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The Snowblind Moon

by John Byrne Cooke

The Snowblind Moon was a Featured Alternate Selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club. It received both a Spur Award, for best Western historical novel, and a Medicine Pipe Bearer's Award, for best first novel, from the Western Writers of America. Only two other writers have received both awards in the same year.

Hardcover version of The Snowblind Moon John Byrne Cooke, author photo for The Snowblind Moon

Photo © David J. Swift

Simon & Schuster, 1985 (Out of print)
Hardcover; 687pp.; two maps. $18.95
ISBN: 0-671-45089-1

Paperback version of The Snowblind Moon
Tor Books
First paperback edition, in 3-volumes: July, August, September, 1986 (Out of print)

Single-volume edition: 1993
This edition is out of print.
859pp.; two maps. $6.99
ISBN: 0-812-52461-6

How to order this book:


In the Snowblind Moon, two men ride into the Powder River country, the last hunting ground of the Lakota Sioux. The older rider is Chris Hardeman, a former army scout haunted by his part in a massacre, determined to prevent a new Indian war. The younger one is called Johnny Smoker by the white men, but the Lakota and their allies, the Cheyenne, knew him by other names when he was a boy living among them. Grown to manhood among the whites, he is returning now to the people who raised him, to seek the meaning of a spirit dream he had long ago and to choose between the worlds. . . .

The coming of these two brings change to the lives of the Sun Band, the people led by the peace man Sun Horse, whose winter camp lies in the foothills of the Big Horn mountains where the headwaters of the Powder River rise, and all the creeks that feed it. Their coming brings change as well to the ranch owned by Lisa Putnam, a young woman whose father was Sun Horse's friend, and to her uncle, Bat Putnam, a legendary mountain man who has lived for thirty years with the Lakota. To Indians and whites alike, Hardeman and Johnny Smoker bring a warning: the government has ordered all the Lakota to remove themselves to the Dakota reservations or they will be considered hostile. Even now, General George Crook, pacifier of the fierce Apache, is leading an army into the Powder River country in the Snowblind Moon to round up the last free-roaming bands of the Sioux.

Review Quotes

"Cooke writes graphically, sometimes indelibly. . . . The Snowblind Moon is an intensely readable story crammed with authentic western lore." - Evan S. Connell, author of Son of the Morning Star, in the Washington Post Book Review

"The battle scenes are vivid, and everyday life is depicted in authentic, fascinating detail... this is an engaging, informative adventure story." - New York Times Book Review

"An epic canvas created with sure, masterful strokes. Reads like Mr. Cooke's twentieth novel, not his first. Bravo!" - John Jakes

"An epic tale of the struggle between Indians and whites for control of the plains in the 1870s. . . Cooke's prose can be lyrically beautiful." - Los Angeles Times Book Review

"A giant-sized record of the 'civilizing' of the West." - Library Journal

"An enormous and vital story, resoundingly told." - Publishers Weekly

"The characters are not only credible, but memorable. Before the story ends, Cooke deftly weaves its many layers around births, deaths, love affairs, visions awaited, dreams interpreted, battles avoided and begun. . . The Snowblind Moon is a lovely chronicle of a changing world." - New York Daily News

"The Snowblind Moon is a monumental novel filled with moments of heroism, foolhardiness, slapstick comedy, romance and violence. 'Easily the most extraordinary novel of the American West I've ever read,' said one of our editors. 'It's engrossing as a story and wondrous as an act of imagination.'" - Book-of-the-Month Club

"John Byrne Cooke has written a splendid first novel. . . [He] creates totally credible characters, wonderfully vital scenes and plenty of heart-pounding action." - The Seattle Times

"John Byrne Cooke sure sets the badger loose with The Snowblind Moon, one of the most exuberant historical novels I've ever read. Full of life, adventure and attachment to the earth of the Old West, the book is a solid achievement for its author." - Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Places as well as people are described with care and feeling, and the author's depiction of nature, its beauties and its cruelties, are done with understanding and accuracy.... Here we have a splendid source for a great TV miniseries, filled as it is with exciting action and interesting characters." - San Diego Union

"Rich narration... highly believable... a gem." - St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Cooke spins a marvelous tale while conveying essential truths." - Bloomsbury Review

"A captivating story.... [Cooke's] narrative skill is unmistakable." - Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"[Cooke's] ability to set the reader down in the middle of a scene is uncanny. You can smell the horses, see the grass move, feel the snowstorm's first flakes strike your face." - Rocky Mountain News

"Cooke's would be the ideal book to have along on a week snowbound in the mountains." - Portland Oregonian

"[The Snowblind Moon] is strikingly bold... Cooke is a brilliant writer... as is poignantly demonstrated in his first novel. He creates vivid characters whose thoughts, deeds and desires flow through a turbulent period of cultural conflict." - Columbus Dispatch

"The Snowblind Moon has something for everyone.... The writing style is tight and crisp, or fluid with Indian imagery, as the scene demands... [Cooke] takes you into the most secret thoughts and feelings of the key characters until you care deeply about what happens to them. This is certainly the gift of a fine storyteller." - Ogden Standard-Examiner

"The Snowblind Moon is like a breath of fresh mountain air at a time when few good westerns are being written." - Salt Lake City Deseret News

Text Selection

Julius entered the kitchen first, holding the door open for the two strangers. Only Hutch and Ling were with Lisa now.

