For some reason, my mom was always adamant that I know as much as I could of Native American history. Maybe because I grew up in California (with frequent visits to Oregon). Or maybe because she thought it was a sad story of a proud people bludgeoned into submission, a story she could identify with for her own reasons. At any rate, at one point in my life, I knew quite a bit about Native Americans. But though their history was always interesting to me, as I grew older, other subjects interested me more, and I didn’t think on the topic too much after a while.
So it was an interesting experience coming to a book like Far As the Eye Can See a few decades past childhood. I suddenly remembered much of what I had learned as a kid–though I was also surprised to learn a few more facts in the course of reading this book. I ended up really appreciating how Bausch was able to construct a very detailed but fair view of the Native Americans overall–nothing cliche or romanticized, just straightforward and honest–and it helped me put what I already knew in better context.
Truthfully, I wasn’t particularly wowed by the characters in Far As the Eye Can See. I liked them, I suppose, but I never felt close to them. I never felt like I knew them, their real thoughts, or their deeper motivations. Most of these people experienced a lot of hardship but didn’t seem to have the time or energy to process what they were experiencing–just living one day to the next, and hoping to live another day after that. So I understood why Bausch portrayed these characters as he did, but I still felt a bit disappointed by it.
However, there is no denying that Bausch did an exceptional job of creating physical and historical context. In fact, I think the characters actually took a backseat to the general atmosphere of the time period. When I finished the book, I felt closer to the Wild West than to even Bobby Hale: the turmoil; the unrest; the nagging itch to fight, expand, and explore–and the hopeless exasperation of more than a few people (Native American and white alike) to be left alone for heaven’s sake. When Bausch described the wide open skies and unbearably cold winter where the sun gave no heat and the coziness of an “Injun’s” teepee, I felt like I was right there experiencing it all. I think ultimately this is where the book excels: in painting a very specific, clear picture of a beautiful but dangerous country in a period of transition.
So while the story could be a bit slow at parts, and while the characters weren’t as developed as I would have liked, I was more than happy to let myself be swept through these pages if only for the opportunity to experience Bausch’s version of the Wild West.