Jubal Sackett, like his father Barnabas before him, is a born wanderer, called “the Strange One” by some in Tennessee because of his yearnings to see the land to the west, to follow up rumors of strange things beyond the hills, and to keep moving. He sets out on a journey with no aim except to learn more about the unknown Western lands, their inhabitants, and their mysterious history.
The novel chronicles Jubal’s adventures, his friends and his foes. He meets Keotah, an experienced Kickapoo warrior, who becomes his fast friend and companion. Keotah is as interested in adventuring and discovering as Jubal, though he sees through Indian eyes: His discussions with Jubal about the nature of the things they have seen and done and the changes coming to the West form much of the thematic underpinning of the book.
Jubal and Keotah meet a small tribe of Natchee Indians, whose chief and medicine man ask Jubal to find Itchakomi, a Natchee woman who has taken a small group of warriors and gone west to find the tribe’s new home, which has been prophesied by a tribe member, in which they will be safe from the depredations of the Eastern strangers.
Ni’kwana, the Natchee chief, asks Jubal to find Itchakomi and her warriors. Jubal agrees, and much of the first half of the book describes his and Keotah’s adventures in their search for the Natchee woman. Sometimes Jubal and Keotah are together, sometimes apart, and they have encounters with enemy Indians, with wild animals (including a hair-raising fight between Jubal and a panther), and with the fierce and uncompromising Western land. The search for Itchakomi is complicated by the rivalry that grows between Jubal and the Natchee warrior Kapata, who wants Itchakomi for his bride and declares himself Jubal’s mortal enemy.
Jubal and Keotah find Itchakomi and her warriors, and they spend a terrible winter defending themselves from the savage Conejeros as well as from the hard winter and from Kapata. They also meet Gomez, a Spanish army officer from Santa Fe, who becomes their enemy as well, and Diego, another Spaniard who befriends them. The small band settles in a valley discovered by Jubal in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, which they must defend against Gomez, Kapata, and their forces. The valley becomes that new home for the Natchee which had been foretold.
The book has a further dimension, which fits nicely into Louis L’Amour’s saga of westward movements and ancient secrets in the land, only occasionally hinted at in other Sackett books: hints of an older civilization, such as Vikings and/or Roman expeditions and settlements and, perhaps, the remains of the legendary expedition of Prince Madoc of Wales. Prince Madoc, or “Madog ap Owain Gwynedd” (Madoc, son of Owen Gwyneth), as he is sometimes called in Welsh literature, was a legendary Welsh prince who is said to have discovered America before Christopher Columbus: The legend tells of his voyage west from Ireland, his return to Wales to raise an expedition to colonize the new country he had found, and his return, with ten ships of colonists, to the new land. No one ever came back to Wales from that voyage.
The story of Madoc was preserved by Richard Haklyut, in his 1582 account of voyages of discovery to the New World. In 1841, George Catlin theorized that Madoc and his Welsh explorers were the ancestors of the Mandan Indian tribe. Oral tradition recounts tales of a “white Indian” settlement near Louisville, Kentucky, in the early eighteenth century. Robert Southey, Poet Laureate of England before William Wordsworth, wrote an epic, “Madoc,” about the Welsh prince and his band of colonists.
Jubal finds a mysterious cave, with the remains of three people, in an atmosphere that radiates mystery and something of the supernatural, and he receives the mental message Find them. This theme may set the stage for future books in the Sackett saga. Certainly, the fascination of lost wonders from earlier...
(The entire section is 1633 words.)