Cowgirls & Indians is an American Western multimedia franchise, whose story is the backdrop for a TV commercial promoting almond milk Cowgirls & Indians (2015), created by Ann Greyson, that includes cinematic book trailers, and collectible, story-driven images. The 2023 novel adaptation explores the Indians’s struggle to survive in 1881 and 1882, a time of discrimination in the epicenter of the Wild West, the Victorian era, which were both happening at this time. Part historical fiction and part Western comedy, this novel has past tense writing, short (five-or-six-page) chapters, and third-person point-of-viewpoints.
On the night of October 29, 1881, the Tivoli Saloon on the south side of Allen Street in Tombstone, Arizona attracts many folks who are engaged in the hoopla of the recent gunfight between the Earps and the Clanton gang in a narrow vacant lot behind the (Old Kindersley) O.K. Corral, that provided public transportation and care of livestock, and the largely attended funeral procession of Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury. Outside the saloon, Dakota, a Cherokee Indian man and fiance of Sequoia, is shot and killed by the drunk Lieutenant Colonel Derrick Neilsen, who is spooked by the presence of Indians mistaken for Apache stemming from the fear of Geronimo, who is on the loose in the area since breaking out of the San Carlos Apache Reservation on September 30. First Lieutenant Randall Davis of the United States Army, serving at Camp Huachuca, silently sympathizes with the Indians, wanting nothing more than to raise his two toddler sons in a peaceful world.
Sequoia is a sweet, mild-mannered Cherokee girl from a tribe transplanted from the Oklahoma part of Indian Territory. In 1878, her settlement, 35 miles south of Arkansas City, Kansas and 150 miles northwest of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, located at the junction of the Arkansas River and Salt Fork, in the city of White Eagle, set set aside some of their land for the Ponca Indians, who had been forced out of their homeland in northeastern Nebraska. Living conditions were already grim, riddled with dingy teepees, crude shacks and leaky log shanties. In November, there was an outbreak of malaria among the Poncas. Conditions deteriorated in the settlement. Soon after that the White Chief’s brother, Kalanu, and his family had managed to emigrate to Mexico. In the pine-oak forests of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range they could wander freely, and there was clean water and plenty of game, mainly deer and antelope. Sequoia’s mother, Chenoa, felt like she was in a prison camp and began to long for a better life than on the settlement. Chenoa, had become close to Chief Nahele, the White Chief. As a result, when he asked her to migrate west with him and a band of Cherokee warriors to Mexico to reunite with his brother, she agreed. When they traveled into Arizona, they found themselves in the middle of a conflict between the Apaches and just about everyone else, such as the U.S. Army, the settlers, and the Mexicans. Chief Nahele decided to stay put awhile in Arizona and quickly sought unoccupied land for refuge purposes to be among the many Indian squatters in the territory. The tribe settled their encampment along the San Pedro River near its junction with the Babocomari River. Half a mile south of the small hamlet called Fairbank, and ten miles north of Tombstone, the area was formerly home to the Sobaipuri Pimas in the seventeenth century.
Sequoia plans never to wed after loving and losing her betrothed and chooses to devote herself to her people. The popularity of Sequoia’s almond milk among her tribe inspires her to peddle her almond milk for sale in the hope to promote peace and lessening the conflict between the settlers and the Apache Indians, who had a long history of animosity toward them. Little does she know that just as troublesome as the savage, red-sashed Cowboys in the region, are three women dairy ranchers, Bibb Tanner, Pidge Swafford, and Shirley McInerny, who provide the precious commodity of milk for Tombstone and nearby communities. When Pidge Swafford spots Sequoia selling a jug of almond milk to the shopkeeper of McKean & Knight, a grocery and mercantile store in Tombstone, she rounds up her Cowgirl milk rancher friends to discourage Sequoia from muscling in on their profits.
On November 28, 1881, an altercation between Sequoia and the Cowgirls ensues. When Pidge grabs ahold of Sequoia’s gallon size, unglazed clay jug of almond milk, they play tug-of-war with the jug for a few minutes until Pidge loses her grip and falls into an iron horse trough full to the brim with brackish water in front of the Tombstone jail on Sixth Street. In a frenzy of panic, so as to escape, Sequoia mounts a nearby pretty white mare, Pidge’s horse, Maybelline. Clumsy Shirley reaches for the reins of Pidge’s horse. Just at that moment, the horse snorts, turns, her butt bumping into her back, knocking her to the ground. A second or so later, Sequoia gallops away on the horse, and her shawl comes flying through the air, wrapping itself around Shirley’s head, blinding her. A resentful and soaking wet Pidge Swafford and her cowgirl cohorts claim that Sequoia stole Maybelline without any reason, lying to Deputy Sheriff Clancy Barton. Later, Maybelline trots back into Tombstone and is returned to its owner. Nevertheless, Pidge Swafford demands the sheriff to punish Sequoia to the full extent of the law and even puts up a $1,000 reward for anyone who brings her in - dead or alive. Frenzy ensues and fuels widespread interest for Sequoia’s capture, quickly turning her into a notorious outlaw, with false-alarm sightings almost daily.
