People of the River: A Novel of North America's Forgotten Past

People of the River: A Novel of North America's Forgotten Past

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People of the River is a gripping new saga of pre-historic America that takes us to the Mississippi Valley and the tribe known as the Mound builders. It is a time of troubles. In Cahokia, the corn crop is failing again and a warchief—and the warrior woman he may never possess—are disgusted by their Chief's lust for tribute. Now even the gods have turned their faces, closing the underworld to the seers. If the gods have abandoned the people, there is no hope—unless it comes in the form of a young girl who is learning to Dream of Power.

A masterful story of North America's Forgotten Past by New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear.

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466817821
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 12/01/2009
Series: North America's Forgotten Past Series
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 194,798
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Kathleen O'Neal Gear is a former state historian and archaeologist for Wyoming, Kansas, and Nebraska for the U.S. Department of the Interior. She has twice received the federal government's Special Achievement Award for ""outstanding management"" of our nation's cultural heritage.

W. Michael Gear holds a master's degree in archaeology and has worked as a professional archaeologist since 1978. He is principal investigator for Wind River Archaeological Consultants.

Together they have written the North America's Forgotten Past series (People of the Morning Star, People of the Songtrail, People of the Mist, People of the Wolf, among others); and the Anasazi Mysteries series. The Gears live in Thermopolis, WY.

W. Michael Gear, who holds a master's degree in archaeology, has worked as a professional archaeologist since 1978. He is currently principal investigator for Wind River Archaeological Consultants. With his wife, Kathleen O’Neal Gear, he has written the international and USA Today bestselling North America's Forgotten Past Series (including People of the Songtrail, People of the Morning Star, Sun Born, Moon Hunt, among others); and Anasazi Mystery Series.
Kathleen O'Neal Gear is a former state historian and archaeologist for Wyoming, Kansas, and Nebraska for the U.S. Department of the Interior. She has twice received the federal government's Special Achievement Award for "outstanding management" of our nation's cultural heritage. With her husband, W. Michael Gear, she is the co-author of many books, including the North America’s Forgotten Past series (People of the Songtrail, People of the Morning Star, Sun Born, Moon Hunt, among others); and the Anasazi Mysteries series. She and her husband live in Thermopolis, WY.

Read an Excerpt

People of the River

By W. Michael Gear, Kathleen O'Neal Gear

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 1992 W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-1782-1


Lichen, daughter of the Morning Star Clan, ran along the ridge top, dodging the bristly arms of dogwood and beaver root until she found the trail that skirted the edge of the cornfield. The faded leaves of last cycle's crop snatched at her dress as she jumped a deep gully and angled down the incline, heading for the tan humps of limestone in the distance. Her friend Flycatcher's steps pounded behind her. She glanced over her shoulder to make sure that he could jump the gully. Flycatcher was a summer younger than she, barely nine, and he had the shortest legs she had ever seen on a boy. He took a flying leap and made it, but stumbled on the other side and fell to his knees. Dust plumed up around him. Flycatcher made a low sound of disgust.

Lichen laughed. "That was a deep one, wasn't it?"

"Who cares about deep?" he asked as he pulled himself to his feet. "It was as wide as the Father Water." He brushed the dirt from his bare legs and straightened the blue headband that kept his shoulder-length black hair out of his eyes. He had a round face and a small, forever-wiggling nose. Flycatcher liked to smell things—some of them pretty putrid, Lichen thought. Once last spring he had taken her to a recently abandoned bear den to prove to her that he could distinguish the cubs' sleeping places from the sow's just by the smell of the urine. Lichen couldn't see any use to such knowledge. She could tell the difference just by the look of the feces. Who wanted to smell urine?

As Flycatcher trotted toward her, Lichen turned and sprinted on down the trail. She passed the far boundary of the cornfield and descended the slope through a garden of boulders. The irregular surface bit at her moccasined feet. The trail had been worn into the stone here and was polished smooth by thousands of feet. But Wind Mother blew enough sand and gravel into the trough to make the going miserable until the traveler climbed up the next hill, where the rains swept the trail clean. Lichen moved along as fast as she could.

