rivers and lakes...

At any rate, he's off the water now, and knocked a hole in his boat and sunk it for good measure.  But he's not in good shape, the adrenaline from his escape has worn off, he's weary and needs to find some shelter to make hunting implements and inspect his wound.  Not that we're told that he's suffering from his gunshot wound, of course.  But it's fairly inconvenient, getting shot like that.

So our hero is searching for a hiding spot in unfamiliar territory, the woods of northern Manitoba, and he does not like the place.  "The forest was silent and gloomy, filled with thickets and windfalls and darkness.  It was not much like the clean timber of the Rockies and it weighed upon him."

This chapter is dinky, only a little over three pages long.  If you're wondering whether anything exciting is going to happen, here it is:

It was in this search that he started up a chipmunk.

The little, rust-colored bit of fur was much disturbed.  It had been preparing for a long snooze with the company of the Mrs. and it did not take very kindly to such intrusion.

Bristling with fear and ferocity it sprang up on a limb and started to swear in a jerky, high-pitched voice which left no question as to its meaning.

Yellow Hair actually doesn't mind the chipmunk, the silence of the cold forest was getting oppressive.  After a moment the critter decides Yellow Hair is properly chastised, and moves on.  But then Yellow Hair can hear it "chi-chi-chi-chi"-ing at another intruder nearby!  And no, there's no moment where he realizes that letting a loud forest animal yap at him might have been dangerous, he's more concerned about the presence of another interloper than the fact that the chipmunk might have tipped them off about him the same way.

In fairness, next chapter will acknowledge that what our hero does next is stupid - well, Hubbard will use "brash," can't insult our hero too much.  Because instead of hiding or fleeing, Yellow Hair, weary and wounded and unarmed, advances boldly towards whatever the chipmunk is yapping at.  Even though he has surmised that the British are after him, even though he's so tired his knees are buckling, even though his good arm is useless, he's going to face this threat head-on.

And that's the cliffhanger ending of "The Chipmunk."  The chapter ends at the very top of page 170, while on the opposite page we can clearly see the chapter title of "Reunion," making it fairly obvious that we're about to encounter Father Marc again.  But try to be tense until then, and surprised when he shows up.

Back to Chapter 19

Friday, May 22, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 19 - Temporal Distortions and North American Mongols

Meanwhile, eight hundred miles away... also there's a flashback in this chapter, and what turns out to be a flashforward.  So we're just going all over time and space.

McGlincy is departing Fort Chesterfield, and the author spends a good page sarcastically describing the splendor of a fat drunk ordering his men to sing so they'll row faster, waving a bottle at them from under a canopy while they're soaked by the rain and water spray.  It wouldn't do to suggest that such an august personage is fleeing from something, but the bulk of the chapter is spent on the "tangled skeins of diplomacy" that inspired his relocation.

See, while Yellow Hair spent the last several months in stasis, the rest of his people haven't been so idle.  After finding a bit of yellow hair on a skull on a riverbank kinda close to the fort that Yellow Hair was visiting, Bright Star went all the way back home to give everyone the bad news.  This was received with a "horrified silence," and certainly not the sort of silence that occurs when one is trying very hard not to seem too pleased at what someone else considers terrible news.

But there's other kinds of silence, too.  Yellow Hair's "lodge" of course has no women to properly mourn him, just White Fox.  And there is, for this book, a few well done paragraphs describing how old White Fox spent several days alone in that lodge, staring into the fire, remembering the lad he had raised to manhood.  He has no wives or daughters, you see - or rather, they're all waiting for him in the Sand Hills.  We're not explicitly told what happened to them, but in the next paragraph the author spends a lot of words describing how the "Scourge of the Red Death" appeared shortly after the first whites did, wiping out whole Indian villages and driving warriors to kill themselves rather than watch helplessly "as their strong young bodies become pitted and emaciated."  The white traders ghoulishly visited the ghost villages, stripping beaver pelts and other furs from the dead for sale east.

Again, we're not outright told what happened to White Fox's family, but we can make a guess.

Bright Star lucked out, in a way - that arranged marriage to the rich, handsome Long Bow has been put on hold for a whole year because she's just too sorrowful.  An excuse she couldn't use when her dear father died, but which has been justified by the supposed death of the main character.  Huh.

But let's get to the "diplomacy" promised at the chapter's start.  And a lot of sarcasm.

Being savages and barbarians, the Pikunis were slightly puzzled by the fate of Yellow Hair, and as they were not endowed with the reasoning powers of civilized peoples they naturally suspected that the white fort had some connection with this catastrophe.

This is why Bright Star, bless her heart, is all for raising a thousand warriors and razing it to the ground.  But the Blackfoot's response is more restrained.  They send riders to spread word that no white traders are allowed in their lands upon pain of death, thus cutting off a swathe of land roughly six hundred miles by four hundred miles from proper exploitation.  We're told that this "broadcast order" was ignored by the whites, but not that the whites were actually told this.

This leads to an incident Hubbard spends about a page on, and which really confuses the story he's crafted.  Two white traders in particular are cited as breaking the Blackfoot's decree, fellows named Potts and Colter.  As Hubbard tells it, the two were met by a party of Blackfoot warriors sent to apprehend them, and ordered to come ashore and drop their weapons, "to prevent bloodshed."  But Colter grabbed Potts' gun and Potts tried to flee in a canoe, prompting a Blackfoot to fire a "cautious arrow."  Potts then shot an Indian dead, while Colter was "sportingly given a chance to run for his life and he killed a young brave and then escaped by hiding under brush in a river."

The provocation was not nearly sufficient, of course.  The Pikunis had only lost half their tribe by smallpox brought by the whites and three warriors at the hands of trappers and Lewis.  In return they had killed one man---Potts.

Not for lack of trying to kill Colter, though.  And of course it's fully justified to kill people of the same skin tone as those who previously wronged you.

Now, this appears to be describing "Colter's Run," though Wikipedia's account is a little different.  It was several hundred Blackfoot that stopped Colter and Potts, Colter was not just disarmed but stripped naked, the "cautious arrow" actually hit and wounded Potts, and then after Potts fired back he was killed in a volley of gunfire and his body was hacked apart by vengeful natives.  Colter had to run for miles until his nose was bleeding, but still managed to overcome the one Blackfoot who caught up with him because the other guy was just as tired and fumbled a spear toss.  Then he spent the night under a beaver lodge and walked for eleven days to reach an outpost at Little Big Horn.  And no mention of this violating any Blackfoot decree or of the illustrious Yellow Hair, oddly enough.

But here's the kicker - the incident with Colter and Potts took place in 1809.  This story started in late July 1806, then Yellow Hair spent the winter at Fort Chesterfield, got shipped off to York Factory and spent six months there, and now it's the start of winter, 1807.  So if the months-long timeskips were for the sake of justifying Colter's Run, Hubbard botched things by bringing it up two years too early, and should've saved it for the end of the book and a description of the fallout of Yellow Hair's adventures.

All this was rather heightened by Yellow Hair's supposed death and even the elders began to get worried and restless in the belief that these traders meant them no good.

McGlincy and his ilk go out of their way to get Indians killed when they come in to trade, and now these wizened elders are starting to suspect the whites might be bad guys?  It took Yellow Hair's death in particular to get them to pay attention?

Anyway, then the Blackfoot decided to actually investigate Fort Chesterfield, which Bright Star didn't do when she was right next door.  Scouts can't find any trace of him, so that fall when the tribe goes to trade, White Fox and Bear Claws "somehow managed to get" an audience with McGlincy.  The "mighty white chief" is outraged that a bunch of stinkin' savages - his critical business partners - think they can just come into his office and ask him some questions about that blond half-breed, but Luberly shows up and directs his attention through a window to the bluffs overlooking the fort.  750 Indians on horseback are standing still and silent against the sky, so disciplined and well-trained that they might as well been a row of statues.

Wonder if mobilizing like this every time they came to trade would keep the whites from doing anything stupid...

Of the same stock as Timur the Limper's chagateurs (who conquered all Asia except Cathay),

Can't find "chagateur" on Wikipedia or Wiktionary, but it oddly enough appears in the book's glossary, which explains that "the chagateur (jagatai) warriors" helped Timur conquer an empire extended from China to Turkey, though not how those warriors fought.  But it must've been similar to the Blackfoot, right?

carrying the same weapons as Bayazid the Thunderer,

I'm pretty sure Sipahi had access to metal armor and superior equipment compared to nomads who hadn't discovered metalworking.

trained in the same tactics that as their ancestors who made up the spearhead of Genghis Khan's mighty war host,

Ahah, wut?

