Plains and Prairie Chronicles: DUKE, OF DUNBAR

by Nora Fladeboe Mohberg

Some, but to be sure, not all horses make very good companions – they can be intuitive like dogs, as attentive as hungry cats, and are often more selflessly noble than the average person sitting next to us.

Horses will sometimes work themselves to death for their companions, while others, from time immemorial, have served as subjects of a countless number of heart-warming stories. Too, horses have the capacity to display courage in the face of seemingly endless misfortune – well maybe not so much courage, but rather faith.

This Mead-Hill book tells the story of plains and prairie settlers making a go of it in those harsh mid-1800s Dakota Territory days. What is most unique about the book, however, is that its story is told from the point of view of Duke, one such settler’s farm horse.

Duke is bold but sensitive, spirited yet dedicated, an intelligent companion to multiple generations of hardy immigrants. In all, he presents a very civilized horse’s take on humans brave enough to live “out there,” as Truman Capote might have put it, at the “ragged edge of the civilization,” as F. Scott Fitzgerald did put it.

Duke, of Dunbar is a book that can be read aloud to children: it integrates tales of plains and prairie settlers’ lives and pursuits; weaves in their notions of birth and death; affirms their hard work, solid values, and ethics. The language is often in the simple words of hard-working farmers – if filtered through the mind of a horse. Regardless, it relays, as we hear it, the thoughts and actions of a host of entertaining characters, each with a different and contrasting voice.

In all, Duke, of Dunbar provides a wholesome picture of a strong, affectionate Walton-like family, one unfailing in its kindness, yet with a healthy dose of tough love and discipline to it, each element being shared in equally by all.

In one other way, the book is almost a requiem for a kind of ethical culture, a lost brand of values and aspirations, perhaps somewhat easier for people to have come by in the days of horse-drawn farming, than for those living in these more accelerated times.