Very little of Frederick Manfred's work is in print, none of the Buckskin Man Tales. The university press that held the copyrights apparently is now doing a lucrative trade in Max Brand westerns and has dropped Fred from their list. Sad that the admiration of people like Larry McMurtry can't influence sales. The coming release of a mini-series based on his novel Riders of Judgment may change the situation, but meantime, the books are easy to locate at secondhand stores, and you can get many of them online at Powells.
"Christ the Son might be his friend... but
God the Father was an enemy."
In his Western Writers Series monograph on Frederick Manfred, Joseph Flora remarked that the story of Abraham and Isaac might have some bearing on the conclusion of Conquering Horse. I explored that speculation in some detail, in a paper for South Dakota Review, and while preparing that paper I came to realize that the story of Abraham and Isaac, if it is extended to include Jacob and Esau, has considerable bearing on the entire series of Buckskin Man Tales.
It may be best to begin with a synopsis of the relevant biblical material: One day, Abraham is ordered by Jehovah to take his only son Isaac, begotten in his old age, to Mount Moriah and sacrifice him.
Esau returns from the hunt one day empty-handed and starving, and he asks his brother for food. Jacob agrees to feed him in return for "his birthright." Esau, saying "I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?", agrees. Later, when his father Isaac is dying, Jacob and Rebecca scheme to steal the father's blessing, properly bestowed on the eldest, as well. Jacob wears an animal skin to disguise himself as Esau, deceives his father, and secures the blessing of Isaacand the enmity of Esau. Jacob flees from Esau, but returns many years later and is reconciled with his brother. Their father Isaac dies and is buried with Abraham at Mamre. Jacob wrestles with an angel of God, his thigh is dislocated, he is blessed by the lord and given a new name, Israel, meaning "he who strives with God."
In spite of the reconciliation between Jacob and Esau, strife continues. Dinah, a daughter of Jacob, is seduced by a prince of another tribe, and Jacob's sons take a terrible vengeance. The Shechemite prince wishes to marry Dinah, but the sons of Jacob demand that he and all the adult males of his tribe be circumcised first.They consent to this, and while the men are recovering from the ordeal, the sons of Jacob slaughter and plunder the tribe.
This god stalks through the Buckskin Man Tales, replacing the indigenous spirits of the land with his own Urizenic will. The Buckskin Man Tales depict in their symbolic strata the warfare of gods and religions, the supplanting of the true hunter and wearer of skins with the false Esau. The final result of the cosmic combat established in Conquering Horse and played out in the trivial human lives of the following novels is the tragic, apocalyptic victory of that Protestant Jehovah, God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.
The ramifications of the mystic constellation of Abraham and his get in the tales are both subtle and explicit. After Conquering Horse, the novels chronicle the replacement of the Indian people and the moral and philosophical spirit of Indian life with their white counterparts. The myth of supplanting is not centered in the traditional Judeo-Christian source, the Fall of Man, for Manfred does not present his pre-white Indians' life as Edenic or pre-lapsarian. The myth is rather that of the conquest of the promised land by the murderous sons of Jacob.
Shortly before his death, Redbird, the father of No Name, speaks of a demon who came to him and whispered, "Take your son to a high place and offer him in sacrifice to Wakantanka. Wakantanka will then see that you love him very much and will give you a second youth" (271). Redbird considers the voice demonic rather than divine, and he rejects the demon's advice, in explicit contrast to Abraham's terrible obedience. Redbird acknowledges the justice and order inherent in his coming death, uttering the simple truth that exposes the demonic nature of the new spirit that has invaded the American land and attempted to win his loyalty. "As the days go by, like breaths we take, one father must give way to another so the great flow of life may remain unbroken and one" (271).
