Fair Land, Fair Land

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Fair Land, Fair Land
AB Guthrie Fair Land book cover.jpg
First edition cover
Author A. B. Guthrie, Jr.
Country United States
Language English
Genre Western
Publisher Houghton Mifflin Company
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
ISBN 0-395-32511-0
813/.52 19
LC Class PS3513.U855 F3 1982

Fair Land, Fair Land is a 1982 Western novel by A. B. Guthrie, Jr. It is one in a sequence of six books dealing with the Oregon Trail and the development of Montana from 1830, the time of the mountain men, to "the cattle empire of the 1880s to the near present".[1]

Of the series, Fair Land, Fair Land is third is story chronology, but was the last to be published. The sequence began with The Big Sky,[2] followed by The Way West (which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1950),[3] These Thousand Hills,[4] Arfive (1971), The Last Valley (1975), and Fair Land, Fair Land.[5]

The first three books in chronological story sequence (but not in the sequence of publishing) — The Big Sky, The Way West, and Fair Land, Fair Land — are in themselves a complete trilogy, starting in 1830 with Boone Caudill leaving Kentucky to become a mountain man and ending with the death of Caudill and later the death of Dick Summers in the 1870s.

In his "Author's note" at the beginning of the novel, Guthrie wrote that he had "sworn more than once to write no more about the early-day West and just as often have broken the vow." He wrote that with Fair Land, Fair Land he was breaking the vow again to fill the time gap, "roughly from 1845 to 1870," between The Way West and These Thousand Hills.

In its view of the white settlement of the American west, Fair Land, Fair Land is the bleakest book in the series.[citation needed] The most positively portrayed whites are mountain men and those who choose to live with the Native Americans and adopt their ways, such as Dick Summers and Hezekiah Higgins. Other whites range from settlers who don't realize they are despoiling an Eden, to destructively careless wealth seekers, and to deliberately evil murderers.[citation needed]


Fair Land, Fair Land begins where The Way West ends, with Dick Summers riding away from the group of "wagon-train people" he has guided from Independence to Oregon, but Summers leaves without saying goodbye and while the settlers are still sleeping. As a mountain man traveling light, all Summers carries is his Hawken rifle, "his old Green River knife, some ammunition and a small sack of possibles."[6]

As he rides Summers remembers the events of The Big Sky of about fifteen years before when he was the hunter for a French trading expedition traveling up the Missouri in a keelboat to Blackfeet country, a trip that ended with the Blackfeet killing all the Frenchmen and only the three friends, Summers, Boone Caudill, and Jim Deakins, escaping.[7] Summers meets and shares a jug with a man who mentions having encountered Boone Caudill, "The broodiest bastard I ever see. Turn on you for nothin'." Caudill admitted to the man that he killed his best friend, Jim Deakins, for fathering a child with Teal Eye, Caudill's Blackfoot "squaw."[8]

Dick Summers re-encounters a band of his settlers that had separated from the main group in order to drive their stock by land while the main group had finished by river.[9] In the band is Hezekiah "Hig" Higgins. Hig idolizes Summers and Summers has seen throughout The Way West what a valuable man Hig is. Higgins and Summers join together and spend most of the rest of Fair Land, Fair Land together, first as nomadic mountain men in an idyllic type of life that is rapidly disappearing and then as relatively settled men living with Indian wives.

Summers meets Teal Eye again, becomes her mate, and adopts her blind son, who in Indian fashion has been given a descriptive name, "Nocansee." Summers and Teal Eye have another son, Lije, and are ultimately able to have a white marriage ceremony, conducted by their friend Brother Potter.[10] Nocansee was a red-headed baby, but was the natural son of Boone Caudill, who years before had killed his red-headed best friend, Jim Deakins, because Caudill wrongly thought Teal Eye had cheated on him with Deakins.[11]

Dick Summers and Teal Eye arrange for Hig to marry a Shoshone chief's granddaughter, Little Wing, and the ceremony is performed by Summers.[12] The years pass. Hig and Little Wing never have children. Summers forces Lije to leave him and Teal Eye with Brother Potter because Summers sees the end coming for their Native American way of life and that Lije must become educated in how to live in a white world.[13]

Higgins learns that Boone Caudill will be passing through the area on his way to hunt gold in California and tells Summers. When Summers meets Caudill on the trail and confronts him with the facts that Caudill unjustly killed his best friend, Caudill leaps on Summers and attempts to strangle him. Although he has his knife in his hand and will die if Caudill continues the throttling, Summers cannot bring himself to stab. He is losing consciousness when he hears a shot—Hig has killed Caudill and afterward says, "He didn't mean nothin' to me."[14]

