The Tom Walker

I think I’ll chance one more review of a novel by Mari Sandoz today.  I was a bit reluctant to do so, but then thought better of it, because I’m in the midst of a personal Mari Sandoz revival.  Maybe it will catch on in a small way?

The work of fiction by Mari Sandoz I just finished is The Tom Walker.  The name comes from the colloquial 1800s term for a circus or carnival acrobat who walks about on stilts. 

The term was a nickname for the first protagonist of the novel, Milton Stone.  He is a veteran of the Union Army who saw action in the U.S. Civil War.  Milton’s defining feature is that a leg was amputated because of his injury in battle.  Eventually, he adapts a steel pipe as his prosthetic limb.

Sandoz arranged her novel into a trilogy.  The three books each feature a different main protagonist.  The first book is devoted to the post Civil War times, first in the Cinncinati, Ohio area, then to Eastern Iowa around Council Bluffs near Omaha, Nebraska.  Milton’s struggles with the social stigma against amputees is compounded by his advocacy for the working class people and military veterans.  “Iron Leg” is confounded at every turn by powerful interests.

In the second book, Milton’s son, Martin, comes home to Sidney, Nebraska from the first World War.  He also suffers a handicap.  Martin’s lungs were burned by a poison gas attack in France.  Martin struggles to build a ranch in the hostile western Nebraska landscape.  There he encounters his foes who manifest as racists, anti-semites and Ku Klux Klanners.  He is also bedeviled by financiers and bankers as a result of the Great Depression.

Martin’s son, “Iron Leg’s” grandson, leads the action in the third book.  He is also a war veteran. It is implied that the second Martin Stone was on board the Enola Gay when the airplane dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.  The grandson was also injured during his service.  He was in China, helping with a postwar relief project in there. A zealous Chinese worker shot Martin.  The bullet lodged near the heart, too close to operate.  He had to deal with his own hardships of life, knowing that excitement could kill him. 

Action in the third book revolves around eastern Wyoming with forays into Denver, Colorado and Washington D.C.  The grandson deals with expansionist industrialists and other power hungry, greedy antagonists. His antagonist is the shady U.S. Senator Boyd Potter.

The character who ties all of the books together is the first Martin Stone, “Iron Leg” or the tom walker of legendary fame. Within the setting of American history, real and predicted, the Stone family story is played out.

The Tom Walker by Mari Sandoz is an emotionally loaded story.  If you are unfamiliar with the dynamics of life of the settlers of the Great Plains, this book will bring about some degree of understanding.  The trilogy is a powerful statement about strong-willed people who struggle through historical hardships and personal trials.

The Tom Walker by Mari Sandoz ISBN 0-8032-9147-7 by the University of Nebraska Press.  Originally Dial Books, copyright 1947 by the Mari Sandoz Corporation.


The Blue Jay of Happiness hopes you’re enjoying some quality summer reading, too.

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Books, Controversy, cultural highlights, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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