It might be argued that neither Jehovah nor the spirit demon execute their grim bargains. While this is true enough, what both are asking for is a violation of the natural instinct of parental love in return for blind obedience to some extranatural power that offers personal gain. Abraham is rewarded for putting the good graces of his god above the life of his son. Redbird rejects a similar bargain, and it is not hard to imagine and revere the god who would reward him for that courage and self-sacrifice rather than punish him for disobedience. The god of Abraham lies to his faithful servant and orders a crime which, we discover, he intends to step in and prevent. Lied to once, how can Abraham trust such a god? The spirits of the American landWakantanka in manifold presencedo not lie when they test their children. No Name is not told he must kill his father, he is told simply that his father must die. Part of his coming rite of passage is understanding and accepting the subconscious reasons why he misinterprets the prophecy.
Manfred planned for a while that the title of Conquering Horse would be "Green Earth," and the novel is a vision of Edennot in the sense of an innocent garden, but in the sense of a proper and orderly world not yet invaded by Satan. It is a world without white men and one with gods more powerful than the white god. It is a world that is not stagnant but developing. In the time of the Yankton Old Ones, the sons would have killed the father.
In the other four books of the series, the sons are never safe again, and the god of Abraham spreads his dominion upon the land. Lord Grizzly carries the parallels to the next biblical generation, moving on to the story of Jacob and Esau. Hugh Glass insists throughout the novel that he is an Esau, a hunter, a wild man. But he is not; he is the first in a series of false Esaus that culminates in Harry Hammett, the rustler in Riders of Judgment whose very name puns on Esau's appearance, just as his trademark red sash reminds us of the red earth of Esau's Edom. Esau is the rightful inheritor of the land, the first son of Isaac. If Redbird and Conquering Horse are the new Abraham and Isaac, then it is the Indian, not the mountain man, who is Esau, the eldest son and rightful heir to the land.
For Hugh, all Indians except his beloved Sioux wife Bending Reed are "red devils," vermin, subhumans. Echoing the tenets of American expansionism, he sees the Indian as something to eliminate, a nuisance. But it is the Indian who is "Edom," the red man, and the American land is his. Were there any doubt that Hugh is Jacob, surely his encounter with the maggot-eating grizzly must dissipate it. The grizzly is described as "like blind Isaac in the Old Testament feeling Jacob over, a Jacob in a sheepskin pretending he was an Esau" (165).
Hugh is the faithful son of his biblical heritage. He has deserted his sons and yet he seeks Old Testament vengeance on his adoptive boys, Jim and Fitz. Like the other man Bending Reed married, Hugh can't fatherit is not the same thing as "can't copulate," Bending Reed insists. For Hugh, the relationship of sons to father is indebtedness; they "owe" him. He cannot recognize their natural right to choose their own welfare over his. His own inability to "father" contrasts with the essential fathering performed by Redbird in the previous novel. He cannot understand the values articulated in Redbird's justification for his own death, the natural law that says the old must give way to the young.
In Lord Grizzly there is still hope for a loving bond between the white invader and the motherland, perhaps even for such a bond between the races, represented by Hugh and Reed. Hugh is more than Jacob contending with the angel of God; as in Conquering Horse the myth is shaped to fit the new land. Hugh learns finally to respect the humanity of the Rees when he shares his own despair with the old Ree woman left to die according to the natural law he abhors. And the grizzly who blesses him, knowing him for what he is, offers Hugh a sign from the spirit of the land. But Hugh cannot see that it is the indigenous forces of America, not Jehovah, that bless and save him, and that the blessing is life-directed, not an endorsement of his revenge. It is not the god of Israel, working his vengeance, who saves Hugh. Only at the end, when Hugh sees others who clearly are not the chosen of God stagger into the fort, does he begin to grasp the truth.
There are obvious parallels between Lord Grizzly and Scarlet Plume. In the first, the white male is faced with the wilderness and the question of his place in it; in the second it is the white female who must confront that experience. Judith Raveling is a female Hugh, accoutered in the prejudices of her civilization, taught savage lessons about the nature and meaning of wilderness life and the race war of Western expansion. But even more than Hugh she has the potential to blend her own culture into that life and help create a new race. Hugh is childless, a sterile old man; but when Judith flees into the Dakota prairies after the murder of Scarlet Plume, headed for the Black Hills that figure in the next novel, she is bearing the Yankton warrrior's child, a "half-breed," potentially the ideal assimilation of Indian and white, a member of the Golden Race.
