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The Lost Wagon Train (1936)

Cover illustration by Harrison Fisher

The Lost Wagon Train came about because the Depression of the 1930’s forced Zane Grey to face that one cannot keep on spending money without having some to spend. Cosmopolitan Magazine published the serial “The Lost Wagon Train” in 4 episodes from July-October 1932. According to Joe Wheeler (foreword 2016 ed) The Lost Wagon Train is seen as a companion piece to Fighting Caravans. Not until 1936 did Harper & Brothers publish The Lost Wagon Train in book form. The story is now available to borrow on Internet Archive. Pages 12, 13 and 175, 176 were not properly scanned.

All authors have their own style of writing. Zane Grey was no exception. The Lost Wagon Train is typical of Zane Grey romances in many ways. Latch has failed at love and failed in the military. Grey has yet again used nature as a character. In addition, the story is written for the white middle-class of his day. However, it is a darker story than most of his others.

“Latch’s band of outlaws and savages hid in Spider Web Canyon awaiting the Kiowa scouts who were to fetch news of any caravans that were approaching.

It was a summer night in 1861. Spider Web Canyon lay up in the first range of mountains rising off the Great Plains. The rendezvous had been a secret hiding-place of Satana, a fierce and bloody chief of the Kiowas. He and Latch had formed a partnership – a strange relation growing out of an accidental joint attack upon a wagon train.” (p. 1)

Chief Set-t’ainte was known as Chief Satana/Satanta among the white population.

Chief Satana in The Lost Wagon Train must be based on Kiowa Chief Satanta, (Set-t’ainte/White Bear). Satanta was a Chief whose guerilla tactics challenged the US Army and slowed down the invasion of his people’s lands. It is easy to forget that the Civil War was a war within a war. In The Lost Wagon Train Satana sees Latch’s gang as a tool to ally with but also as traitors to their people.

Stephen Latch “looked to be around thirty 30 years old and was the son of a Louisiana plantation owner“. When the Confederacy failed to bestow on him a commission in the Confederate Army he duelled with the officer who

“forestalled him. With blood on his hands and with all the Rebel hatred for the North in his heart, he had set out to wage his own battle with the Northerners. From a guerilla warfare it had degenerated into border outlawry.”

To Latch the Kiowas were disposable tools. He would gladly sacrifice them in his impossible search for revenge for acts brought upon himself.

It seems obvious that the way I understand stories depends on how old I am. When I first encountered “Vogntoget som forsvant” (Norwegian translation) I must have been around 10-13 years old. Back then, I read the story as a story without any understanding of the time it was written, the time it was describing and how incredibly difficult it is to determine exactly what makes something “right and wrong/good and bad”. Determining that has become more and more difficult with time. At this point of my life, I find myself unable to do so on purely logical grounds.

Understanding the behaviour of the Kiowa warriors during the first part of The Lost Wagon Train is easy peasy. War consists of a series of gruesome actions. Agreeing to massacre the entire wagon train makes sense as a tactic in this horror. At the 1867 Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty, Satanta spoke: “… I came to say that the Kiowas and Commanches have made with you a peace. The word shall last until the whites break their contract and invite the horrors of war. …” And the whites did.

“This must be the notorious war-cry of Indians, Cynthia recognized in it the great vengeful cry of the tribe that had been deceived, wronged, robbed, murdered.” (p. 58)

In The Lost Wagon Train Satana, Hawk Eye and the Kiowa warriors are stereotypically portrayed and made so Grey’s intended readers would buy his stories. “Uggh!” certainly pops up a lot. They are supporting characters, nothing more.

Other than Stephen Latch, the only other character who comes to life is Corny/Slim Blue. Estelle is more like most of Grey’s female leads. Corny does not appear until the second part of the story. The first part of The Lost Wagon Train is mainly about the forming of Latch’s gang and their massacre of the Bowden wagon train at Tanner’s Swale on Dry Trail. The second part of the story is a sort of redemption story but also has the required romance of any Zane Grey romance story.

“Let go of that woman, Leighton”

Many people see Stephen Latch as an evil man. Would they feel the same if the story had been about the massacre of a Commanche village? Or the annihilation of a plantation in the South? I don’t see either Latch or what he did as particularly evil. Or, rather, no more evil than all the terrible things humans do in the name of a cause. He is an expert at rationalization, objectifying his targets and soothes his conscience enough to go through with what he planned. Latch is a man who wants to survive and does not want to starve while doing so. His time is a brutal one, propaganda is intense and his methods are in line with that time’s methods. So, maybe Latch is not that different from you or me. What Stephen Latch is, is a complex character. I do not particularly like him, but he is still a great character for this story. Nor did I like John Bowden, who was about to be massacred. I have met many John Bowden’s in my life. People who have power over others are definitely not exempt from stupidity. Often it seems as if the degree of their greed equals the degree of their stupidity. Bowden is completely unwilling to even consider the dangers he is putting his caravan in. All that matters is getting his stuff to Fort Union as fast as possible.

