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2017-07-12 / Education

Local author’s novel about Lakota code talkers

TIMBER LAKE –– In their new novel, The Road Back to Thunder Hawk, George Gilland and Sharon Rasmussen take you along with Bob / Red Eagle as he travels from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to the battlefields of Europe and into the lawless days of Prohibition.

Bob’s father was a US Army sergeant serving in Dakota Territory, and his mother was a member of the Lakota tribe. As Bob grew up ranching on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, he was called Bob by some and Wanbli Luta, or Red Eagle, by others.

Though still haunted by the ghost of a crime he didn’t commit, Bob decides that dollar-a-day army pay and a chance to fight for an America where he could not even vote was better than going broke ranching on his own. When the United States joins the Allies in World War I, he and his new friend Slim Summers sign up for the ambulance corps.

On a ship full of seasick doughboys crossing the Atlantic Ocean in 1917, Bob / Red Eagle meets up with others from Standing Rock. Then in the midst of trench warfare, he realizes his Lakota heritage gives him a unique skill. Bob and his friends from Indian boarding school improvise a secret code that the Kaiser’s German army has no hope of breaking on the battlefields of Verdun and Belleau Wood!

Will it be enough to keep them safe? Will the charming young Belgian doctor ease Bob’s pain over a letter from home?

The Great War isn’t the only challenge Bob faces in this thrilling sequel to Along the Trail to Thunder Hawk. This half-Lakota cowboy sets his sights on becoming a rancher once again, but banks were failing, cattle prices were low, and Prohibition hit the northern plains early and hard. Bob uses his WWI ambulance driving skills to outrun and outsmart federal Prohibition agents, especially one calling himself “Two-Gun Hart.” He also makes some questionable friends in Deadwood and Chicago, even a beautiful new friend who convinces him that maybe it’s time to make plans for the future.

While Bob looks to the future, writers George Gilland and Sharon Rasmussen also use him to examine the sins of the past. They chronicle the scars the government’s appalling treatment of native tribes has left on native culture. The government tried to force the Lakota into following their “civilized ways.” But as Bob learns through WWI and his other experiences, there’s nothing civilized about the world beyond the reservation.

“We were privileged to be able to tell this authentic story with its unique Native American perspective on World War I and its aftermath in the 1920’s,” says George Gilland.

Gilland raises cattle on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and writes during the winters; Rasmussen lives in the Washington, DC area and writes for a living. The cousins began collaborating on their family saga in 2006; they are both members of the Western Writers of America.

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