He accomplishes this feat in 300 pages by presenting the story as a human drama, focusing on the lives of individuals, living and dead, each with their own aspirations, history, and personality. On the one hand are the white farmers who have settled legally within the boundaries of the reservation. They have been "reclaiming" arid land with water provided by federally funded irrigation systems.
On the other are the Indians of two tribes, Shoshone and Arapaho. Historically antagonistic, they have been reduced by over a century of conquest, but together they discover a new-found strength to resist the will of state and federal governments. Among them are the college-educated, the young drop-outs, and the old who still remember some of the lost Indian culture.
|Fremont Peak, Wind River Range|
A third group of key figures in O'Gara's story are the non-Indian professionals whose lives become entwined with reservation residents as the struggle over water rights heats up. These include engineers, hydrologists, conservationists, bureaucrats, lawyers and judges. Endless legal battles and court decisions progressively yield more ground to the Indians, while appeals take the case against them all the way to the Supreme Court. And after $50 million in legal fees, the issues remain unresolved.
The book is organized as a journey upstream, along the river's two main branches, into its headwaters in mountain glaciers. Good idea to take a map of Wyoming along for reference. And a good pair of hiking boots.
Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons
Coming up: John McPhee, Rising From the Plains