“In chess, every piece can be killed and taken from the board, except the king………And it is so in life. A man who is truly a king never dies.”
Written in 1973, Huffaker’s tale is told from the viewpoint of nineteen year old Levi Dougherty as in 1880 he and a group of Montana cowboys from the Slash-Diamond ranch arrive at Vladivostok, Siberia prepared to drive a herd of longhorns to their new owners in Bakaskaya. After a very creative way of avoiding the bureaucracy and red-tape denying them landing (priceless), the cowboys and their herd are off, although to their dismay they are to be escorted by Cossacks from Bakaskaya for their own “protection”.
What follows is a highly enjoyable tale as the two disparate groups of cowboys and Cossacks begin to build mutual respect and friendship as they battle the difficulties they face along the way – from crossing raising rivers, avoiding confrontations with the Czar’s Cossacks all leading up to a horrifying showdown with the barbarian Tartars against unbelievable odds (you won’t believe it ’till you read it).
In the end, despite the trappings of high Western adventure in the East, this book is much more than that – it is about the men and the relationships and respect (and love) that grew as they faced the many challenges along the way to Bakaskaya and beyond. You’ll be laughing on one page and crying at the next as a very fickle fate delivers the good along with the bad. Like another reviewer I was a bit skeptical about the always available whiskey so many miles into the Siberian frontier, but outside of that and a couple other nitpicks, this was a highly engaging tale and I had a hard time putting it down. Western fans should find this one right up their alley. 4/5/5 stars.