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Buffalo Grass: 04/16/07

Buffalo Grass

Buffalo Grass is one of about 100 books I was given by a man who was moving from San Jose and didn't want to take his collection of old books to his new home. I am still reading through them as time permits but this book I had offered it on the now defunct book relay site so I had to read it now. I wish I had read it sooner because I loved it.

Buffalo Grass is a historical novel about the founding of Pawnee City (currently in Nebraska, but part of the Kansas territory at the time of the book). The book published in 1956 was later made into a film, The Big Land, in 1957. The town is built on blood money, 25 thousand in gold coin from a Confederate war chest. The war is over and two Union soldiers figure no one will miss the money.

For twenty dollars and two bottles of whisky, they buy the land and begin to build. The stresses of building a city and seeing it take on a life of its own splits friendships and forges new ones. If the character dynamics were just between Joe and Chad, the book would have been interesting. The inclusion of two strong female characters as well who are equal to their male counterparts makes this book a page turner.

Helen, the bookkeeper (and sister of Joe) and Cass (the rancher from Texas) both have stakes in the success of Pawnee City. Helen wants the city to succeed as a business venture; Cass sees it as a vibrant town where struggling families such as hers can reinvent themselves in the boomtown economy.

Buffalo Grass is no simple western of good guys in white hats and bad guys in black hats. It is place grounded in the messy post Civil War politics. Characters are well rounded and three-dimensional with conflicting goals and desires. They can make mistakes. At the end of the book, there is no real winner, expect perhaps Pawnee City which has survived its infancy.

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