It is 1863 and fourteen-year-old Bright Morning is a Navaho girl living with her father, mother, and older sister Lapana in a village in the Canyon de Chelly, surrounded by mesas in what is now northeastern Arizona. Her brother had been killed by lightning. Her friends are White Deer and Running Bird, and she is sweet on the young warrior Tall Boy. One spring day, Bright Morning and Running Bird take their sheep to pasture on the mesa. Bright Morning's black dog barks, and that is when she sees the shadows of the two Spanish slavers who kidnap her and Running Bird to be servants in a Mexican town. After a time, with the help of another slave girl named Nahana, they escape and though pursued are rescued by Tall Boy, who is unfortunately shot but survives.
However, not long after their return, the Long Knives (U. S. Army soldiers) force all the Navaho on "The Long Walk" into exile at Ft. Sumner in New Mexico, after destroying their homes, crops, and livestock. Many of the Navaho die. Bright Morning and Tall Boy, who has lost the use of his right arm due to his injury, get married, but what will happen to them and their new baby? Scott O'Dell was a great author who wrote some wonderful historical fiction such as Island of the Blue Dolphins and The Hawk That Dare Not Hunt by Day. Sing Down the Moon was a Newbery Honor book in 1971. My first reaction to the book is, "Oh, another story that emphasizes how badly the whites treated the Indians." Yes, I know that many white people treated many Indian people badly. I also know that many Indians treated white people who simply wanted to live in peace badly too. In fact, O'Dell points out with fairness, "...Many treaties were made between the Navahos and the United States. Most of them were broken, some by whites, some by the Indians."
Interestingly enough, as I was reading, I was thinking how the Democrats like to portray themselves as being for all oppressed people and Republicans as being oppressors, but they have their Jefferson and Jackson Day dinners to honor one of their heroes, Andrew Jackson, and his was one of the most anti-Indian administrations in our nation's history leading to the Trail of Tears (1831-1838), whereas it was the Republican Ulysses S. Grant who tried to change federal Indian policy and make it more humane, although there is probably enough blame to go around for both parties. Back to the book, it is a well-crafted and exciting story, in which the Navaho also hear about the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado. All this certainly reminds us that there are some tragic incidents in our country's past which, thankfully, all right-thinking people have come to regret, and O'Dell tells about this one nicely in a sympathetic way. Of course, mention is made of "the gods" worshipped by the Navaho, and several references to killings and deaths occur. Indeed, there is a pervasive sense of sorrow that permeates the entire plot, but it does end on a somewhat hopeful note. It is especially recommended for those who are interested in Southwestern Native American history.show more
by Wayne S. Walker