on June 28, 2014 :
First I have to say: disregard the subtitle. This lengthy phrase makes this book sound like a factual report, when it's really a rip-roaring historical adventure with some romance as a hint of seasoning.
Three people who each want to be left alone to lead their own lives, are thrown into conflict by circumstances far wider than themselves in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. By using these characters the author shows us the viewpoints and adaptations of the people of the day.
Cathleen O'Donnell, known as Kate, survives the attack on her family's stagecoach but is badly used by her captors, a band of Comanche raiders. She's a debutante from Boston and had been crossing West Texas with her family to start a new life. The spirited girl takes the chance to sneak away from a campfire, but she'll never make it alone across remote country.
A former Confederate Cavalry Major, Henry Morgan, has spotted Kate and comes to her aid. He's alone but for his horse, a fine Andalusian named Travis - who is as much a character as anyone. Morgan didn't intend to be lumbered with the daughter of a Union officer, and intends to dump her as soon as possible. Kate's attitude doesn't help matters. Morgan has what we now recognise as post-traumatic stress from the war, and having lost everything that mattered to him in Virginia he wants to make a new life. That's if he survives the wrathful Comanches long enough.
Dorado, the leader of the raiding party, returns to a devastated village - the women, children and elders have been killed by soldiers. This was not a matter of killing tribespeople as far as the Texans were concerned, it was eliminating the support structure for the raiding Comanche bands who made life perilous for settlers. So the soldiers felt justified, but of course this atrocity unleashes the fury of revenge. In particular, Dorado believes that the fire-haired woman from the stage who escaped may have been a witch and sent bad spirits. He is determined to hunt her down and kill her, along with the scattered settlers.
The setting is the rough grasslands and canyons, enlivened by buffalo skinners, decent people at a fort who condemn a woman raped by Indians, and a boy whose settling family comes under attack at their homestead. The raw real characters, locations and adventures make this compulsive reading and I barely lifted my head from the pages. In particular Bob Gaston, a veteran and journalist, has managed the finest portrait of a young woman of these times that I have read. Kate is so genuine that every thought and action feels completely natural and grows organically from her experiences and tenacity, as she learns from her escort how to survive.
What more can I say? If you want to understand these times, and have a cracking good read, I strongly recommend reading The War Within.
(reviewed 4 months after purchase)