Bearded men cast cold eyes upon lands our fathers left us.
“Now it is ours,” they claim.
The beat of drums turns angry.
Beaded flutes go shrill.
This stanza from my poem “Echoes of the Flute” open the novel, CUT HAND.
The theme of my book is the difference between the way berdaches or deviants were regarded and treated by some Native American cultures (admittedly not all) and the Europeans, who ultimately became the dominant culture on Turtle Island… the continent of North America. The book’s blurb give a hint of this:
Far from the world he knows, he’ll find a home.
Among strangers, he’ll find acceptance.
And in the arms of an unexpected man, he’ll find love.
Young Billy Strobaw comes West to escape the stigma of his Tory family. In the Dakota Territories, he encounters the Yanube warrior Cut Hand. Billy’s attraction to the other man is as surprising as the Yanube perspective on same-sex love. Unlike Europeans, the Siouan tribe celebrates such unions. Billy and Cut Hand can live as partners and build a life together, which Billy agrees to do.
As Billy struggles to acclimate to a very different culture, quickly discovering the Yanube have as much to teach him as he has to impart to them, a larger struggle is brewing. The white man is barreling through the Great Plains, trampling underfoot anyone who stands in his way. As a leader of his people, Cut Hand must decide whether it will be peace or war.
In a historical romance taking place against the epic backdrop of the early American West, where a single spark can ignite a powder keg of greed, lust for power, and misunderstanding, one man must find his place in history and his role in the preservation of all he has come to value.
In Chapter 1, we learn young William Joseph Strobaw has fled New York to escape the stigma of his family’s Tory past and has taken up with two frontier veterans as he heads west into the wilderness. The following excerpt from the book picks up the action at his first sight of the man who is destined to change his life forever, the Yanube warrior Cut Hand. Enjoy.
Spring 1832 at the edge of the Little Island Mountains, the Dakota country
FROM OUR place of concealment, we silently watched the tribesman ease cautiously out of the draw and press up a steep slope littered with broken boulders and sparse-leafed mountain scrub, exposing himself to two warriors on sturdy Indian ponies methodically working the rims of the coulee below. One threw up a long gun and shattered a stone near the fleeing man’s shoulder. A third brave, nearer his quarry, loosed a wild yell and wheeled his pony, raising a tomahawk as the pinto churned awkwardly across the sharply pitched ground. His prey evaded the hatchet and snagged its wicked head, bringing down both man and mount.
The two adversaries tumbled in a dog-fall over the cruel, stony ground. Only one, the fugitive, staggered to his feet, swiped a bloody knife on his slain foe’s leggings, and broke for the scrambling pinto. A second shot roared. The pony screamed in pain and flopped to the ground, sliding in the loose scree.
The runner dropped behind the downed beast and clawed a weapon from beneath the heavy body. We watched silently as he eased the barrel over the horse’s side and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. Abandoning the useless musket atop the dead horse, the brave slithered on his belly to the sanctuary of a narrow fold of rock and began a slow climb up the escarpment. The other two Indians, most likely believing their prey now armed, dismounted and carefully approached the fallen pony.
Hidden by a thin, serrated outcrop of granite crowning the ridge, we witnessed the deadly drama unfold below us. The lone Indian, clad only in breechcloth and moccasins, slipped through the thin cover of the slope, gaining significant advantage over his cautious pursuers in this ghastly game of hide-and-seek with human lives in the forfeit. I held strongly to the view red Indians are human, even though this brought me into conflict with much of society. I had the same opinion of black slaves. Neither conviction was oft voiced aloud.
Beyond the promontory we occupied, the high plains stretched below puffy thunderheads to the northern horizon broken only by a distant, barren mamelle. These broad, short-grass champains cut a swath through the country four hundred miles wide from Canada to Tejas, interrupted by occasional ranges such as the Little Islands at our backs and the Great Shining Mountains rising well to the west.
Splitlip Rumquiller surveyed things with an expert eye on my far right. Wild Red Greavy lay in the middle, taking in events through mere slits, and I anchored the left, shivering with excitement and a modicum of fright.
The runaway, making clever use of scant cover, was now close enough to distinguish his features. He was tall, appearing to be over six English feet, and well formed, putting me in mind of a statue called David I had once seen pictured in a book. The Indian, who was probably no more than my own twenty-and-one years, glanced up suddenly. I froze. To move was to invite discovery. In that brief moment, I was struck by how likely he was. Comeliness was not something I equated with the natives I encountered back east.
The horsemen, remounted now, crisscrossed below him, secure in the knowledge that he held no long-range weapon. The youth would have breached the ridge in a clump of mountain mahogany twenty paces to our right had not one rider suddenly urged his spotted pony straight up the slope, forcing his target into the shelter of a small draw leading to where we lay hidden.
The second brave reined his mustang left to box in their prey. Then both deliberately worried their way up the slope, no more than two hundred yards behind the man on foot. Within seconds, slight noises came from directly below us; strong red-brown hands grasped the upright granite, and the brave vaulted over the crest with his eyes scanning the slope behind him.
In an instant Split was on him, tumbling the Indian onto his back in the dust. Red vaulted atop the savage, leaving me to grab a flailing right arm. It was all I could do to hold on. The fugitive tossed wildly before my weight gained the advantage. Split grunted a few guttural words, and the Indian settled down. Red, caught in the bloodlust of the moment, raised a knife high above his head. Without thinking, I thrust myself between them.
I am now supposed tell you a little about myself. Since I find that hard to do, please forgive me while I switch to third person:
Mark Wildyr is an Okie by birth and New Mexican by choice who turned a childhood interest in Native American cultures into a career. His seven published novels and approximately sixty short stories detail how attitudes toward homosexuals—who once held places of honor among some of the tribes—began to change upon the coming of the white man, with his suspicion and fear of those who are “different,” ultimately becoming pariahs even among their own people as the Europeans became dominant.
Wildyr continues to be fascinated by how different people interact together to discover who they are when measured against others. He gives back to his community by teaching a free writing class at an Albuquerque community center.
Phew! Glad that part’s over. May I now thank Anders at Divine Magazine for this opportunity to post a guest blog. It means more than you know, Anders.
The following are my contact links.
Website and blog: markwildyr.com
Email: [email protected]
And, of course, buy links for the book:
DSP Publications: https://www.dsppublications.com/books/cut-hand-by-mark-wildyr-420-b
Thanks for being a reader!