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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
PART I: Bessie
Bessie is an intelligent and observant woman from the Ute tribe. She is married to George Black Bull, who has killed Frank No Deer in a fight, because he repeatedly stole from him. Before he can be arrested for murder by the Sheriff, Black Bull leaves for Horse Mountain; he tells his wife to join him there later.
When the Sheriff and a man from the sawmill come to the house, they search for Black Bull, but do not find him. After they depart, Bessie packs her belongings and leaves the house with her young son after dark. It is not easy for her to leave the house behind, for she has shared it with Black Bull for two years.
The first chapter immediately plunges into the action of the book. It is revealed that Black Bull, Bessie’s husband, has killed a thief who repeatedly stole from him. Knowing that the Sheriff will come to arrest him for murder, he is quick to act. He leaves town to head for Horse Mountain, telling his wife to meet him there later.
Bessie is an intelligent, strong-willed woman who is not afraid to speak her mind. She loves her husband and son dearly and will do anything to protect and care for them. When the Sheriff comes to the house to search for Black Bull, Bessie stands up to him. During the search and conversation, he shows himself to be a rogue of a man with a closed mind. Not fond of the Ute Indians, the Sheriff refuses to hear the other side of Black Bull’s story. Unfortunately, he will continue to play a part in the lives of this Ute family.
The lack of a long, descriptive introductory section in the novel is very effective. The reader is immediately involved in the action of the tale and wonders, with suspense, what will happen next. As Bessie packs and leaves her home with her young son, she thinks about the last two years spent there. It is Borland’s preparation for the next chapter of the novel.
Bessie thinks of what happened two years ago, in 1910, and describes the circumstances that brought her family and their friends to Pagosa. Charley Huckleberry, a member of the council, decided to go fishing at the Piedra reservation line with a group of his Indian friends, including Black Bull. They traveled further and further up the river to catch fish and hunt deer. Soon they were intercepted by Blue Elk, who told them they were in trouble for fishing and hunting without permits. He stated that they would have to pay a fine. Since the group had no money, he told them they could work in the sawmill for two dollars a day. It would take them two months of labor to accumulate enough money for the fine.
Since the Indians did not know Blue Elk and his greedy nature, they did not question the fine or the remedy. They willingly went into Pagosa, where they were made to sign documents stating that they would not quit their jobs in the sawmill as long as they were in debt. Of course, they were already in debt for the fine; and they had to go deeper in debt to pay their rent, their food, and their purchases at the company store. It seemed there would never be an escape from Pagosa.
The second chapter is a flashback, where Bessie reveals how she and her husband have come to live in Pagosa. Blue Elk finds a group of Indians, including her husband, hunting and fishing near the reservation; he tells them they must pay a stiff fine since they did not have permits. Since the Indians have no money, they must go to work in the sawmill of Pagosa to pay the fine. Of course, they go further into debt for rent, food, and purchases at the company store. As a result, they are never able to leave Pagosa, for it is impossible for them to get out of debt when they make only two dollars a day.
It is obvious to the reader that the corrupt and greedy Blue Elk is taking advantage of the Indians, but they are naïve and vulnerable and have no idea about how to fight back. They are unused to the civilized world with its rules and permits. Since they are trapped by their debt, they are made to work in the sawmill, almost like slaves. At the time Black Bull escapes, they have been working in Pagosa for over two years. Although the white men called the Indians savages, they gladly used them for cheap labor and made certain that they could not leave their employment.