Thursday, September 27, 2012


Some things don’t have easy answers. Margaret Coel’s Buffalo Bill’s Dead Now deals with those kinds of things.

First, the story--

Someone steals Chief Black Heart’s Wild West regalia. Black Heart wore it in the Buffalo Bill Wild West show. He also wore it at the battle of the Little Bighorn.

A wealthy donor gave the regalia to the museum on the Wind River Arapaho Reservation. The theft occurs while the regalia is being shipped to the reservation.

Arapaho lawyer Vicky Holden and her friend Father John O’Malley investigate the theft. In the course of the investigation, the thieves murder the donor.

Coel tells the backstory by flashing back to the days of the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. We see Black Heart’s adopted son accused of stealing the regalia. That story parallels what is happening in present time.

Father John and Vicky solve the crime.

As always, there is a personal story along the way. Vicky’s former lover comes back to the reservation. And Vicky still feels she is in love with Father John.

That part of these stories has always bothered me. I know priests and women sometimes fall in love. But for me, this part of the story seems contrived.

Still, I thought this was the most interesting of these books I’ve read.

And now to those things that don’t have easy answers. I suspect there are still people with strong feelings about the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, whether it was good for Native Americans or it was exploitation.

And the same goes for the proper place of Native American regalia in the present day. I used to know John Neihardt, at least in passing. He was my teacher once at the University of Missouri. I have always enjoyed his book Black Elk Speaks. Now I am aware that there are those who see him as a white man trying to co-opt Native American stories.

I can see both sides. I don’t know enough about all this to have a firm idea. But I do have the impression that any fictional mystery story involving the role of American Indians (Native Americans as we now call them) will exist in a universe of conflicting opinions. I’ve always wondered if people like Tony Hillerman and Margaret Coel write in that kind of universe.

This book clearly paints how non-Native people steal Native American history. They kill to take it away from the people to whom it belongs. The murders and thefts occur simply for the pride of ownership.

That’s one thing about this book I loved. It honors the principle that Native American history belongs to the Native Americans. From there, I’ll leave whatever the controversies might be to someone else.

This is an interesting book. It is well worth reading. 

I bought this book from The Mystery Guild.

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