When she crested the slope, the beauty of First Woman's land lay spread around her, vast, and carved into odd shapes by the Ice Giants who had once roamed this swampy river country. In the rich bottomland below, water rushed down dozens of creeks and flowed into a strewn handful of ponds and lakes. Women sat on the shores washing clothes. Men labored farther north, felling the scraggly trees that grew along the bluffs. The trees would be taken back to the mound construction sites in the great village of Cahokia. Everyone else had stopped building mounds long before Lichen had been born. Only the Sun Chief still worked to lift Mother Earth so she could touch fingertips with Father Sun.

Across the Father Water, to the west, tan-and-gray bluffs thrust their blunt noses into the turquoise sky. Lichen had never been there, but she knew that Pretty Mounds sat on the highest bluff. She had a cousin of the Grasshopper Clan who always came from Pretty Mounds to visit during the Green Corn ceremonial. To the south, the direction in which Lichen and Flycatcher ran, a bank of blue-black clouds trailed filaments of rain over gnarled limestone spires.

"How much farther?" Flycatcher panted.

"Not much." She pointed ahead. The irregular line of the bluff climbed to the tallest spire, which thrust out over the sheer cliff like a long snout. On the ledge beneath it, a thick copse of bare-branched oaks hid Wanderer's rock shelter. "Wanderer's house is in the side of the cliff, just past those oaks."

"Lichen?" There was hesitation in his voice. "Are you sure we should go see him? My mother says he's a crazy old witch."

"I have to talk to him, Flycatcher," she threw over her shoulder as she trotted on. "He's the only one who understands about my Dreams."

"But Mother says the village elders banished him from living with humans because he has the soul of a raven."

"He does," she answered blithely. "At least for the moment. He says his soul had many shapes before it became a raven. You'll like him. He tells great stories."

The pounding of Flycatcher's feet stopped. Lichen paused and looked back at him. He stood awkwardly at the bottom of the slope, the flap of his tan breechclout waving in the breeze that swept the bluff top. A morose expression contorted his face.

"What's wrong?" Lichen called.

Flycatcher gazed up speculatively from beneath his long lashes, but he didn't answer.

"Flycatcher! He's not as crazy as people say. Wanderer is just ... different, but he's not bad. Come on, you'll see." She waved him forward, but he stood as though rooted to the tan limestone.

He wet his lips. "But what if Wanderer does something to us, like casts a spell on us?"

"A spell? What for?"

"I don't know! Maybe he'd witch us to make us lose our human souls so he can put raven souls in our bodies."

Lichen spread her arms and whirled on her toes, imitating the soaring flight of a bird. A sense of freedom possessed her as she spun, her tan dress fluttering around her skinny legs. "I've always wanted to fly, Flycatcher. Haven't you?"

"No!" he answered firmly, but he seemed to be trying to nerve himself for the last part of the journey.

Lichen put her hands on her hips and shook her head. The curtain of rain had drawn closer, blotting out the sun as it came. She felt the first drops, cool and wonderful, on her face. "Then go home," she taunted. "I'll go by myself. Just like always. But I'm telling you the truth. Wanderer's no witch, and he's not crazy either ... mostly." She said the last in a voice so low that she knew he couldn't hear it.

Thunderbird chose that instant to bellow, and she saw Flycatcher leap two feet off the ground. His mouth dropped open as the roar rolled over the rocky prominence and down the flanks of the limestone into the bottomland below.

"See?" Lichen grinned. "Even Thunderbird agrees with me. You're a coward, Flycatcher!"

