Nicole Helget's Reviews > Scarlet Plume

Scarlet Plume by Frederick Manfred
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's review
May 09, 2012

really liked it
Recommended to Nicole by: Ann Moeller Pat LeBoutillier
Read 2 times. Last read May 9, 2012.

Well Manfred did it again: managed to horrify me and delight me with his topic choice and writing. He is capital in uneven writing, has moments of huge clarity and insight and then drudging clunkers of terrible dialogue and ridiculous scenes. I first read this book ages ago, when I was teaching high school and did a unit on Minnesota History and Literature in New Ulm, Minnesota. Then, I tossed the book aside for its outrageous romance-novel quality. Today, I find much to admire in the historical accuracy and seamless inclusion of important information into the plot. I live in Mankato and as the 150 anniversary of the hangings approaches, sensitivities are again heightened by descendants on all sides and even people who have no connection other than living here now. Many seem interested in claiming the pain and playing victim to crimes of the past, but few seem interested in bearing the sins of the forefathers, as well, except the few Indian apologists who seem wholly ignorant to the full history of the Native American nations that once existed in these parts and who are intent on offering Native Americans complete absolution no matter what the real events or facts prove, all in the name of political correctness. While erring on the side of political correctness is probably good (especially since we have a good number of racists here who can't imagine a history past their own existence), falling over ourselves to ignore the sexism and brutality in the Dakota tribes, and romancing their lifestyle as some kind of Eden-esque existence is another kind of folly. Before white settlers ever arrived, they too were party to war, racism, sexism, displacement, mayhem, and murder on the prairie, and after the whites arrived alternately worked with and against the army to push traditional enemies out of territories they wanted. For decades, the Lakota pushed out the Arikara and other tribes, some of whom then aligned with Custer's army against the Sioux in 1876. I think this book does a good job revealing the complex relationships that contributed to the events of 1862. He reveals the complicated alliances between the various Dakota bands, he reveals that not all were guilty, that not all were innocent. He reveals how exploitation by white settlers and traders and military men made life complicated, at best, and impossible, at worst, for the tribes. Manfred is really hard on the German settlers of that influx, who were probably the catalyst for the bloodshed and who did suffer many dead, but with their unfriendly nature and unsharing ways were bound to conflict with the social, sharing culture of the tribes. In any case, while some still try, sorting out the guilt and innocence and motivations of the real people involved is difficult. Only one thing is certain, bravado and greed caused the suffering of many, many innocent women and children, many of whom died horrific, painful deaths. This book, at least, attempts to reveal, albeit through an unrealistic god-like hero with a must-have phallus, the perspective of the traditional Dakota during the late summer through winter of 1862. In the coming months, Mankato will continue to debate exactly what kind of a memorial it wants to add to Reconciliation Park, where the 38 men were hung. I keep coming back to thinking that it should be a quiet place of contemplation and study rather than an altar to killers and martyrs. Figuring out the difference requires a time machine and an eagle-eye perspective.

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Comments (showing 1-3)

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Paul What a wonderful, perceptive review. I read Manfred's "Lord Grizzly" many years ago but I never knew that he was such a prolific writer or that he lived in Minnesota. Sounds like a bit of interesting Minnesota history if I can get past the romance-novel quality, as you say. On my to-read list now.

Nicole Helget Thanks Paul! How's it going?

Paul Nicole wrote: "Thanks Paul! How's it going?"

Nicole - Here are two books on the Minnesota Indian War you might enjoy:

"Dakota War Whoop" by Harriet McConkey

"Through Dakota Eyes" edited by Gary Clayton Anderson and Alan Woolworth

I am currently re-reading some Alice Munro stories. Are you familiar with her? I think she is perhaps the best writer about small town life. Although her stories are set in Canada they often have a rural Minnesota feel.


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