- Magpie's Blanket: A Novel by Kimberly D. Schmidt with Jennifer A. Whiteman
Magpie's Blanket is a beautifully human story of a Southern Cheyenne woman coming of age in a time of perpetual crisis. Kimberly D. Schmidt places Magpie—a fictional member of Black Kettle's band—and a slate of other characters in the thick of very real massacres at Sand Creek in 1864 and at the Washita River in 1868. Schmidt revisits the Washita one hundred years later to witness a reenactment of that "battle" through the eyes of Magpie's progeny. She captures the sorrow surrounding these events through characters she invented but maintains historical veracity through the advice of Jennifer A. Whiteman and Henrietta Mann (Cheyenne). [End Page 470]
More importantly, Schmidt explores the meanings of belonging to the Tsitsistas—"the People"—no matter the circumstances. The blanket in question is a metaphor for the resiliency of a myriad of traditions. Family is central to Cheyenne life, and the blanket first appears when Magpie and her sister, Cricket, were shielded by their mother at Sand Creek. Later, Big Hawk used the same Pendleton blanket to court Magpie. Finally, closing the circle of life, it became the shroud employed to properly bury Cricket's repatriated remains in 1968.
The narrative is sprinkled with Cheyenne words that help readers explore the "Cheyenne way" (19). For example, the young people in the story enjoy the guidance of a nahaa'e—an aunt or female mentor—and a naxane—an uncle or male mentor. With the assistance of these mentors, girls and boys learn to be physically and morally strong. Ultimately, the youngsters seek direction from Motse'eoeve (Sweet Medicine)—the tribe's most important culture hero. They gain understandings that leaders must make decisions to last seven generations, and all Cheyennes must carry themselves with dignity and show respect for each other and the world around them.
Deep traditions, however, were interrupted with the arrival of ve'ho'e—"spider people"—who end up warring against the Cheyennes. As this is not their story, most of them remain anonymous. They are generally depicted as "undisciplined and disheveled," but some, such as George Armstrong Custer—the commander at Washita—are portrayed as "scoundrels" and rapists (59). Others, like the fictitious bugler John Ross and battle reenactor Walter Smith, demonstrate empathy for the Cheyennes and a glimmer of cultural understanding. This allows the novel to end on a hopeful note, one that suggests respectful cultural interaction is both plausible and desirable.
Ultimately, the novel demonstrates that despite the genocidal challenges Cheyennes encountered, their traditions remain intact and, although changed by time, will continue into the future. This is a thoughtfully prepared volume that includes a glossary of terms and concepts to help the uninitiated address this troubled era. [End Page 471] Readers familiar with Cheyenne history will enjoy the perspectives of historically undocumented groups of participants. Those unfamiliar with Cheyenne history will be brought into the discussion in a very engaging manner.