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“Sun Going Down,” by Jack Todd, is a page-turner of a western based on the author’s family diaries and memoirs. His ancestors were bold pioneers who headed west after the Civil War – rugged individuals, hard-working and strong willed, typical of the generation that began the great migration west. This is a novel, but as the author says, “Everything in this novel actually happened.”
This sweeping western epic follows the fortunes of Ebenezer Paint and his descendents. Ebenezer, crippled since ‘49 when the California Gold Rush got into his blood, is not fighting in the War of the Rebellion. He and his ex-slave friend, Lucas, run a cargo ship up and down the Mississippi carrying food and guns to the Union troops.
But after one narrow escape Eb decides to retire and sets out west for the Dakotas. He marries and tries his hand at farming, but finds he is not content to stay still in one place.
Eb’s wife is part Sioux; both she and Eb can speak the Lakota language. Even though they respect the Native Americans and want to live peacefully alongside them, others are not of the same mind. This novel takes the reader through many of the Indian battles, including Wounded Knee.
The twin boys of Eb and his wife grow up handling cattle and working the horses. They become cowpunchers, out on the trail just as that way of life is ending. The final third of the book deals with this family as the West comes into the 20th century.
Eventually, Eb’s son Eli marries. He takes his new bride to a soddie home in Nebraska. It has newspapers stuck on the wall to help keep out the rain and the mud, giving them something to read while they huddle against the cold.
As the author notes, these people had to become hardened to endure the “Wild West.” They loved their children but expected them to work hard. There was no room for laziness or breaking any rules.
The life of this family is quite an adventure. The ending is beautiful and moving. They could be hard and unforgiving people, but they were survivors. This one family’s story is the story of many others, and the shaping and taming of the Wild West.