She turned and raced for Wanderer's rock shelter. Rain began falling in earnest, drenching her dress and the long black braid that bounced against her back. She tipped her pretty heart-shaped face so she could offer a soft prayer to Thunderbird, thanking him for the storm, praying he would bring more rain during the summer. The past few cycles had been so dry that the land desperately needed it, as did the animals and her people. Thunderbird's voice drove away the final chill of Frost Man and awakened First Woman so she could begin to tend the land. Soon the shaggy coats of the few deer left near the bluffs would turn glossy. Fawns would be born. And Lichen's people would throw off the bitter faces of winter and smile.

"Wait!" Flycatcher yelled. "Wait for me, Lichen. I'm coming!"

She slowed her pace but kept walking purposefully. She could see the outline of Wanderer's rock shelter, hidden in the tangle of branches ahead. The hair on the nape of her neck had started to prickle. Power did that; it rode the wind like tiny teeth until it could find a human and eat its way inside to coil around the soul.

That had happened to Lichen long ago. She had been just four summers when the first Spirit had walked in her Dreams. It had crept like tendrils of blue light from the tiny Stone Wolf that Lichen's mother guarded and had coalesced into a majestic Bird-Man, with an eagle's head and wings but the skin of a snake. The creature had knelt by the side of her bed and gazed at her through gleaming black eyes. "Do you know why owls die with their wings outspread, little one?"

She had shaken her head, too afraid to speak. She remembered trying to crawl deeper into the mound of worn hides covering her.

Bird-Man had gently touched her cheek with a snakeskin hand and murmured, "Because they try to fly until the very last. They never give up and close their wings. They know that flight is their only hope of survival. In the beginning of the world, when Earthmaker formed the clay into mountains and deserts, humans used to have wings ... like mine. It was in the time when animals and men lived together. A person could become an animal if he wanted to, and an animal could become a human. Would you like that, Lichen?"

"Yes," she had responded timidly.

"The world needs you. There is a terrible war coming. First Woman has grown angry with humans. She wants to abandon the world and let all of you die. You will be able to save the world only if you can grow wings and fly to her cave in the Underworld to talk to her. To do that, you must learn to view life through the eyes of a bird, a human, and a snake. It's very difficult. The worst part is that once you open your wings, you will never be able to close them again—just like Owl."

"Would that be bad?"

Bird-Man had smiled sadly and bowed his head, staring at Lichen's bare toes, which had poked out from beneath her hides. Moonlight streaming in the window over her bed glinted off her toenails. "Sometimes, Lichen, an owl longs with all its heart to be a snake so it can crawl into a hole and hide in the darkness."

"Do I have to learn to fly now?"

"No." He had shaken his head mildly. "Soon. You'll know when."

Then Bird-Man had risen, opened his wings, and soared out her window into the starry night sky, going higher and higher until she lost sight of him.

Lichen still did not understand what he had been trying to tell her, but she had never forgotten his words. Her mother had explained that Spirits often spoke in riddles and that one day, when Lichen was older, she would understand Bird-Man's message.

Flycatcher interrupted her memories when he rushed up and bumped into her. He looked like he'd fallen again. Rain washed the bloody scratches that marred his elbows and the narrow gash that zigzagged down his right arm.

"Did you hurt yourself?" she asked, taking his arm to scrutinize the wound. Seeing that the blood had clotted, she released her hold.

"Your legs are too long," he commented by way of answer. "And I wish you'd act like a girl."

Lichen cocked her head. "What does a girl act like?"

"How should I know?" Flycatcher was always testy when he was scared.

Lichen shrugged and took him by the hand, confidently leading him toward the oaks beneath the spire. The trail split, one path leading up over the bluff top and across the overhang, the other angling down through the trees and onto the ledge where Wanderer's house sat, tucked into the hollow in the cliff face.

The rain had increased from a few pleasant drops to a blinding wall of water. They had to step carefully over the slick limestone as they made their way to the copse of oak.

Lichen ducked beneath the boughs and called, "Wanderer? It's Lichen. I've brought Flycatcher with me. Are you here?"