My favorite character, as usual, is nature. During the build-up to the battle, Grey uses nature to change the rhythm of the story, possibly to give the reader breathers.

“transforming the canyon from a dark, gray-fogged, stone-faced crack in the wilderness to a magnificent valley of silver and gold iridescence. The wisps of clouds lifted up as on wings of pearly fire, the white cascade tumbled out of a ragged notch in the black rim, to fall and pause and fall again, like fans of lace; …”  (p 19).

Against orders, one person survives the destruction of Bowden’s wagon train. To say that Latch gets the shock of his life, is an understatement.

“Christ. Am I mad? … Who are you?” cried Latch in a frenzy.

“Stephen! You-you! … Oh, that you should be the one to save me.”

She sank to her knees with nerveless hands.

“No! … It can’t be! Not you! That would be too – too horrible.”

“Yes, it is I, Cynthia,” she whispered.

Of course she finds out almost immediately that Latch is leader of the gang. Because he is a weak man, Latch blames his actions on her. And, because of the way women were/are supposed to be, Cynthia accepts that blame.
“In a word – Leader of Latch’s band… To this you have brought me.”
……

“I will welcome death at your hands. I have brought you to this degradation;”

Latch has two friends in the gang. Keetch and Lester Cornwall. Keetch loses his leg in one raid, and stays in Latch’s Field taking care of Cynthia and Latch’s business. Lester Cornwall stays at Latch’s side. Again and again Cornwall warns Latch about another gang-member, Leighton, and every stinking time Latch ignores the danger. In fact, Latch is the only one who does not see the danger Leighton poses. I know it is a necessary literary device for this story, but I just have to say that Latch drove me crazier with this gullibility. Well, actually Grey drove me crazier.

Grey writes historical romances, not historical novels. This is why people, events and places do not match the time of the story. But many of these people, events and places were real. When Latch speaks of the Maxwell Land Grant on Vermigo, he is speaking of a place that actually existed.

When the time came for the gang to dissolve, Latch did well by his people.

“We’re here first. This valley is mine. I bought it from Santana. It is wonderfully rich in grass, water, climate. Farms will prosper here. Game abounds. The hills are covered with timber …My proposition to you all, except Leighton, is this. I’ll start you all with a ranch and cattle – say five hundred head each. A fine start! Also five thousand dollars each! Bunch together with some Mexicans, and Keetch here to superintend, and throw up cabins corrals, barns. Build homes. Get yourselves wives, even if they have to be squaws. And live down the past.”

And that brings us to the second part of the story. On page 152 Grey brings us to a future time that has Corny/Slim Blue as a main character, Estelle Latch is another one, and, this time around, Stephen Latch as a supporting character to both their stories. It begins with Slim saving Estelle and that, of course, brings romance into The Lost Wagon Train. Romance fraught with complications, huge complications – the kind Zane Grey loves. Gigantic complications rooted in Stephen Latch’s past.

Again, we see Grey’s love of the landscape when he writes about Corny’s reaction to seeing Latch’s Field for the first time.

Like all the valleys in this region, Latch’s headed in a notch under the hills. Only this one was by far the most imposing and beautiful of the ones he had seen. Green squares attracted his speculative eyes, groves of cottonwoods and ridges with a line of walnut trees marched to the opposite wall, meadows like parks of golden grass shone against the sunset. (p. 181)

Because of the way meaning changes, some of Greys sentences made me smile. All stories from that era do that to me. “Making love” is not intercourse nor does “ejaculation” have anything to do with semen. “Gay” is happy etc.

Latch’s way of being able to live with what he had done, accepting but not condoning, seems like a sensible method. It reminds me of stories from Rwanda. No matter what his motives were, Latch completely changed his behaviour once the band was dissolved. Leighton is a great example of what might happen if a person get stuck in their past. Yet letting go is such a difficult thing to do. The Tutsi and Hutu certainly know all about that. Just look at the way many Germans still try to make up for something their grandparents did. I certainly struggle plenty with letting go of hurt.