I can accept that Native American cavalry is of the same "stock" as Tamerlane's mounted hordes in a symbolic sense, but Hubbard seems to be suggesting here that the First Nations only migrated into North America after fighting with Temüjin in the early 13th century.  And forgot to bring their horses with them.

these seven hundred and fifty troopers presented a picture that would have made (and indeed did make) may a general turn slightly yellow with apprehension.

So McGlincy finds his manners, and stammers that Yellow Hair went east!  Yeah!  He's perfectly fine, and in fact just sent word back to them saying how he was having the time of his life!  Said to give his best wishes to these two, as a matter of fact!  And he'll be back "Presently!  Presently!"

White Fox and Bear Claws withdraw and give the signal for the Blackfoot orda to withdraw to their yurts for some buuz.  White Fox is sure that McGlincy is lying about something, "but I believe that Yellow Hair must still be alive and that at least a portion of the story we just heard is true."  Bright Star is of course overjoyed and goes off to build a Medicine Lodge to make some undefined vows that will ensure that Yellow Hair returns safely to them next spring.

A term derived from the Mongols makes it into this book's glossary, but not the "Medicine Lodge" used by the people it is purportedly about.

Even though White Fox thinks that Yellow Hair is alive doesn't mean that he's going to be optimistic or anything.  But oddly enough, he doesn't spend any time worrying for his friend's safety, instead half a page is devoted to explaining how he's worried about Bright Star - regardless of whether Yellow Hair is still alive, her uncle Big Wolf may very well force her into marriage with Long Bow once her mourning period is over next spring, since of course "Running Elk's goods, wives and children had become Big Wolf's property and Running Elk's authority was of now his brother's."  And it seems an odd oversight that, although practically drooling sarcasm when explaining the white belief that the Indians couldn't possibly own all the land they had lived on for generations, there's no similar satire about a woman being a man's "property."

Anyway, the Blackfoot laugh about McGlincy's subsequent and hurried departure, and some speculate that he's gone to fetch Yellow Hair in order to mend relations between the whites and Pikuni, or at least to keep his fort from getting burned down.  But again, White Fox is less sanguine - he saw "only evil" in McGlincy, and fears that he may be trying to capture Yellow Hair after the latter escaped the fort.

If Yellow Hair happened to be on the river he would meet McGlincy.

Though of course the very notion is absurd, because the Blackfoot have a taboo against river travel, so I wonder how White Fox knew that Yellow Hair had to break that custom in desperation?

White Fox shut his eyes and prayed fervently for the accuracy of Yellow Hair's rifle.

Wouldn't it be a smoothbore musket?  Rifled barrels did exist before the invention of the minie ball in the 1840s, but were mainly used by sharpshooters and skirmishers due to the difficulty in cleaning and reloading the weapon.  It seems unlikely that you'd give such specialized weapons away to trade partners you didn't entirely trust, but maybe I'm wrong.

From what I've read from that Wikipedia article, John Colter sounds like a pretty cool guy.  Eh explores Yellowstone and doesn't afraid of anything.

Back to Chapter 18, part 2

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 18, part 2 - Raise the Roof

Alright, so a hungry and cold Yellow Hair has hallucinated a conversation with his shallow female love interest, which inspired him to make presumably his first escape attempt in half a year of captivity.  So let's get out of here already.

Our hero presses against the wall of his outhouse holding cell, spying on the guards outside through a crack.  Yellow Hair is such an important prisoner that two men have been put on a constant patrol outside his cell, thus depriving the frontier trading post of valuable manpower solely to keep someone in legal limbo until I guess he dies of malnourishment or exposure (incidentally, I wonder how much it costs to keep Gitmo going?).  Neither rain nor snow nor gloom of night will keep these stalwart and unimaginative mooks from pacing back and forth between a lantern sitting on the ground at the front of the outhouse and its back wall.

They have a little chat while doing so, pausing during their conversation until they meet again on the opposite side of the little building.  And so, decades before experiencing Hubbard's mangled and obnoxious attempts to transcribe Southern accents, we get to see his take on an English accent.  As far as I can tell, the key seems to be dropping H's from some (but not all) words and adding them to others.

"Hi wager'e don't myke it."

Meeting behind the house, the other one said, "Hi bet the bloke does. 'E's brawny and..."

Presently, behind the house, he concluded "...'e's got a lot of beef to tide him over."

At the lantern the other said, "Hi think 'e'll need more'n 'is own fat, Roger. Hit's..."

Behind the house, "...more'n a thousand bitter miles to Fort Will'm. 'Ow much?"

But not a single "bloody" or "bleedin'" to be seen, oddly enough.

The narration then confirms one of my criticisms by mentioning that this conversation isn't new - Yellow Hair has heard it going on for "so many weary days" that he's been tuning it out.  But this night he actually listens to it, even though he's had literally nothing else to do for months now, so he has no excuse for not paying attention to what his captors are saying.  And this night, after two hours of attentive listening... well, they are speaking with Hubbard's English accents.  Anyway, Yellow Hair is able to deduce that the guards are talking about Father Marc's imminent departure.

First there had been Bright Star's voice.

And now the example of Father Marc.

He could not fail at this!

Weak and gaunt as he was, excitement made him forget the cold and gave him fitful strength.

At least the author isn't forgetting that the main character is in terrible shape for an escape attempt.  He's just saying that our hero is too awesome to let that stop him.  Guess that's what makes him a hero.

So, how hard is it to bust out of his personal, one-room prison?

He reached up to a beam and swung his length over it.  He jabbed tentative fingers at the leaking roof and found the shingles to be as rotten as any trading policy.

What, the shingles had an inexplicable fondness for animal pelts and was willing to part with incredible new weapons for a stack of them?  The roof liked to brutalize and murder its trading partners for the sake of evil, even though doing so made terrible business sense?

Eagerly he thrust his hand through and pushed sidewise, widening the gap.  He balanced himself on the beam and thrust his head out into the dripping night.

One of the shingles comes loose, slides down the roof, and hits the mud by the lantern.  And the guards actually hear it and come investigate,

But Yellow Hair had no desire to wait for their comment upon it.  He was all the way out through the rickety roof and had gripped the soggy ridge-pole, lowering himself on the other side and down.

Yep, it's that easy.  Just a few good shoves to knock the rotten wood out and he's clear.  Now, a question, Hubbard:

Why didn't he try this his first night in the cell?!

The least you could do is indicate that Yellow Hair already inspected the holes in the roof, but the wood was still sturdy at the start of his captivity, and now only after half a year of intermittent bad weather has it decayed to the point he can tear it apart with his hands.  Instead it looks like it took months and months for him to think to look up.

Ugh.  So Yellow Hair drops down on the far side of the outhouse, and immediately orients himself - his back is to York Factory's main building, so he needs to circle around his cell to reach the palisades.  The narration reminds us that it would only take a few seconds for his guards to decide that they needed to check inside the cell, and that "It was therefore asking quite a bit of Yellow Hair that he had to map his whole strategy for the next hour in the same length of time that it would take for the guards to realize that he was gone."

Why hasn't he been dreaming up escape plans for the past six months?!  Why hasn't he been constantly watching things through the crack in the wall, gathering information about how the outpost operates and thinking about how to take advantage of it?  What has he been doing all day?

Lack of inertia, that's the problem here.  In a well-crafted story, both the setting and the characters in it feel real, and the reader can imagine how they'd behave even if they weren't "on-screen," so to speak.  But here it's like Yellow Hair entered stasis the minute he was brought to York Factory.  He hasn't formulated an escape plan, he hasn't made an escape attempt, and it's hard to believe that he's thought of his beloved Bright Star because doing so inspired him to escape tonight, and since he hadn't escaped before tonight, QED.

At least during the last timeskip he learned a second language.

Alright, so he's loose in an enemy stronghold.  The author makes a wry observation about military training by mentioning that nobody taught Yellow Hair that "the less a soldier thinks the better the soldier."  I guess Hubbard was still bitter about being removed from command for disregarding orders, violating Mexican waters, and carrying out unsanctioned gunnery practice on foreign soil.  Anyway, Yellow Hair sneaks like a "greased shadow" around the building and sees the guards holding their guns and the lantern, about to open the cell door.

