The Heritage of the Sioux (1916) by BM Bower

Book Review by Kathryn R: Bower was a prolific writer of westerns. She wrote novels short stories and screenplays. She made a good living at it – shown by the fact that she divorced her first husband who called her his little red headed gold mine. He came home in a drunken rage so she left him and went to stay with her brother.

When she first married she lived in Big Sandy, Montana and this is where she learned about the cowboy life.

During her life she wrote about 2 stories per year and The Heritage of the Sioux was the second one of 1916 and written when she was living in California. She had started to write film-scripts in 1914.

The Heritage of the Sioux takes place in the early days of the movies.

The story features characters from the fictional ranch U known as the Happy Family, who readers had met before. The story opens when Luck Lindsay, a film director from California has arrived at the ranch. He made a film last year with no budget in which the cowboys appeared but didn’t get paid. This year he arrives offering money to make another film.

The film involves a bank robbery and the director wants to film in the real bank in the town and use the real clerk. The film director has to negotiate with the bank’s owners to allow this to happen. They film the pretend robbery using fake money. In the meantime some Mexican cowboys also working on the ranch team up with a white cowboy rob the bank. They do this by getting the white man to ring the clerk and pretend to be Luck and say that they need to retake the robbery scene. The bank is robbed, with the robbers getting away in a stolen car. The director is accused of staging the robbery and he and the Happy Family go off in pursuit of the robbers. The rest of the book is rambling but it is about how they are misled by some Navajo Indians into thinking that they are following robbers mounted on horseback. They catch up with the robbers and get the money back.

The Sioux part of the story focuses on a Sioux woman called Annie -Many-Ponies. She lives at the ranch and has known Luck Lindsey for a long time and calls him brother since he worked with her family to be on Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. She calls him by his Sioux name of Wagalexa Conga. She has starred in the earlier film and has stayed at the ranch to help with ‘women’s work’ because she doesn’t want to return to the boredom of life on the reservation after the excitement of the cinema.

Luck had been glad to have her in the first film with no money to pay white leading ladies but now he can afford a car and a white woman to be his star then he ignores her. She won’t be given a decent part in the next film.

Annie Many ponies is being wooed by Ramon, who turns out to be one of the robbers. Ramon persuades her that he wants to marry her and arranges to meet her in the hills where he will have a priest waiting. He has no intention of marrying her. She follows him to the hills, hiding her tracks.

When she finally realises that he is the robber and that he isn’t going to marry her, the book ends abruptly and in a way which shocks the reader.

Bower is very knowledgeable about the different First Nation races . She describes Annie-Many-Ponies’ praying and acknowledges that this practice has been handed down through generations. Bower praises her skill with horses. She describes the different behaviour of the Navajo – who are the ones who put the pursuers off the trail thinking that the cowboys are going to put them in jail. They are much a more warlike people.

Although the Navajo and the Happy Family have guns and they do shoot at each other, no-one dies. There are injuries on both sides. I gather that this is quite common in Bower’s books.

Very few people are described. The only person who is described in any detail is Annie Many Ponies. The descriptions link to the title – her dress is traditional, her behaviour reflects her Sioux heritage

Where this book falls down for me is the rambling nature of the story. It starts at a pace with the descriptions of the film-making and the contrived robbery, but the pursuit becomes tedious.

The other cause for my irritation is the way Bower has the non-white characters speak. This feels to the 21st century reader as casually racist.

These speeches by Annie-May-Ponies and Ramon typical:

Long time ago when I was papoose with no shoes […] my people go for work in Buffalo Bill show. […] All time we dance for show, make Indian fight with cowboys. That time Wagalexa Conga boss of Indians. He Indian agent. He take care whole bunch.

‘Woman, wife sweetheart- all same’ he assured her with a voice like a caress. ‘All words mean I lov’ yoh jus same. Now yoh say you lov’ me, say yoh go weeth me, I be one happy man. I go back on camp and my heart she’s singing lov’ song’.

I have read another of BM Bower’s books which I enjoyed more. The pace was faster and there were some comic moments. For this reason I might read another one of the 26 novels I downloaded, although I might not rush out and buy one

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