I held the book in my hands for the first time today. As one might imagine, a flood of emotion raced through me. I felt proud of the accomplishment, grateful for those who had helped me through the long, arduous process, and relieved that this portion of the story was done. Above all though, I felt more connected than I ever have been to those whom I wrote about in the book, those ordinary people who lived during such an extraordinary time and who overcame so much.
It’s important to emphasize that this is their story. True, I researched and wrote the book, but it is not my story. It was their struggle, their suffering, and their blood that knit together each moment of shock, anger, inspiration, sacrifice and fear. I have hope that, by coming to understand and identify with their story, we all might gain a more realistic perspective and a better understanding of our own struggles and our own stories. I believe their experiences can be used to educate, enlighten and inspire.
Granted, few, if any, among us have been driven from our homes in the middle of winter and forced to trudge through the mountains for weeks seeking help, but we have all faced times where we’ve felt, to some extent, attacked, abandoned, and alone. If we can draw any parallels and gain a new perspective from the Cheyenne struggle, we might also find that we can get beyond our own troubles and that all is not lost. I have no doubt that their example can inspire generations to come, Cheyenne or not, who feel lost in their own canyons of despair.
I’ve known about this story since I was a very young boy. I’ve often looked to it for inspiration as I’ve wrestled with various challenges in my life. My contemplation of the desperate straits these people were in has always helped me realize that my own dilemma, however painful it happened to feel at the moment, was actually a bit less difficult than I perceived it to be, and that I would in fact get past it.
Another hope I have for the book is that it might make a small contribution toward helping dispel the popular, but over-simplified, conceptions of the noble savage, mystical warrior or lay-about loafer that have been unfairly hung upon a race to either identify or quantify them in an attempt to suggest one’s own sagacity or superiority. Speaking for myself, an accurate understanding involves undertaking a more patient study of a very complex and nuanced culture. This book is a start but, I feel that it will require me, personally, at least two more volumes to even come close to presenting an adequate picture of those involved.
If I were pressed, I would say that the substance of the story is that all the characters were as human as any reader might be. They were ordinary people who happened to be thrust into an extraordinary time in the evolution of history. They all did their best to follow their own moral compass and to do what was right. In the end, their efforts provided us examples of some of the best characteristics that can result from human effort which include being courageous, heroic and inspirational, while at times also showing our weaker nature by becoming fear-driven, prideful and oppressive. These are attributes we all share and are certainly worthy of being recounted.
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