The Lost Wagon Train is found on Internet Archive


Reviews:


Translations:

  • Audio: The Lost Wagon Train; Narrated by John McLain; Brilliance Audio, 2017
  • Czech: Zmizelá karavana; Translated by Josef Vorel; Illustration by Zdeněk Burian; V Praze, Novina, 1938
    • Illustration by Josef Ulč; V Brno, Novina, 1993
  • German: Die Todeskarawane; Translated by Franz Eckstein; Berlin, Th. Knaur Nachf. 1937
    • Todes-Treck; Translated by E. Tabory; Bergisch Gladbach, Bastei-Verl, 1968
    • Der letzte Wagenzug; Translated by Alfred Dunkel; München, Wilhelm Heyne, 1973
  • Hungarian: Úri bandita és városi leány; Translated by Kosáryné Réz Lola; Budapest: Palladis, 1938
  • Italian: La carovana scomparsa; Translated by Nicoletta Coppini; Illustration by Guido Crepax; Milano, Sonzogno, 1968
  • Norwegian: Vogntoget som forsvant; Translated by Lars Berge; Oslo, Ingar Weyer Tveitan, 1961
  • Polish: Zaginiony tabor; Translated by Janina. Sujkowska; Illustrated by Lucjan Jagodziński; Warszawa: M. Arct, 1938
  • Portugese; A caravana perdida; Translated by Raul Correia; Illustration by Carlos Alberto Santos; Lisboa, Agencia Portuguesa de Revistas, 1961
  • Spanish; La caravana perdida; Translated by Luis Conde Vélez; Barcelona, Bruguera, 1950
    • Translated by Ramón Margalef Llambrich; Barcelona Molino, 1982
    • Argentina, Librostauro, 2010
  • Swedish: Vagntåget som försvann; Translated by J.E. Berg; Stockholm, Interdeal AB, 1964

Comics


Sources

 
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Posted by on 2017-07-28 in Books

 

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The Thundering Herd (Unabridged version: Buffalo Stampede) (1924)

Bison_skull_pile-restored

Photograph from the mid-1870s of a pile of American bison skulls waiting to be ground for fertilizer.

Ladies’ Home Journal, February 1924
Harper and Brothers, 1925 (abridged)
Sure-Fire Screen Stories, February 1934
Zane Grey’s Western Magazine, October 1950
Skyhorse Publishing 2013: Buffalo Stampede (unabridged)

Once again Zane Grey had turned out to be too controversial in his for his times.

Bison population survey photograph, Wood Buffalo National Park (17 July 1946)

Bison population survey photograph, Wood Buffalo National Park (17 July 1946)

More wild buffalo have been slaughtered in America in the past ten years than at any time in the last century. Capitalizing on the Indian’s complete dependence upon the buffalo, 19th century government leaders launched a campaign to wipe them out, and in so doing, force the Indians into a sedentary lifestyle more in line with the prevailing European notions of private property and “civilization.” Secretary of Interior Columbus Delano made the following remarks in 1873, a year after Yellowstone National Park was established:

“The civilization of the Indian is impossible while the buffalo remains upon the plains. I would not seriously regret the total disappearance of the buffalo from our western prairies, in its effect upon the Indians, regarding it as a means of hastening their sense of dependence upon the products of the soil and their own labors.”
–Annual Report of the Department of the Interior

Illus. in: Harper's Weekly, 1874 Dec. 12, v. 18, no. 937. LC-USZ62-55602;  Credit: Library of Congress

Illus. in: Harper’s Weekly, 1874 Dec. 12, v. 18, no. 937. LC-USZ62-55602;
Credit: Library of Congress

The Thundering Herd is about the period of 1874-1877, a time when buffalo were killed without thought of ecosystems. We find ourselves in Texas along the Red River & Pease River headwaters and Llano Estacado (ZGWS). Zane Grey explains his inspiration:

“From Buffalo Jonos I first heard about the millions of buffalo on tho plains in the early days—the vast thundering herds—and the stories’of how they were massacred for their hides and bones. Hides Bold as cheap as twenty-five cents. This slaughter was one ot the bloodiest carnages in the history of tho world, and a terrible blunder. For tho buffalo were superior to cattle, and would have enriched our great West. But they were butchered In a few short years. I determined to write the story ot the vanishing ot the thundering herds, and set about getting my material.” (The Hutchinson News, 4 April 1925, p. 10)

