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A Friendship That Surpassed Time and Boundaries - an Editorial Review of "These Sacred Lands"

Book Blurb:

In the 1870s, the bond of friendship between a Lakota warrior, Shadow Hawk, and a U.S. cavalryman, Joshua Mackenzie, is tested as the Great Sioux War reaches its climax. Hawk decides on his family's future which surprises even Mackenzie. Based on historical records and informed conjecture, "These Sacred Lands" is a compelling story of clashing cultures.

The Civil War was over, and "Manifest Destiny" crashed upon the frontier like a massive wave with the promise of a new life and a fresh start for thousands of settlers. Gold discoveries in Montana and the Black Hills of Dakota Territories added to the numbers as miners flocked to Indian lands.

The Black Hills, "Paha Sapa" to the Lakota, and the river region extending from the Bighorn Mountains to the Yellowstone River are sacred lands from which the native culture emerged. It is the land where the guiding spirits dwell. The Lakota watched the American migration with increasing concern, then anger.

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Editorial Review:

Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children. If we must die, we die defending our rights. It is not necessary for eagles to be crows.” - Chief Sitting Bull, Lakota Sioux Chief

This story is not about Custer’s Last Stand at Little Big Horn; it is, however, a story about the events leading to the Seventh Calvary’s demise. It is centered around two main characters on both sides of a coin. Can thine enemy be thine friend? Can hate between two cultures destroy any hope of a lasting friendship between two people?

James Harold Kelley steps readers back into history to an age-old question that has plagued humanity since the beginning of time. The story takes place during the American settler's expansion into the West, during the push of the Lakota Sioux and the Cheyenne into what is now Wyoming and Colorado.

A Lakota Sioux, who just happens to be the great Sioux warrior Red Cloud’s young cousin, meets a U.S. Calvary Officer’s son on the outermost post west of Fort Smith Arkansas. The two lads, barely teenagers, meet quite by accident and like many adolescences who come face to face with a culture they have never encountered, naturally they are both curious.

“Joshua turned his attention once more to the river and cottonwoods. The sudden rustling of quail, disturbed by the intruder, startled him. In an instant, they were only feet from one another – two boys violating what their fathers had cautioned. The world around them faded away. There was no hate, just curiosity across the small space between them.”

Modern-day children are no different across this planet we inhabit, no matter what culture they are born into, and possess an innocence to adult racial boundaries. A chance to make a new friend, regardless of whether they are different, remains true today as in the past. Shadow Hawk and Joshua are from two totally different worlds. Young Shadow Hawk feels that young Joshua can teach him many things about the white man's perspective, and Joshua feels he can learn many things from the Sioux; the problem is getting their parents to agree. In this story there is another serious problem that needs to be mentioned – Joshua's father is an officer in the U.S. Calvary under General Crook’s command, and this requires his father, Jedediah, to duly inform his superior officer and to receive his blessings in allowing the two boys to meet. The ultimate decision of allowing this friendship to continue brings about remarkable changes and is in the best interest of all the parties involved.

They become friends and learn many things from each other. During this time, they both grow into manhood and Joshua decides to follow his father’s career path. As with most indigenous cultures, there are certain rituals a male must enter to achieve warrior status among their prospective tribes.

These Sacred Lands explores what happens when two friends from two different sides of the fence return years later and are respected in their field of choice. Shadow Hawk already understands there is a high probability he will have to face his friend on the battlefield. When Joshua is sent back to the same fort where they met as boys, he is quite aware of that possibility, as well.

As in the above quote of Sitting Bull, the Great Lakota Sioux Chief, when a culture feels threatened by another there is an old saying when push comes to shove, and the situation deteriorates, there is only one solution: you push back, and you push back hard.