Wanderer had built his house in the dry, scooped-out area beneath the overhang so that he had needed to cut logs for only two sides. He had covered the upright poles with a thick mat of tan clay, which kept the house invisible unless one knew where to look. A tiny doorway and one window graced the front. Lichen pushed through the branches and trotted for the dry ground, glancing briefly at the brier of chokecherry bushes that fringed the rim of the ledge. Flycatcher scampered at her heels, looking like a frightened rabbit that had just escaped a flooded burrow. Wet straggles of black hair framed his face.

"Where is he?" Flycatcher whispered. "Is he here?"

"I don't think so." Lichen peered through the low doorway. Wanderer's house always smelled odd. The scent of cedar smoke, rich earth, and Spirit potions hung in the air. The room was a small, irregular rectangle, twenty hands by about fifteen. Because Wanderer had plastered the inside with white clay, it seemed to glow even in the dim light of the cloudy day. Covering the walls were power symbols: green squares and red spirals, black crescent moons, and purple starbursts. The old man's woven rabbit-fur blankets lay in a tumbled heap in the northern corner. All along the back wall, brightly colored baskets of cough-grass root, dried cactus blossoms, fish scales, snake heads, and other things that Lichen couldn't remember made bulges in the shadows—but Wanderer was gone.

Lichen sighed in disappointment and slumped down on the cattail mat that lay before the door. "Oh, Great Mouse, what am I going to do now? I need to talk to Wanderer."

Flycatcher eased down beside her, his brown eyes wide and wary. He propped his elbows on his drawn-up knees, and Lichen could see that blood still oozed from the scrape on his right arm. She decided not to say anything about it because she didn't want to embarrass him. Flycatcher got teased enough by his friends over his height and his awkwardness.

They sat in silence, watching the waving curtains of rain that moved over the river in the distance. Flashes of lightning darted at the bluffs as Thunderbird took the storm west. The chill in the air bit at Lichen's face and hands.

"What's that strange smell?" Flycatcher asked finally, his nostrils flaring as he scented the air.

"Wanderer probably made another potion for his aching joints. He tries new ones all the time. Nothing seems to help, though. I think he's just getting old."

"How old is he?"

"I don't know. Maybe fifty summers."

Flycatcher nervously picked at a loose thread on his breechclout. "What's he like?"

"He's a good man. He loves everything. And he's smart. I helped him fix a robin's broken leg last spring. We tied twigs around it to keep it straight. Then Wanderer built a cage and caught worms and insects for the robin to eat."

"He fixed its leg instead of eating it? He doesn't sound very smart to me," Flycatcher grumped. "Roasted robin tastes great." He sniffed the air again, obviously unimpressed with this place and Lichen's reasons for being here. "So what was this Dream you had that you have to talk to Wanderer about? Why couldn't you just tell your mother? She's the Keeper of the Stone Wolf. She's supposed to understand Spirit things."

"She does," Lichen affirmed, but she laced and unlaced her fingers uncomfortably. Her mother didn't have Wanderer's knowledge of other places and people, or his Power. But Lichen couldn't explain that to Flycatcher, because he would think she meant something bad about her mother, and she didn't, not really. Her mother had actually studied with Wanderer for a while, so she had to know some important things about Dreaming. "But I've missed talking to Wanderer, Flycatcher. He's my friend. I haven't been here in about three moons, and I—"

Scratching sounded on the rock ledge above their heads as a flock of cawing ravens swooped out of the clouds and dove for the cliff face. Flycatcher grabbed Lichen's arm in a death grip. The birds pulled up just before the shelter and floated on the air currents, clucking to each other as they eyed the two children.

"Who are they?" Flycatcher whispered hoarsely. "Part of Wanderer's family?"

"If they are, I've never met them here before."

Sand trickled over the ledge as something heavy moved across the stone above. Lichen and Flycatcher craned their necks to look.

"What is it?" Flycatcher hissed in panic. "A cougar?"

