by Glenn Balch
Two young Native Americans from the Comanche tribe are out hunting pronghorn and bison when surprised by enemies from the Ute tribe. As one youth runs back to warn their tribe, the other decoys the enemy. When he finally evades the Utes and makes it back to camp, all his people are gone except for an elderly man they call Old Man Crazy, because he speaks of things no one believes- people with white skin who wear armor and travel on the backs of animals. At this time none of the Comanches had ever seen a white man and horses were unknown to them. So the youth and the crazy old man travel alone together, and they come across a small band of horses, (escaped from the Spanish Conquistadors). At first they find the strange animals frightening, then are eager to learn how to possess and ride the horses themselves, so they can take these new valuable animals back to the tribe. It isn\’t easy, particularly as the natives don\’t have any idea how to approach or control the horses, but they are smart in the ways of wild animals, and quickly learn by observing how different horses are from wild game (being domesticated, and already accustomed to humans). The younger Comanche is particular invested in the attempt to use horses because he has a lame foot which always slowed him down; this will give him an advantage among his people. But he has to face a lot of unexpected challenges, and looses the guidance of the old man too, ending up on his own to figure out how to ride the horse and then find his own people again.
This was a really well-told story, with good descriptions, realistic animal behaviors, engaging writing style and an interesting plot that surprised me a few times. I suppose its quality really stood out to me following close on a just-okay book, but it reminded me why Glenn Balch is still one of my favorite authors.
Rating: 4/5 210 pages, 1953