top of page
  • Writer's picturecstucky2

"Shelterwood" | Reviewed by Pat Sainz

Lisa Wingate has written another novel based on true events, this one told with alternating narrators. It’s the story of two females—a preteen and a young adult—and is set in Oklahoma in 1909 and 1990. 

In the early 1900s, the Cherokee in Oklahoma were forced off their land through federal government decrees. In some cases, the Native Americans were able to retain small parcels of land. This land had value because of lumber or oil reserves.  

White men married Native American women whose husbands had been killed in warfare or died through mysterious means. Most of the women died shortly after their marriages to white men, and no investigations were ever made. The men then inherited the land.

The children of the women were literally dropped off in the woods by their “stepfathers” and left to die or fend for themselves. Many times, they were captured and forced to work at hard labor or at other unsavory occupations.

“Shelterwood '' tells a fictional story based on some of these children, especially that of young Olive Augusta Peele who escaped abuse at the hands of her stepfather with two of her Native American stepsisters. In 1909, Olive and her sisters traversed forests and small towns with hopes of disappearing to a safe place high in the mountains. The children envisioned starting a community they would call Shelterwood, a logging term given to tall trees that protect smaller trees.

Young Olive’s narrative alternates with that of a US Forest Service park ranger, Valerie Boren-Odell. She was hired to oversee operations in a National Park similar to the current Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation Area near Talihina, Oklahoma. It is an area once belonging to the Cherokee, Creek and Choctaw Nations.

Early in her job, Valerie hears of the recent discovery of three bones, those of young children, discovered high in the mountains. When she learns that the bones have been removed without the proper investigation required for such a discovery, she becomes concerned.

Valerie is treated as a clueless park ranger by the male hierarchy in her new job.  Her superiors ignore her concerns about the bodies found in the forest. She begins a surreptitious investigation into the mystery of the bones and their disappearance, although she has been told to let it go.

Valerie uncovers a serious abuse of the land by a corporation whose owner has managed to make friends with lawmakers and the townspeople with his extravagant contributions. Her life is in danger as she gets closer to the truth of destruction of private land and the disregard for the burial place where the bones were discovered.

Wingate has written an engrossing book combining historical fiction and fiction.  Its themes of resilience and bravery are compelling. Readers will appreciate the connection to “Killers of the Flower Moon” by David Grann.

Lisa Wingate is the author of “Before We Were Yours” and “The Book of Lost Friends.”

          Buy the Book.



21 views0 comments


bottom of page