Savage Country (Hardcover)
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The novel begins in 1873 in Kansas. David Coughlin has died while attempting to break a wild horse. His widow Elizabeth is not only in mourning, but previously unbeknownst to her owns a farm deeply in debt. David’s brother Michael appears to help pay off his brother’s debt. David’s plan to bring the farm back to financial health included a difficult and treacherous buffalo hunt. Elizabeth convinces her brother-in-law to stay and help with the organization and hard work involved to hunt and harvest some of America’s declining herd of buffalo to supply heavy duty belts to power the industrial revolution. This epic journey is portrayed in great detail and poetic language as the group reaches the herd, sets up camp, and begins to kill a thousand buffalo a day! The so called taming of the west is really a plundering of resources, ecological disaster, and a near eradication of the indigenous peoples. Olmstead brings alive this part of our history in all its grittiness, bloodshed, and dangers from rattlesnakes, lightening strikes, fires, floods, and human greed.— From Joan's Picks
"The year was 1873 and all about was the evidence of boom and bust, shattered dreams, foolish ambition, depredation, shame, greed, and cruelty . . ."
Onto this broken Western stage rides Michael Coughlin, a Civil War veteran with an enigmatic past, come to town to settle his dead brother's debt. Together with his widowed sister-in-law, Elizabeth, bankrupted by her husband's folly and death, they embark on a massive, and hugely dangerous, buffalo hunt. Elizabeth hopes to salvage something of her former life and the lives of the hired men and their families who now depend on her; the buffalo hunt that her husband had planned, she now realizes, was his last hope for saving the land.
Elizabeth and Michael plunge south across the aptly named "dead line" demarcating Indian Territory from their home state of Kansas. Nothing could have prepared them for the dangers: rattlesnakes, rabies, wildfire, lightning strikes, blue northers, flash floods--and human treachery. With the Comanche in winter quarters, Elizabeth and Michael are on borrowed time, and the cruel work of harvesting the buffalo is unraveling their souls.
Bracing, direct, and quintessentially American, Olmstead's gripping narrative follows that infamous hunt, which drove the buffalo to near extinction. Savage Country is the story of a moment in our history in which mass destruction of an animal population was seen as a road to economic salvation. But it's also the intimate story of how that hunt changed Michael and Elizabeth forever.
About the Author
Robert Olmstead is the author of eight previous books. Coal Black Horse was the winner of the Heartland Prize for Fiction. The Coldest Night was a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Far Bright Star was the winner of the Western Writers of America Spur Award. Olmstead is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an NEA grant and is a professor at Ohio Wesleyan University.