Today LAURA Award-Winning Author Carmen Peone joins us with her latest release, Girl Warrior.
Imagine Native American men on horseback charging down a nearly vertical, boulder-strewn crevasse in the face of a bluff. From there the riders race across a dry channel of the Sanpoil River and charge into the rodeo arena.
In the old days, Natives in the Keller, WA, area on the Colville Reservation gathered at the junction of the Sanpoil and Columbia river in late May during the salmon runs to harvest and dry a winter’s supply of fish. Games and horse racing were always present.
Excitement rolled in with the salmon and soon betting began.
Piles of loot swelled so quickly it was a wonder how accounts could be kept. Blankets, furs, saddles, knives, traps, tobacco, beads, whips, flour, and a hundred other items were staked. It was said that arranged marriages on occasion came from this traditional mountain race.
It’s a male dominated race, a rite of passage that few woman enter. All jockeys have to do is pass the hill, swim, and vet test. Albeit women have to stride one step further––endure not-so-charming rants many male racers sling their way.
It takes grit and determination for a woman to speed down 225 feet of a 62-degree slope, plunge into and swim cross the Okanogan River, and charge 500 feet before crossing the finish line inside the Omak Stampede arena.
Charnaye Toulou did just that in Girl Warrior.
Does one teenager fresh out of high school have a chance at winning the race?
The instant the idea of entering the race stops swirling in her mind and settles in her heart, life changes for Charnaye Toulou. She has her sights pinned on winning the World Famous Suicide horse race during the Omak Stampede. The purse will help ease a financial burden of her paraplegic father, worn out mother, and ill grandfather. But more than that, she wants the respect earned from becoming “King of the Hill.” This race has been a long time rite of passage for male Natives. Charnaye is up for the challenge to prove females too can be awarded a warrior status as times are changing.
But when bully Hagan Hurst chokes her and causes her self-esteem to plummet, she hooks up with her Okanogan relatives and a horse that can take her the distance. Anonymous threatening letters find her and they all point to Hagan. Her father and mother become overly protective, but she meets a woman who has ran the race, jumpstarting her confidence. The day after Charnaye graduates from high school, she jumps in with cousin and trainer Craig Stuart and heads for her relative’s Omak ranch. And so do the letters.
Charnaye begins the rigorous training it takes to become “King of the Hill”, or in her case, “Queen”, and tries to figure out who is behind the threating letters. She combats fear and anxiety, fighting to fulfill this rite of passage.
Where to find Girl Warrior:
He buckles the cinch to the new latigo strip and perches himself on a hay bale. He pats the space beside him. I know he’s about to tell me what’s good for me. It may not be what I want to hear, but it’s always the truth. “Your Stimteema rode him down the Keller hill when she was your age.” He points to his tall, bony quarter horse gelding. A blue roan with a ratty tail. Most of his teeth are mere stubs and we have to feed him beet pulp just to keep him alive.
I walk over to Old Blue and watch him eat. “Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
“She didn’t want us to. It was before we were married, one month prior anyhow,” he said with a hitch in his voice. He wrings his hands.
“Why? What’s the big deal?”
“Because she knew you had that same streak of spitfire in you that lived in her.” He pops a stem of hay in his mouth. “She saw it in you as a baby.”
I try and imagine her plunging down the old Keller hill. “Was she sober?”
Carmen Peone is a LAURA Award-Winning author who lives on the Colville Confederated Indian Reservation with her tribal-member husband, Joe. She had worked with the late tribal elder, Marguerite Ensminger, for three years learning the Arrow Lakes-Sinyekst- Language and various cultural traditions and legends. She enjoys her horses and competing in Mountain Trail Competitions. With a degree in psychology, the thought of writing never entered her mind, until she married her husband and they moved to the reservation after college.
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