‘The thing the whites sought but which they feared in equal amounts was the pull of the untamed wilderness, ruthless, unhindered. They craved it as much as they hated it. They were afraid they would reveal themselves to be monsters, more terrifying than those they saw on the plains, who shelter only at night under smoked skins of wild beasts and slowly cut up their enemies to hear them scream in pain.’***
Céline Minard is a French author who has written books in a number of different genres and here she takes on the mythic west and at the birth of the first white settlements on the untamed plains. In this book ‘Nearly Got Shot’*** We follow a number of different characters as they cross these plains, converging on the same embryonic town and as we do so, and in no particular order, we learn about these people’s pasts and why they are on the move. Bird Boisverd, a trapper, whose last partner had left him with nothing, no food, no horse, in the wilderness and run off with the seasons trappings and how Bird had survived, hunted him down over hundreds of miles, and ruthlessly killed him not so much for the gains but for revenge, he couldn’t let himself be cheated. Ellie Coulter, who steals Birds Horse and food and leaves him stranded once again with nothing. We learn of the McPherson brothers crossing the plains with their dying mother in a waggon, of Josh McPherson who loses a boot as he nearly drowns in a river and prefers to toss away his other boot rather than to rejoin the waggon with just one boot. Bird then finding the boots, drying them out and wearing them as he pursues whoever it was who stole his horse. We learn of Zebulon then stealing Ellie’s horse and food:
‘-if you’re not able to steal a horse with no scruples then you haven’t been brought up right.’***
All of these characters and more, cross the path of the many Indians on the plains who fight other indian groups and steal anything they can, and in particular they cross the path of Water Running on the Plains, the only Indian to survive her tribe’s massacre and who, living alone, is known by all on the plains, white and Indian alike, for her powers of healing.
As they arrive in town, amongst other events and adventures, Bird recognises his horse, Josh recognises his boots, of course there is the saloon, and the girls, the barbershop and the hardware store, the all poeerful posses looking for outlaws. Minard describes the bustling life of these young towns where the raw energy and ambition of the new arrivals will create this Young America.
First published in French as ‘Faillir Être Flingué’ by Editions de la Loupe in 2013
*** My translation