Scarlet Plume is notorious for the brutal violence of its first hundred pages, horrifying even in the context of our jaded contemporary sensibilities. What is often missed in the passion of reader reaction to that violence is the pattern of the savagery, which is echoed explicitly, with the races reversed, in the final pages. The first horror in the book is performed by a white settler, not an Indian. Judith encounters Jed Crydenwise as she spreads the word that the Indians are threatening. Crydenwise has captured and crucified a timber wolf that he believes killed his bull calf, and he is skinning it alive. The wolf dies horribly before her eyes. The wolf, if it was indeed the killer, had acted in accordance with its nature, and the man is justified in killing it if he can. But the sadism of his revenge puts him beneath the wolf morally, and his viciousness reflects his inability to understand or accept the natural workings of the wilderness. It underscores his alienation from the land he is claiming.
Scarlet Plume will suffer his own brutal and meaningless crucifixion, hanged, just as Earl Ransom will be hanged in the next novel, although Scarlet Plume is innocent of the crime for which he is executed. After Judith flees from the Yanktons who have adopted her, Scarlet Plume wears a wolfskin as he follows Judith, a wolfskin that she used a few days before as a blanket and that he uses again after finding her to hide her from her enemies. Hugh's bearskin is a lie that "Old Ephraim" exposes in order to clean the maggots from the man's back. Judith's wolfskin is a truth that saves her. Like the wolf, Scarlet Plume is the natural inhabitant of the wilderness, accepting its laws of beauty and blood, and like the wolf he becomes the victim of the sadistic violence of a people whose behavior and religious ethics reflect a schizoid division of spirit. The wolf is the first victim to die in the novel, and Scarlet Plume the last.
It is the Christian Indians, not the "savages," who massacre the white people of Skywater; Christian, at least, by the very logical definition an Indian might offer. And among the first people killed are a family actually named "Christians"Mrs. Christians, in fact, is among the most brutally slain, a pregnant woman eviscerated and raped. Dying, she sees her fetus murdered before her eyes. The Indians who capture the white settlers and missionaries point out to their victims that they are doing as the whites have taught them. They often refer to rape as "counting coup the white man way." This point of view may seem at first a diabolical misunderstanding of white values, but the misunderstandingand the illogicare as much in the minds of the white. It is a matter of basic principles in conflict. For the western mind, "Christian" is a word good Christians define by their behavior (thus the logical impossibility that there can be a "bad Christian," because a bad Christian is not a Christian at all). But for the Indian of the nineteenth century a "Christian" was a white person, because for the Indians one's religion is in the warp and weave of a nation's life, shaping each member of the community and given shape by those individuals.
The good ChristiansReverend Codman, Theodosia, perhaps the Aanensonsare a minority at Skywater, but from the point of view of the bulk of the white populationthe sadistic Crydenwise, the vicious Utterbacks, and the restthe majority are Christians as well, and with this latter opinion the Indians would agree. For them, Christian behavior is defined by the behavior of the majority of the white race, not by that of a select exemplary minority, and Christianitywhich has always been the unofficial religion of the United States, freedom of worship notwithstandingis the enemy of the Indian.
In this novel the race war comes down to one of its most basic horrors, miscegenation. That aspect of the Anglo-Saxon neurosis also finds biblical endorsement in the founding of Jacob's nation, in the account of the seduction of Dinah and that tale's moral implications. The history of the ancient founding of Israel is filledironically, considering the Nazi holocaustwith god-directed and applauded acts of genocide appalling in their ferocity and thoroughness, whose recent parallels can be found at Auschwitz and Lidice, My Lai, Sand Creek and Wounded Knee. The slaughter of the Shechemites to avenge Dinah is merely one incident in that history.
