History Mystery #19: Danger at the Wild West Show

Author: Alison Hart

Illustrators: Greg Dearth and Jean-Paul Tibbles

Publishing Year: 2003

Setting:  Louisville, Kentucky, 1886


Twelve-year-old Rose Taylor is helping her twenty-year-old brother Zane practice for his part in the wild west show and wishing she could ride in the show too. She's knows she's good enough, but her mother has forbidden it at least until Rose is grown--understandable since Rose's father two years ago falling from a horse in a show. For now she has to settle with playing some pioneer woman who needs saving, just her brother's assistant.

While the cast is getting ready, two distinguished guests who will have small parts start arguing about the Dawes Allotment Act, which, if passed, would take away even more land from the Native American tribes in the west. General Judson is in favor of it while Senator North is against it. They quiet down long enough for the performance, but during it Rose thinks Gen. Judson is hamming it up too much--until she sees the blood. He's actually been shot.

After the show, Rose goes to see another performer, Ma-to-sea (a Sioux chief modeled after Sitting Bull). She wants to ask him about the Dawes Allotment Act and other things she feels uneasy about, and how terrified she is to perform after having the general slump onto her lap, unconscious and bleeding. She brings up the animosity between the men (Gen. Judson was part of the forces fighting against Ma-to-sea's tribe). But he doesn't say a word. Rose leaves him to his silence, concerned. Could her friend be capable of hurting the other man? Her brother tells Rose there's no way. A man like Ma-to-sea wouldn't sneak around covertly to assassinate someone. He'd make sure everyone know who did it and why, and he'd get the job done. Zane assures Rose that the shooting is being investigated, and that the culprit will be found out and punished soon.

Now able to relax a little, Rose helps Oliver, a boy her age, learn more about wild west shows. Oliver's father is actually the man in charge of the show, but Oliver's been home in Boston most of the time and hasn't been around horses or guns or any wild west things much before. He's learning well when the police arrive. And arrest Zane for attempted murder.

It doesn't look good for Zane. It's well known that he's friendly with many Sioux, and therefore think he would have reason to want to hurt anyone trying to pass the Dawes Allotment Act. One of his distinct guns was also found hidden near the stage, and it's clearly the weapon used in the crime. Remembering that she left Zane's gun case out in the open instead of putting it away like usual, Rose realizes that anyone wanting to frame Zane could have easily stolen one of the guns. Sen. North approaches Rose and her mother, expressing interest in seeing the real culprit brought to justice. He takes the Taylor women to the jail where Zane is, but only men are allowed to visit inmates. Sen. North goes to see him, with the basket of food and clothes Rose and her mother packed, and questions from them as well.

He comes back with the news that Zane was with someone else during the shooting, but is honor-bond to not tell who. Rose remembers that he had a woman's handkerchief, prompting Sen. North to say delicately that Zane is likely protecting the woman's virtue. Rose is able to find the handkerchief, conveniently monogrammed, and with Oliver's help, match it to the woman she suspects Zane was with. It's the local mayor's daughter, Abigail Reed. She also overhears that the wild west show is in debt, and one of the partners wants to be bought out of his share--no wonder the people in charge don't seem to care that Zane was arrested, they're too busy worrying about money. Rose, Mrs. Taylor, and Oliver try to visit Abigail, but her father has found out that she's been seeing Zane and, worried about her reputation, has forbidden her to leave the house or receive visitors.

It seems like they've hit a dead end. Rose and Oliver talk over the events of the shooting, and Rose has a flash of insight. The shooter's aim was beyond amazing, to have hit someone sitting in the middle of stagecoach during a performance. Unless the shooter was aiming for Sen. North, seated by the stagecoach window, instead of Gen Judson. Rose talks with Ma-to-sea, who is mostly quiet, unwilling to get involved in other people's problems. But he gives her enough information that she realizes the man who wants to be bought out, Mr. Pearson, had the motive and opportunity to attempt to shoot Sen. North (he supports the Dawes Allotment Act, wanting to buy cheap reservation land in South Dakota--an impressive feat as it was the Dakota Territory until November 1889). Just as she's realizing this, she hears that Sen. North will again be playing a small part in that evening's performance. She has to warn him!

The act is already starting, and Rose sees a man with a gun in the shadows of the grandstands. She quickly jumps on a horse and rides out to, telling Sen. North to duck and yelling about the gunman. Rose hears a gunshot, and feels a searing pain in her shoulder. She manages to get her horse to the edge of the performance action before falling off. The man in charge of the show runs to her aid, but thinks her talk of a man with a gun is some sort of hallucination brought on by the pain (he hadn't heard her yelling before she was shot) and that her arm was only injured by her fall. Sen. North rushes over, saying he saw a man with a gun, too--Mr. Pearson. He's run off, but before Rose loses consciousness, she sees Ma-to-sea and some other Sioux performers riding up with Pearson. They've caught him.

When Rose wakes up later that night, she sees Zane sitting with her. Abigail was able to get to the police station to tell them that Zane was with her and couldn't have shot anyone when Gen. Judson was wounded. The Sioux who found Mr. Pearson also found a suitcase full of embezzled money--the wild west show isn't really in debt after all. Sen. North arrives to thank Rose for saving his life, and the show owner apologizes for not working to exonerate Zane. Rose tells them how Oliver and Ma-to-sea helped her solve the mystery. The owner has one more thing to say: after watching her ride to save the senator, the audience and the newspapers have already named her Trick-Riding Rose. She's going to have her own act in the show once she's healed! Oliver even helped Mrs. Taylor figure out how to sew a split skirt for riding easier, and Zane may have helped with her stage name.

A short time later, Rose is well enough to practice riding. She goes to find Ma-to-sea, to thank him for helping her solve the mystery (Oliver has been tutoring Rose, so she sees him often--also, Abigail now helps Zane with his act). He tells her that he's going back to his tribe. If the Dawes Allotment Act is passed, they'll need him more than ever. He gives Rose a gift: his horse. Rose is overwhelmed, and stammers that she has nothing for him, but Ma-to-sea counters that she reminds him that not all settlers want to drive the native peoples away, and that's gift enough. Rose mounts the horse--her horse--and right away she can tell that she and the horse will be performing for sold-out crowds in no time.

A Peek into the Past

The historical section is about wild west shows. The one run by Buffalo Bill Cody was the first to have a woman performing a part other than a damsel in distress--Annie Oakley, the famous sharp-shooter. Native Americans, largely forced onto reservations by this time, could also find employment in wild west shows--one of their few options. But like African Americans in minstrel shows, they faced taunts and jeers for their heritage. Sioux Chief Sitting Bull, one of the last chiefs to surrender to the US government, worked with Annie Oakley, and was saddened to see that the wealthier settlers didn't take care of those worse off. His distrust of the settlers sadly held true when the Dawes Allotment Act was passed in 1887, forcing the people on reservations to be split up onto smaller plots (allotments) of land, effectively destroying the tribal culture.


Dedicated to cowgirls everywhere.

I think someone was underlining vocabulary words in this book. Prosperous, coyly, roustabouts...Whoever it was also scribbled out the D in almost every instance of dead, died, and related words. The word "kill" was left alone, though. A couple chapters have the word "the" scribbled out. Who was reading this?

Rose and her mother have the same middle name: Hannah. My older daughter and I share a middle name, and my younger's daughter middle name is my first.

No comments: