With the Missouri River as a background presence, its dammed-up waters forcing change upon Native American inhabitants of the South Dakota grasslands who have lived there for generations, From the River’s Edge juxtaposes modern progress with the Native American struggle to retain a separate culture and identity in a world of white rules and white justice.
This fictional story, related by an unseen third-person narrator, is divided into three parts. Each corresponds, in turn, to the trial, summation, and verdict of the legal proceeding to establish the innocence or guilt of an unnamed young man accused of stealing John Tatekeya’s cattle.
The novel beings soon after the discovery of the theft of forty-two cattle from John’s herd. John, who is in his early sixties, is taciturn and reclusive, yet he is a respected member of the Dakotah Sioux community. He seeks help from the U.S. government to locate his missing animals. After finding three of the missing herd scattered throughout the countryside, he decides to pursue justice through the courts.
In his younger days, John had been a rodeo rider, somewhat wild and reckless, and sometimes in minor scrapes with the law. Now he finds himself somewhat disconcertingly on the other side of the justice system. As John at first rides the wide prairies and grasslands searching for traces of his missing cattle, he muses about his past and about the changes brought on by the damming of the great Missouri River, including the inundation of much of his own grazing land. During his silent and reflective searches, John visits acquaintances and friends, including Harvey Big Pipe, and tries to discover not only his missing cattle but also the significance of the changes around him....
(The entire section is 719 words.)