Like the sons of Jacob in the land of Esau, the white man came to Minnesota to take whatever he could wrest from his victims and adversaries, the rightful caretakers. Scarlet Plume and Judith discuss the differences between the races, and Judith concludes with a poignant insight, saying of the white invader: "Why did he take by force what he could have had by love?" (241). The Spaniard had raped, pillaged, and enslaved on the same scale as his Anglo-Saxon brother, but he also intermarried with the remnant of his victims, and the two races mingled. No such assimilation was possible for the white man, with his sexual and racial insanities.
In Scarlet Plume, as civilization begins to replace Hugh's wilderness, the matter of sex becomes central to the tales, and it will remain so in the next novel. It is sex that is the root and symbol of racial fear.
There is a tremendous appropriateness and precision of meaning in the appearance of Gerda, the insane and beautiful blond woman who slashes off Scarlet Plume's penis as the novel concludes, paralleling the sexual mutilation of Mrs. Christians. She is Judith's white-world twin, as Scarlet Plume himself observes when he calls her another "wakan one with sunned hair," and she performs the act of retribution Judith is expected to desire; she realizes the symbolic vengeance of the raped white woman. From the white point of view, Gerda is the norm and Judith is the monster. The emasculation of Scarlet Plume is as inevitable as the sexual meaning of his name.
Scarlet Plume has his death, and even a grim resurrection, but he leaves a child behind: Judith is pregnant. Their child is doomed, Scarlet Plume insists, and we hear no more of it in the following books. But at this point in the series begins a set of symbolic genealogies that extend across King of Spades and into Riders of Judgment, carrying many of the series' main themes. Erden Aldridge, Indian-raised white child, born in 1862 (the year of the action in Scarlet Plume), is thematically that child of Judith, the golden result of blending two races.
The year when the major portion of King of Spades takes place is significant. It is 1876, the nation's centennial. Earl Ransom and Sam Slaymaker ride up from Denver to Cheyenne in 1876, the year Colorado gained statehood. It is the year of Custer's death and of the opening of the Black Hills, the year the nation celebrated its independence and its founding and the wresting of a land from its indigenous caretakers.
When Earl tells her his adopted name, she says in Lakota, "anawin," meaning "untrue." In one sense it is untrue because he is actually Earl Rodman King, son of Magnus and Katherine King. But the name "Ransom," which both Earl and Manfred select when the boy reappears in the novel as an amnesiac, is untrue in a larger sense. Like Scarlet Plume, Earl is a Christ; like Isaac, that Old-Testament type of Christ, he may be the ransom and price of his father's life and prosperity. His name predicts his death of atonement, and when Erden says the name is untrue, the meaning is clearif he can understand her and the values she represents, he need not be sacrificed, he is no one's "ransom"; he can escape the wheel.
Like his father Magnus, but to a much worse degree, Earl is a sexual cripple. He is clinically insane, driven mad by his father's madness, and the content of his father's madness is the insanity of the white spirit. Earl is obsessed with purity, which he defines as the absence of sexual desire. When Erden is moved by simple lust, Earl is mentally repulsed, because lust is evil. He recalls the sensual games he played with Katherine at her brothel, The Stinging Lizardthat was all right, that's what whores are forbut he cannot play them with Erden, even though she obviously wants them (156), because she is "pure." He wants pure love. In response, Erden rather emphatically puts his hand on her vulva. For her, sensuality is a sport, a game, no more inherently evil than breathing or eating. In this she is like Katherine, but Earl has the Victorian obsession with abstract sex. While his body takes its pleasure, his mind resists.
Earl's madness is both sexual and violent; he is a Pavlovian killeranother gift of his father. He kills too late or without the right. He kills the man named Horses only after Sam has been needlessly shot. He kills the Deadwood outlaw Curly too late. He has no moral or logical justification for killing Katherine except the tragedy of his own madness and despair. A century after the taking of the land, he is the son of the King, a son of England, the culmination of a century of white American culture.
