January 14, 2005

Author: Susan Gibbs ISBN: 097146670X 10/2004 (Reprint) HISTORICAL Publisher: HAWKSHADOW PUBLISHING COMPANY, Time Period: America's Great Plains, 1877


From reviewer at I have read a lot of books in my lifetime, but never have I read a book that runs me through such a gamut of emotions as THE BEND IN THE RIVER. This truly is one of the finest pieces of literature that I have ever read. After reading this book, I have a monumental respect and awe for its author, who must have been blown over by the depth of emotions that hit her while writing this book, as I, just a reader, could hardly hold back the tears, the laughs, the gasps of anger and shock.

The book centers on Emma Jorden, an orphaned girl of seventeen from Kansas who is found freezing out on the prairie by Shea Hawkshadow. She goes to live with Shea and his Cheyenne family on a Cheyenne reservation in the Indian Territory and marries him impulsively, feeling alone and wanting to be loved, which Shea gives her. They are both very young and the book truly shows you how they grow together through many trials and tribulations.


"The Bend in the River" by Susan Gibbs

Reviewed by Judi Clark,, MAR 27, 2005

About once a year, I decide to pick up a “western” or in this case a novel about a frontierswoman. O.K. Let’s be straight – an historical romance set in the wild west. When author Susan Gibbs asked if would review her novel I read the chapter excerpt and flagged the request as a possibility. Later when I kept wondering what would happen next, I decided that I’d accept a review copy with the caveat that it could take a while for the book to be reviewed.

So when it arrived, I set it in the usual “TBR” pile. Since it is essentially a self-published novel, I didn’t have high hopes that the book would stand up to my scrutiny. Then for some inexplicable reason, I picked it up to skim through it. It was the Saturday in the middle of the long Thanksgiving weekend, I’d been on the go and was so tired that I couldn’t get out of my own way. So I went from skimming the novel sitting at my computer to sprawling out on the couch. I read nonstop for the next six hours, made dinner (barely) and continued to read until near midnight. The next day I practically had to lock up the book so that I wouldn't open it. The day was busy and I didn't get back to it until near bedtime when I decided to just read for "a bit" before going to sleep. Right. I couldn't find a spot to put down the book until I had reached the end.

So, what makes this book so addictive? It is the simplicity of the writing style coupled with the spellbinding events of this young woman's life set in a time and place that has evoked curiosity and wonder in me since childhood. Ironically, it is not all that happy of a story, but that, I think, is one of the reasons it drew me in. Though I'd like thinking that I'm not curiously morbid, well the author seems to know better.

Not quite seventeen-years-old, Emma Jorden and her family have been living off the land sharing a remote soddy just north of Indian Territory in Kansas. It is 1877 and Emma is uneducated, except for the books that she gets every time her parents take her to the distant trading post. A tragedy causes Emma to bury both her parents and to set off for the security of that trading post. When the novel opens, Emma is nearly frozen-to-death under a tree when she is found by a half-breed Cheyenne warrior Indian named Shea Hawkshadow. He brings her back to his people and restores her health. Naturally having been raised to fear Indians, Emma is frightened and plans to escape. But it is winter and not a good time to travel, especially without a horse or supplies. The Chief decides that Emma should repay their kindness by teaching Shea how to read so that he can know what the next new treaty offers before they sign. But this being a romance means that Emma soon discovers that she is in love with Hawkshadow. As for Shea, he is wild about Emma. Moreover, meeting her releases him from the loneliness he faces since no Cheyenne woman will want to breed with him since he is the son of a white man. Once things get beyond carried away, Shea does propose to Emma. The Chief tries to dissuade it, he knows the trouble it is likely bring to his people as this will be seen as an unnatural union in the eyes of most white people, made all the more upsetting since Emma is a natural beauty. Emma and Shea have their way, though, and are married the next day.

Though this is a tale about Emma Hawkshadow and her most unusual life, it is also a very damning story about what life was like for the Native American population as the white government reneges on promises and takes advantage of the illiterate population --- especially as the railroad tracks make westward expansion all the more popular.