Part of the explanation of the massive slaughter of the buffalo was not only due to the influence of the Department of the Interior, although the mission set by them would lend legitimacy to the fervor or its carrying out. A technical advance in weaponry enabled the exterminators to kill without being spotted beforehand by the buffalo. In addition a new method of tanning was developed. All of a sudden the whole world wanted buffalo hides and they could have them at more affordable prices. Buffalo City came to life. (Native American)

Arapaho camp with buffalo meat drying near Fort Dodge, Kansas, 1870. ARC Identifier 518892;  Credit: National Archives

Arapaho camp with buffalo meat drying near Fort Dodge, Kansas, 1870. ARC Identifier 518892;
Credit: National Archives

Once again Zane Grey uses the power of the written word to engage his audience in an important issue of his time. We aren’t just getting a romance when he writes about Tom Doan joining the buffalo hunters going into the Southwest’s inhospitable Staked Plain. Before the decimation of the buffalo herds there were probably somewhere between twenty-five to seventy million individuals (BFC) roaming the prairies. After the settlers were done with them there were probably only about 334 individuals left (FWS).

Slaughter of that magnitude must do something to a person. It certainly does to Tom Doan. He finds himself baptised in blood and gore. I don’t know if the Europeans expected the Native Americans to just sit back and let them go on with their killing. After all, the bison were an integral part of the lifestyles of the plains-indians. So Tom Doan finds himself fighting the Comanches and Kiowas, other white hunters, and himself.

Early on the ninth morning of that long journey Tom and Stronghurl forded the Pease River, at a dangerous crossing, and entered the zone of slaughter. No live buffalo were in sight, but the carcasses left by the advancing hunters polluted the summer air and made of the prairie a hideous shambles. They passed thousands and thousands of bone piles and rotten carcasses; and as they advanced the bone piles became fewer and the solid carcasses more. Coyotes in droves, like wild dogs, fought along the road, regardless of the wagons. Indeed, many of them were so gorged that they could not run. And as for buzzards, they were as thick as crows in a Kansas cornfield in October, likewise gorged to repletion.

The wake of the hide-hunters was something to sicken the heart of the stoutest man and bring him face to face with an awful sacrifice.

Tom verified another thing that had long troubled him and of which he had heard hunters speak. For every single buffalo that was killed and skinned there was one which had been crippled and had escaped to die, so that if ever found its hide would be useless. In every ravine or coulee or wash off the main line of travel Tom knew, by investigation of those near where he and Stronghurl camped or halted at noon, there lay dead and unskinned buffalo. If he saw a hundred, how many thousands must there be? It was a staggering arraignment to confront the hide-hunters.

Toward noon of that day herds of live buffalo came in sight, and thereafter grew and widened and showed movement. Tom eventually overhauled a single wagon drawn by four horses, and drew up beside it, asking the usual query.

The Thundering Herd - Cover

The only thing that stands between Tom and the loss of himself to despair at what his life has turned into is the love of a woman. But none of Zane Grey’s stories provide love-birds with easy resolutions and love-lives. In this case we have a step-father who refuses Milly any contact with other men. Milly slowly begins to understand (partly through contact with Tom) that all is not as it should be with her step-father’s band of non-sanctioned hunters.

Blurb for Buffalo Stampede: On his first trip to the West, Zane Grey became friends with Buffalo Jones, the “last of the plainsmen” as he called him in the book he subsequently wrote about him. Jones had been witness to the great herds of buffalo that had once ranged on the Great Plains, and he had been a participant in the destruction of those herds. In early 1923 Grey decided that he would write the epic story of the thundering herds of buffalo, the great hunt that decimated them, and the battle between the Plains Indians and the buffalo hunters. At last, Zane Grey’s magnificent panorama of the war for the buffalo, and against the buffalo, is being published, just as he wrote it, violent and furious action against a background of elegiac sadness for the passing of those mighty, noble herds, the restoration of a literary masterpiece.

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The Thundering Herd on Gutenberg

Buffalo Stampede on Skyhorse Publishing

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Reviews:

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Films/Movies

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Translations:

  • 1930: Die Donnernde Herde (German)
  • 1952: Bøffelkrigen (Norwegian)
  • 1981: Jylisevät kaviot (Finnish)
  • 1968: La mandria tonante (Italian)
  • 1990: Villdyrjakten (Norwegian)

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1872-3: The Slaughter of the Buffalo

Bison or Buffalo & Native Americans

Timeline of the American Bison

The Hutchinson News, 4 April 1925, p. 10

Yellowstone Buffalo Slaughter History

 
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Posted by on 2014-06-13 in Books

 

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