If Earl is sexually and murderously aberrant, his greed is even more obviously typical of his culture. That greed, gilded with some small conscience, costs him Erden and the true freedom she offers. He cannot keep himself from the gold. The Indians, Erden tells him, take only a little at a time, by stealth, for their necessities. Earl wants the gold all to himself and assumes that he has a proprietary right to it, even though he is merely the first trespasser to find it. With greed's ready self-delusion, he rationalizes that his need for the gold is all right; it is the others who are interlopers and trespasssers, vandalous invaders of his Eden. He fails to see the irony that Erden, as well as the "trespassers," disputes his ownership by pulling up his claim stakes.
Ransom is slain, finally, for the crimes of his father. He is the victim of the need for gold, the need to make something of one's self, something not defined by essence but by wealth. The sexual inhibition and skewed sensuality, the uncontrollable and meaningless violenceall are his inheritance from the King, from his father Magnus. Ransom's incest, like that of Oedipus, is totally innocent, but it represents the alternatives open to him, each symbolized by one of his wives. With Erden he may begin a new line, joining his with a race who have become the land's, not as welcome there as the Indian but better suited to dwell upon it and more worthy of it than the savages that stole the land and life itself from those Indians. But with Katherine, he is turning back into his past, mining his own mother lode, returning to the source even as he and Magnus have longed to return to England. Katherine is the American female, crippled, twisted and embittered by her husband's hatred and despair and negative will, slain once unjustly by that monstrous patriarch and slain again, by proxy, through the agency of his beloved son.
When Earl stands trial at Deadwood, at the historical Mt. Moriah cemetery, Manfred returns to the central biblical myth of the Buckskin Man Tales, that of Abraham and Isaac, with Roddy King as a sacrificial son. With charming synchronicity, the historical citizens of Deadwood collaborated in his symbolic structure, first in their choice of a name for the town, and then by choosing for the name of hangman's hill and their cemetery Mt. Moriah, named for the mountain of Abraham's averted sacrifice. Like Isaac, Earl is to be sacrificed. Apparently it is for his own crime, but psychologically he is less responsible than Magnus King, who reappears, humbled and reformed, and offers, fittingly, to die in the boy's place.
The connection between Isaac and Earl may seem far-fetched, but Manfred explicitly draws the myth into his story as the moment of conjunction at Mt. Moriah approaches. During his idyll with Erden, Earl climbs Bear Butte, a traditional place of Indian visions, and there he begins to remember parts of the trauma of his father's and mother's "death." Then he recalls
the story of Abraham and Isaac, of how Abraham was about to offer up Isaac as a burnt offering, when Jehovah Himself intervened and provided Abraham with a ram caught in a thicket for his sacrifice. (205)
When Magnus appears at the trial, he is himself the ram in the thicket, like that ram provided in the Bible by the egregious coincidence we call "deus ex machina." For Magnus, the machine is a stagecoach. He arrives on the stage looking "like a white ram in a drove of black sheep" (225). There is some growth here, in the white cultural myth; the father offers himself as sacrifice. In Conquering Horse, the father was the desired sacrifice; here, it is the son, though justice would agree that Magnus is more guilty than his son. It is too late, and no exchange can be made. Isaac is the sacrificial son saved; Christ is the sacrificial son lost. The parallel between Christ and Earl (and between Magnus and Christ's father Jehovah) is made explicit when Magnus says to Earl, "Let me drink that bitter cup for you" (242).
For Earl is unfit to survive, a crippled, rabid creature, even though the black sheep of Deadwood are unfit to destroy him. He must die, and all that remains after he is hanged is the fleeing Erden pregnant with their child, the grubbing miners with their precious mother lode, and the mad old man who sets out for Wyoming to find his grandchild. Ransom dies comforting himself with the belief that Erden' s greatest gold treasure, the quartz-bearing rock several miles up the canyon from Deadwood, will remain hidden after his death. It is cold comfort. Four months later after his death, in that very spot, the Homestake Mine was deeded upon one of the richest veins of quartz on earth. Erden's prize.
