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Creek Mary's Blood by Dee Brown
This book can be bought on Amazon for 1p plus postage which is a real bargain.
I read this while I was in the USA last year. I realised that Dee brown was also the author of the very well known book 'Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee' but apart from that didn't really know much about the author or this book. This was another book found by my daughter who is so good at finding books based on where we are going or have been.
On Amazon the product description states:
"A saga spanning four generations from that of Creek Mary to her descendants, who mingled the blood of the Cherokee, the Cheyenne, the Dakota and the Sioux, and who lived, fought and suffered through the bitter century that formed America. By the author of "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee"."
Now I don't know why but I read the entire book thinking the author was a woman and only discovered that Dee Brown was a man towards the end. I don't know whether the name Dee 'said' woman to me or whether it was the way the story was told through the 'voice 'of Creek Mary'who was obviously a woman I don't know but it did come as a surprise to me.
As a teenager Brown loved to read about the history of the West and this became his passion throughout his life. He had a childhood friend who was a Creek Indian and later became acquainted with a baseball player Moses Yellowhorse and it was his kindness which combined with his childhood friendship made Brown question and then come to reject the usual portrayals of Indian nations as people who are both violent and backward.
His novel 'Bury My Heart at Wounded knee' which was published in 1971 and was made into a film featuring Buffy Saint Marie's 'Soldier Blue' told the story of the terrible massacre of the Lakota people camped at Wounded knee, most of whom were elderly and woman and children. After this book many people assumed that Dee Brown had Indian heritage but he used research and his knowledge of the history of the American West to tell this story and also the later story of 'Creek Mary's Blood' which was published in 1980.
Brown has written many books about the history of the USA and also several novels also based on historical events or people including this one 'Creek Mary's Blood' which is apparently his most successful novel.
Brown was a reporter and the narrator in 'Creek Mary's Blood' is also a reporter for a newspaper. He did once say in an interview that his work as a reporter was useful as it allowed him to research useful facts for his writing and did also give him a voice in his fictional works.
This begins with a very proud grandfather watching his granddaughter, a descendant of Creek Mary, getting her degree. A reporter then notices this old man shouting out 'Creek Mary's Blood' when she stands to receive her award and so he goes to talk to the old man about 'Creek Mary and her story. This is then the story that the reporter is told.
It is a sort of family epic tracing five generations of an Indian family from Georgia to the Minneconjou Sioux reservation in South Dakota. Creek Mary is the matriarch of this family and the person who holds the family together at times and is the strength that keeps them going despite the odds which are against them.
The real 'Creek Mary' is actually Mary Musgrove and she was the Creek wife of John Musgrove who was an Indian Trader who had a trading post near the Savannah River in Georgia in 1731. The real 'Creek Mary' was originally called Coosaponakeesa, she was the daughter of a Yamacraw Creek Indian woman and Edward Griffin, a Carolina trader from South Carolina.
In the novel Mary later marries Long Warrior 's after her first husband was killed. She has some children with her first husband and others with Long Warrior .The novel tells the tale of the challenges she and the family endure. The children go different ways at times and become reunited at others. Basically Mary's story is the story of the 'Trail of Tears' suffered by the Indian nations as the white man took more and more of their lands and forced them into smaller and smaller reservations.
Apparently Brown began to write a biography of the real Creek Mary , Mary Musgrove but found he didn't have access to enough factual material so he used what he knew as a basis for the story.
WHAT DID I THINK
This is no easy read. At times i had to go back and try and work out what had happened as the family or what was left of it moved from one place to the next. I found that there were many places where I was moved to tears and there was no lightness or humour at any time.
The story is told as though the reporter is narrating what he has been told. At times you do forget this and fell like you are living through the events with Mary and her family but most of the time it is a story being told. I was able to picture the grandfather telling the story and how he felt while doing so.
I did find it interesting that one of the sons became a pony express rider and another worked the trading post and all that that involved. Another thing I found interesting was that when we went to the 'Wounded Knee' memorial centre in Wall there were documented pieces of evidence telling stories about a couple called Eastman. Charles Eastman was a doctor and together with his wife treated those who were injured at the Pine Ridge Battle in a chapel . He tried to arrange for his wife to be taken away from the danger but she wouldn't leave her people. Interestingly this story became part of Creek Mary's story and it became one of her children who was the wife. I thought it was very interesting that Brown had used real events and people and woven them into this story of Creek Mary and her family.
The battles and other events that are mentioned are real. The fact that one son becomes a Pony express rider and others trade with names we know from American history all make the story more real. Three were events in the story that really happened in history but maybe not to Creek Mary and her family. In the end some of her descendants became involved in the Battle of Little Big horn and also as I mentioned before the Battle at Pine Ridge.
This is the story of the American Indian and the terrible things that were done to the different tribes as the whites moved westwards taking their land and pushing them out as though they were cattle.
As Chief Red Cloud of the Oglala Lakota tribe famously said of the white man;
"They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; They promised to take our land and they took it."
This is a sad story and a shameful one but told well by Dee Brown. Having travelled the journey with Creek Mary's family we are brought back to the present day with a jolt when the narrator describes how basic the small house is that the grandfather lives in. He talks about how cold he is and how in order to be warm he has to gather wood for a fire. He also describes what he is going to eat and the furnishings in the house or hut. We get the impression that this is far from luxurious an so even after all that has gone before this grandfather of a girl who has recently acquired a degree is still living in a very poor basic place.
A LITTLE ITEM OF EXTRA INTEREST
I discovered song with the same title as this book and assume it was written about the story in the book.
"we never owed you anything
our only debt is one life
for our mother
it was a good day to chant
our spirit was here long
long before us
and long will it be after your
pride brings you to your end ."
I thought this was such a powerful and poetic way of saying what happened to the Indian nations and their land. It is written by a Finnish metal band called 'Nightwish' and I plan to go on to Spotify and have a listen.
WOULD I RECCOMMEND?
Yes if you interested in American history it does take you on a journey. It is not a pleasant journey nor is it not an easy read as many of the things that happen are really pretty awful. This family, like so many Indian people of the time, had an awful life of constant movement, death, cold suffering, disease and starvation and battles and sadly it was not their fault. They were innocent victims of the westward expansion of the white man in America.
I think Dee Brown successfully captures the feelings of betrayal by the white man taking their homelands as well as the fear of being wiped out like the buffalo at the same time we see the pride in their nation and their faith in spirits to guide them through times of trouble. The story pulls you in and you become one of the Mary's family members and share every joy and pain with them.
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