Home ] Services ] Publications ] Links ] Forum ] About ] [E-mail HG]

 

Heidelberg Graphics home page

Up

Search site for:

Book Reviews

The Plains Beyond by L D Clark
During a trip to New Orleans Cord Hathaway impulsively buys two slaves while his wife is shopping.

L D Clark has fashioned a fascinating tale against the background of the Old West, African and African American history, and Indian lore. The novel is loosely based on the life of Brit Johnson, a black Texas frontiersman and former slave who developed a reputation for courage and daring. Only sketches are known about Brit Johnson and his exploits into Indian Territory in search of captives among the Kiowas and Comanches. Clark has taken this slim thread and woven a highly interesting, imaginative, and culturally relevant story. His knowledge of African history and culture gives an added dimension to what could have been a hackneyed Indian captive tale.

The Brit Johnson character, Moran, is a slave whose memories of Africa shape his identity in the setting of the American West. He later reveals the meaning of his African name--Morahn--that plays an important role in the novel's development. Clark is an accomplished storyteller who takes the plot in unpredictable directions with great skill and believability. --Michael N. Searles, Western Writers of America Roundup Magazine

Top of page

I'm amazed by your [Clark's] ability to enter into the mindset of people far removed from yourself in space, time, culture ... --Keith Sagar, author

Top of page

The Plains Beyond is a Western but much more than a Western. The hero, Moran, is a cowboy and a slave, yet he lives in mutual respect with the rancher who legally owns him: a heart-warming relationship in the midst of the chaos and brutality of Civil War times. Indians kidnap Moran's wife and carry her off into the wild country of the Texas plains. Here the great originality of the story takes over. In a unique yet compelling attempt to sustain his integrity at any cost, Moran has perfected the amazing skill with a spear inherited from his noble tribe in Africa. So armed, he strikes out alone across the plains to rescue his wife, superbly mounted on a horse that shares his struggles as he confronts bitter cold and tormenting loneliness.

Once he has found his way among the fierce Torvo tribe, his wife's abductors, Moran pits his spear-skill and wiliness against their "medicine" in weaving a spell over a large herd of buffalo and other great feats, demonstrating what seems to friend and foe alike among them an incomparable "medicine" of his own. Guided by courage and daring and his magnificent spear, which comes to resemble a miraculous weapon as in knighthood of old, Moran fights his way through one perilous adventure after another, until he outwits his wife's enslavers and rescues her to return home triumphant. All taken together, this is a splendid story built out of excellent prose that only becomes more of a joy to read as the book proceeds. --Fred Rebsamen, Tucson, Arizona

Top of page

Taking a page from the tradition established by such writers as Benjamin Capps and Elmer Kelton, L D Clark offers this tale of adventure and intrigue on the Texas Frontier. Cord Hathaway, an intrepid rancher whose land sits on the edges of civilization in antebellum Texas, is visiting New Orleans. While his wife prowls the shops, Cord happens by a slave market, and even though the whole idea of forced bondage repulses him, he is drawn inside by curiosity. He sees a strong and compelling young black man standing on the block. Impulsively, he joins the bidding, and he soon finds himself owner of the human property.

Initially, Cord offers the slave, named Moran, his freedom on the spot, but he protests and asks Cord if he will also purchase Sarah, Moran's wife, also slated for auction. Cord preempts the sale and negotiates privately with the owner, and soon he and his new acquisitions are on their way back to Texas.

From this beginning, Clark crafts a story of layered conflict wherein ranchers battled both the hostility of the southern plains tribes and tried to walk a narrow line of political prudence during the war that soon breaks out. Cord and his wife, Mary, are childless, and so are Moran and Sarah.

Soon the two couples begin to bond in the isolation of the Hathaway ranch, and even though Moran and Sarah technically remain Cord's property, he makes it clear that they are free to go any time they want. They choose to stay.

Moran has an innate talent for bovine husbandry. He reveals that he was taken by slavers away from his tribe, people whose culture centered on the raising of cattle. Accordingly, he is an expert. As he quickly learns to rope and ride, becomes a crack shot and works alongside Cord, he adapts himself rapidly to frontier ranching. At the same time, he develops a yearning for his African past. Even though he was a small boy when he was captured, his recalled observation of his tribal elders leads him to begin performing various rituals of his native land. Ultimately, following his memories, he makes an exceptionally stout spear and perfects his talents with the weapon so he can imitate the rites of passage he remembers from his boyhood, particularly killing a lion, something that the West Texas wilderness soon supplies.

Multiple problems develop in the background as the war drags on, but Cord and Moran manage to remain aloof from the political chaos swirling around the state. Gradually, Cord and Mary come to regard Moran and Sarah as their equals and friends, even sharing foster parenting rights of a child orphaned by a nearby Indian raid. Eventually, however, they themselves are targeted by a marauding band of Indians, the Torvos, who kill the hired men and carry Mary off into the vast emptiness of the high plains.

From this point forward, the story focuses almost entirely on Moran. Undaunted by the dismal chances of success, he arms himself, packs rations, and accepts the offer of Cord's best horse before taking off to find his wife and, if possible, bring her home. Alone, he sets out to locate down the mysterious but ferocious tribe that even the Comanche fear onto the trackless Staked Plains, never doubting that he will succeed.

Moran's adventure takes him far from the borders of Texas' civilization. Victimized by blizzards and harsh country that soon take his mount, he pushes ahead on foot and faces privations that force him to live off the land. His remarkable instincts for geography and direction are quickly honed to fine points, and he is soon able to find potable water and track game sufficient to sustain him in his lonely trek.

At last, he locates a band of Torvos, whom he recognizes from vague descriptions he has overheard. Casting aside all weapons but his spear, he approaches them bravely and he is compelled to draw more deeply on his intuition and instincts in order to ingratiate himself to this strange tribe and ultimately to win them over. This is abetted by the tribal chief's knowledge of English and profound sense of honor, as well as their common hatred of the white man. What follows is a tension-filled series of events, centering on tribal jealousies and the comprehension of Indian culture that often put Moran in danger and threaten him with failure in his initial quest to find Mary. Fortunately, though, his natural intuition of tribal ways keeps him centered, and his position with the Torvos takes on a special status.

Clark's novel illustrates a hitherto unexplored notion that there was a closer affinity between the tribal societies of Africa and the bands of Indians that roamed the plains. Even though Moran's people were devoted to their cattle while the Torvos are devoted to their horses, both cultures are hunters and masters of their land. Moran's natural understanding of these hostile people is drawn from a deeper totem inside his psyche. Although he has no formal education and has only been in Texas for a year or two, he instinctively connects to these Native Americans, adapts himself to their ways, and wins their confidence and trust.

The Plains Beyond clearly comes out of the tradition that produced A Woman of the People and The Wolf and the Buffalo, but it takes a startlingly different turn, opening up a new manner of considering of the multicultural development of Texas history. --Clay Reynolds, Texas Books in Review

Top of page

Click to order The Plains Beyond by L D Clark

Order The Plains Beyond by L D Clark 

Home ] Ordering ] [ Reviews ] Contents ] Other ] [Top of Page]

For best viewing use Internet Explorer set at 800 x 600. Click here to download.

This site is copyright 2002 by Heidelberg Graphics, Chico, California

E-mail Heidelberg Graphics

Hit Counter