The Curse of Chief Tenaya
Reviewed by W. Tucker Clark (Nepal 196770)
WHAT AN ADVENTURE reviewing Peace Corps writers. Even the New York Times Book Review is making references to the new hot travel books coming out of the Peace Corps experiences: (books that have their roots in the same ambitious-young-writer-looking-for-a-subject-impulse Sunday Dec 7, 2003 referencing PCV in Uzbekistan Tom Bissells Chasing the Sea and Ivory Coast Volunteer Sarah Erdmans Nine Hills to Nambonkaha.)
So it was a pleasure to review Craig Carrozzis 5th book. Carrozzi is well known for his Peace Corps related books, but this one comes from his summer work as a teenager for Camp Mather, a camp located 9 miles from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in northern California. This novel's dedication reads: In memory of the lost Hetch Hetchy Valley May it soon rise from its watery grave.
The curse in the title has to do with Chief Tenayas revenge of the Sierra Miwoks of the Yosemite Valley the tribe driven by Gold Rush-lust-filled settlers from their lands. Tenaya morphs into a great, phantasmal grizzly-bear to terrorize the sheep and cattle herders setting up ranches on the tribes formerly pristine lands.
This book because it is so magical and Western has to become a movie, perhaps using a computer-generated John Wayne as Jeremiah Ignatius McElroy in 1891.
We follow this legendary survivor of Irelands potato famine, who travels to America on board a ship working as a cabin boy. Once in the new land, he meets mentors everywhere, survives living with Indians, fur trading, hunting, and works with Gold Rush partners in California. It is there that he sees the mystical Hetch Hetchy Valley.
One of these partners, a Frenchman, has a beautiful daughter, Colette, who Jeremiah meets in the Palace Hotel in San Francisco when she comes from France to write about her deceased father. Jeremiah falls in love with Colette during his quest to hunt the grizzly rampaging the lands of a robber baron.
For such a short novel, 226 pages, there is plenty of action, wonderful wild west-lore and romancing. There are real-life, colorful personalities in the likes of Ambrose Bierce, Jack London, and John Muir. The reader gets to lap up, in wonderfully sequenced time jumps, the big- as-the-wild-west story of Jeremiah, aging survivor of Oakland waterfront saloons and the Gold Rush of the 1840s.
I eagerly followed Jeremiah as his days as a hunter and guide played out in his search for the phantasmal grizzly raising havoc with the Sierra ranchers. Little can Jeremiah do as destiny unravels, even though his Indian friend and his hallucination/dream tell him not to kill this spirit.
It does one good to know that such great writing and historical adventure is out there, and that people are digging deeply into history for such adventures. I can only hope that Craig can get the proper exposure for this book and that he continues to write other novels based on historical events.
Tucker Clark is a consultant /writer and lives in Westport, Connecticut.