Yellow Hair: Andrew Joyce
There are many injustices that people endure in this world not just in the 19th century but in the present too. The Indians were dealt many difficult hands as they tried to help the settlers when arriving in the New World. The story begins with the lives of so many people that had a dream for a better life. Their goals and hopes were the one thing that kept them going and their will to never give up the second. But, not everything goes the way it is planned and the families that we meet will endure many hardships, deaths and tragedies before the real story is even told.
Jacob Ariesen and his family are at the center of the start of this story. When his father decides to leave their hometown and no longer wants to do odd jobs for other people to make ends meet he and his wife decide together to uproot his son and two daughters and go on what is called The Trail. Little did they know what this would cost them and so many others.
As each family paid their money to the trail boss named Jim and collected what they needed and left everything else behind, their homes, businesses and some possessions 32 wagons filled with provisions, children, men and women would make the trek from Westport to either California or Oregon but not before spending days and months traveling on dangerous terrain and hopefully fulfilling their dreams.
As the journey began the families were strangers but throughout the time they were together they managed to bond, talk about their pasts and the reasons why they wanted a better life. A coachman, printer, man who did odds and ends for others each one hoping to own a piece of land, maybe even strike gold and hopefully bring the comforts of life to their family. But, events transpire and things get out of control as some found it hard to manage while others helped as best they could. The carelessness of a young child cost him his life and the inexperienced father who went hunting wound up next. Burying them both before continuing on left Jacob as the head of his family after his father’s accidental death. Caring for his sisters and mother and helping others when he could this young man had character, strength and integrity that he would need down the road and more. The White Man would change the complexion of the plains but first we need to learn more about the end result of these emigrants. Jacob befriended many but death’s shadow entered more times than not when the emigrants paid money to a man to take them across the river by ferry and the end result was tragic for all. Hoping to quench their thirst never expecting the water to be contaminated with Mountain Fever causing more deaths leaving only Jacob, a man named Hamilton and Jim. But, in the end the story now begins as Jacob is the sole survivor after burning the bodies of the dead and dealing with the livestock.
The story takes a different turn as we meet the Dakota Indians, and a young girl named Fighting Woman who immediately is drawn to Jacob calling him Yellow Hair. With her Father and tribal men there looking for warring tribes she insists on remaining with him and bringing him back to health and then to her tribe as one of them. As the story is brought forward we learn about the vision that Fighting Woman had as young girl and the reasons why she was attracted to Yellow Hair. Can she turn him into a warrior? Will he continue to take orders from her as he did on the trail to her village? Short Bull is the Indian who he will live with and her father seems taken with him but will he agree to what she has in mind for the long term? But, first he would have to have his Vision and then explain what he saw in order to become part of the Dakota, marry Suni or Fighting Woman and have an animal protect him during wars and hunts. As we get to know both Yellow Hair and Suni we realize that she is now part of his life, teaching him the customs and language of her people and others are starting to befriend him. Big Eagle her father has finally given her to him and they are married. Short Bull taught him about the vision and now he has to join them in the hunt and gain his coups to be considered a brave warrior and part of their tribe. Feathers signify coups and the first coup is attacking an enemy, the second is killing an enemy, the third you get if you rescue or save someone and the final for stealing a horse. But, Yellow Hair has a long way to go first and now the tribe is moving so another area to hunt Buffalo.
This is a story about survival, courage, loyalty and understanding as well as hate, war and discrimination as the Indians would learn at the hand of so many when the land that belonged to them was no longer their own and the lives they lived gone.
Things were calm for a while as they were moving to another location until attacked by the Chippewa’s and the end result would cost lives but one that was dear and close to Yellow Hair. As Running Close adored him and wanted to be brave coming up against a Chippewa but losing the battle. Angry and wanting to take care of his people Yellow Hair took aim at many of the Chippewa’s and the end result would give him some coups yet not really wanting any. Planning the funeral of Running Close was utmost in his mind and dealing with the loss even harder as things spiral even further downhill.
Things change when they move to live in another place and army personnel arrive to barter and trade for the animal skins and in one case they meet their needs but in the second a Lieutenant Pike wants to buy their land for gold and the chief needs to speak with all of his chiefs to make this decision and from the tone of Pike’s voice you might think the purpose of the land he wants for trading posts was a done deal. Not caring if he insults the Indians he proceeds to make a comment before leaving letting readers know he won’t take no for an answer from Little Crow the Chief. Here is where the story gets interesting as the Americans deal with the Indians and con them into signing away much of their land over different periods of time and promise numerous amounts of money and other materials that they barely deliver on. The money does not often come in and one deal for two hundred thousand dollars was downsized to two thousand and never paid. Each council meeting, each encounter leaves the Sioux living on much less of their own land and vulnerable to what is about to happen to them as they are seriously blindsided. Not being able to read English makes it easy for them to be conned and not able to defend themselves.
Yellow Hair takes action and goes to speak with the Lieutenants and officials in charge and what they learn is that he cannot be deceived, conned and that action will be taken against the White Man if they persist in stealing more land. But, some are heartless and could care less and the end result will be nothing less than a full scale war as Yellow Hair will lead the Dakota into battle while other Indians opted for becoming farmers. Thinking they are right and rationalizing their cruelties inflicted on these people should anger any reader.
Anger, revenge, deceit, greed, retribution and death all plague both sides the White Men and the Indians as a full scale war breaks out and the deaths mount up and Yellow Hair leads the way. Even though this is not what he really wants he is often left with no choice. As the younger braves are hot headed and want to take on the enemy and the soldiers plans go awry and not everything turns out the way either side want.
Although the Indians thought they could win with their plans they were mistaken. Protecting some of the women and children that were considered friendly from their own tribes was often caused friction but Yellow Hair stood his ground and Little Crow lost control over the braves but the end is far from near.
Friction among the Upper and Lower Sioux tribes, leaders vying for control, Yellow Hair injured in a battle, Big Eagle wanting peace where Red Middle Voice wanted war. Prisoners or captives taken on both sides, the soldiers making demands and a war that might cost everyone even more.
Relationships formed and Yellow Hair went on one last mission to try and save those that were already captured but the end result was more than just tragic when he became a prisoner too and while treated fairly well others were convinced to turn in their weapons and themselves once again more than betrayed. Hear the voices of those in command as they abuse, deceive and try and destroy the spirit of a people that just wanted to live their lives in their land and in peace. From the Battle of Little Big Horn to Wounded Knee to across many different lands hear the voices of Crazy Horse and the most famous Sitting Bull as Yellow Hair for a short time goes back to his roots to remind us of the wrongs does to his people as he fights one more battle for create the justice the Sioux so rightly deserved.
This is a well researched, documented and vividly depicted story by author Andrew Joyce that everyone needs to read to understand that what these people went through in the 19th century is still happening right now.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine