Literary Reviews, Page 189

A Killing Snow, by David Hoing and Roger Hileman

In July of 1886, Lt. Randall Erickson of the Army Signal Corps and his wife Mariel along with Bruno, their aging and malodorous but beloved mutt, arrive in the small town of Goss Valley in what is now South Dakota, then the Dakota Territory. Erickson had arranged a transfer from Chicago with the assistance of an old Civil War buddy, the asthmatic, crusty but ever helpful Mike Hammon, a survivor of the notorious Confederate prisoner of war camp in Andersonville, Georgia commanded by the equally notorious Henry Wirz, the only Civil War veteran executed for war crimes. Second Lieutenant Erickson is a weather forecaster, referred to as giving "indications" then, the forerunner of modern meteorology handled by the Signal Corps. Exactly why Erickson, a veteran of thirty years' service - and a West Point graduate at that - holds the lowest commissioned rank in the army is a mystery reserved for later in the narrative.

Goss Valley was founded by Herb Goss, the town's inebriate mayor, postmaster and publisher and editor of the town's newspaper, the Goss Valley Sentinel. At the time Mariel meets Goss, the mayor and town council are preoccupied with a fight to return the county seat to Goss Valley after having lost the distinction a couple years previously to another small prairie town. Goss seems to pursue this as much as a matter of personal pride as for its financial and political advantages. Mariel is a social progressive and bit of a proto-feminist who aspires to a career in journalism. To that effect, she lobbies Goss for opportunities to write for his paper, and writings of more substance than mere women's fluff pieces, to the chagrin of her husband, the more conventional and staid army officer. Mariel eschews prejudice against immigrants and even American Indians whom she yearns to help in their often desperate plight. Here Erickson puts his foot down having a seemingly irrational disdain for the "noble savage" and pegs up his wife's contrary views to misguided romanticism. He staunchly forbids her to visit the Crow Indian reservation some miles away, an edict Mariel is destined to disobey to the detriment of their marital relations.

The first townsman the Ericksons meet is Clyde Hartwig, a drayman (one who drove a horse drawn, buckboard-like vehicle; then regardless of cargo and not just beer as the term was later identified), whom Hammon hires to meet the Ericksons at the nearest railroad station some miles away and transport to Goss Valley along with their luggage. Hartwig also sells a hardy variety of wheat seed better able than other strains to withstand the vicissitudes of the harsh Dakota climate, as well as dabbling in the Chicago grain futures markets. Mariel takes an instant dislike to the young, profane Hartwig, a mutual antipathy that will feature prominently in the novel. He drives them to the hotel managed by Mike Hammon and his wife Phoebe for a local widow until the newcomers' house is ready for them to take up residence. Mike and Phoebe had each been married previously, both having lost their spouses. Click to continue:

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