Excerpt from Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher

The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis

by Timothy Egan

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2012, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2013, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jo Perry

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Print Excerpt


Angeline ignored the treaty and the ordinance. She refused to move; she had no desire to live among the family clans and their feuds on the speck of reservation land that looked back at the rising sun. The Boston Men, as older Indians called the wave of Anglos from that distant port, allowed tiny Angeline to stay put?—?a free-to-roam sovereign outcast in the land of her ancestors. She was harmless, after all: a quaint, colorful connection to a vanquished past. Poor broken Angeline. Is she still here, in that dreadful shack? God, what a piteous sight. She was even celebrated in verse by the early mythologists of Seattle:

Her wardrobe was a varied one
Donated by most everyone.
But Angeline deemed it not worthwhile
To put on others' cast-off style!
And much preferred a plain bandanna
To 'kerchief silk from far Havana.

The children of the new city, the American boys in short pants, had no verse or kind words for her. Angeline was prey. Great fun. They taunted the gnarled Indian, threw rocks at her. These urchins would lurk around the waterfront after school, looking to catch Angeline by surprise, then they would fire their stones at her and watch her squawk in befuddlement.

"You old hag!" the boys shouted.

But she gave as good as she got. Under those layers of filthy skirts, Angeline carried rocks for self-defense. She didn't leave the shack without ammunition. She didn't hide or retreat, but instead would sink an arthritic hand into one of her many pockets, find a stone and let it rip back at the boys. Take that, you bastards! Once, she hit Rollie Denny, he of the founding family whose name was all over the plats of the fast-expanding city. Hit him square with a rock for all to see, at the corner of Front Street and Madison. This also became part of the verse, the poetic myth: the crippled, sickly, elfin descendant of Chief Seattle nailed the snot-nosed kid, heir to much of the land taken from the native people.

For once he hit her with a stone
And she hit him back and made him moan!

No one was certain of Angeline's age. Some accounts said she was near one hundred, though that surely was an exaggeration. Most placed her at about eighty. The year 1896 was particularly hard on the princess. For days at a time she kept to her cabin, which she shared off and on with a roustabout grandchild. The boy was born to Angeline's daughter, who had been living with a white drunk, Joe Foster, who beat her on a regular basis. After putting up with the abuse for years, the woman strung a rope from the rafters of her home and hanged herself. From then on, Joe Foster Jr. was in Angeline's care. When the Indian was sick, people left baskets of food on her doorstep, though feral dogs would sometimes get to the food before the princess could. Whenever a church lady stopped by, Angeline would wave her off. A glimpse inside her cabin found dirty dishes stacked high, a cold bunk, cobwebs in the corners, Joe Foster Jr. nowhere in sight.

She had a deep cough, from tobacco smoke and the ambient chill. They cared about Angeline, these fine women of new Seattle, because for all her surface squalor she was believed to be saintly.

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Excerpted from Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan. Copyright © 2012 by Timothy Egan. Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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