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Hundred in the Hand

Hundred in the Hand

By Joseph Marshall III

Book Review by Bob Reece, January 2008

Webmaster’s Note: Joseph Marshall, descended from warriors who fought Custer along the Little Bighorn River, is one of the original co-founders of the Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield.  Mr. Marshall dedicated Hundred in the Hand to two Lakota warriors who were both killed in Iraq: Brent L. Lundstrom in 2006 and Sheldon R. Hawk Eagle in 2003. Lakota warriors continue to die fighting for their country.

Louis L’Amour, Larry McMurtry, Elmore Leonard, William W. Johnstone, Elmer Kelton, and Thomas Berger were great writers of the western novel; and all are white men. Finding a good western to relax with as written by an American Indian has been almost impossible until now. Joseph Marshall, a Sicangu Lakota, helps fill that void with his historical novel, Hundred in the Hand, the story of a Lakota band and their determination to close the Bozeman Trail to white men.

Mr. Marshall’s main character is the warrior Cloud, who is to Hundred in the Hand as Jack Crabb was to Berger’s Little Big Man. Mr. Marshall begins his story in the summer of 1920 when the elder Cloud visits the Fetterman Battlefield along with his two daughters and grandson. Naturally, the children convince their father to tell his story, and especially what happened to him while fighting against Fetterman and the Long Knifes on that cold December day in 1866.

Mr. Marshall weaves his story and its many characters together in a clear and precise voice. The people we meet are well developed; some are historical like Crazy Horse and Big Nose, but most are fictional. Mr. Marshall accurately explains the many historic events that take place throughout the novel.

Most importantly, Mr. Marshall has succeeded where other great western novelists have failed. Their failure was not intentional; it was due to a lack of understanding of a different culture. In Cloud’s world, we are not exposed to the usual Indian stereotypes, or erroneous revelations of spiritual ceremonies so often described by white anthropologists. Also, Mr. Marshall makes clear how the coming of the white man impacted the Lakota people. Even with that dark horizon looming, Cloud has families to come home to: a cup of tea and conversations with friends around a warm fire; good food and laughter; love; and ambitions. It turns out the Lakota world really doesn’t seem so different from yours or mine, even in 1866. Maybe that’s the moral of the story?

Hundred in the Hand is most daring during those moments when Cloud, Crazy Horse, and fellow warriors spy on and harass the Long Knifes as they venture out of the Log Town (Ft. Phil Kearny) to gather the much needed firewood. The warriors must leave their women and children behind, and there is constant fear for their families’ future if their plans do not succeed, so the warrior’s frustrations grow when attempts to ambush the Long Knifes fail. There is also a sense of desperation throughout the novel which is not always due to the conflicts along the Bozeman Trail. The Lakota debate among themselves over what it means with more and more whites traveling along the road. Should they let events run their course and hope the whites will go away, or should the warriors destroy the intruders and if so, how.

Mr. Marshall’s account of the Fetterman Battle is dramatic and accurate. Some readers might find that it may not be as detailed as they wish. For me, the battle provides satisfying closure for the characters with which I fell in love and that is a strength of the story.

I am excited about Hundred in the Hand and what it precludes. It is the first in a series of novels written from the American Indian perspective that Fulcrum Publishing of Golden, Colorado plans to publish. Hundred in the Hand concludes with Cloud telling his children, “The Greasy Grass is north of here […] Maybe we can go. I have not been there since that time.” Mr. Marshall continues Cloud’s dramatic story in the sequel, The Long Knives Are Crying due fall of 2008.

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