The author, hexperienced soljer that he is, spends two brief paragraphs explaining the folly of lanterns, which allow guards to see about ten feet of ground while destroying their night vision and ability to see beyond that.  Or in other words, even when they're facing Yellow Hair, they can't see him in the darkness beyond the lanternlight, so while they're making a bet on whether or not he's still in his cell, our hero slips past, goes behind a "sentry box," and reaches the fort's gate.

Rather than trying to open it, Yellow Hair attempts to climb to freedom, but the gate is nine feet tall and between the rain and his ruined moccasins, he can't get any purchase.  At this point the guards raise the alarm, and the action sequence begins.  A soldier is jolted awake in the sentry box, grabs his rifle, leaps out, brushes torn buckskin, and immediately realizes the enemy is near.  All before Yellow Hair can react or hide or anything, evidently.

A seasoned campaigner on many far-flung fronts, this soldier knew better than to advance.  He leaped back to raise his rifle.

Yellow Hair snatched at the muzzle.  It exploded.  The tongue of red sparks lanced over his head.

Yellow Hair shoved hard and then quickly gave the barrel a twist and a pull.  It came free.

Um, the author means that Yellow Hair snatched the gun out of the guard's hands by its barrel, not that he tore the gun's metal barrel from the wooden stock.

The guard is wise enough to run for help, leaving Yellow Hair holding an empty musket by the wrong end.  Our hero despairs for a moment, then brandishes his improvised club after resolving "to go down like a warrior should---fighting."  But then he notices that this musket has a strap on it so it can be worn on the shoulder, and as lantern-bearing guards approach, Yellow Hair unbuckles the length of leather, ties a knot, and casts it up to catch on the top of the pointy palisade.  He's able to pull himself up the wall, but he's nearly dislodged when the guards fire and something knocks his right arm forward, leaving him dangling by one hand.

Things get (even more?) farcical - the guards try and shoot the piñata but their soaked guns fail to fire, an officer spends a paragraph being mocked by the narrator for waving his sword about theatrically to order a charge, the guy stabs but Yellow Hair swings away, and now there's a saber protruding from the wooden wall.  Our hero uses the sword as a stepping stone, remembers to quip "Hyai, you redcoats!  Thanks!"  And then he's over and rolling down the muddy slope on the far side.

Now we're told my Yellow Hair didn't try to just open the fort door, because it's bolted and double-locked.  So in other words, the jam of people trying to exit through it means that it's some time before they're able to open it.  While they're struggling, Yellow Hair runs to the boathouse on the shore, breaks in, tosses all the extra oars into the Nelson River, and steals a canoe.

Our hero's right arm is mostly getting in the way - and come to think of it, we weren't told about any flash of pain, were we?  Just that his arm got knocked by something.  Must be adrenaline.  Anyway, Yellow Hair has to tuck it into his belt while he's doing all this, and is out on the river by the time the guards manage to free themselves from their own defenses.  They reach the shore, ready, aim, misfire due to the rain.  What are the odds.

Now, the author points out that it's pretty hard to row a boat with one hand.  Hubbard also acknowledges that the Pikuni were not river people, shunned the eating of fish, and "believed---along with the Greeks, English sailors, and famous explorers---that there was such a thing as an underwater people, governed by a sort of Neptune that took the form of a beaver."  Yellow Hair's only experience with boats, in fact, was the ride to his prison.  "But it attests to his ready adaptability that the mechanics of his unusual problem should be so quickly met and defeated---in some measure."

In other words, he's once again acknowledging the odds against Yellow Hair, just to make his hero even more awesome for overcoming them.  Yellow Hair manages to stick one oar against the side of the boat and brace it with a leg to use it as a "peg" to row forward against, or something like that.  Our narrator assures us that this is coincidentally a technique that the Scandinavians use, though of course Yellow Hair doesn't know that.  But aren't you glad that you know it now, reader?

The last page or so sums up the situation at the end of this chapter.  Our hero has suddenly escaped, and is making his way somewhat erratically along the river.  The rain and cold are getting in his wounded arm, what little strength he has left from his long starvation is on the verge of failing, his clothes are ragged, he's got no provisions or weapons, it's actually late autumn so ice is starting to form on the stream's quiet patches, and Father Marc is both a better rower and has a half day's head start on him.  Could our hero, in fact, be boned?

The impossible was only improbable to Yellow Hair.  He was one of those rare beings who never find out, this side of death, that there is such a thing as being whipped by men and destiny.  Such ignorance is divine.  His eyes were fixed upon an object so far in advance that he only had impatience for all the hurdles that intervened---which is probably as good a key as any to his restlessness.

I thought he was just a stupid young glory hound, not someone heroically ignorant.

He might be wounded, starved and hunted in an alien land.

But he knew only one thing.  He had to catch up to Father Marc.

Given that Chapter 21 is called "The Reunion," I think we can all guess how this quest will end.

Back to Chapter 18, part 1

Monday, May 18, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 18, part 1 - Mud and Hallucinations

Alright, let's put Yellow Hair at his lowest point in the story so that he may heroically overcome this adversity, while at the same time securing an excuse to kill more honkies.

Our h- the protagonist is pacing in his holding cell, an "outhouse" with only six feet of floor space, though it doesn't actually have a floor.  Instead our hero is trudging through mud caused by the badly leaking roof, and there isn't even a dry spot fit to lie down on.  Yellow Hair can only stretch out in the chilled muck when exhaustion claims him, unable to steer his thoughts away from food - he thinks about the rain, he remembers bison drowning in the spring rivers, he thinks about the armed guards outside, he thinks about using a rifle to hunt.  He's been hungry for so long that he's surprised that he hasn't gotten used to a gnawing, empty stomach, he once chewed on his buckskin shirt in a moment of desperation, and just that afternoon he spent hours watching a dog in the fort's yard, hoping it would come close enough to his cell that he could grab it through a crack in the wall and eat it raw.

So he's not doing too hot, in other words.

Chilled by the rain and mud, "starved and weak and gaunt," Yellow Hair's thoughts turn toward those he left a seventy days' travel away, and wonders if Bright Star is still waiting for him back in Nameless Pikuni Village.  Our narration tells us it "was a tribute to the love he bore for the slender, graceful girl" that he can imagine the two of them sitting in a big lodge "with robes stacked all about him."  I think the narration is setting the bar a little low.

"Give me my pipe, beautiful one," he would say.

"Here it is, my lord, packed and fired for you.  Do you wish me to send Magpie to invite White Fox and Bear Claws in for the evening?"

"No, I like to sit here and smoke and watch you.  I could do nothing all the rest of my life but look at you."

"Ah, my great warrior husband, but if you did that how would we gain our food?  If you did not hunt . . . ?"

And then he starts hallucinating a cooking pot (presumably imported from evil white men).  But what a cozy domestic fantasy, eh?  A perfect, servile wife beautiful enough to stare at all day while she fetches your stuff and orders about your Tushepaw slave boy on your behalf.

With a bit of concentration Dream Bright Star comes back and explains how she ignored everyone's wishes for her to marry Long Bow, despite his robes and horses and good looks-

"Handsome? Long Bow handsome? When he drinks from a stream he has to close his eyes."

I think this would be funnier if we had actually seen Long Bow at any point in the book.

But Yellow Hair swears to Dream Bright Star that, by the "sacred Beaver Roll" he will never leave her again, and wonders what possessed him to do so in the first place (if memory serves, it was Bright Star's taunting.)  He's jolted out of the dream by more hunger pangs but concentrates to chase it some more, until he's telling Dream Bright Star how he and White Fox and going to put on a reenactment of "the battle of the white fort," complete with some other warriors agreeing to smear themselves with white paint so they can play the baddies.

My first guess was that this is referring to that farcical fight at Fort Chesterfield, but the narration tells us that Yellow Hair sprang to his feet in excitement after this "wonderful omen" even though, the narration points out, it came from his mind through Dream Bright Star's lips.  So maybe he's fantasizing about his life after escaping this prison and wrecking his bloody revenge, rather than the life he'd be living now if he hadn't run off like an idiot.  At any rate, he swears to the hallucination that he'll come back to her in just a bit, then presses his eye to the wall of his cell and scans the grounds through the crack.  Yes, Yellow Hair is about to escape.

