Best Book, New Mexico Book Awards, 2007
It’s 1923. The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and its educational arm, the Indian Service, are under fire for a “Christianize and civilize” policy that seeks to draw Native American children from their ancestral cultures. The school principal at the fictional New Mexico pueblo of Awahi has been caught slipping government property to a missionary. The Indian Service seeks to still a Congressional uproar by giving the principal’s job to Quill Thompson, a critic of “Christianize and civilize.” Awahi is an isolated, inhospitable post. Quill is advised to pack a gun and stay indoors at night. His wife, Jane, a nurse, decides it is no place to start the family they both want.
For centuries Awahi has managed by guile and flexibility to keep its rich culture intact, despite Spanish conquistadors, Franciscan and Protestant missionaries, the Indian Service, and the teacher who might have had Quill’s job had she not been a woman. Her allies are two entrepreneurial proselytizers, who share only contempt for the “savages” they seek to convert. Quill and Jane join forces with a one-eyed Indian trader, a Franciscan student of the Awahi language, and two Awahi leaders, Pueblo Governor Kenoti and Rain Priest of the North Ninsulka.
When a white man is found dead, Quill faces an ethical dilemma. Should he allow Awahi to mete out justice the Awahi way? Or should he call in outside forces that he fears will destroy an ancient society before it can adjust to an encroaching modern world?
Harold Burton Meyers grew up on Pima-Maricopa, Zuni, Navajo, and Hopi reservations in Arizona and New Mexico. A former Time correspondent and Fortune editor, he is the author of two earlier novels about the Southwest, Geronimo’s Ponies and Reservations.