I like Scott O’Dell, so I read another one of his books. This book is set out west again; Island of the Blue Dolphins also took place on the west coast. San Nicholas island is a channel island off the coast of California. This book is not set in California; it’s set in the Four Corners area. Four Corners, if you didn’t know, is the area where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado meet. This area has historically been inhabited by the Navajo tribe, but unfortunately the Navajo tribe was not immune from persecution.
This story concerns a young girl of one of the Navajo bands. She lives with her mother, father, and siblings. She is growing into a young woman. Her mother has given her ten sheep to have as her own. Things are normal and things are going well, until something happens. One day some Spaniards show up and kidnap the girl and her friend Running Bird. They travel many days. Both of them are sold into houses to be maids and helpers. The girl plans to run away.
On the way back home, the girl and her group meet a band of hunters from her own tribe. The leader is named Tall Boy; he has always had a special affinity for the girl, but some say for her family’s sheep. The girl is returned home, but not without incident. Tall Boy suffers injuries at the hands of one of the Spaniards. It becomes apparent that he will never use one of his arms again.
For a time, the girl tends her sheep which have multiplied. The ceremony of her womanhood is begun, but it’s never finished. A group of soldiers comes. They burn the village. They destroy all the crops. They find where the tribe is hiding and force them away. They walk through the desert. People die. They eventually reach a land with many other tribes, including Apaches. The area is guarded by soldiers. Supplies are given but they are never enough. Everyone has to make their house with what they can find. Tall Boy helps the girl’s family make her house and Tall Boy and the girl are married.
The girl starts putting supplies away for an escape. This will the second time she has escaped from a strange land. One night she and Tall Boy leave, this is after Tall Boy was imprisoned for some time. He simply left the prison through the hold in the wall for the trash. She and Tall Boy Travel away. They build a house. They have a baby. They eventually return back to Canyon de Chelly where they find some of the sheep have survived.
What I liked
When someone mentions Native Americans being driven from their homes, we most often think of The Trail of Tears, but there were other occasions and other places where Native Americans were forced from their homes and to somewhere else. The Navajos and Apaches both have their reservations now, but reservation life was never what it was like to live on their own land.
I like the way Scott is able to write about lesser-known historical events and make them real. I think we should remember these events. Something like the story Juana Maria and the island of San Nicholas isn’t as important as the captivity of the Navajo and Apache people, but it’s still important.
Canyon de Chelly is somewhere I’ve read about in other book series. If you read anything by Tony Hillerman, a large part of what he writes about concerns the area.
I liked that Tall Boy was able to overcome his disability. For a person who has to have the use of both hands to live, losing the use of an arm is a very big deal. He’s a very determined person, even if things got down on him for a while.
What I didn’t like
I read a bit about the events of the book. Over 1500 Native Americans died during this time period. You may think that’s not a lot, but for small tribes it is. A lot of people died because somebody else decided that they needed to be rounded up and taken somewhere else. It was their land. They lived there; they had lived there for a long time, but someone was like, “Yeah, well all we gotta do is move them.” That’s not cool. If crap like this wouldn’t have happened, we would have a much higher Native American population today. We wouldn’t have lost entire tribes, cultures, and languages.
You can’t just force someone out of their home.
Books like this are a good place to start with learning more difficult aspects of history. They’re told from a simple point of view and relay the facts of the moment in history along with a story.
apache, burned down village, canyon de chelly, forced imprisonment navajo, native americans imprisoned, navajo, navajo people, scott o’dell, sing down the moon, Sing Down the Moon by Scott O’Dell, smallpox
Children’s, Coming of age, Fiction, Historical Fiction, O’dell-Scott, Romantic Fiction, Social Commentary