“The wagons had burned, and their contents scattered. Two families were trailing the last wagon train that left Fort Robinson, and they were all dead. From the look of the mutilated corpses, the corporal estimated the attack occurred perhaps two or three days ago. He walked his horse through the area to see the murdered adults and older children – seven bodies. The children hid in the nearby grass while the butchering took place. The raiding warriors filled the men’s bodies with arrows. He had seen this before when retrieving the bodies of massacred soldiers. Some men burned, using the wagons for cover during the attack until the flames forced them into the open and death. Three women were in different locations, and each was lying face down and killed by bullets rather than arrows. They were fully clothed and appeared untouched by the warriors who perpetrated this heinous act. It seemed vengeance applied to the men.”

There has been much said through film, books, and such of the atrocities brought against the settlers surrounding the prelude to what took place when the Seventh Calvary met their demise, but there is much more to the story on both sides.

“Sir, a winter campaign will catch the hostiles in their most vulnerable state. They are in their villages from the Black Hills to the Yellowstone River and are waiting for spring,” a captain offered. “Precisely why we must find them now. The hostiles are in a weakened state after these past winter months. General Crook believes we can eliminate the threat if we first find Crazy Horse or Sitting Bull’s village.” Mackenzie recalled how angered Hawk was over the government’s demand to return to the reservation by the end of January.

A soldier’s duty has always been to follow their superiors’ orders first and foremost. One’s personal feelings must be set aside whether said friend is the enemy or on the same side. Men and women have had to confront this phenomenon throughout history. The author does an excellent job in revealing the themes throughout the storyline and is a very worthy read.


“These Sacred Lands” by James Harold Kelly receives five stars from The Historical Fiction Company and the “Highly Recommended” award


Author Bio:

A retired US Army officer and Defense executive with over 45-years of service in the Department of Defense. My professional writings include studies, concepts, and academic papers for the Chairman, Joint Chiefs, and the Deputy Secretary of Defense. He is the former editor of a quarterly periodical, "The Joint Air Land Bulletin." I am the author of a historical fiction series entitled “I am a Soldier, First and Always." The series includes "The Distinguished Career of General Winfield Scott Hancock, Volume One: Rebellion and Volume Two: Turning Point," and "These Sacred Lands," a story of friendship and sacrifice on the Great Plains.

A military career has allowed me to pursue my passion for walking history's battlefields. They have included the American Revolution, War of 1812, Civil War (through the Carolinas to Pennsylvania and New York); the Great Sioux War, World War II (in Europe and the Pacific Islands); and Korea. Always interested in why decisions were made and how actions were executed, one has a different perspective standing on the ground where Hamilton led a night attack at Yorktown or where Hancock sent First Minnesota against a much larger Confederate Brigade at Gettysburg.

In my research for "These Sacred Lands," one stands on the Rosebud battlefield in Montana, realizing that the battle was a prelude to the Little Bug Horn, less than two hours away, where Custer would meet his fate. Yet the story falls short when "Custer's Last Stand" takes place one week later. Placing fictional characters in historical settings allows me to be creative amid factual events and among historical characters. I want the readers to be intrigued by the fictional characters while the historians agree the events are accurately portrayed. The learning curve is steep when I am immersed in research.

Writing is a new career for which I am grateful. Winfield Hancock's story began when I was asked to lead a short presentation on the general to National Defense University students at Gettysburg. His story ultimately took five years to write. My latest work, “These Sacred Lands," followed a character from the Hancock story after the Civil War to the Great Plains. I first walked the ground on forts and battlefields in Nebraska, Wyoming, and Montana, where the U.S. Cavalry patrolled and Lakota Sioux roamed the region. The Black Hills, "Paha Sapa" to the Lakota, are sacred lands from which the novel's name was drawn. One could almost feel the spirits on battlefields like the Rosebud and the Little Big Horn.

My library is full of fiction and non-fiction, memoirs and letters, and stories of people and battles.

I hold a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration and two Masters of Science degrees in Business Administration and National Resource Strategy. My wife Linda and I left Washington D.C. behind in 2017 and reside in Venice, Florida.


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