Wednesday, February 15, 2017
LOST SISTER-- MY FAVE WESTERN SHORT STORY--BY CHERYL PIERSON
Hi everyone! Sorry for the re-post, but this one bears repeating and you may have missed it the first time around--I ran out of time and thought I'd put up this "oldie but goodie" about this wonderful, wonderful Dorothy M. Johnson story rather than totally miss my blog date! Heaven forbid! Hope you enjoy--even if you may have seen it before. What's YOUR favorite short story?
I know we’ve talked before about Dorothy M. Johnson, the iconic western short story writer who penned such classics as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Hanging Tree, and A Man Called Horse; but today, I wanted to tell you about another short story of hers that I read a few days ago. Quite possibly, the best short story –in any genre—that I’ve ever read.
You may never have heard of it. It wasn’t made into a movie, because it too closely mirrored the true life of a real person, Cynthia Ann Parker, mother of Quanah Parker. The story is called Lost Sister.
I’d heard this story mentioned before by a couple of friends, and thought, “I need to read that—I’ve never read much of Mrs. Johnson’s work but the movies have all been good.” I know. I hate it when people say that, too. Anyhow, I bought a collection from Amazon that contained the three stories I mentioned in the first paragraph and Lost Sister as the fourth. Of course, I had to read The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, since that’s tied for my all-time favorite western movie, along with Shane. I was so disappointed. The characters in the short story were not the same as my beloved Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne! Hmmm. Well, even though I was disappointed, I decided to give Lost Sister a shot.
It more than made up for my lukewarm feelings for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
Lost Sister is the story of a woman who has been kidnapped as a young child by “the hostiles”. She has an older sister, who remembers her well from childhood, and loves her with the devotion that most older sisters have for a younger sister. Through the forty years she has been gone, the oldest sister, Mary, has cherished memories of her younger sibling.
There are three younger sisters, as well, who have no recollection of the Lost Sister, Bessie. The older sister doesn’t live with them, but in a different town a thousand miles away. The three sisters are notified that their sister, Bessie, has been “rescued” and is being brought back to them. The story is told from the eyes of a nine-year-old boy, whose mother lives with the sisters. She is the widow of their brother, who was killed by the Indians. The boy has dreams of growing up and avenging his father’s death, but something changes once his Aunt Bessie comes back to live with them.
Up until Bessie is returned to them, they have gotten much attention from the neighbors, and have been pitied as being the family who had a sister stolen by the savages so many years ago. Once Bessie is returned, their standing in the community takes a subtle twist. The other sisters don’t know how to handle Bessie’s homecoming. They make plans to go into her room and “visit” with her every day. One of them decides to read to Bessie from the Bible for thirty minutes each day. The others come up with similar plans, none of which include trying to understand Bessie’s feelings at being ripped away from her Indian family.
The oldest sister, Mary, comes to visit. What’s different? Mary loves Bessie, and accepts her; and Bessie loves her—they both remember their childhood time together. The language of love overcomes the barriers of the spoken language that neither of them can understand, for Bessie has forgotten English, and Mary doesn’t know Bessie’s Indian dialect. But Bessie has a picture of her son, and Mary admires it, and by the time Mary is to go home, she has made arrangements for Bessie to come live with her—a huge relief to the other pious sisters who had made such sympathetic noises about her being reunited with them in the beginning.
In a fateful twist, Bessie makes her own decision about what she will do, taking her own life back, and helping her son avoid capture. This is one story you will not forget. Once you read it, it will stay with you and you’ll find yourself thinking about it again and again. It doesn’t fit the mold of a romance story, except for the fact that I think of Bessie being in love with her husband, having children with him, and then being “rescued” and forced to live in a society she had no ties with any longer…except one—the love and understanding of her older sister, Mary.
No specific Indian tribe is mentioned in the story, probably for a purpose. I think, one of the main reasons is to show us the cultural differences and how, in this case, the “civilized” world that Bessie had come from and been returned to was not as civilized as the “savages” who had kidnapped her. Also, as I say, Cynthia Ann Parker’s story, at the time this story was published, was not that old. There were still raw feelings and rough relations between whites and Indians. But by leaving the particular tribe out of the story, it provides a broader base for humanity to examine the motives for “rescue” and the outcome for all concerned, of a situation such as this in which it would have been better to have let Bessie (Cynthia Ann) remain “lost.”
I’ve posted the link below for the story as it was printed in Collier’s Weekly on March 30, 1956. It’s also available on Amazon in several collections.
Do you have a favorite short story to tell us about? Please share--I'm all about making an ongoing reading list!
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I read this on the UNZ site a few months ago -- it 's very good.ReplyDelete
If you haven't read "A Jury Of Her Peers" I can recommend it.
Oh, Shay, I remember A JURY OF HER PEERS! What an excellent story that was! Haven't read that in such a long time--I think it was either in highschool or college--so it's been a while. I am going to reread that, because I remember what an impression it made at the time. Thanks so much for stopping by today!Delete
The description of the short story version of "Liberty Valance" made me think of the time when I was writing a term paper on John Ford for a movie history course in college. While searching for information on the making of "Stagecoach," I found the Ernest Haycox short story "Stage to Lordsburg" that the movie was based on. It's hard to believe there was any connection between the two. It wasn't bad, just different. The hero wasn't even named the Ringo Kid.ReplyDelete
Louis, I know what you mean about "Stagecoach" and "Stage to Lordsburg"--those were very different, and I loved them both for different reasons. You know, I guess my problem with the short story version of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was that Ranse Stoddard's character was such a whiny little baby--just not at all like the portrayal that Jimmmy Stewart did in the movie. I couldn't relate, and frankly, I didn't even LIKE the character in the short story! So...if you can't care about the characters, it's hard to care about the story.Delete
Thanks so much for stopping by today!
Thank you for the post, Cheryl. I am an avid short story reader. I read them in all genres.ReplyDelete
My favourite short story writer is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. His Sherlock Holmes created the wonderful character of Sherlock Holmes. I have read all of the short stories about him and find it hard to pick an absolute favourite, but my top four are: The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, A Scandal in Bohemia, The Dying Detective and The Five Orange Pips.
Hi Keith! I remember in high school, how so many of the kids complained about having to read short stories and study whatever it was we were learning (foreshadowing, symbolism, etc.) and how I could not WAIT to read them and figure out the different things we were supposed to be looking at. I loved that--and I suppose I still do. It's actually tough to write a short story--a lot harder than most would think. I'm compiling a list of more short stories to read, and these are going on my list, for sure! Thanks for stopping by, Keith!Delete
Hi Cheryl After reading your post I dug out a collection of Dorothy Johnson short stories called A MAN CALLED HORSE, previously published as INDIAN COUNTRY. 2 stories I would rate very highly are WAR SHIRT about a man trying to find his brother now living with the Cheyenne and JOURNEY TO THE FORT which seems to be based on the story of Jim Beckwourth. I've yet to read - but must - the Elmore Leonard short stories that ended up as two outstnding movies 3.10 TO YUMA & THE TALL T.ReplyDelete
Andrew, some of these stories that they made into movies seem so different in the "finished product" of the movie--the 2nd 3:10 To Yuma had very resemblance to the short story that started it all. I love Dorothy Johnson's writing style, but oh, as I said, I was so disappointed when I read The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Not at all what I expected.Delete