Lichen shifted to get up. "I don't—"

A shaft of sunlight pierced the clouds, lancing the rock shelter, and a loud "There it is!" split the day.

Flycatcher let out a hoarse scream as he and Lichen crashed into each other lunging to their feet, shoving and pushing, frantic to get away. But before they had taken three paces, Wanderer's tall, lanky form dropped from the overhang and landed like a thrown rock. Dust encircled him as he staggered sideways, his scant gray hair spiking out in wild disarray.

"Look at it!" Wanderer shouted and began grabbing up rocks and smashing them into the side of his house. "Hurry! Get some rocks. We have to kill it. It pounced on me first thing this morning! Tried to eat my feet!"

Lichen's body jerked with each impact of stone against wall. Flycatcher had clutched her shoulders and hidden himself behind her. She could feel his heavy breathing warm on her upper arm. They stared in utter terror at the house, against which the long, dark shadow wavered in the sunlight.

"Wanderer!" Lichen blurted. "That's your own shadow. Look how it moves when you do."

The old man stopped throwing in midswing. His rock-filled hand hovered over his head. He bent forward cautiously and squinted his faded brown eyes at the suspect darkness, then slammed his rock down and declared, "I wish you'd come earlier, Lichen! I wouldn't have wasted all day following it over the bluffs."


Excerpted from People of the River by W. Michael Gear, Kathleen O'Neal Gear. Copyright © 1992 W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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People of the River 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book was great, just what I've come to expect from the Gears. But I have to say, the person whose job it was to proofread did one crappy job. However, still a great read but I would find another proofreader, that's for certain!
AJae More than 1 year ago
Lovely book about the fictional 'first people' of America. The political and actual living conditions rang true as people everywhere are pretty much the same. I enjoyed this book.
MKMar More than 1 year ago
This is a good read. I used to enjoy the first few books of Jean Auel. This is similar and is quite good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great story
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have 17 of these North Americans Forgotten Past books. Needless to say, they must be pretty good to collect almost the entire series. The characterizations, descriptions of culture and religion, geography, everyday life - all are excellent. I actually would have to pull myself back out of my mental state after immersing myself in the books.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
People of the River By W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear Review This is a wonderful tale of interest built from the remains found in an archeology dig Mississippians, who, between 700 A.D. and 1500 A.D., Cahokia people are in crisis, and starving and not able to pay their chief. A new dreamer comes to help change the world for the better. The starvation and war has made the world close to the brink of death, Mother Earth has closed the door to the rain. The first woman has closed the portal to the world of dreams, dreamers are unable to reach the land of the dead and talk to their answers. Over a decade ago Nightshade was kidnapped by Beavertail on the advice of Old Mormont, who dreamed she would lead to a new way. Old Mormont has only seen part of the dream. Nightshade has been band from Cahokia. Tharon is a man who is known as the Sun Chief of the sun people of Cahokia. The elite of the people of the mounds, has been up to something evil. His behavior has caused the drought, the last straw in the evil of men who do not keep the balance of the spiral. Theron is collecting all the power objects from the Cahokia Empire, sending Bagertail to raid and destroy all those who oppose him. Bagertail reluctantly does as his Chief demands, and loses his brother on a deadly raid. Lost in his grief, Bagertail finds solace in his closest friend Locast. She is his female cousin and a strong warrior. Locust is married to the Berache Primrose, third in line of the leadership of his clan. Locust is a young girl of 10 who has the touch of a dreamer. Meadow Vole her mother is the keeper of the Stone Wolf, which used to be part of the wolf bundle and connected to power. Meadow Vole is frightened and unable to dream. Wanderer Locast father, although she does not know it, decides it’s time to teacher her to dream. He led her to her spirit helper, Bird- Man (Raven hunter) the dark hero twin. Can Nightshade find the path to the world of the dead? Can someone reach the first woman and talk to her and change her mind, and save humanity. People of the river are a dynamic story with many exciting adventures, battles, and power challenges.