It's the final cattle drive for Bar L Ranch manager "Big Jim" McCarty, but a first for Choctaw Indian-turned-cowboy See Bird Carpenter. And what a drive it turns out to be. As he rides the round-up from Texas to Kansas, See Bird gains a profound understanding of the lesson his father taught him: "A man makes his own life and generally gets what he believes he deserves."
Along the way, See Bird takes novice cowboy Luke under his wing, never suspecting that before the pair are able to return to the Bar L, See Bird will attempt to save his young charge's life. Barely older than the teenage Luke, See Bird possesses gifts that belie his youth and inexperience. He needs every one of them as he battles cattle rustlers unafraid to use their guns to steal some of the 3,100 cattle "Big Jim" expects See Bird, Luke and other Bar L ranch hands to protect.
"Keep your eyes open and your Winchester loaded," ranch foreman Slocum warns See Bird. Those words gain currency as See Bird trades shots with the rustlers, tries to head off a stampede that threatens the entire herd and tosses his weapons aside as his life hangs in the balance. Along the way, he faces his biggest challenge: Does he spend the rest of his life with the woman he loves, Mattie O'Meara, or continue to answer the call of a wild west that shows no mercy but continually offers a "reckless ecstasy"?
See Bird makes his choice, but not before heeding the very advice he earlier imparts to Luke during the dangerous cattle drive: "Red or white don't matter much. It's right or wrong that counts."
Thomas Cannon –
The Legend of See Bird: Kiamichi, by Karl Stewart
Historical fiction/western, 255 pages
Headline Books, 2020
Reviewed by Thomas Cannon
See Bird, a Native American making the rounds of the rodeo circuit at the turn of the century, is perhaps the hero we should have had instead of The Lone Ranger. I say that as a fan growing up. Like Tonto, See Bird does heroic deeds without wearing a mask and while dealing with racism.
In the book The Legend of See Bird: Kiamichi (Book 3), Author Karl Stewart transports his readers to a time when the west was still the frontier but with horseless carriage and telephones slowly changing the landscape. He then has us follow along as See Bird goes on an epic journey with adventures that lead him to fight horse thieves, racists, and mountain lions.
Just as I settled in to see what befalls See Bird next, Stewart gave me a twist that I welcomed as See Bird befriends Teddy Roosevelt. Infused with real history, Stewart gives us a story befitting our most heroic president.
While this book is where I joined the Legend of See Bird (In that I did not read the other books in the series first), I found the story easy to slip into. With a minimum of exposition, I was able to learn who See Bird was, the challenges he faced, and the world he lived in.
It has been a long time since I’ve read a western, but I was pleasantly surprised how much I got immersed in this time period. It allowed me to revisit a world where the good guy fights for what is right and is best friends with his horse.
The characters are memorable while maintaining their authenticity. The action scenes were well set out and exciting. Stewart adds twists and turns to the story without artificial devices. I recommend reading this book all the way through to the afterword.
Reviewer Thomas Cannon was named as the inaugural poet laureate of Oshkosh in the fall of 2021. Thomas is the author of the books Shattered and The Tao of Apathy (available on Amazon). He is also published in various journals such as Midwestern Gothic and Corvus Review. Thomas is active in the Oshkosh writing community, having helped establish the Lakefly Writers Conference. Please consider subscribing to the Youtube channel he cohosts: Author Showcase of Oshkosh. Join him on a conversation about poetry on the Oshkosh Poet Laureate Facebook group.