After half a year in captivity.

That's my big question - why did we need to fast forward all the way to autumn?  Did Hubbard need some dangerous conditions during the journeys that follow, or wanted to add the element of danger from the onset of winter?  If so, does that make up for all the downsides of skipping six months?

It's a bit hard to believe that Yellow Hair survived without adequate food or shelter for this long, when hunger has already reduced him to nibbling on his own clothing or wanting to eat raw dog.  And what about any diseases from those at York Factory?  Yellow Hair may have white genetics on his side, but he probably hasn't been exposed to the same stuff as those fellows, or built up some crucial immunities.

And this timeskip also makes both Yellow Hair and Father Marc look incompetent.  With Marc at least we're told that he tried a few times before last chapter to explain what really happened, but for this to go on for half a year suggests that he was slamming his head against that wall again and again until Nameless Governor finally ran out of patience  But why hasn't Yellow Hair, Hubbard Action Hero that he is, tried to escape at any point before tonight?

Especially given how easy it'll be to break out, as we'll see shortly.

Back to Chapter 17

Friday, May 15, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 17 - At Least It's Only Six Months This Time

The very first sentence of this chapter at least answers a question I had from the previous one.

See, we were told all about the legend that sprung up around Yellow Hair, which inflated his farcical shootout in Fort Chesterfield into a demonic campaign of slaughter and savagery.  But there's a problem with that - this is all taking place before radios, zeppelins, or even roads linked the settlements of the North American frontier.  The way Chapter 16 was written, it sounded like as soon as Yellow Hair showed up at York Factory, everyone recognized him as the blood-painted psycho on the giant horse who eats babies, except that would imply that tales about Yellow Hair somehow outpaced Yellow Hair himself, even when he was being shipped north at the same speed that word of mouth would be traveling by.

But like I said, the first sentence of this chapter addresses that issue: "Father Marc Lettau remained on Hudson's Bay until early fall trying in vain to bring about a fair trial for Yellow Hair."  Yes, the author has decided to pull another timeskip, jumping from the very earliest part of spring to the start of autumn.  So it's conceivable that when Yellow Hair was delivered to York Factory, the initial response was "Who?"  And then Motley told him all about the ambush and shootout, and then all the other stuff came in along the grapevine, as promised in the title of Chapter 16.

We're not told this, of course.  There's no description of the authorities' difficulty sifting through truth and rumor to determine what crimes their prisoner actually committed, or even a scene where the evil white men eagerly accept whatever vicious slander they hear about the accused.  We're not told a lot of things, in fact.

We are told that York Factory is smaller than you might think, and mainly consists of a big red building with five cannons mounted on it, surrounded by four bastions for the barracks and trading posts and whatnot, all ringed by a wooden palisade and trench.  The author notes that "Just why this place was so opposingly built will forever remain a mystery" because the outpost gained a reputation for surrendering during raids or wars with the French, opening "its arms to any attacker like a true soldier's sweetheart."  And I must say that these islets of good writing just make the sea of badness surrounding them all the more depressing to paddle through.

We're told that York Factory is eight hundred miles from Fort Chesterfield on the South Saskatchewan, and a thousand miles from Fort William on Lake Superior.  The main waterways linking it to the rest of the world are the Nelson River to the west, and of course Hudson's Straight and the Bay itself through which ships sail to and from England.  This makes the place pretty isolated from the rest of the world, which is why, we're told, Father Marc feels pretty lonely.

We're just not told much of anything about what happened between Marc and Yellow Hair arriving at the outpost and now, when Father Marc is having one last interview with its governor before leaving it.  We aren't even told the governor's name.  But that's the bulk of this measly little chapter, the Mighty Monk's conversation with the Nameless Governor.

Father Marc greets the chap with some Latin he knows the other man doesn't understand, then asks (again?  or for the very first time, after half a year?) how long they intend to hold Yellow Hair without trial - the latest ships just set sail for England without him aboard, and I guess that's the only place you can hold a trial.  The governor counters that it's bold of a priest, especially a Nor'Wester priest, to criticize "our" justice like that.  Father Marc counters that it's the nameless governor who is bold, for claiming to rule a domain three times the size of Europe based on a charter written up by a century-dead monarch... oy, what few things the author is telling us are things he already told us in Chapter 8.

Anyway, Marc drops his trump card: "this youth you have penned up is, by rights, a subject of the United States of America, a member of a powerful and warlike tribe and a gentlemen in his own right by birth which---begging Your Excellency's pardon---can hardly be matched by any member of the Nor'Westers or Hudson's Bay Company either."  Or I guess Father Marc dropped a couple of cards that had gotten stuck together, because this statement contains several different thoughts.

The first one, that Yellow Hair is a US citizen, might finally answer the question of why he needs to be a white guy - so Marc can use the possibility of legal conflict with the United States to get the British-Canadian government to at the very least hand him over to a different justice system.  Now, I'm not sure whether this idea is legally sound, because I'm not sure whether Yellow Hair was born among the Pikuni or out east in the Untied States proper.  I could start flipping through the book to try to answer the question, but why bother?  Because the governor completely ignores this part of the argument.

The second of Marc's assertions is that Yellow Hair is a member of the Blackfoot Confederacy, a mighty tribal group feared throughout the northern Great Plains and beyond.  This at least is hard to argue with, and it carries the threat of real consequences for a trading company that relies so heavily on the indigenous population to supply the furs it covets.  If word gets out about Yellow Hair's long incarceration, people could die; at the same time, reaching out to the natives and trying to find a mutually-satisfying sentence for this murderer could build some valuable goodwill.  Again, the governor ignores this.

Instead Nameless Governor focuses on Marc daring to suggest that this savage is a "gentleman" - even though Marc has tried to explain what really happened, the governor puts his trust in those scalps and the signed affidavit from Motley.  So it serves the murderer right if he suffers in a cell for month after month.  "There will be no trial, priest."  Yellow Hair will languish in legal limbo, jailed for crimes that will never be examined by a court of law, in colonial Canada's equivalent to Guantanamo Bay.

As for Marc, Nameless Governor says he's just received word that there is an Indian canoe on the river, and that a supply officer will provide the priest with some provisions, and that Father Marc could make it to Fort William in about two or three months.  I'm not sure how these facts fit together.  Marc works for the Nor'Westers, right?  So can Nameless Governor, who is in charge of what must be a Hudson's Bay Company outpost, even order him to leave?  And why would Marc be going to Fort William if he wasn't being ordered by this guy he doesn't work for?  I get that he would be in danger if he returned to Fort Chesterfield, but looking at the map at the front of the book, it seems that he has plenty of other options - Edmonton, Big Falls Post, Pembina, and so on.

But the Mighty Monk sees the order in those sentences that I don't, though he won't walk out without getting in the last word.

"Worthy of the English," said Father Marc with an amused grin.  "You fear my testimony will make your vengeance less complete and you ship me off to get me out of the way and to hope that alternate freezes and thaws will prevent my ever arriving at Fort William.

Didn't we just establish that there was never going to be a trial?

Ah, well, Your Excellency, it is most revealing.  I never would have thought it of you.  'Lords of the Outer Marches,' eh?  Let's hope you know a trick or two about walking on coals in the hereafter."

And then he departs the room with a "roar of laughter," leaving the shaken governor, "sitting fatly in his chair," worrying about his immortal soul for the first time in a while.  The next day Father Marc takes his baggage, which includes Yellow Hair's stuff since he's convinced that he'll never see his friend again and doesn't want his clothes and war kit confiscated by the HBC, gets in a boat, and starts paddling up the Nelson River on his long journey to Fort William.  The journey that Father Marc thinks is an attempt to kill him.

Huh.  Well, I'm sure he has his reasons for this, but - say it with me now - we're never told them.

Back to Chapter 16

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 16 - Intermission

This chapter is mostly just tiresome - not boring, but annoying to read.  The weird thing is that there isn't much to it, because "Grapevine" is more or less a recap of the story thus far.  So props, Hubbard, for making the dull painful.

The author spends roughly five pages in dry, wry historian mode, having picked up an affection for it after experimenting with that voice in Chapter 14.  He pauses in the process of "cutting, trimming, drying, smoking and stacking the chronicle of Yellow Hair for posterity's digestion" to recount what led our hero to Fort Chesterfield in the first place, without really explaining why it's necessary.  Maybe he worried that by page 131 we'd have forgotten what happened on page 16.