Cain is the only white character in the entire series who might be called a hero. He is flawed, truly a Cain, but less so than any previous white male character in the series. He approaches the ideal, a man of reason and good will but possessed with instinctive power as wellhis "animal," he calls it. But his animal is a pitiful remnant and unequal to the conflict with the ascendant powers in the land. Significantly, he has named his mule Animal. The animal is sterile, and Cain is the only brother of the three who does not sire a child with Rory, though she names Dale's child for him.
In tune with nature even as much as he is, Cain has the habits of the white invader: He is a complusive shooter like Earl, and takes potshots at wolves and buzzards on principle. His cattle brand is the mark of Cain, and his guilt is that the crimes of his family enemy Link Keeler are crimes he could have committed and could benefit from. This is most explicit when Keeler murders Dale Hammett, which frees Cain to marry his cousin Rory, Dale's widow, if he wishes.
The Riders of Judgment are the horsemen of the apocalypse, sent by the Lord to clean the slate and begin the new age of paradise. Manfred's enactment of that moment, the coming of the cattlemen's assassins to Cain's cabin, is a grim parody, grimmer even than the parodic crucifixions of Scarlet Plume and Earl Ransom because of its utter and irrevocable finality.
In previous novels the protagonist has borne the classic king's and injury, the damaged leg of Jacob and Oedipus. In Riders of Judgment, Cain bears that sign, given him in a riding accident, but so does the leader of those cattlemen Manfred calls "the Kings of the American Earth," Jesse Jacklin. Jacklin's Christian name is that of the father of the new kings of Israel, Jesse, King David's father. The wounded thigh was a badge of honor for Jacob and Oedipus, but on Jesse it becomes a festering sore. And the wound was given to him by Cain's brother Harry, the false Esau. Jesse leads the riders of judgment, and they fail in their larger mission of wholesale murder; but, like Gerda in Scarlet Plume, they succeed in destroying Cain, the symbolic carrier of hope even as he is the chosen leader of the small cattlemen being attacked. With Cain dies the last vestige of racial resistance, that trace of Indian spirit he bore.
There were no Indians in the centennial portions of King of Spades, though a Yankton midwife figures in the prologue sections, and in Riders of Judgment the Indians are only ghosts haunting the land, on scaffolds along the Bitterness River (133), gathering in Cain's imagination to dance at the Medicine Wheel (303), remembered as the "noble red man" in cowboy ballads like "Little Mohee" (283). The year is 1892, roughly the year the frontier closed, two years after the Christmas massacre at Wounded Knee, and with the death of Cain the war between the gods is complete; Jehovah has possession of the land.
The cosmic battle is alluded to obliquely near the beginning of the novel, in one of Manfred's most blatantly symbolic passages, when he has Cain muse upon the legend associated with the two rock formations called The Old Man and The Throne. According to Cain, the Old Man is "Old Man Reality," but the details of his appearance fit the classic Sunday school image of Jehovah, "resting from his sorrows and labors." One version of the legend is that he is weeping because he cannot "climb aboard the Throne." He deserves no sympathy in his frustration and grief.
Cain reminds us twice (47, 303) that "the Throne" itself is famous for its Medicine Wheel, an archaic stone formation that defines the grounds of an Indian religious ceremony. That is to say, it is holy ground for the rightful caretakers of the land, and "the Old Man" is not welcome there. Leslie Silko has said of the dispossession of the Indians from their homeland, that what was stolen remains stolen, no matter how many hands, even guiltless hands, it passes through. Fifteen years before she made that observation, this passage in Riders of Judgment suggests the same hollow victory. Because the throne is his only by theft and because the ghostsas D.H.Lawrence assertedwill haunt the Old Man forever, he will never truly ascend the Throne. He can take the land, but he cannot make its spirit acknowledge his dominion. He can rule, but he never can be king.
