While so many Native Americans were pushed ever-westward onto dreary reservations, a number of nations, bands, or tribes—whatever they want to be called—somehow managed to remain as islands in the flood of white Europeans along the East Coast. If the American Experience had been about them, it would have been entitled WE DID REMAIN.
My best novel, THE DREAM DANCER, flows from the federal government’s decision to tear up a treaty between the United States and the Seneca Nation protecting their little piece of Northwestern Pennsylvania for the usual terms along the lines of “for as long as the grass grows and the water flows. That treaty was supposedly signed by George Washington in 1794.
Well, the grass must have stopped growing and the water flowing since the Army Corps of Engineers built a dam early in the 1960s that flooded the Seneca’s Allegany Reservation.
I became fascinated by the survival of the Iroquois culture and language and religion around 1960 when I wrote a series on the Onondaga Nation for the SYRACUSE HERALD-JOURNAL. The Onondaga and the Seneca are part of the Iroquois Confederation.
In the course of writing the series, I discovered the Queen Anne of England had sent three Silver communion sets early in the Eighteenth Century to the Onondaga, the Seneca, and the Mohawk, another Iroquois nation. The Mohawk and the Onondaga got their sets. No one was crazy enough to venture into the western wilderness to deliver the silver set to the Seneca. That set only got as far as Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan, where I believe it remains.
Around 1970, I ventured to the Kinzua Dam and had lunch with the then president of the Seneca Nation. I told him about Queen Anne’s undelivered gift, which was on display at Trinity Church. He said he would have the Seneca lawyers look into the situation. I heard from the lawyers. They were considering a law suit. A few months later, I went Trinity Church and the silver set was no longer on public view.
In 1971, I wrote a novel, KINZUA, which recounted a curse on the dam and centered on an Iroquois false face society, whose incantations cause the Kinzua Dam to crack. The rush of water swept away the remains of this great betrayal of a comparatively helpless band of Native Americans by the powerful United States government. KINZUA got me an agent, who spent a couple of years trying to pedal the novel. She never found a buyer, but I never forgot the novel.
Almost 35 years later, I decided to rewrite KINZUA. In the interim, I had developed as a writer. I discovered to my dismay that I didn’t care for the original story, concept or characters. Only the name Kinzua remained as the title for my computer folder as I set out to write what became THE DREAM DANCER. I created a new band of Native Americans called the Okwe, set them in a fictional valley in Pennsylvania, and created a special relationship between the Okwe and the Great Spirit.
My agent refused to represent me on the latest version of the novel so I spent months looking for another agent to no avail. Several said they liked the book, but didn’t think it would fly in today’s market. So I put it on the internet as a free novel. You can read it at http://www.kennethccrowe.com/.
To give you an idea of what the book is about, I said in my letter to my agent in 2005: “THE DREAM DANCER is a Twentieth Century Native American fable. Coop Rever, the protagonist, is a reluctant messenger of God. He is a Native American, a war hero, a lover, a foreign correspondent, an author, a prophet, a murderer and a convict.”
And I said in a summary telling potential readers about THE DREAM DANCER:
“The story opens in Paris in the dwindling days of the summer of 1956. Coop Rever, a Native American expatriate who is the protagonist of THE DREAM DANCER, is getting ready to travel to Algeria to gather material for his third book on the French Foreign Legion. Coop is a war correspondent and author, educated at the Sorbonne under the World War II GI Bill.
“Coop is a member of the Okwe, a tiny band of Indians who have been left in relative peace in their narrow river valley in Pennsylvania for almost 200 years because of a treaty signed by George Washington that shielded their land from white predators for as long as the water flowed over the Green River Falls. The Okwe assumed that would be forever.
“One hot August day in 1956, the water stopped falling, an incident seized upon by the local congressman, Arthur Kings, to declare the treaty moot. Kings has devised a plan for the construction of a dam that would flood the valley—fulfilling a long-held dream of his family to drive the Okwe from their land.”
The next novel I will review is THE PRICE OF SALT by Patricia Highsmith writing as Claire Morgan