OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - On Nov. 27, 1868 the 7th Cavalry - led by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer - attacked Chief Black Kettle's peace-seeking band of Cheyenne who were camping within Indian territory in present-day Oklahoma. The pre-dawn raid on the 51 lodges of sleeping men, women and children killed dozens and produced more than 50 Cheyenne hostages. The massacre became known as the "battle" of Washita.
Custer came under the scrutiny of a congressional investigation but his actions were determined to be appropriate and the battle was heralded as a great victory. As a direct consequence of the battle of Washita many tribes started to think reservation life was inevitable and they gave up their defensive stance.
But how different might the outcome have been if the Washita massacre had been recounted to Congress and the American public from the point-of-view of a white woman living among the Cheyenne? What if she didn't praise the Army for rescuing her but decried the white men as murderers?
That is the question posed in Michelle Black's historical fiction "An Uncommon Enemy."
"An Uncommon Enemy" is an engrossing, fast-paced 387-pages with empathetic heroes and clear-cut villains. While the story is highly romanticized, it escapes the snare of degrading into a frivolous romance novel by starting each chapter with real-life excerpts from historical figures including Custer's personal correspondence and testimony from the 1868 congressional record.
"If a book has only one layer to it - whether it be mystery, romance, suspense or whatever - I come away feeling unfulfilled," said Black in a profile by Dale Walker. "I try with every book I write to gain an additional measure of depth. I hope that each of my novels is more complex than the last or I will feel that I have failed."
The inspiration behind "An Uncommon Enemy" was born from one of Custer's field reports where he claimed that his men had found the body of an unidentified white woman among the dead after the Washita massacre. The main character, Eden Murdock, was inspired by that report and by the story of Cynthia Ann Parker. Parker had been a Comanche captive but years later, was forced by the Army to return to white civilization against her will.
While Black admits to constant daydreaming, she is far from being a wistful romantic who churns out one fluffy novelette after another. Black is a law school graduate, bookstore owner, and creator of WinterSun Press which has done serious work to preserve the Cheyenne language.
Black helped to publish and distribute a set of Cheyenne language tapes entitled "Let's Talk Cheyenne" with linguist Wayne Leman. The audiotapes are narrated by Cheyenne elder Ted Risingsun who lent his resonant voice to help preserve his language and culture.
Leman has spent years on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Lame Deer, Mont. creating a written form of Cheyenne and working to save the language from extinction. Black and Leman formed a non-profit partnership in 1998 and together they sold out several printings of "Let's Talk Cheyenne" to a national audience.
"Eventually, though, the time demands outgrew the capabilities of my small press and a larger firm, Jeffrey Norton Publishers, took over the project last winter," said Black in a June 4 interview with Indian Country Today. The tapes can now be purchased at www.audioforum.com.
Black's first two novels "Never Come Down," and "Lightning in a Drought Year," won her the Colorado Independent Publisher Awards and an endorsement from the National Education association.
"An Uncommon Enemy," (Forge Books, 2001) has also received wide acclaim and its sequel "Solomon Spring" came out in 2002. "Solomon Spring" is a mystery novel where the main characters from "An Uncommon Enemy" are reunited 10 years later to overcome a murder charge.
To find more about Michelle Black and "An Uncommon Enemy," visit www.michelleblack.com or write to Forge Books, Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010 or visit www.tor.com.