I sincerely want to thank the person that tweeted about A Thousand Steps being free on Amazon a few weeks ago. I’d never heard of the book or the author, Anita Bunkley, but I immediately fell in love with the story of Tama and Hakan. I’ve never read a story that intertwined the lives of slaves and Native Americans in such a way. I’m sure there are other books that exist, I’m just not familiar with them.
Set in 1855, A Thousand Steps follows the lives of Tama, a runaway slave from North Carolina trying to escape her master/father; Hakan, a Creek Indian fighting to keep his village in Georgia from being displaced; Elinore, an abolitionist traveling west from Ohio to meet her husband, an army officer working in Indian Territory; and Julee, a free black woman traveling west with Elinore to escape the drudgery of her life in St. Louis. Tama’s initial flight to freedom brings her into contact with Hakan and sets in motion this breathtaking story that leads the fugitives from North Carolina to Georgia, through Louisiana and, eventually, Arkansas.
When Tama first flees the plantation where she’s watched her father rape her mother for years, no one notices that she’s gone. But once the vengeful master, Thorne, realizes that his only remaining daughter (and property) has fled, he’s determined to get her back. Having already lost his white wife and daughter, he’ll stop at nothing to remind Tama that he is her master and her father.
Tama meets Hakan in a cabin in the snowy mountains of North Carolina. While she’s fleeing from the plantation and Thorne, he’s fleeing from men out to hang him. Though initially hesitant to take her on and help her flee, the kind hearted Hakan takes pity on Tama and not only helps her get away from the trackers who’ve found her, he takes her back to his village in the woods of Georgia.
It’s not unusual to see slaves and free blacks within Hakan’s village, but falling in love with them is forbidden for the next leader of this Creek tribe. And while Hakan can’t help his feelings, his sister will do everything within her power to make sure that Hakan and Tama aren’t together. Unfortunately, that’s not always to her benefit or the benefit of her people.
As the Creek Indians make the journey to Indian Territory, Elinore and Julee set out from St. Louis in the caravan of the Creole wagon train leader, Big Tim. Julee is eager to get away from her cruel employer at the boarding house and Elinore is eager to be reunited with the husband she hasn’t seen in months. The women form a bond that is only disrupted when Elinore’s husband catches wind of it. Originally from the South, Paul had assured is wife the abolitionist that he harbored no ill will toward African Americans, but his attitude and actions prove otherwise.
The lives of the characters intersect and make for an intense story. There’s a lot to be learned from a historical perspective. While we know that some slaves chose to flee west instead of north, it’s rare that we see a story about those that made that decision. It’s even more of a rarity that Native Americans are portrayed in a positive light or that their owning slaves is discussed in historical fiction. Anita Bunkley has done a masterful job of creating characters and giving readers food for thought. I look forward to reading more from her.
Published: February 2013
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