The Plague of Doves

by Louise Erdrich

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Town Fever Summary

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Last Updated on February 4, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 429

Joseph Coutts, Antone’s grandfather, began as a teacher, living with a widow, in love with a woman, Louisa, who had left him. He began an affair with the widow, until she reduced his rent and he feared attachment and left with Reginald Bull to join a town-site expedition.

Bull promised that the expedition, led by Henri and Lafayette Peace, could make them all wealthy. Joseph agreed, resigned from his job, and went to Colonel Poolcaugh's home where the expedition was being made ready. Emil Buckendorf was there, helping women sew blankets and clothes, as were the two guides and the cook, English Bill.

Joseph was given a picture of his landlady, Dorea, in a locket, which he took with him along with a book. The two guides carried a fiddle. At night, the men slept in the same tent in the cold, and soon they had to shovel through snow. One night the snow put out the fire, but the men huddled together and survived. One day, an oxen was lamed and had to be killed for food before the destination was even reached. But even the Buckendorfs were cheered by the guides’ fiddling and singing.

It took a month to reach the area they meant to claim. The food was worn down and the men had bowel trouble. The food dwindled, but one night they shared the same dream of towers and buildings, which they took as a sign, and they began to build a cabin.

The Peace brothers were very devout, which English Bill scoffed at until the day Lafayette saved his terrier from a wolf. Eventually Bull declared he was going to return home, afraid he would otherwise die. He left, and the men knew he would not make it.

The dog began to bring food, mostly birds, catfish, and squirrel, until the men began to get healthier. One night Bull came back, very thin and sick; they fed him soup but could not save him.

It was spring when B.J. Bolt arrived. His own party had left him. Joseph, meanwhile, envied the Peaces their faith. Henri said he hadn’t much faith himself; it was Lafayette whom the saints loved. Lafayette walked off into the woods and killed a moose; shortly afterward, another group arrived with flour, upon which the group gorged themselves. Joseph went home, with no more money, to find Dorea was married.

After the expedition, Joseph went to see the girl Bull had loved. He wondered why he had survived and Bull hadn’t. He decided to become a lawyer.

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