GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - "They're people, Dominie - the Sioux. Their tears
rise from broken hearts that beat the same as ours." - Dalitha Ward
Hardly any Dutch settler of the Dakota territory would have used such
compassionate words to describe the Sioux, except for Dalitha Ward, the
elegant and understanding wife of Jan Ellerbroek, the narrator of "Touches
the Sky", a historical fiction novel by James Calvin Schoop.
Schoop examines the relationship between the Christian Dutch immigrants on
the prairie and the Sioux of the Rosebud Reservation in his novel based on
life in the Dakota territory in the late 19th century.
Desperate conditions are faced by the indomitable Sioux as white settlers
arrive on their lands. Fear and distrust are mirrored by the paranoia and
prejudice of the determined "homesteading Hollanders." Jan Ellerbroek is a
faithful narrator whose empathy for both cultures is a product of his own
tragedy - the loss of his first wife and both of his daughters. His second
wife, Dalitha Ward, is a spiritual and committed emissary between the two
Ellerbroek becomes further involved in the conflicts and doubts among the
two groups when Dries Balkema, a Dutch worker, is killed on his boss Arie
Boon's land, presumably by two Lakota braves. The mystery deepens with the
revelation that Balkema carried on a clandestine love affair with Anna
Crow, a now pregnant Sioux girl from the reservation. Why was he killed?
Who killed him? Whose child is Anna carrying?
Tensions continue to escalate with the emergence of a strange new dance
phenomenon among the Sioux. Their fervent desire and belief that a messiah
will deliver them from their grim fate is expressed in the mysterious
passion of the Ghost Dance. The dance attracts the attention of the
settlers and whites back East "who can't take this without seeing the
devil." Yellow journalists, like the character Frederick Parker embellish
their articles with rumor and innuendo about the dance and life on the
reservation adding fuel to the fiery conflict burning on their shared lands
and characterizing the Lakotas as demons on the warpath.
The profound conflict of faith versus free will is examined as a parallel
to the exposed conflict of the two lifestyles despite the similar aplomb,
courage and enduring faith that they share. Faith in human goodness is
weakened by the lack of trust between these people. Despite their unified
trepidation for the future, their faith in spiritual matters and their
courage at overcoming tragic circumstances, both communities warily wait
for the imminent explosion that will ultimately destroy their tenuous
Ellerbroek observes the watchfulness of his people and those on the
reservation: "I don't remember the prayer, not hers. But what I'll not
forget is that it was very real and that I meant it, probably because out
there on the reservation that was coming apart, that suffered from fear and
danger and deprivation and poverty, there was nothing left to say and
nothing left to do but wait on the Lord."
With spare yet touching dialogue, simple and eloquent descriptions and
evocative language, James Calvin Schoop brings his cast of realistic
characters and this historic period to vivid life.
James Calvin Schoop is the author of several novels including "Home Free"
and "Secrets of Barneveld Cavalry." He has published several volumes of
nonfiction as well including: "The Trail of the Spirit" and "Things We
Couldn't Say." He is the author of several pieces of short fiction and
devotionals. For more information on "Touches the Sky", write Fleming H.
Revell, a division of Baker Book House Co.; P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI
49516-6287 or visit www.bakerbooks.com.