Why did I select Chief Red Cloud as a central figure for my Tom Named By Horse series? This is the first of a few Coffee Clutch posts where I’ll share a bit of my “behind the scenes in a writer’s mind,” about writing these three novels. First I’ve always been fascinated by the American Indians of the plains. Is it their connection with spirituality, horses, and nature? Perhaps. Do I credit them with more than is reality? Perhaps. However I have been, and remain so.
The vision for my Tom Named By Horse series came to me in a tsunami of rushing waves. His is not the only powerful spirit that guided my stylist on the keyboard, but from the first thoughts of the story, I felt he walked with me.
Chief Red Cloud was a visionary, a powerful and talented warrior, and also a very wise man. He gained his respect and honor during the Lakota and Crow wars, where he proved his tactical genius. He held that respect and honor until his death in 1903 at the Pine Ridge Agency. He visited with President Grant, who also respected this great leader’s wisdom, though failed to follow it.
The struggles Chief Red Cloud faced for me, I felt could, serve my story well, allowing me to weave in the parallels of his knowing peace would be best for his people, yet needing to stand for what he also understood was necessary. This is the same struggle Tom faced all through the years of the Plains Indian Wars, and beyond. Chief Red Cloud is the only Chief to ever have won surrender from the US Military, when after a year of bloody battles General Sherman was forced to surrender and abandon the forts along the Bozeman trail.
The Sioux believe all things must be done with respect. Battles, taking of buffalo and game, cutting trees for firewood and lodge poles, these must all be done with respect. Tom feels that as well, and struggles with the tasks asked of him by Red cloud, and finding his way in a strange new world.
Chief Red Cloud faced sweeping changes, he knew he could not control, for his people, their lands and beliefs. Tom confronts changes to his life, his beliefs and even his ignorance about life. Just as Tom is overwhelmed with learning the ways of the world away from the hider, so is Red Cloud often overwhelmed by managing the threat, changes and horrors brought to his people.
Red Cloud must find a way to preserve his people’s heritage, honor, and future, he knows fighting is often the only way, but he understand futility too. Tom understands killing, and is good at it, he struggles with understanding the need, but accepts it waiting for the lessons.
Chief Red Cloud also offers a unique perspective of weighing hostilities, cooperation, and managing his position as a respected leader. Not all of his people are so eager for a peaceful solution. This was a time in our country’s past laced with uncertainty, changes and upheaval, and Red Cloud was forced to deal with things never before imagined by him, his people or those forcing the changes. Tom never could imagine the changes he must face the day he killed the hider. Red Cloud, the country and Tom all change together.
I’ll leave you with the opening of “Tom Named By Horse.” These words are exactly as the first draft I ever wrote, as they came to me. Did Red Cloud speak to me? I don’t know, but never a word has been changed. — “The rolling grasslands spread before him as far as his eye could reach, as broad as the universe itself. Each rise gave way to the valley beyond it. Every valley was the beginning of the next hill. Rain, falling hard from the hands of Grandfather Mystery, soaked Grandmother Earth.
Chief Red Cloud sat on his favorite war pony all that dark day, and allowed the skies to beat him with raindrops pounding like rocks. He had told his uncle, Chief Smoke, of his terrifying vision. With sad eyes he looked into the rain. Today Red Cloud knew even Grandfather Mystery could not wash away the change about to sweep over their ancestral hunting grounds. His tears mixed with cold rain as he turned his faithful pony toward his village.”
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Gitty Up, Dutch Henry