Julianna Thibodeaux

Warrior Woman

By Jim Thom and Dark Rain

Ballantine Books; $25.95

Why do we never seem to tire of hearing the same stories? Maybe there's some reassurance, some sense of security in knowing how things will turn out - even when the ending isn't necessarily a happy one.

Nonhelema, woman chief of the Shawnee people, led a long and at times happy life, but in the end it was one punctuated by deep sadness for the tremendous loss of human life and way of life for her people. James Alexander Thom, best-selling author of historical fiction - much of it dealing with the conflict between Native Americans and white conquest - has once again taken up the pen in service to history with Warrior Woman. This time, though, Thom collaborates with his wife, Dark Rain, who is Shawnee.

Together, Thom and Dark Rain (who make their home in Southern Indiana) weave together the chronology of Nonhelema's life in a compelling narrative that feels as real as a documentary but is also a fast-paced adventure. Nonhelema's life was like that: She struggled with her own spirituality, becoming baptized as a Christian but never completely coming to terms with the faith; she longed for a peaceful solution to the encroachment of settlers, even when the Americans repeatedly broke treaties. Nonhelema, though, stood by her people, ultimately fighting as a warrior when it was required.

Warrior Woman is written in a straightforward narrative; it's not difficult to make the leap between fact and fiction here as the story is such a vibrant one. The truth of it remains: The Native Americans of this region (and throughout North America, eventually) would be largely displaced, killed by war, famine and disease. And Nonhelema was a majestic presence who followed her conscience despite the rejection of her own people and by the whites she continually forgave.

Nonhelema was way ahead of her time. She was a single mother, a sole provider, a warrior, a leader and a peacemaker. In the context of her time, there was some cultural resistance to a woman of power (though not within the Shawnee culture); but for the most part she was respected as much as any Native American - which is to say, promises were usually broken.

Time may or may not heal all wounds - but it does give perspective. Nonhelema's life is given voice here, in a compelling, human way. Like Thom's other titles, drama is balanced with detail so that we have a work of literature as well as a recounting. Thom's stories are always freighted with meaning, whether having to do with the triumph of the human spirit (in Follow the River), or the making of history (From Sea to Shining Sea). His collaboration with Dark Rain in Warrior Woman offers something immeasurable. Nonhelema's is a bittersweet story but an important one, a must-read for those interested in the human side of our country's bloody past.

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