A most strange read. For scenery and bringing the wild areas into focus up to the entry of the party into the Spanish areas it is a 5, there on it turns weird with the savage leader acting like a detective gaucho and showing traits of modern thought, not those of a rather cut off from the world barbarian. Very enjoyable, but it fails to build on numerous lines of interest and bumbles to a very uneven ending. Reality focus, the Cheyenne did NOT have a good relationship with the Kiowa & Kiowa Apache till well into the 1840's after the "Arrows" assault on the Kiowa. The great oddity is the author mixes two different trading groups of the plains the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Dakota and the Kiowa, Crow. These groups were very hostile the Kiowa were driven south out of the Black Hills and later lost a complete division to the raiding. Overlooking this and the abundance of firearms, pre-Bent trading days by the war party, the story is compelling up to the entry and then drifts along as stated above. Both trading groups had more contact with plains venturing Mexicans than each other. Highly Recommended! Thanks, Harry!
While the "Trail of the Red Butterfly" is said to be one man's journey to find and rescue his imprisoned brother, this story is far more than anything so simple. It is in fact a story of everyman's quest, an idyllic legend as old as Homeric epic poems. Author professor Schlesier who comes to us steeped in the study of anthropology AND with the language agility of a poet, has given us an amazing yarn about a man --- a family --- indeed, an entire band of Native Americans who set out to recover their Cheyenne brother who has been captured and held in a circus in the southwestern territory of New Spain. Through the lens of our learned author's eyes, we see the west, feel it's heat and come to know the many natural and alien creatures there as well as a vast array of people, both indigenous and European.
In addition to the natural history of the journey that we figuratively take with this band (this skilled writer unfailingly shows rather than tells us) and similarly experience spiritual beliefs and their ceremonial place in the lives of Native Americans. We learn, too, about the differences among our country's forefathers, the native peoples of advanced cultures in North America long before the arrival of Europeans.
As the author builds the personalities of the characters who people this book, so does he build our empathy for them. We share their difficult passage, worry about their well-being on the arduous trail, and fear for their safety as they face hostile forces.
While Schlesier's knowledge of the subject, the conglomeration of varying groups of Native Aemricans is awesome, his skill as a fiction writer is not less remarkable. This book is accessible to a broad range of adults, both academic and common readers. Yet, when one examines the sentences, the words, "le mot juste," as the French say, we find them chosen with exquisite care. Consider this early, delicate treatment of the Monarch butterfly [thought to be a messenger of the spirit world]" . . . a monarch buterfly has settled on the rawhide cover, folds its orange and finely veined wings and closes them, again, again. ... The butterfly lifts itself from the bundle and sails away!" And, then the image of Stone, the Cheyenne leader, sitting up at the campfire after the others have gone to sleep: "He looks around. It is dark, and he feels more than sees the sleepers bundled around him. He hears [the dog] howling his midnight song outside the camp. Wolf sounds, rising and falling, melodious."
It is perhaps always fair to ask of books like this one -- books so thoroughly based upon classic sicence research -- if the book is indeed a novel. In this case, the book is not just fiction, but a remarkable work that will keep you glued to your chair and teach you every minute of your reading, right up until its surprising endings. In addition, of course, it's wonderful to welcome a great book with insights into people of spiritual and heroic principle on this continent long before the arrival of immigrants from other shores.
Professor Schlesier offers us a quest novel that takes the reader through the Southwest into Mexico. His description of the geography is every bit as thorough as his description of the diverse tribes along the way. He accomplishs this feat with a Cheyenne protagonist whose brother has been captured by a hostile tribe and sold into slavery. The protagonist gathers relatives and fellow warriors from neighboring bands so that we learn much of Cheyenne kinship and band organization. His comprehensive knowledge of Cheyenne ethnography continues to enlighen us through much of the quest, and his plot emphasizes a little-known subject: the extent of Native American slavery by the Spanish. While Schlesier informs us of history, his quest is full of surprising twists. A major one is near the end when the protagonist's goal is reached only to be lost by forces seemingly beyond his control.
I expected Trail of the Red Butterfly to take me into the land I love into a time I imagine before the townships, county lines, and interstate highways, and it did. I keep my own copy to read again, buying more for friends and family, with a personal note to the next reader. This book, like all the books written by Karl Schlesier, gives us all a glimpse into the North American outback like we rarely ever see. What was it like then? Take a look, this book will open the path for you to take the journey on the Trail of the Red Butterfly meeting the peoples of the place. What is it now that keeps us crossing the plains, still, reinhabiting the cultural horizons? Here is the book, here is the messenger, hear it now.