Skye's West: Sun River

Skye's West:  Sun River

The "Mountain Man" West has always been a popular subgenre with boys from the middle 19th century dime novels to the present. The attractions are obvious: action, adventure, heroic survival, individual freedom, and the great outdoors. The literary formula was well established by the 1920s. Most "fur trade" bibliographies include Harvey Fergusson's 1927 Wolf Song which often competes with A.B. Guthrie's later memorable 1946 Big Sky as the best of the breed. Sandwiched between the two is Stewart Edward White's popular "Andy Burnett" trilogy beginning with The Long Rifle (filmed by Walt Disney in the 1950s).

The late Richard S. Wheeler (5 time Spur Award & Owen Wister lifetime award winner) continued the tradition with his popular "Barnaby Skye" series (I count 16 novels in the series). Barnaby Skye, as were many real mountain men, was a fugitive from the law. He is English, was impressed in the Royal navy and deserted. "Mister" Skye has agreed,
reluctantly, to lead a party of Methodist missionaries (10 men and women) from Fort Laramie in Wyoming to the Blackfoot Nation on the Sun River. They must pass through land inhabited by hostile Indians: "...' [Skye]This is game country--buffalo, antelope, deer, bear. They come here to hunt--Cheyenne, Sioux, Arapaho mainly, but also Crow, Shoshone, Gros Ventres, Assinaborn...' 'It looks like it'll swallow armies...said Cecil.' '[Skye]We'll be found and watched. Probably are already, mate.' ' [Cecil]Are you expecting a fight?' ' [Skye]I always expect a fight. Especially here.' "

Besides fighting Indians, Barnaby must contend with the fighting between the party members themselves and a black Catholic priest. Barnaby's TWO Indian wives, Victoria and Mary contribute to the tension.

Although the first "Skye" novel published , chronologically, Sun River (set in 1855) is actually twelfth in the series with the 1998 Rendezvous actually being the first by taking place in 1826 when he jumps ship at Fort Vancouver and ends up in the Rockies. Some readers prefer reading a series in the ordered published thus following the authors muse while others favor beginning with the earliest setting or timeline.

Besides the Wheeler series, libraries should consider acquiring the award winning "Sam Morgan" series by Win Blevins beginning with So Wild A Dream (2003) and Terry C. Johnston's "Titus Bass" series beginning with Dance On The Wind (1995--1st chronological but not 1st published). Any fur trade book "rendezvous" should probably include Lord Grizzly by Manfred and Mountain Man by Fisher. 314 pages.

Recommended by Robert L. Hicks

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