So the author reminds us that this whole thing started when Captain Lewis killed two Pikuni "(in self defense, of course)," but Yellow Hair, "with naive reasoning that must be greatly regretted, he supposed that whites, like Indians, had their good people and bad people and were, after all, human with natural human frailties."  Alas, contact with the Nor'Westers proved how wrong he was when they took advantage of him, even attacking his good name by accusing him of murder!  Yellow Hair merely wanted to kill Lewis or the enemy Tushepaws, he hadn't actually gotten a chance to yet, thank you very much.

Hubbard (again) compares the "gallant rider of the plains" to a knight, someone with "honor, cleanliness and a strict code" whose skin tone was in truth "only a sixteenth of a shade deeper than the faces of the frontier interlopers," and I'm wondering how you measure that.  Well, not enough to actually look it up, I assume paint makers have a way to-- anyway, just as "King Arthur was too good himself to see the vice in the knights around him," so did the Native Americans initially assume that the invaders meant their words about brotherhood and peaceful coexistence.

Just as a reminder, this whole story started with Hubbard taking a historical incident and insisting that the Blackfoot had no choice but to try and steal Lewis' guns, because a tribe that his expedition visited earlier who believed his message of peace was attacked by other Indians.

Next our author attacks other authors, specifically Alexander Henry and his scornful yet popular account of the natives he encountered.  Unfortunately Hubbard is careless in this - Alexander Henry the younger was a Nor'Wester who did indeed travel across the Canadian frontier to sneer at the savagery of the Native Americans he encountered, and yes, he was enough of a dickwad to complain that their women weren't properly ashamed when he stood around to watch them bathe in the river, "yet so close did they keep their thighs together that nothing could be seen.”  But though he called the Blackfoot and their offshoots "Slave Indians" due to their propensity for taking captives, he described them as fearsome warriors obsessed with conflict, which doesn't exactly clash with how Hubbard has presented them so far.  You can read some extracts from Henry the younger's Ethnography of Fort Vermillion on this badly-formatted page.

Now Alexander Henry the elder, on the other hand, was a Nor'Wester who was adopted by one of those savage tribes, and had the diplomatic skills to get along with them.  He also wrote about his experiences, and in his 1809 book Travels and Adventures in Canada and the Indian Territories between the years 1760 and 1776, which you can read online here, he assures us that he isn't trying to encapsulate the American Indians' history or explain their morals - "All comment, therefore, in almost all instances, is studiously avoided."  I've just skimmed it in places, and it seems pretty dry but not nearly as judgmental as its author's nephew.

But isn't that an important oversight?  Hubbard condemns one Henry as being responsible for painting the Indians in the worst light, but conveniently forgets to mention the other Henry who got along with them and wasn't so fiercely critical.  I guess he believes his own words about Yellow Hair being naive for assuming that there must be a decent white guy somewhere out there.

And then there's a shining moment of unintentional hilarity.

A bestial drunkard, a sot without decency or compunction, Henry passed enduring judgment upon the late American Indian. A trick of writing too well known for much enlargement here is to make most of your characters so dull your comedian appears uproariously funny.  By contrast murder can be made noble.  Henry was an unclean, lustful brute, but to make himself a hero in the Indian country, he carefully painted the Indian worse than himself.

I'm impressed that Hubbard could type this without a flash of awareness and shame compelling him to crumble up that page of the draft and start over.  Because let's take another look at our "hero" - see any redeeming qualities?  Anything that would make us like him?  Maybe I need a new glasses prescription, but all I can spot in Yellow Hair is a craving for violence and glory, seasoned with a disrespect for his elders and a tendency for his impulsiveness to get him in over his head - even the author admits that he possessed a "restless and impatient temperament" that might be beaten out of him in the unlikely event that he was defeated in battle.  But to make up for the hero's shortcomings, Hubbard has painted all the white men Yellow Hair encounters as drunkards or murderers or betrayers, allowing him to pass judgment on the entire race, even though doing so overlooks people like Father Marc who are more neutral than evil.

Or in other words, Hubbard is doing exactly what he's accusing Henry the younger of doing.

The good news is that we know that Hubbard will eventually get better about this.  I mean, he'll still paint an entire species or planetary population as irredeemably evil and/or corrupt (regardless of how many exceptions appear in the story), but he won't rely upon that alone making his protagonist heroic by comparison - instead he'll beat us over the head with how virtuous and exceptional the story's main character is while making everyone else as evil as possible.

Anyway.  The narrator says that given his experiences, it's small wonder that Yellow Hair, "while he was shipped like so much worthless rabbit fur to York Factory" underfed and denied medical treatment from Father Marc, developed "a deep and enduring hatred of his own race."  This isn't supposed to excuse or whitewash what he'll do in the rest of the story, the author assures us, we should simply try and keep things in perspective when we judge him.  Be a fair and unbiased audience, in this tale that demonizes everyone who opposes our hero.

The rest of the chapter describes how the legend of Yellow Hair spread across the continent - "From the Rockies to Quebec, from Hudson's Bay to St. Louis, men related the story, added their bit to it with wide, serious eyes, believed everything they heard about it, and importantly saw to it that the story rolled onward."  Soon one white Indian in dirty buckskins who killed five men in a siege has grown into a savage halfbreed who went about naked, with scarlet paint on his face and lit matches woven into his hair like Blackbeard.  They say he survives off wolf's blood, has eight to fourteen wives, killed as many as 231 people over his career, rides a giant stallion, roasts his foes' flesh in their burning forts before consuming them, savagely tears apart women and especially babies, and it took the British an eight-day-long battle to subdue him.

Small surprise then that when Yellow Hair arrived at York Factory, he was dumped in an outhouse - I'm assuming that's a house out from the rest of a complex, not the toilet - without clothes or blankets, kept under armed guard while the governor and his staff tried to figure out how to "get their money's worth out of 'that inhuman fiend.'"  ...Wait, what?

Now, you might think that with such a vicious killer on their hands, the authorities would be eager to get him tried and executed as quickly as possible, maybe even rushing through the former to get to the latter.  But luckily for our hero, the colonial governor is willing to spend time and resources keeping Yellow Hair alive, if in miserable condition, while postponing his trial for as long as possible, so that he'll have an opportunity to escape.  In, say, exactly thirteen pages.

Back to Chapter 15

Monday, May 11, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 15 - Motley Pays Dearly, And I Guess He Lost Some Men Too

The book assures us that the Hudson's Bay Company is used to writing off losses, since after all it was "founded in the dim but glorious past to discover a Northwest Passage to the Orient."  This clashes with at the very least Wikipedia's article on the HBC, which seems to suggest that the group was more about trading beaver pelts around Hudson's Bay than Arctic naval expeditions - true, an HBC employee named John Rae led an expedition into the northwest in 1849, but this was an attempt to figure out what happened to a previous expedition.  And then he got spat on for daring to suggest that a Royal Navy officer's voyage could end in disaster and cannibalism, poor guy.

Maybe Hubbard's getting confused, and thinks that Henry Hudson, the 17th century explorer who was searching for the Northwest Passage, and whom Hudson's Bay is named for, had something to do with the founding of the Hudson's Bay Company?  Which for the record happened in 1670, 59 years after Hudson's death.  And good grief, I just spent half an hour researching things online because of the first three sentences in this chapter.

Anyway, it's a good thing that the HBC is so used to writing in red ink, because they're about to take another huge hit this chapter.  Just when Motley's about to leave Fort Chesterfield...

It has already been noticed that Major Alexander McGlincy's worthy if somewhat sodden brain ran foggily inside a lining of beaver fur.  It may well be added here that the valuable cogs of this wonderful machine looked very much like shillings.  This is on the authority of a doctor who examined them after they were rather messily spilled and it is only necessary to recall the dealings with Motley to confirm the fact.

Wow, so in the space of one paragraph, we go from smirking slightly at the author's description of a character's thought process, to incredulity that a doctor would testify that there were indeed coins in someone's brain, to irritation that the author just spoiled a villain's fate.  I mean sure, there's little doubt given how the book's gone so far that Yellow Hair is going to kill McGlincy at some point, but now we know that the bad guy's skull is due to be asploded.  At least allow us the dramatic tension of wondering how the villain will die, Hubbard.

