Mari Sandoz tries to be fair in her presentation of both Indian and white historical figures, though her sympathies are clearly with the Cheyenne. While not romanticizing the Cheyenne as “noble savages,” she is able to view their actions from the Cheyenne cultural perspective. She manages to avoid the archetypes and clichés of Indian characterization in depicting the individual personalities of a number of the Cheyenne.
Certainly, the most admirable figures in her novel are the two Cheyenne chiefs, Little Wolf and Dull Knife, and of these two, perhaps Little Wolf is the more interesting since his fate is the more tragic. The underlying strength and integrity of his character comes through in his forbearance toward the whites and his unwillingness to engage in unnecessary violence that would risk the safety of the women and children in his tribe. He tries to keep his word and to honor his promises, even in the face of the continual failure of the army and Indian Bureau agents to honor their agreements with his tribe.
The tragic dimension of both Little Wolf and Dull Knife emerges in their depiction as the leaders of a vanishing culture and a disappearing way of life. The Cheyenne were a nomadic people whose culture and land-use patterns conflicted with the American settlement of the Great Plains. Their eventual defeat was perhaps inevitable, but they fought so bravely against such overwhelming odds that they earned the respect of many...
(The entire section is 428 words.)