I’ve always been fascinated with the what-ifs of history. What if Elizabeth I had been assassinated? What if Hitler had found success as a painter during his Vienna years? What if the South had won the Civil War? Anyone interested in the American West must at some point have pondered: what if the western Indians had put aside ancient hostilities and formed a confederation to oppose the encroachment on their lands by the U.S. Army and settlers?
In my imaginative retelling of the frontier story, they do precisely this. The confederation of The People is led by the Beothuk. Never mind that the tribe was declared extinct in 1829. In my story, the Beothuk withdrew from their homeland in eastern Canada and settled in the American western plains among the Lakota who welcomed them. Howahkan, the principal chief of the Beothuk, recognizes that the world is changing and begins a dialogue with the commander of the local army post.
At Howahkan’s request, the post commander sends a young officer to the confederation as an ambassador of sorts. There, the lieutenant meets Kimimela, who has been assigned to teach him Beothuk ways and answer his questions about the confederation. Michael listens, is impressed and falls in love. In this alternate history, with a touch of sci-fi, the young Kimimela is better educated and speaks more languages than her soldier lover.
The People have some advantages. They have superior weapons supplied by a shadowy Asian people called the Celestials. The People pay for the weapons with gold from mines that they control.
Enlightened leaders on both sides appear to be making progress toward a new understanding and accommodation, but they are thwarted by malcontents on each side. A messiah-like leader calls on followers to reject the leadership of the cowardly Howahkan and follow him. He will make them impervious to the enemy’s bullets.
On the other side, a new commander, who bears a striking resemblance to Custer, vows to destroy the confederation and open their lands to settlement. When the Celestials, who are motivated by profit rather than ideology approach the army commander, conflict is inevitable.
Gradually Michael has learned Beothuk ways and is intrigued by their lifestyle, but he is still an officer in the United States Army. He witnesses battles between the army and the confederation and feels that he is being ripped apart. When he raises questions with the new army commander, which show that he sympathizes with the Indian view on certain points, the commander tells him that his views border on treason.
There is a twist at the end that raises questions.
Harlan Hague is a native Texan who has lived in Japan and England. His travels have taken him to all of the continents except Antarctica and on a circumnavigation of the globe. He has written history and biography, including the co-authored Thomas O. Larkin: A Life of Patriotism and Profit in Old California, which was awarded the Caroline Bancroft Prize. He also writes travel, fantasy and screenplays, including a screenplay based on The People. His novels range widely in subject, from Japan to the American West. Hague lives in California. For more on what he has done and what he is doing, see his website at harlanhague.us.