The result of Yellow Hair's siege is one shot-up and burned trading room that will have to be torn down and rebuilt before the natives came by to trade, "two thousand dollars" of lost trade goods (according to Luberly, who isn't using pounds or shillings for some reason), and I guess five dead men and three wounded fellows from Motley's expedition.  Because these are all greedy fur traders who barely value human life, etc.

McGlincy blocks Motley's now-ragged group from leaving the fort, thus reminding the HBC guys that they are now badly outnumbered and outgunned in a rival camp.  And to summarize three pages in four words: it's an outrageous shakedown.  For damages to the trading post sustained during Motley's apprehension of Yellow Hair, damage to the goods inside said trading post, a ten-pound-to-a-man bonus to McGlincy's crew for their assistance, cannon rental, beach docking fees, and compensation for catching the criminal who attacked Motley's crew in the first place, McGlincy has the clerk hand over a bill for £2,755 - though he's nice enough not to add a five-hundred-pound charge for his work "directing" the attack on Yellow Hair.  With a fort full of armed Nor'Westers around him, Motley has no choice but to sign.

All this takes up five pages or so, and then we're told that oh yeah, one of the surviving Orkneymen found out that Yellow Hair wasn't dead.  You might think that this would be worth spending some words on compared to the humor(?) of McGlincy being greedy, but the whole event is summarized in a short paragraph with the author telling us that Yellow Hair's unconscious body was "double tied" and dumped in a boat.

Oh, and Father Marc materializes with no word on where he's been or what he was doing during the previous chapter, though the author is nice enough to acknowledge that he disappeared after the battle.  I can only conclude that he was temporarily exiled to the Phantom Zone.  Now wrestling ability aside, Father Marc is not a man of war, but he "belonged to a church in which diplomacy and tactical efficiency were shaped into fine arts."  I would argue that this is less significant than Father Marc being one of the few people around these parts who is neither drunk nor stupid.

However he does it, the padre concludes he's in a bit of a spot now - he's not loyal to the trading company, can't be bribed, and one word from him to the wrong people could make this whole scheme to use Yellow Hair as a scapegoat fall apart.  McGlincy hasn't realized this yet... despite coming up with this scheme nine months ago, and having Yellow Hair in custody for the past three weeks... but when/if he does, Marc's life will be in danger.  Plus, the padre is kind of fond of Yellow Hair.

So Marc quickly packs his stuff and leaves with the HBC men, explaining when McGlincy notices that "I'll remember your orders, major.  I'll see that they hang him, all right."  And McGlincy briefly considers trying to order the priest to say, but that would only arouse Motley's interest.  And then he briefly considers ordering his men to open fire...

Well, that's not a bad idea, I mean if you have to be a bloodthirsty capitalist out to kill your competition.  McGlincy already missed his chance to completely wipe out Motley's party, scalp the corpses, and blame the whole affair on the Indians, but now he has an opportunity to finish the job, then send Yellow Hair to any authorities who ask about it as the perpetrator of the atrocity.  Yep, real shame, Motley brought all those men to the fort to apprehend our prisoner, but then that wild half-breed went and killed them all.  We just barely managed to subdue him again, honest.

But McGlincy demurs - "he had already seen Motley escape unscathed from a melting volley and he could not risk it again as Motley's boat was ready to depart."  Now I could criticize McGlincy for being timid here, but I find it quite refreshing that a Hubbard villain isn't assuming that doing nearly the same thing that failed to kill his enemy last time will certainly work this time.  So he gets a pass.

Instead, McGlincy offers to give Motley all the evidence of Yellow Hair's atrocities, four scalps "found" in Yellow Hair's room and a signed affidavit from Major McGlincy that the renegade had disappeared from his fort several days before the murders and then returned drunk and travel-worn and waving those incriminating hunks of hair around.  Motley declares that this will "swing the fiend" and the five deaths and three injuries were all worth it.

So all in all, a good day.  Motley got his "renegade," while between extorting his rival and stealing that boatload of furs, McGlincy has made out with a cool £10,555," or something like fifty thousand dollars" for us Americans - and all profit, to boot.  For reference, the contemporary Louisiana Purchase cost eleven-and-a-quarter million dollars, so... I dunno, McGlincy could afford a good chunk of the "nose" of the "Indian" in the state of Iowa?

Yellow Hair was the only man who would pay more than he could afford as no man can rightly stand to lose his life no matter the stakes, the honor, the reputation or the more common pay in coin.

Weren't you just going on about how glorious Yellow Hair's mission to risk his life by hanging around a trading post was?  So now you're staying he should have stayed home, because his personal honor or reputation wasn't worth the danger?

Yes, everybody was pleased except Father Marc and the "renegade."

And shouldn't McGlincy be nervous that Father Marc is accompanying Yellow Hair, presumably to his trial?  Might the words of a priest mean something even if they go against a sworn affidavit?  What if he spills the beans to Motley about how McGlincy has pulled one over on him twice now?  Maybe it'd be a good idea for another band of "Indians" to run ahead and ambush them as they sail along the river.

But whatever, that's it for Fort Chesterfield for now.  Try to work up some suspense over whether our hero is really going to be executed, or if this Hubbard Action Hero who can fend off a whole fort of enemies might be able to escape, possibly with the help of an ally.

Back to Chapter 14

Friday, May 8, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 14 - Yellow Hair vs. the World

We now return to our fight scene, already in progress.

Like the Olympic torch-lighting event, the battle is kicked off by Motley, "with some ceremony," lighting the fuse to the cannon his grunts rolled up.  The hunk of lead rips clean through the door in a hail of splinters and out through the back wall, shredding Yellow Hair and everything else in the trading room, thus ending the battle in a single-

Well, no.  Instead the trading room's door "was like a thick man hit in the middle with a war club" - the center "shot in" instead of breaking, it rips off its hinges and skids halfway across the room to rest against the counter our hero is using as a barricade, but the door stops the cannonball from going further.  Either that's a very good door or a very poor cannon.

If you're wondering why McGlincy isn't strenuously objecting to Motley's use of heavy artillery on his trading post, just wait until next chapter.

Yellow Hair's still a bit dazed from the impact and the sudden burst of sunlight, but he can see human shapes in the smoke and, one by one, takes up and fires the row of muskets he has aimed at the entrance.  The trading room entrance is only big enough for two men to squeeze through at a time, so six shots later there's a pile of Orkneymen on the threshold and the rest retreat.  Yellow Hair immediately goes about reloading his row of muskets, while Motley bellows orders to reload the cannon.

There is no indication that any of the attackers actually fired their weapons.  Obviously they wouldn't be able to hit our hero if they had, but there's no mention of Yellow Hair ducking bullets with his superhuman reflexes, or even standing unflinching as lead pellets zinged past his ears.  The poor Orkneymen have rifles and pistols, we're told, but I guess they're more concerned about using the truncheons and knives they're carrying too.

The narration then pulls back a bit, taking on the quality of a dry historian viewing events with the benefit of hindsight.

It is very difficult for a casual observer to understand the theory of battle.  Where war is concerned society has denied all men the right to casualness and has demanded instant and interested participation.

Translation: the author is about to spend a page or two going over what all the principal characters are doing in this action scene.  Which counts as a "war."

The narrator makes the utterly nonsensical suggestion that had Yellow Hair been fighting for the HBC, Motley would have showered him with rewards.  This is very stupid - Motley is under the impression that Yellow Hair is the one who butchered his men, and the savage is currently killing even more of them.  The narrator should instead be wryly observing that Yellow Hair is doing such a good job killing HBC mooks that McGlincy would be tempted to hire him if his evil plan didn't depend on handing him over as a captured fugitive.

But, unfortunately for Yellow Hair, he was only fighting in his own interests through a misconceived idea that every man has a perfect right to stay alive.

I'll provide the sarcasm, thank you.

To do this he had to counteract the employment of a cannon by using all the rifles at his command.

Nonsense.  I mean, this makes no sense.  Yellow Hair can't see the cannon, and all he's used the rifles for is holding off the men that come at him while the cannon is being reloaded.  If the HBC flunkies were patient and waited, they could bombard their enemy with impunity.  If you're fighting a siege, let your siege engines do their job.

He had no lust for killing whatever and indeed no interest in it.

Oh realllly?  Let's think back to Chapter 2...

