On the edge of Custer’s last stand

Review of “Far As the Eye Can See” by Robert Bausch.

 

Far As The Eye Can See
Robert Bausch
320 pages,
hardcover: $26.
Bloomsbury USA, 2014

Far As The Eye Can See, the seventh novel from Georgia-born author Robert Bausch, opens in the 1870s, with Bobby Evans, a serial “deserter” from the Union Army, wandering aimlessly through the Montana, Wyoming and Dakota territories. He’s an unsettling character: a man without a purpose, the kind of hustler who took the cash bounty for enlisting several times, only to slip away and re-enlist elsewhere under a different name.

Committed only to saving his own skin, answering threats with his finger on the trigger, Evans ends up traveling with and learning Native skills from a chance companion, Big Tree, “a Crow brave … a statue of what God wanted when he dreamed up the creature he would call ‘man.’” Later on, though, Evans helps the military round up Sioux and Cheyenne who refuse to move to reservations or abide by treaties. Stumbling through a landscape “as big as any whole earth I ever dreamed of,” he observes both the white man’s misguided response to the Indians and the bloody retaliatory tactics of the tribes in the Yellowstone River region.  

Bausch takes the reader deep into his protagonist’s psyche. Haunted by the echo of screams from the Civil War and the sound of “a bullet thwack(ing) into the breast of a fellow only inches away from me,” Evans trusts nothing and no one. He impulsively attacks both red and white men, leaving human wreckage in his wake. But a moment of truth arrives when he must decide whether to keep moving, or to stay and care for a person he has hurt. In the rising hills surrounding the Little Bighorn River, against the violent chaos of Custer’s Last Stand, this amoral man is finally caught in a web of moral choices, where he must choose his own thread and take the consequences.     

The Battle of Little Bighorn.
C.M. Russell, 1903. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-7160
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