On December 1, 1881, days after a failed search for Geronimo, First Lieutenant Randall Davis, and some of the men in his charge, are sent to Tombstone to help bring order to chaotic situations around town, in particular the brawls about the court ruling in favor of the Earps and John Henry Holliday the day before. Inside the Alhambra Saloon, Davis and the soldiers have an altercation with Willard McKenna and three red-sashed Cowboys, who are caught shooting bullets in the ceiling in the bar and end up being charged with drunk and disorderly, committing a nuisance and for discharging firearms. Pidge Swafford learns of the incident from her trusty ranch hand Jake McKenna, who is Willard’s brother, and intervenes with the intention of getting the Cowboys to pursue Sequoia. Approximately eleven miles west of Tombstone, Pidge Swafford’s dairy ranch, surrounded by cottonwood trees, sits on the west bank of the San Pedro River, and a half a mile away from Ike Clanton’s Ranch, a clearing-house for stolen cattle from Mexico, brought down the San Pedro River by rustlers. Her father Wally Swafford, who is friendly with Ike Clanton and Sheriff John Behan, convinces Behan to vouch for McKenna, who is released from jail for the favor. But when McKenna’s one and only best Cowboy friend, Jed Rogers, is killed by Apaches out near the San Pedro River, McKenna vows to make all Indians pay including a desire to kill Sequoia.
Every Indian that visits Tombstone is being watched. Eventually, a young Indian girl, from a Yaqui village in Pascua, Arizona, is spotted by Willard McKenna who stalks and then shoots her dead for the reward money. Chief Nahele, views the body of the dead Yaqui Indian girl, and tells Undersheriff Burton Avery it is Sequoia in order to stop the pursuit of her. Later that evening, Chief Nahele enlists two Cherokee warriors to ferry Sequoia in a covered buckboard wagon to northeast Oklahoma.
On Tuesday, January 3, 1882, all the candidates that were opponents of the Earp faction are elected. The Earp brothers lose their political clout in Tombstone. In the aftermath, the city council proposes that Clancy Barton and Burton Avery tender their resignations, since their appointments were influenced by former City Marshal Virgil Earp. Nonetheless, Barton moves on to a position as a special agent for Wells Fargo on stage lines. And Avery retires to build a horse ranch additionally to staying on with Tombstone Rangers, an impromptu militia group formed to hunt down marauding Apaches.
The $1,000 richer Cowboy, Willard McKenna visits the Tivoli Saloon intent to celebrate. By chance, that same night, Lieutenant Colonel Derrick Neilsen is there, where he is seen chatting up Carmelina, a Mexican saloon girl. McKenna has had a longtime interest in Carmelina and in a fury challenges Neilsen to a formal duel outside the saloon. After ten paces, both of them turn around and McKenna fires a shot killing Nielsen. Afterward, McKenna claims Carmelina, who joins him to spend the night with him in a room in the Grand Hotel.
Meanwhile, the whimsical Bibb Tanner, who was the looker of the Cowgirls and had not been cruel to Sequoia, gets her wish to escape the life of a dairy rancher. She will leave her home on 160-acres of oak tree-peppered land at the foot of the southern ridges of the Dragoon Mountains, near the water source of Antelope Springs and nine miles east of Tombstone. On Friday, January 13, 1882, she visits the Oriental Saloon and falls for director, Justin Klamm, who also becomes smitten with her. He offers her an acting role in a show with his traveling theater troupe, which happens to be in town performing the show for the next few days. Bibb accepts his offer, and on their walk to the recently opened Bird Cage to watch the troupe perform, Bibb starts telling him the true story of her one and only encounter with the famous outlaw Sequoia; why people had gotten so obsessed with her, who he knew nothing about, missing all the hype. Because Pidge Swafford was right when she said to Bibb that Sequoia’s name would live on.
In 1917, fifty-four-year-old Sequoia lives in Wauhillau, a settlement community in Indian Territory, in Adair County Oklahoma, sixteen miles southeast of Tahlequah. Up until his death in 1909, Apache leader Geronimo, no less, had lived on the Kiowa-Comanche Reservation, which was part of the Fort Sill army post, located at the juncture of Medicine Bluff and Cache creeks flowing at the base of the Wichita Mountains, about four miles north of the city of Lawton in Oklahoma. She has become a fan of silent films. She sees Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm starring Mary Pickford and recognizes one of the leading actresses from seeing her in real life. Though she was around sixty years old, Bibb Tanner’s face was the same one Sequoia had etched into her memory. She had never forgotten the faces of the three women who had tormented her that day in Tombstone. To her surprise, Bibb Tanner is a popular silent film star who has appeared in many films by trendsetting director and United Artists co-founder, D.W. Griffith, including The Birth of a Nation (1915).
The story is easy to follow, with a blend of plot and sub-plots that flow well together. The short chapters make it even more enjoyable ... I found myself "hearing" two voices depending on what I was reading. In the scenes that focused on the cowboys, cowgirls, and settlers, I heard that typical deep, rough, male voice as the narrator. When the scenes were more focused on the Indians and Sequoia, I heard smooth, female voice as the narrator. Both, however, remained consistent in that the narration was rather conversational, almost as if talking to the reader. As a historical fiction lover, I also enjoyed the little factoids sprinkled throughout the book. The author not only noticeably took the time to learn about Tombstone and the time period this story took place in, but also used the story to show both sides from the perspective of several characters. I could see clearly why the settlers weren't fond of the Indians and vice versa. In fact, depending on what was happening in the book, I found myself sympathetic to both parties.
Booklife and Goodreads 4-star review by Alexis Miller from Purple Shelf Club - September 29, 2023