"Ah, but what I'll do to those Tushepaws," said Yellow Hair.  "Hyai, how I'll wade through them!  They will think a prairie fire has hit them.  And I'll take their horses---"

No interest at all.

He wanted very much to live to fight again and he had no retreat except in the face of twoscore white men.

Our hero can already move faster than the rest of these saps can react, and even when under guard in Chapter 8 reckoned he could swim the river to safety.  I'm pretty sure that if he really wanted to, Yellow Hair could slip out of this mess.  But he'll stay and fight so the plot can move in a certain direction, and he'll be "forced" to do this so he can be properly victimized by the evil white men.

Motley, who two paragraphs ago the narration assured us would want to hire Yellow Hair in different circumstances, is furious at Yellow Hair because those Orkneymen cost an eight-pound bounty apiece, and screams enough insults at the white Indian that the survivng HBC men become convinced that "it was a matter of world-wide importance on which hung the fate of the H.B.C. to capture Yellow Hair."

Yes, capture.  They're under the impression that Yellow Hair already led a war party that ambushed and scalped five of their own, and now who knows how many more have been killed during this mismanaged siege, but they're still set on taking him alive so there's something left to kill.  Doesn't matter that he's resisting arrest with gusto, and it doesn't matter how many they lose in the process, they're gonna subdue this savage and show him what civilized justice looks like.

You know, in between shooting at him with a cannon.

Violence acts upon men as variously as whiskey.  It makes them happy, sad, brave or craven.  Violence is, in fact, a much greater stimulus than spirits because it usually quickens reaction while whiskey deadens it.

So if someone drunk off his ass gets in a shootout, he winds up somewhere around normal?

That can't be right, because the narration assures us that "Violence made Major Alexander McGlincy more imperial than ever," which is to say that he sits out of Yellow Hair's firing arc, shouting orders that no one can hear and pointing out things with the bottom of his whiskey bottle.  Luberly meanwhile is darting about with a pistol, very visibly playing a part in the battle without actually doing anything or approaching the trade room door.  The rest of the Nor'Westers are AWOL, the only people actually fighting are Motley's Orkneymen.

Poor Orkneymen.  The narration observes that since their only part to play in the battle was actually fighting it, "their reaction needs no further illumination."  I guess Hubbard is satirizing history's tendency to focus on glorious generals and warlords rather than the common grunts who actually bled and died in mankind's wars, by focusing on the glorious major and named characters rather than the common grunts who are actually getting killed by the book's hero.

Said hero is having, more or less, a pretty good time.  "While not exactly happy about it, Yellow Hair was exultant," and fearlessly faces death by shouting insults and taunts.

Yellow Hair would fire at a fleeting smoke shadow and yip, "Stand still!  How can I hit you when you move?  Come on, you bullies, line up for another attack.  You can take me this time!  I'm waiting, my heroes!  Come on, come in, you're welcome to my lead!  Have a slug!  You there, stand still?"

Remember, "no lust for killing, and indeed no interest in it."

The narration gets downright sardonic, assuring us that "the odds against him were not so great as they initially appeared."  After all, there's only forty-one men outside Yellow Hair's room, with a mere two cannons (not counting the barge's howitzer), sixteen cutlasses, and an undisclosed number of muskets and pistols.  The trading room was constructed to withstand a siege like a castle keep, and apart from the door, a window, the rear wall, part of the counter, and a third of the roof, it's in pretty good condition.  The only fires are at the entrance and the wall near the powder kegs, and though Yellow Hair is blackened with soot, slightly deafened by cannonfire, and can't see out of his right eye due to the bloody gash over it, his trigger-hand is only slightly scorched from that musket that misfired, so he's still putting up a fight.

My problem with this section is that it, while competently-written and appealing to my sense of humor, falls apart when compared with the rest of the story.  It's hard to take this tongue-in-cheek examination of the odds against Yellow Hair seriously when there is absolutely no dramatic tension that he's going to be killed this chapter.  And by pointing out the absurdities of this situation here, I have to wonder why the author didn't call our attention to all the other absurd things that happen in his story.  As it is, it's like Hubbard is going "I'm not saying my main character is awesome - but here's how awesome he is."

Oh, and he also works in more "evil white men victimizing the Indians" stuff.  The trading room is easily-defensible in case any visiting natives "treacherously objected to the theft of furs or the murder of a chief or some other foolish incidental," and there's a space on the roof for a cannon that can be aimed down to fire grapeshot "straight into a crowd of warriors, women and children who had, in foolish faith, come to trade."  At this point I'm wondering whether the whole fur trading nonsense was just an excuse for evil white guys to go out west and kill some Indians.  They're certainly not being good businessmen, antagonizing and going to such lengths to murder their customers, suppliers, and neighbors who outnumber them by a considerable margin.

But all fight scenes must eventually come to an end.  Yellow Hair taunts for McGlincy or Luberly to show themselves, calls out some of the other Nor'Westers by name (not that we hear them, so they remain nameless extras), thanks his hosts for setting a fire to keep him warm, and talks about how impressed their women will be once they bring home his scalp.  But eventually the smoke gets to him, blinding him and choking his lungs, and he can't reload his muskets anymore due to his hand injury, so he grabs his pistol and approaches the door, hoping to bring down McGlincy with his last shot.  At that moment, Motley's cannon fires, the roof collapses, and a falling beam knocks our hero out.  "To all appearances he was dead and to this he owed his life."

So... after spending the whole chapter not firing their weapons - seriously, I can't find a single case of an ordinary musket or pistol being fired at Yellow Hair - and trying to capture this enemy, if Yellow Hair had walked out of there on his own, they would have killed him?

Meh.  Makes as much sense as shooting all those cannonballs at him.

Satisfaction flooded Motley.

Because the guy he was trying to capture alive by shooting a cannon at is apparently dead, right.

He belted his own pistol and strode ahead to turn Yellow Hair over with his foot.  When the boot toe had finished its prodding, Yellow Hair was on his back with outflung arms, blackened locks damply lying in the dust.

So, if we read too much into these words, Yellow Hair only became a proper Indian - darker skin, blackened hair - by engaging in desperate violence against white men.  Or maybe this symbolizes how their cruel betrayal of his trust has driven him firmly into the Blackfoot's camp?  No, that one doesn't work, he already considered himself a Pikuni and never actually liked these people.

Motley hauled him aside by one foot and, belatedly, began to sort out the wounded from the dead.

And that's "Under Fire," in which our hero holds out against unbelievable odds thanks to his opponents being nice enough to forgo shooting at him with small arms in their efforts to capture him alive, until he succumbs because those opponents aren't nice enough to forgo shooting at him with a cannon in their efforts to capture him.  It's an action scene that unfolds thanks to some questionable decisions intended to bring about a specific outcome that the plot requires, much like the non-action-y parts of the story.

Hey, where was Father Marc during all this?

Back to Chapter 13 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 13 - Let's Retcon the First Four Chapters

This chapter really starts out on the wrong foot.

Throughout the winter, the girl Bright Star

Yellow Hair is usually referred to as Yellow Hair by the narration, but he's never called "boy," he's either a man or a young man.  Saddling his love interest with a diminutive feminine pronoun is at best insulting, or at worst an indication that he's courting someone a few years younger than he should be.

had been suffering from the growing conviction that it was her action that had driven Yellow Hair to accept the mad plan of the Grand Council.

My first response is to change Bright Star's name to States-the-Obvious, because after all she did wind up Yellow Hair before the meeting in Chapter 4.  But what's this about accepting the "mad plan" of the Grand Council?  They just voted to continue trading their furs with the men to the north for guns they could use to resist the invaders from the east, and to kill "Fork-Tongue" on sight.  It was Yellow Hair who suggested sending someone (him) to learn the ways of the Kitchi-Mokan.  Could States-the-Obvious' guilt be causing her to misremember things?

Time after time she had spoken of it to canny old White Fox and even though he assured her that Yellow Hair had been wholly under orders and had neither advanced nor seconded the scheme except to obey it, Bright Star, each time, uneasily remembered the fury into which she had goaded Yellow Hair.

No, everyone is remembering Chapter 4 wrong.  It was Yellow Hair who advanced the scheme, and enough of the others seconded it to send him, alone, on this badly thought out mission.  And while they were discussing this, they mentioned that Bright Star was probably listening to the whole thing from the lodge door - White Fox even addressed her during a speech.  So what the hell?