A.B. Guthrie writes of the white destruction of the Eden of Montana. For example, greedy white men discover gold in Alder Gulch, resulting in despoiling of the area, corruption, and violence.[15] Or, one afternoon Dick Summers hears a shot and discovers that a boy has gut-shot Summers's best horse, thinking he was shooting an elk or a deer. The horse is suffering, but having caused so much damage the foolish but sorry boy cannot bring himself to complete the job—"I couldn't ... not a horse." Summers is forced to shoot the horse.[16]

Higgins and Little Wing leave Summers and Teal Eye to return to Little Wing's Shoshone people.[17] Dick Summers, Teal Eye, and Nocansee are living in the village of the Blackfoot chief Heavy Runner when the Indian agency orders all the Blackfeet chiefs to a meeting because of Indian horse stealing and a recent Indian killing of a white man. Heavy Runner asks Dick Summers to go with him to speak for the Indians.[18] Running the meeting are two men: General Sully, the superintendent of Indian Affairs, and U.S. Marshal Wheeler. The only Blackfeet to have shown up are peaceful ones, and the band that committed the worst crimes, including the recent murder, doesn't appear. Summers is surprised to find his son Lije standing behind Sully and Wheeler, ill-at-ease as part of the Army and as their interpreter. The fruitless meeting concludes with General Sully telling the chiefs that they must surrender the killers of the white man and return the stolen stock.[19]

After the Army's time limit has passed with no surrender of murderers and no return of stock, officers plan "A secret mission, a stealing out to kill Blackfeet, a surprise attack." The meeting, at which Lije is deliberately degraded to be a servant pouring whiskey, is conducted by Major Baker, perhaps the most overtly evil person in the novel: "This time we show them that we mean business. No prisoners ... I swear this is the last time, so bear with me, gentlemen." As Major Baker plans the slaughter of the Blackfeet he acknowledges that in the dawn attack on the villages the January weather will be cold, but "Think of that other enemy, the Blackfeet, all huddled in camp against the cold. ... Sitting ducks." Lije calls him a fool for attacking such chiefs as Heavy Runner, who is friendly and "has a friendship paper" from the government. Major Baker has Lije put in the guardhouse, where, after having thought over his life, Lije reaches between the bars and breaks a window, the implication being that he is getting the glass in order to commit suicide.[20]

In the morning several days later, Dick Summers wakes up to someone shouting "Wrong camp" and from the flap of his tepee sees Heavy Runner trot out of his lodge "waving his friendship paper" and be immediately shot down. Summers makes Teal Eye escape through a hole in the rear of their tepee and then sits to await his fate. A soldier looks in and remarks that Summers is a white man. The soldier also sees the nonwhite Nocansee sitting quietly. When Summers tells him that Nocansee is blind, the soldier responds that then he need not waste a bullet and clubs Nocansee to death with the butt of his carbine. Summers shoots the soldier in the forehead with his Hawken, the rifle he has carried and relied upon throughout the trilogy. Two more soldiers come in and shoot Summers as "a turncoat son of a bitch" who "Killed his own kind." The novel ends with Summers drifting into unconsciousness and death, hearing the sounds of the soldiers destroying the village and "the wailing of squaws and the crying of children and the voices of soldiers proud of themselves."[21]


  1. ^ 1965 Forward by Wallace Stegner to A.B. Guthrie, Jr., The Big Sky, Houghton Mifflin Company, published 1947/renewed 1974.
  2. ^ The Big Sky (1947)
  3. ^ The Way West (1949)
  4. ^ These Thousand Hills (1956)
  5. ^ Fair Land, Fair Land (1982)
  6. ^ Fair Land, Fair Land, Chapter 1.
  7. ^ Chapter 1.
  8. ^ Chapter 2.
  9. ^ Chapter 3
  10. ^ Chapters 13 to 18
  11. ^ See The Big Sky.
  12. ^ Chapters 22 to 24
  13. ^ Chapters 32 to 33
  14. ^ Chapters 25 to 26
  15. ^ Chapters 28 to 31
  16. ^ Chapter 35
  17. ^ Chapter 34
  18. ^ Chapter 36
  19. ^ Chapter 37
  20. ^ Chapter 38
  21. ^ Chapter 39.