The Shining Mountains
from the book jacket
The year is 1838. A young Scotsman forced out of his homeland arrives on the frozen lip of Hudson’s Bay. Angus McDonald is twenty-one, contracted to British masters to trade for fur. But the world he discovers is far beyond even a Highlander’s wildest imaginings: raging rivers, buffalo hunts, and the powerful daughter of an ancient and magnificent people. In Catherine Baptiste, kin to Nez Perce chiefs, Angus recognizes a kindred spirit. The Rocky Mountain West in which they meet will soon be torn apart by competing claims: between British fur traders, American settlers, and the Native peoples who have lived for millennia in the valleys and plateaus of the Shining Mountains’ western slopes. From the moment the first wagon train appears on what will become the Oregon Trail, Angus and Catherine will have to fight to defend not just their family and her people, but the rich intertwined culture of fur trade society. Moving from trading post to trading post across what is now Idaho, Montana and Washington states, two generations of their family will resist a combustible mix of land seizures and military force, all driven by the white settlers’ belief in their “manifest destiny” to possess the West. When in 1877 Catherine’s own people, the Nez Perce, are the latest tribe to be forced off their land, the McDonalds cannot sit idly by. Now it is the turn of their grown son, Duncan, to face off against the forces that would destroy the Native world and seize the spoils.
In this epic family saga, based on the true story of the author’s Scottish forebears, the real history of the American West is revealed in all its terror, beauty and complexity. The Shining Mountains brilliantly limns a world now long forgotten: of blended cultures seeking allies, trading furs for guns and steel, and a way of life in collision with westward colonial expansion.
About the novel
This novel is based on the true story of Angus McDonald, the younger brother of my great-great-great-grandfather Duncan McDonald. The story focuses on a hugely important period in America’s past, described through the eyes of the real actors in the drama. The tale of Angus, his Nez Perce wife Catherine, and their son Duncan illuminates a little-known history stretching from the Highland Clearances to the extraordinary lives of the mainly Scottish traders in the Hudson’s Bay Company who forged alliances with North America’s indigenous tribes.
To tell the story of the McDonald family I consulted extensively with the Native communities about whom I write. I sought and received formal approval from both the Nez Perce and Confederated Salish & Kootenai tribes, while elders from each tribe read and approved the manuscript. From the start I have had the strong support of my distant cousins by marriage on the Flathead Reservation in Montana, who are direct descendants of the protagonists of the novel. They agree that the story of their blended family is an important –and heretofore missing– piece of the history of the American West.
“An exceptional novel…Intimate and expansive, tender and violent, The Shining Mountains is both a gripping family saga and a profound requiem for the lives lost and displaced by American westward expansion. This is storytelling at its finest.”Zack Bean, author of Man on Fire
“The Shining Mountains is a rousing historical novel that kept me up late, with woven storylines of fascinating characters moving across the Pacific Northwest seeking fortune and the thrill of survival, and of course, love. I especially loved the women, their bravery and clear-eyed vision of this world, from ancestral legends to the danger of the new.”Susan Straight, author of Mecca
“The Shining Mountains is an ambitious rendering of the conflicts between and among Indigenous Nations and European invaders in the final years of British-American rivalry below the Medicine Line, centered in the diverse voices of a mixed-heritage family. Christie’s book improves and expands on an important chapter of the West, becoming a welcome addition to the literature that engages with this time and place, filling in for fans of historical fiction the times and spaces that lead up to D’Arcy McNickles’ The Surrounded and are dramatized in Alfred Silver’s epic Red River trilogy of the Canadian Plains.”Theodore C. Van Alst, author of Sacred Smokes and Sacred City
“Like the best historical novels, The Shining Mountains takes its history seriously, drawing on rich contemporary sources to paint this tender, painful story of the impact of immigrant settlers on the indigenous tribes of the northwestern states. No cowboys and Indians here. Just two sides engaged in an existential battle for survival inside the raw, hauntingly beautiful landscape of virgin America. Love, treachery, violence and honor, it is all here, seen through the eyes of a Scottish trader who finds himself caught between the two sides. A novel to be savored.”Sarah Dunant, author of In the Name of the Family
“A heartbreaking and horripilating tale of greed and betrayal. A monument to the hypocrisy of Manifest Destiny.”Dennis McCarthy, author of The Gospel According to Billy the Kid
“Alix Christie has not only written a generous and spirited novel of the fur trade and the marriage of two worlds, she has written a rousing adventure tale steeped in research and oral histories. Humorous and deeply tender, I admire The Shining Mountains for its vivid and emotionally rendered characters, its magnificent landscape, and how Christie captures the extraordinary power of living story.”Debra Magpie Earling, author of Perma Red and The Lost Journals of Sacajewea