Guess it wouldn't do for the protagonist's girlfriend to not be worried and guilty while he was gone.  Hopefully Remembers-Things-Wrong won't get the idea to go looking for Yellow Hair with her six-year-old sister in tow.

We get more about what happened between Yellow Hair accepting the mission and actually leaving on it, which the author wasted no time on in Chapter 5 but for whatever reason has decided to cover now, in the middle of Yellow Hair's big action scene.  After the Grand Council, Yellow Hair avoided Bright Star, which led her to believe that he had "forgotten her completely, taking it for granted that Long Bow would become her husband."  I have looked and looked, and can find no mention of this Long Bow before this chapter.

The narration unnecessarily explains that she is wrong and "This was in no wise [sic] the case," and Yellow Hair still had every intention of claiming Bright Star as his sits-beside-him woman.

But a man

Not a boy.

of Yellow Hair's active temperament does not long brood over the problems of love.  Instead of thinking, he acts.

Yeah, we noticed.

His whole strategy of life is built around the basic belief that furious motion will overcome the most weighty intrigues.

Which is why Yellow Hair is currently pinned down in a trading room, trying to fend off two forts' worth of men all by his lonesome.

It was action to go away to the fort of the Nor'Westers.  It was galling inaction to stay still and argue with a youth of considerable wealth.

Wait, who?  Bright Star?  Or is his rival Long Bow rich by Pikuni measures, making this a classic tale of a poor boy from the fringe of society competing with the proper rich kid for a girl's affections?

Yellow Hair's departure and the spectacular nature of his mission, encompassing as it did the welfare of the entire Pikuni people, gave him an opportunity for which all men of courage pray. He was sacrificing his own interests and perhaps even his life for the good of all---and there is nothing more glorious than that.

Yes, yes, let's all bow down and worship the fearless, heroic Yellow Hair.  Let's not reflect how his "selfless" mission is largely an attempt to win Bright Star's esteem (just like Yellow Hair's enthusiasm for killing Tushepaws back in Chapter 1), or wonder once again why this vital task is being entrusted not only to one warrior, but a hot-headed rookie at that.  Or question how much praise Yellow Hair deserves if he's already given up on the "understand the honkies" part of his mission.

Anyway, Bright Star passes the winter convinced that she's sent Yellow Hair to his death, and when the chinook sweeps the snow from the plains, geese return north, and the buffalo start drowning trying to cross the thinning ice so that their brown corpses dot the riverbanks for miles(!), Bright Star worries that Yellow Hair should've returned home by now.  Because how long could it take to learn everything about an alien people, anyway?

So one morning she grabs Magpie the hostage-slave and tells him to get two of Yellow Hair's horses and one of his saddles, promising him some new moccasins if he's a good boy.

"If you mean to help Yellow Hair, I need no reward except to accompany you."

"You're very brave, Magpie."

"Anyone is brave when you smile."

Adorable.  Magpie lies to the horse herd guards so they fetch the steeds, then lies to White Fox about needing Yellow Hair's gun and saddle so he can bag an antelope, then takes them all to the village outskirts.

Presently Bright Star came to him. She had substituted leggings and shirt for her beaded elkskin dress and, at a hasty glance, appeared to be an extraordinarily handsome Pikuni warrior. She was slender and supple and the cool dignity of her face made her appear far wiser than her twenty summers.

A twenty-year-old girl.  No, I'm not dropping that, I'm still annoyed.

It's only at this point that she explains why they're gearing up for a trip - Bright Star had a dream last night of Yellow Hair ill on a square bed with a serpent coiled on his chest, preparing to strike.  Problem is, women aren't supposed to have prophetic visions, so Bear Claws dismissed it, Long Bow said it must've been something she ate, White Fox insisted Yellow Hair could take care of himself, and Lost-in-Mountains admitted he was also worried but said that the weather wasn't right for traveling north.

As a side note, that everyculture website says that Blackfoot medicine men or women received visions that helped them heal their kin, which suggests that sacred dreams are not exclusive to folks with Y-chromosomes.

So Bright Star and Magpie ride north to check on their friend, planning to watch the fort from hiding and signaling him "somehow" to see if they can't convince him to come home.  Though Bright Star worries that may be difficult since he's surely mad with him, Magpie isn't convinced.

"He loves you."

"After I let Long Bow fight with him?

You did?  Um, was that something I missed?  Maybe my copy is missing some pages or something.

Magpie, if you ever love a girl, remember that there is never such a thing as choosing between two.  A maiden may madden you with another man but if she thinks she loves both, she loves neither.

So... Bright Star doesn't love Yellow Hair?

Come, Magpie, before somebody finds out that I have taken pemmican and clothing from my brother's lodge."

As Magpie was no older than fourteen,

Oh good, he's a teenager, so this isn't as miserably stupid as the Chrissie-Bittie situation in Battlefield Earth.

and he felt untold responsibilities to his knight's lady, he would have allowed his tongue to be cut out before he would have communicated her plan to anyone.

I'm choosing to believe that Hubbard is using the knight-squire relationship to describe Yellow Hair and Magpie because it's a familiar metaphor for his audience, and not as a sign of his latent Anglophilic tendencies.

So the two ride north, carefully watching for hostile Cree or whites, and sleeping in turns with one always standing guard over the other.  They make the six-day trek in five days, half a day longer than it took Yellow Hair and White Fox, but still not too shabby.  Unfortunately, their navigation is a bit off - Magpie has never been to Fort Chesterfield, and Bright Star only went once that day the guys placed Yellow Hair under armed guard.  So they end up coming across the site of McGlincy's ambush of Motley's barge.

And also unfortunately, Bright Star is... well... see, the Pikuni, like all Native Americans, are a dark-haired people.  Yellow Hair is the only blond guy she's known (what a happy coincidence there weren't any blond traders at the fort that day she visited).  So she's under the impression that Yellow Hair is the only blond guy in the world.  It's kind of logical.

And triply unfortunately, on his way to demand justice, good old' Motley stopped to bury the dead, but he didn't have time to do a good job of it.  The wolves have dug up the shallow graves near the riverbank, scattering bones and more importantly a "ghost-head," or skull with jawbone still attached (cue chapter title).  And though the owner of the ghost-head was scalped as per McGlincy's ruse, there's still a couple of yellow hairs stuck to it.

Conclusion: Yellow Hair has been killed for some reason, taken to a river a ways from the fort, and scalped!  Bright Star slumps over in shock, Magpie objects that "He---he can't be dead!  He can't be!"  And they go right home.

Yeah.  No effort to spy on the fort in the desperate hope that this is some different yellow-haired skull, no suicidal attempt at vengeance, Bright Star, "Alive in body only," just turns her horse south and goes home with Magpie, expecting that soon she'll have no choice but to marry Long Bow, even though the sources I've consulted suggest that Blackfoot women were allowed to accept or decline marriage proposals.  There's even sympathetic rumbles of thunder to underline their despair.  End chapter.

That was... well.  The main thing is that this chapter interrupts an action scene so that other characters can be put under the mistaken assumption that our hero is dead, but there's no dramatic tension for us or anything.  We're not quite halfway through the book yet, and it's highly unlikely that our beloved hero would be killed off-screen, assuming the author intends to kill him at all.  Even if I'm wrong and Hubbard is willing to kill Yellow Hair without showing us his dramatic death, and even if this chapter is taking place after Yellow Hair's hypothetical defeat at the fort, it seems unlikely that he would be dragged all the way to the river, scalped, and buried.  Maybe we're meant to be worried whether Yellow Hair will ever make it home to win Bright Star's hand, now that she's given up on him?  But why couldn't that wait until, say, after next chapter?

The other thing about this chapter is its confusing relationship with previous chapters.  There's all these allusions to things we just haven't seen - some sort of fight with Broken Bow, Yellow Hair's behavior before leaving for the fort - and what we have seen is suddenly presented in a different way.  It's awfully perplexing, and I know these characters don't have the benefit of being able to flip back to the start of the story to check the facts, but it feels like even in his first novel, Hubbard couldn't be bothered to go back and revise his work.  Like he had an idea for a rivalry between Yellow Hair and Long Bow mid-way through writing the book, and stuck some words describing it in this chapter instead of adding a chapter in the story's beginning that actually contained said conflict, or even a earlier mention of Long Bow for that matter. 

But maybe I'm wrong and that was in no wise the case.

Back to Chapter 12