The Ghost Wind Stallion

Published in 2016; author Emma Carlson Berne; illustrator Juliana Kolesova


Kaya's aunt Tall Branch is coming to live with her family, following the death of her husband. Kaya is excited and curious to meet her aunt, who has been away from the family for a very long time, living with another band of Nimíipuu (Tall Branch and her late husband had no children, so going to live with her sister's family makes sense). Kaya notices her mother is nervous, commenting that the sister she hasn't seen in years will be very particular about how things should be.

Indeed, when Kaya's aunt arrives, she seems to be looking for things to complain about, and latches on Kaya for this purpose. There are times Tall Branch has a point: Kaya was careless with her aunt's bedroll, and some holes were burned in it. But most of the time it comes down to Kaya's band having different customs than her aunt's or Kaya being nervous around her strict aunt. One particularly unfair accusation is leveled after Tall Branch's horse disappears. She blames Kaya, saying her carelessness has attracted the attention of the Stick People (an otherworldly force who steal things or even people and never return them), who must have taken her horse. 

Kaya and her sister Speaking Rain don't believe Kaya is to blame for the horse's being gone, and also believe it can be found. They do wonder if the mysterious stallion in the forest has lured Tall Branch's mare away, though: the two girls found a feral horse covered in whip scars. He seems to trust Speaking Rain, who longs to be needed rather than needing help (i.e.; guided places due to her blindness). They haven't told anyone else about the stallion for two reasons: first, a wild or feral stallion can be dangerous to a herd and they don't want the adults to drive him off when it seems like Speaking Rain can gentle him; and second, he's a silvery color associated with a legend of ghost wind horses (hence the name they give him: Ghost). 

As the story unfolds and the girls are eventually compelled to reveal the existence of ghost, Kaya's father and some other men set about to drive him away, figuring that he led Tall Branch's horse astray and the mare is dead. Ghost had been near a bog where a particular plant grows, one Tall Branch's husband used to make her a special tea. Kaya got some of it for her aunt, and with Speaking Rain's encouragement has mended fences with her. This inspire Kaya to let Speaking Rain and Ghost have one more chance. 

They rush to where they last saw Ghost, and he's there waiting for them. He lets Speaking Rain mount him, and they ride to the bog where the plant was--and some tail hairs Kaya had recently realized matched the hair in the tail of her aunt's mare. Sure enough, Tall Branch's mare is stuck in the bog, near death. Speaking Rain comes up with a plan, and they're able to get the mare out of the mud and lead her back to the camp--with Ghost. Speaking Rain's father confers with the other elders, and they agree to let Speaking Rain keep the stallion. Kaya is relieved that her name is cleared, and thrilled that her sister can feel useful and needed.

Inside Kaya's World

Although the Nimíipuu only had horses for a few generations before Kaya's time (European settlers brought them over; the Americas had no wild horses to domesticate), they quickly became an integral part of life. Horses allowed them to travel further and take more with them, and were soon so indispensable that it seemed the Nimíipuu had never been without horses. 

And although Speaking Rain is blind, her being able to ride a horse is completely realistic. Not only are therapy horses relatively common for those with visual impairments, blind riders have competed at levels as high as the Paralympics. 


This book is dedicated to "Jess--my 'sister' for the last thirty years." Special thanks is given to Ann McCormack, Cultural Arts Coordinator for the Nez Perce Tribe.

Unlike another time someone's recently widowed aunt came to live with her family, this aunt's grief is addressed and pointed to as a reason for her standoffish attitude.

Tall Branch's husband rushed out unexpectedly during a hunt and was hit by an arrow. He lingered for months with an infection before dying. Therefore, Tall Branch is especially harsh on carelessness.

When Tall Branch accused Kaya of attracting the Stick People to steal her mare, she did it in public. When she apologizes, it's in private. That annoyed me--she should have really taken responsibility for  being wrong about such a serious accusation.

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