But his dominion was begun with the slaughter of Scarlet Plume, confirmed by the sacrifice of Earl, and consummated by the execution of Cain Hammett, this last sacrifical son, last avatar of Isaac and Christ, and last victim of the Father. If the connection between Cain and the central myth of Isaac's ordeal needs support, we need look no further than at Cain's nemesis Link Keeler to find it.
Hunt Lawton, a character created half a decade before Manfred finished King of Spades, is the twin of Earl Ransom, his symbolic brother. Like "Ransom," "Lawton" is an alias; the man's real name is Link Keeler, and he is exterminating the Hammetts in retribution for his own father's insane attack on him. Gramp Hammett, the family patriarch, advised Link Keeler's father that a wise man drowned his firstborn to assure his wife's obedience. "Fear makes love," he said, reducing the Old Testament to an aphorism and speaking for the god who advised Abraham. Old Keeler, resentful like Magnus King of his wife's affection for their son, tries to drown the boy. Link sees the event in the biblical terms I have quoted as my headnote: "Christ the Son might be his friend, because Ma had taught him so, but God the Father was an enemy" (251). Cain is the firstborn of his own line, and when Link says he did him a favor by killing Gramp Hammett, it is a reminder that the old man mildly regretted that his own son did not follow his advice regarding the first child.
Link remembers the attempt on his life with blinding horror, and the entire Hammett family is the target of his revenge. He kills the Hammett patriarch, and possibly the fathers of Cain and Rory as well, Gramp Hammett's sons. He murders Dale, Cain's brother and Rory's husband, and it is he who shoots Cain in the final gun battle. When he appears in Antelope, Wyoming, early in the novel, he has come straight across the alkalai desert from the Black Hills (82), headed west like Magnus, seeking the symbolic child of Erden Aldridge. Link represents all the madness consuming Magnus and Earlthe collective white madness, sexual and murderous, that annihiliates the Indian and abhors all that the Indian stands for. Link has no interest in women, no sexuality at all. He has no "animal," as Cain learns when he tries to taunt him into a shootout. He is the cold and mechanical child of pure reason on the surface, all his passion bound up and suppressed, centered upon his trauma and hatred.
Jehovah is for Manfred a handy symbol of the disease of the white American spirit that Frank Waters, in Masked Gods and The Colorado, called "The Puritan," and what Vardis Fisher described in his ambitious Testament of Man as the sterile father. Be that god cause or effect, he has been the image of the white man, and the Bible has been, since our national beginnings, the justification for our rape of the land and slaughter of its people.
That god of Abraham and Isaac moves like a mad father through the Buckskin Man Tales, slaying his sons and imposing his death-directed will upon the living land. It is the wildness of the land, the vitality of vision that insisted that the earth is not dead matter but a "Thou," it is the spontaneity of the human spirit, the openness to physical life that takes its most overpowering and frightening form in encounters of sensual love, it is these enemies of the Father that are stalked and destroyed, first in their pure form in the heroic Scarlet Plume, then as they appear in their crippled manifestation when Earl attempts to break free of his past and find a new beginning with Erden, and finally in the death of Cain Hammett, named for that first human foe of Jehovah, the first victim of that god's whim, the rejected child who slew his brother in rage over his rejection.
The Buckskin Man Tales is a deeply moral statement about the westering movement, but a profoundly pessimistic one as well. Vardis Fisher devoted the last thirty years of his life to his war with that national psychosis I have identified, as he did, with Jehovah, in a series of historical novels that often sacrificed art in the name of polemic. Meanwhile, with a deceptive ingenuousness, Frederick Manfred was constructing his own indictment of the death-directed, anti-feminine, sterile and murderous national will whose source and primary myth was the desert god of Israel, Jehovah, whose spirit tuned so well with the Anglo-Saxon's and whose adoption by our ancestors of Europe set in motion one of the greatest crimes of recorded history, the rape of the American land and the slaughter of her children by a self-proclaimed chosen people, the sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.