"He's looking for the boss," Julius said.

"We're looking for Jed Putnam," Hardeman said.

"He was my father. I'm Lisa Putnam." She offered her hand and the bearded man took it. She had seen the way his eyes swept the kitchen as he entered, pausing in turn on Hutch and Ling before stopping to rest on her. She met his gaze of frank appraisal longer than he expected, but he did not look away. His hand was strong and warm, recently withdrawn from the glove he held in his other hand.

"Was?" Hardeman was numb, struggling to regain control of his thoughts.

"He died last fall."

"He died?"

"He had a stroke in August. He died a month later." The man was still holding her hand. Lisa withdrew it, feeling an unaccustomed warmth in her face. What was the matter with him? Couldn't he understand a simple thing like that? Her father was dead. For Lisa, the stating of that fact had required an effort of will.

"I'm sorry," Hardeman said, feeling stupid in his inadequacy. He had been on edge ever since entering the warm kitchen. He had glanced briefly at the Chinawoman and the boy--another hired hand by the look of him--and his eyes had come to rest on the young woman in the simple blue dress who said she was Jed Putnam's daughter. She held a coffee cup in her left hand, and in the first moment Hardeman saw her she had the look of someone caught in a secret act.

He glanced around the kitchen searching for signs. Six chairs were pushed back from the sturdy wooden table; another was occupied by the young hired hand. Three chairs stood squarely in place. On the table there were wet rings made by half a dozen cups. The plates and serving dishes from the recent meal were in the galvanized sink, half washed; the sideboards were wiped clean. Even now the Chinawoman straightened two of the chairs and wiped the table with a damp rag.

The signs led Hardeman to a certain conclusion. There were only four people in the kitchen now, apart from himself and Johnny, but there had been more here just a short time ago.

He looked again at those present. The Chinawoman was at the sink, back at her washing up. The boy, a few years younger than Johnny, sat where he had been ever since the strangers entered, looking from one to the other and then at the colored man and Lisa Putnam, waiting for someone to speak.

Beneath the stove a large orange cat stepped out of its basket and crouched on the floor, ready to move quickly should the occasion demand it. The cat's wariness heightened Hardeman's sense of hidden danger.

None of those here lived in the Sioux tipi outside. Who did, and where was he?

Hardeman moved a little to one side so he could see the room's three doors--one to the saloon, one to the outside, and a third that probably led to the back of the house. "I'm sorry," he said again. "I guess that makes you the boss here now."

"Julius was my father's partner. Now he is mine."

Hardeman understood at last what had passed across the Negro's face outside. It was anger at being taken for a hired hand just because he was colored. Still, it was a reasonable guess. Christ, he thought, let there be an end to the surprises here. He contained his annoyance with difficulty. The news of Jed's death had caught him unaware. It was a possibility he had never considered; he had always thought of Jed as immortal.

It was Jed Putnam who had taken young Chris Hardeman in hand in the summer of 1851 and taught him the skills of the the frontier, and after Jed had left the emigrant trails to set himself up in Putnam's Park, Hardeman had heard news of him over the years. And now he had finally come to see his old friend. The Putnam Cutoff was right where it should be and Jed's mountain park was just as Hardeman had always imagined it; approaching the settlement with Johnny, he had felt Jed's presence in every building and shed, in each of the cows down in the meadow. To find that Jed was dead had put him off balance. With an effort he steadied himself now. He would need new allies, and there was no telling which one might prove most valuable. He put out his hand to the colored man.

"I guess I left my manners on the trail. My name is Hardeman; Chris Hardeman. The boy is Johnny Smoker."

Julius hesitated, but he took the hand and shook it. After all, he had concealed old Jed's death for no reason, just some instinct he still didn't understand. "Julius Ingram," he said. "This here is Hutch. The cook is Ling Wo." He saw Hardeman cover a momentary surprise at being introduced to the small Chinese, who nodded politely before turning back to the dishes.

Johnny Smoker scarcely acknowledged Lisa and the others as they glanced in his direction. He stood apart, too far for a handshake. He had seen Chris shift position and had seen the sign Chris made with his hand. It was a small movement known only to the two of them. It said There may be danger.

"You must be hungry," Lisa said. "There's plenty left from dinner. Please sit down." She moved toward the stove to see if the stew was hot, glad of something to do.

"We ate today. We'd be grateful for a cup of coffee." Hardeman unbuttoned his coat, clearing the way to the Colt revolver in his waistband. He moved to the head of the table, choosing a seat where he could face the room. "And some whiskey, if you've got it." He saw the hesitation in Lisa Putnam's movement and the shadow of disapproval that crossed her face, which was as he intended. It was time these people were put off balance now, while he collected himself to prepare his move.

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