Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Sign of the Prophet - a brief review

In a search for fiction in which William Henry Harrison was a character, I came across a book published in 1901. The Sign of the Prophet: A Tale of Tecumseh and Tippecanoe was written by James Ball Naylor and published by the venerable (and now deceased) Saalfield Publishing Company of Akron, Ohio. I read it, and in a curious way, liked it, but with several caeats.

First the bad news:

Most of the characters are stock images of Indians and frontiersmen, straight from "Sioux Central Casting."

The plot depends on more than a few surprises, namely a long lost father, a long-lost fiancee, and a long lost true-love.

Secondary characters include a talkative, skirt-chasing (in a 1901 way) scout.

All the Indians say "Ugh" as their favorite comment.

True love prevails.

Now for the pluses.

The book does follow the story of the War of 1812 pretty closely. General (later President) W. H. Harrison, Tecumseh, Tenskatawa (the Shawnee prophet), Henry Procter, and even minor characters like Harrison's scout William Oliver and Indian leader Winameg are historical persons. And the settings are real enough. The battlegrounds of Tippecanoe, Fort Meigs, and Fort Miamis are all described fairly accurately.

Despites its many weaknesses, The Sign of the Prophet is pretty good at atmosphere. The reader gets a good feel for the life of the Woodlands of the Old Northwest. Smoky Indian camps are well described, and the frontiersmen, while a bit stilted, are fairly enjoyably portrayed.

The story, without touching on its authenticity, did hold my attention. I grew up about ten miles from Fort Meigs, and the charm of that place and its history, hooked my interest. Maybe that's why I enjoyed this old potboiler. In any event, it's worth a couple evenings reading - if you can find it!

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