With a simple, lyrical writing style that sits somewhere between Ernest Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy, Savage Country tells the story of Elizabeth Coughlin, a determined woman left crippled by debt following the unexpected death of her foolhardy husband. In an act of desperation, Elizabeth enlists her husband’s mysterious brother to lead a buffalo hunt – which was a common, and exceedingly dangerous, get-rich-quick scheme in the years following the Civil War. Olmstead is one of the most under-the-radar American authors – if you’ve never read him before, do yourself a favor and start with this big, beautiful, often bloody adventure.
Savage Country is the brilliant western tale of a widow and her mysterious brother-in-law leading a buffalo hunt in Texas shortly after the civil war. The writing is very masculine without being macho and the period detail about buffalos, Indians and all things western is beyond fascinating. Olmstead manages somehow to convey the story and dialogue in a bare bones style but you can picture every character and scene with graphic detail. I don't know how he does it. It is a violent story but also poignant and haunting and certainly worth anyone's time.
— Mary T.
"The year was 1873 and all about was the evidence of boom and bust, shattered dreams, foolish ambition, depredation, shame, greed, and cruelty . . ."
Onto this broken Western stage rides Michael Coughlin, a Civil War veteran with an enigmatic past, come to town to settle his dead brother's debt. Together with his widowed sister-in-law, Elizabeth, bankrupted by her husband's folly and death, they embark on a massive, and hugely dangerous, buffalo hunt. Elizabeth hopes to salvage something of her former life and the lives of the hired men and their families who now depend on her; the buffalo hunt that her husband had planned, she now realizes, was his last hope for saving the land.
Elizabeth and Michael plunge south across the aptly named "dead line" demarcating Indian Territory from their home state of Kansas. Nothing could have prepared them for the dangers: rattlesnakes, rabies, wildfire, lightning strikes, blue northers, flash floods--and human treachery. With the Comanche in winter quarters, Elizabeth and Michael are on borrowed time, and the cruel work of harvesting the buffalo is unraveling their souls.
Bracing, direct, and quintessentially American, Olmstead's gripping narrative follows that infamous hunt, which drove the buffalo to near extinction. Savage Country is the story of a moment in our history in which mass destruction of an animal population was seen as a road to economic salvation. But it's also the intimate story of how that hunt changed Michael and Elizabeth forever.
About the Author
Robert Olmstead is the author of eight previous books. Coal Black Horse was the winner of the Heartland Prize for Fiction. The Coldest Night was a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Far Bright Star was the winner of the Western Writers of America Spur Award. Olmstead is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an NEA grant and is a professor at Ohio Wesleyan University.