Cougar’s Woman is a story that has been told many times before. A white woman is captured by Indians and given to a member of the tribe as a slave. In this case, the tribe involved are the Apaches, and the tribal member is Cougar, a white man living as an Apache.
Cougar has lived with the Apaches through the summer seasons since he was a young boy, along with his sister, Silent Wind. Silent Wind is presumed dead – her bloody shoe was found with the bodies of a few other women of the tribe. The tribal counsel assumed that members of a passing group of settlers killed the woman, and send a few of their warriors to kill the settlers in retribution. The warriors return with a white woman – a woman who Chief White Wolf has seen in a vision. This vision tells him that she will be Cougar’s test to show his loyalty to either the Apaches or the whites. For too long Cougar has been straddling both worlds, and his time of choosing is at hand. Therefore White Wolf gives the woman to Cougar to do with as he pleases until he leaves again or decides to stay.
Melissa Sheffield, called Huera by the tribe, is on her way to San Francisco to meet up with her fiancé when she gets captured, and finds herself a slave of the Apaches. She is a heroine whom I would define as too stupid to live – instead of quietly learning about her situation and then seeking her freedom in the best possible manner, she becomes combative and behaves erratically. A wise person would have taken some time to learn about her captors. Instead, Melissa made a pass at Cougar’s blood brother not knowing that Apaches find kissing disgusting. She wandered from camp by herself, almost getting herself killed. She constantly berated those around her and spoke out of turn. I’m surprised, as unimportant to the Apaches as she was, that they didn’t kill her right off – but then, of course, there wouldn’t have been a story.
The hero can truly be described as, tormented, too tormented for this reviewer. The prologue ends with this paragraph:
He could no longer hold his sister responsible for the actions of a woman who had brought him the worst suffering imaginable. A woman who had loved her blond-haired daughter, even if she despised the dark-haired son whom came before her. Their mother.
If you like this type of hero, Cougar might be the guy for you – he is tormented and wary right through to very near the end.
The book has its moments – at the very end Melissa and Cougar are noble and dignified, and completely devoted to one another. If there is one thing I take from this book, however, it is the idea that white men are pretty darn awful – the treatment of Melissa by her fellow whites when she makes it to San Francisco is surprisingly cruel. Native Americans aren’t much better – they kill without any system of justice, and feel no remorse if found in error. I don’t know how accurate either of these circumstances is historically, but it certainly didn’t give me a good feeling about the human condition at the end. Maybe it would have helped if either Cougar or Melissa were likable characters, but I don’t think so.
|Review Date:||June 11, 1999|