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Enemies and Allies in the Last Indian War - an Editorial Review of "Bone Necklace"

Book Blurb:

In the summer of 1877, the bedraggled remains of the Nez Perce tribe took on the U.S. Army and, despite being badly outnumbered and outgunned, emerged victorious. Inspired by true events, Bone Necklace captures the intensity, violence, and unexpected conclusion of America’s final “Indian War,” told from the perspectives of a Nez Perce warrior, an Idaho militiaman, and an English painter who gets caught up in the violence. Combining heart-thumping action with an unforgettable cast, the novel centers on the relationship between two fighters, who are both enemies and allies in this war.

Bone Necklace is a tale of survival in which the Nez Perce not only overcome staggering odds but also win the grudging respect of a war-weary nation. While deeply rooted in American history, this remarkable story continues to resonate, illuminating modern debates around institutional racism, journalistic bias, and the call for courage in times of moral crisis.

Author Bio:

Julia Sullivan started working on Bone Necklace more than twenty years ago, after visiting the Big Hole Battlefield in Wisdom, Montana. Julia first became interested in the Nez Perce story because of the great injustice that the tribe suffered. What kept her interested was their conduct during the war. While under attack, the Nez Perce won the respect of the soldiers sent to fight them and the civilian population. At the end of the war, Canada offered them political asylum.

Julia is an American lawyer and English solicitor. Throughout her career, she has worked to expose and root out injustice.

Julia lives with her husband in Annapolis, Maryland and Hamilton, Montana.

Editorial Review:

Jack had loved mountain lions ever since the day he saw one sitting on top of a giant saguaro cactus. For all their beauty, all the elegance in their movements, all the heat in their fiery eyes, cats sometimes made spectacularly bad decisions. Jack, whose life had been one been one bad decision after another, understood the astonishment, the bewilderment, the futile regret of that cat on the top of the cactus, almost as if they were kin.

It is always a good sign when a reviewer's notes are full of highlighted passages, heart-moving snatches which resonate and remain with the reader long after the final page is read... and this is one of those books. Bone Necklace is a reflection of life, of the trudging through the painful depths, the murky sorrows, the crushing defeats and regrets, and emerging with hope still lingering on the mournful refrains, with each word and passage thoughtfully and carefully rendered by the author to reach deep into a reader's soul.

Jack Peniel, an Idaho militiaman and son of Robert Peniel, an “unrepentant charlatan”... who “excelled at lying”, is sent on a mission of finding his mother, Sally, who has gone missing after a group of Nez Perce Indians supposedly kidnapped her and burned their family home to the ground. During this journey of trying to find her, Jack embarks on a soul-searching trek, a look into his very soul as he questions his own existence in the midst of the hunt for the Nez Perce as they seek to escape their confinement into a reservation.

Sometimes the sound of hoofbeats would evoke a scene like that in his imagination, or a long-forgotten scent would thrill him for some inexpicable reason, and visions of some other, unlived life would seep like mist through a tightly locked door, evaporating when he looked too close. It was in these fleeting, almost ephemeral moments that Jack knew the rumors that had dogged him all his life must be true. Knew his dead mother was Nez Perce the same as he knew his hip was connected to his leg.

The answers which emerge connect him to the fleeing tribe in more ways than one, not only for what he does against them but also for what he does for them. His journey leads him to the ultimate resolution for one of his dogging questions – who is he, really? And answered by none other than the renowned Nez Perce Indian chief himself, Chief Joseph, along with a fierce Indian warrior, Running Bird, who wears a familiar necklace around his neck made of bone.

Grooms had been right about one thing, Running Bird realized. It was every man for himself, each kind protecting their own, and when you'd finally suffered enough for someone to put you into a hole, someone else just came along and invoked your name just for the pure malice of it, just to laugh while your poor bones writhed. Give them a horse and they wanted your pasture. Give them your pasture and they wanted your grave. Give them the graveyard and they wanted your soul, and then they wanted you to thank them for it. There was no God anymore. No Great Spirit. No Coyote. People had killed them off.

Along this journey, the reader is also taken deep into the minds and hearts of the Nez Perce, the perspective of a people forced from their way of life and homeland, and the desperation they feel for freedom. The horrors wreaked upon them are unimaginable and this last “Indian War” shows how reprehensible the government was during that time, with Generals like Sherman and Custer, and their ideas of wiping all the Indians from the face of the earth. The author cleverly uses the device of inserting “letters” between Sherman and Howard as they discussed the necessary means of disposing of them and bringing this conflict to a quick resolution, as well as the various newspaper clippings revealing journalistic bias used even in 1877 to sway the minds of the readers. And yet, what no one expected was the fierceness and resiliency of the Indians... nor did they expect such incredible honor.

Along with these two characters, Jack and Running Bird, the reader is given a glimpse into the shock of the capture of a young well-bred uppity English woman who, along with her husband and guide, has gone on holiday to Yellowstone to paint the trees and the geysers. After encountering Sherman, who tells them they will be safe if they stay close to the geysers since the Indians view them as sacred and won't come near, Nicole Witt is unexpectedly taken hostage by Running Bird after her husband attempts to confront the band of warriors. Her perspective in the book offers a view inside the Indian's camp as they head to Canada to join up with Sitting Bull's Sioux in Saskatchewan.

Nicole told him how the medicine man had urged her to forgive, how he'd refused to wake up to all the ugliness in the world, how she'd imagined him as Jesus in disguise, how she'd always been taught that if a man's regret was equal in depth and sincerity to the sorrow he'd caused, then it was incumbent upon a Christian to forgive. Otherwise, what was the point of all that piety?

In a beautiful, sometimes heart-wrenching way, with incredible descriptions and in-depth characters, Ms Sullivan delivers a “Great American Novel”, a classic western tale of a rough and desperate time in American history... but along with that, the story connects in a very human way, showing how very alike people are no matter from what station or class or background they are. A book full of profound lessons and even more profound characters. Within these pages, you can smell, hear, taste, feel, and see the fear, the pain, the anger, the injustice, the sorrow, mingled with the promise of love, hope, honor, and beauty emerging at the horizon like a golden sunrise over the Great Plains. Very highly recommended.

By the time a man has reached our age,” he said, “he's made mistakes. He's endured storms, withstood attacks, known sickness and misery. He's regretted the bad things he's done and the good things he hasn't done. His heart is scarred and has pieces missing. The yearning for redemption, the effort to prove, to ourselves and to others, that we're worthy, is what pushes us toward the second attempt, and the third, and the fourth, each one kinder, more empathetic, more generous than the one before. If you want that little girl's death to mean something, become a better man...”


Bone Necklace” by Julia Sullivan receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company



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