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Northern Michigan author publishes prequel to "Windigo Moon"


August 31, 2021

Northern Michigan author Robert Downes has published "The Wolf and The Willow," a historical novel of first contact between Indigenous peoples and Spanish conquistadors. The book is the prequel to "Windigo Moon," his 2017 novel of the Anishinaabek.

"The story starts in Morocco in 1527 and ends among the Anishinaabek at their ancient seasonal community of Boweting in Michigan's Upper Peninsula," Downes says. "It's a big, sprawling novel, packed with adventure, romance and the peaks and valleys of the human spirit."

"The Wolf and The Willow" offers a glimpse into the culture of many tribes, including the Anishinaabek, Tionontati, Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), Dakota Sioux, Mandans, Caddo, and the Mound Builder civilization of the Mississippi River Valley. Life in Boweting (also known as Bahwating) is a key element in the story, as are the challenges the Anishinaabek faced in dealing with the Haudenosaunee. Readers will also explore the pre-Colombian Indian city of Cahokia, home of the largest earthen pyramid in North America.

The book delves into the clash of cultures and the problems that Indians and Europeans had in understanding one-another and their radically different values. "For instance, the Indians tended to share everything they hunted, fished or grew so that all could survive and thrive, while the Europeans came from a dog-eat-dog world where the ownership of land, gold and silver at the expense of others meant everything."

Downes notes that when they first sighted the billowing sails of European ships, many Indians thought they might be giant swans, floating mountains, or huge fish, disgorging hairy-faced men encased in metal, who stank horribly from lack of bathing and had monstrous horses, dogs bred for war, and thundering cannons. "Initially, many didn't know if the Europeans were human. They thought they might be spirits or ghosts. They were as strange to the Indians as space aliens would be to us."

His new book tells the story of Willow, a house slave of Black/Arab descent who is swept into the 1528 expedition of conquistador Panfilo de Narvaez, who hoped to colonize Florida and find native cities brimming with gold.

"The expedition was a disaster from start to finish. Of the five-hundred men and women who left Spain, only four survived after wandering naked and enslaved by Indians for eight years across northern Mexico and the Southwest."

Downes uses the expedition as the starting point for his novel. "Being fiction, however, my heroine Willow eventually carries on through the heart of North America's lost Indigenous civilizations, where she meets Wolf, a trader, story-teller and spy for the shamans of the Ojibwe nation. Wolf, whose formal name is He Who Outruns the Wolves, is on a mission down the Mississippi to find a mythical animal for the shamans of Boweting at present-day Sault Ste. Marie."

"Readers will experience in a very vivid way the spectacular Indian civilizations which existed for thousands of years before European armies and diseases swept them all away."

Backed by extensive historical research and published by The Wandering Press, "The Wolf and The Willow" segues into the events of "Windigo Moon," set 60 years later in 1588.

The 368-page book is available through both bookstores and via online retailers.


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