Mari Sandoz W. R. Burnett - Essay

W. R. Burnett

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The fate of the Plains Indian was inextricably bound up with the fate of the buffalo; they fell together. This is the story Miss Sandoz has to tell [in "The Buffalo Hunters"], and she tells it beautifully, forcefully, epically. She knows what she is writing about to the minutest detail; she knows the Great Plains country and loves it—not as a tourist but as a native, well aware of its drawbacks and dangers.

A procession of interesting frontier figures, red and white, passes through the narrative, briefly but sharply characterized: Wild Bill Hickok, one of the most controversial figures of the time—they are still arguing about him in some sections of the West; pompous Buffalo Bill, part charlatan, part authentic frontiersman; Phil Sheridan, Bat Masterson, Custer and his wild-headed brother, and the great Indian chiefs Roman Nose, Yellow Wolf, Spotted Tail and Sitting Bull. There are battles, massacres, cowtown gunfights, but no violence for the sake of violence. This is history, and the reading of it is both saddening and exhilarating….

In conclusion I'd like to repeat what I said about "Cheyenne Autumn," an earlier book of Miss Sandoz [see excerpt above]: "Because of my bias in favor of all accounts and stories of the Old West I hesitate to state categorically that this is a great book, but I have a deep suspicion that it is."

W. R. Burnett, "The Passing of a Great Race," in The New York. Times Book Review (copyright © 1954 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 22, 1954, p. 3.