"A Man Called Horse," the story of a man taken captive by Indians who integrates into the tribe as a means of survival (and planned escape), is probably my least favorite of the four by comparison, but is just as skillfully executed as the rest.
"The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" is about a U.S. Senator's very humble beginnings in the lawless towns of the West; "A Man Called Horse" tells of one man who, captured by Indians, must learn to survive as property, whereas the woman in "Lost Sister" who returns to her family after forty years in captivity finds she's still a prisoner. In "The Hanging Tree," three lost people--a haunted doctor, a would-be thief, and a wounded woman--all come to the gold town of Gold Creek to find new lives, and find themselves tested by a harsh world. I didn't know anything about the film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance--I didn't even know it was originally a short story! But that one, plus "The Hanging Tree" and "A Man Called Horse" (also movies now) both started out as stories by Dorothy M. ("A Man Called Horse," pages 12-13) The marshal cleared his throat.
Why did my mother, who generally picks books for me pretty well, think short stories from the Wild West were something I should be reading? I read the first story and felt uncomfortable about colonialism and put it down. Johnson makes it clear that that's How Things Really Were in the Wild West. The reviews also said she creates full characters and can easily slip her point of view from settler to pioneer woman to Indian. This book consists of a novella and three short stories: "A Man Called Horse," "Lost Sister," and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." "A Man Called Horse" involves a white guy trying to figure out how to escape from the Indians. It's a beautifully written story, delicately interweaving various themes and plot points with also just some crazy things that have nothing really to do with the plot, like runaway mules running down the restaurant for the prospectors and causing it to catch fire.
Two of these four stories are taken from Indian Country' (later published as Man Called Horse'), a brilliant collection of Western tales that deserves to be back in print. The first of the four stories in this volume, A Man Called Horse', is a tale of a young man raised in a wealthy Eastern family who went West, was captured by Crow Indians, and spent several years living among them. This theme of whites living with Indians and the effect the dramatic change of culture could have was one of Johnson's favorites, and one she captured better in her writing than anyone else. Lost Sister' returns to the theme of whites living among the Indians, but this time we see it from the perspective of a family being reunited with a sister who had lived as a native for thirty years after being captured as a child.
The short story gives us very dishonorable heroes whereas the movie cleans it up.
At the risk of redundancy, this is a collection of four western short stories: "A Man Called Horse," "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," "Lost Sister" and "The Hanging Tree." These stories were originally published between 1947 and 1959; the afterward credits Johnson with not imposing 20th Century values on 19th Century characters, and you can well imagine the difference between even the values at the time of Johnson's writing and reading these stories today. "A Man Called Horse" is an eastern white man taken by a Crow tribe when he went west seeking adventure. The second captive narrative concerns the "Lost Sister," a tale about a middle-aged white woman being returned to her sisters after forty years living with the tribe that abducted her as a small girl. Betwixt these two tales is "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." Having seen the 1962 film starring James Stewart and John Wayne before reading this, my reading was preoccupied with noting the vast differences between story and film incarnations. Technically, there are several typographical errors in this publication; many of them in "The Hanging Tree." The font size is rather large, and the spacing generous; despite its 217 page count, I read the entire collection over about four hours. I doubt other fans of the film version of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance will get much out of the original short story; I've not seen the film adaptations of A Man Called Horse or The Hanging Tree so I cannot comment on those.