Soon after Shea and Emma marry, the government wants to move the Cheyenne to Kansas but the Cheyenne want to return to Yellowstone country. Chief Little Wolf knows that Emma should leave them because of what they are about to undertake. But when Emma figures it out, she chooses to go along with them. Thus, we follow Emma through the Cheyenne breakout in 1878 when they sneak away in the middle of the night (and under the watch of the Calvary) to make their way north. This is a bloody and dangerous journey in which the Cheyenne know that they will lose much of their population, but it beats the alternative of living on land that is barren of wildlife. Emma is eventually caught and brought to Fort Robinson, Nebraska where she is treated with much prejudice as an Indian’s wife and as a prisoner as they try to break her until she reveals the whereabouts of her husband's people who are months later, still eluding the Calvary. Here she suffers harm by one of the soldiers and witnesses the torture and massacre of a group of captured Cheyenne that had been traveling with her husband's tribe.

Emma does eventually achieve freedom and is led to Montana by a trusted reporter to Shea and his people. What seems like an ideal location and treaty – the Cheyenne are awarded some land in the territory that they were trying to escape to – they still can't escape hate. A local militia intent on teaching Emma and Shea a lesson about intermarriage disrupt the peace and once again Emma and Shea are on the run. They finally settle down in an abandoned cabin near a Washington State lumber town. At this point Emma is 8 months pregnant. Lucky for them, the owner of the hunting cabin lets them stay partly because he recognizes them from the newspaper reporter's series of stories and partly from the moment he meets Emma he is in love with her. And, so begins another chapter in her long life.

The novel is bridged by one tragic event after another with brief periods of happiness. Very simple stuff but fun to read since it lets us experience the west in its wilder days. From the beginning, we know there is something fishy about Emma's story as to why Shea Hawkshadow finds her where he does. Though pieces are revealed at surprising times, the truth serves as a mechanism to explore other aspects of this time period, including much later when she experiences an addiction and a psychiatric breakdown. There are many men besides Shea who will love and cherish Emma. And as a reader, it is easy to cheer her on as she overcomes one hurdle after another, a flawed character who continually grows. Even when shown at its most violent, there is romance in the wild west.

The Romance

The Bend in the River

by Susan Gibbs

Historical Romance

October 2004: After wandering for days in a snowstorm, Emma Jordan is clinging to life as she tries to find shelter under a tree. She left the family homestead after the death of her parents and her only hope was to get to the trading post. Somehow, she lost her way and ended up in Indian Territory. It was here in this snow-covered land that Shea Hawkshadow found her. He promised her that he would see she that safely got to Fort Reno as soon as she was well enough to travel. The snow had closed many of the passes to get to the Fort and Emma soon realized she would have to stay with the Cheyenne until the soldiers came with supplies. Though she was reluctant at first, she soon realized the stories she had heard about he Indians were not true, the Cheyenne treated her with kindness and respect. She adapted to their ways and soon was teaching the braves how to read and write English. Shea was her first pupil. As time went on it was clear that both Emma and Shea were attracted to each other. Shea had learned some English from his father who was white but that was a long time ago. The young girl with such determination and beautiful and touched his heart like no other could. They were married that spring and Emma faced the decision of choosing to live with the Cheyenne or returning to her people. She chose to stay with Shea. News came that the army was going to move the Cheyenne again and many of the braves wanted to fight. It was settled that they would leave the village under cover of night and flee to Canada. Once again, Shea tried to make Emma stay behind and once again she refused. Only when they were separated and she was captured by bounty hunters did she realize her fate. When she was taken to the Fort she found that her own people had little respect for her, yet she still kept hope that Shea would find her and take her back. The bond they had was stronger than any force could hold and these two were destined to find each other. This young woman had been through so much in her young life it seemed that fate would not let her lose the one man who had saved her and gave her happiness. This is the story of Emma Jordan Hawkshadow, a woman of strength, determination, spunk, compassion and love. Her character is what many frontier women were like and yet one finds her so intriguing that one can't put the book down. Her love for the Cheyenne Dog Soldier who saved her form death in the snow was so touching that the reader feels every joy and sorrow they go through. Shea Russell Hawkshadow, the handsome brave, found in this young girl the woman who shared his spirit and loved her all his days. Ms. Gibbs has not just given readers a novel, she's given us a glimpse of history through their eyes.

Overall rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Sensuality rating: Mildly sensual

Reviewer: Louise Riveiro-Mitchell, December 22, 2004


Reviewed by Naomi Theye of The Historical Novel Society, United Kingdom

THE BEND IN THE RIVER, Susan Gibbs, Hawkshadow Publishing, 2001, 2004, $19.95, pb, 444pp, 097146670X

In 1877, 17-year-old Emma Jorden witnesses the death of her parents in Indian Territory. She is subsequently rescued by the Cheyenne dog warrior, Shea Hawkshadow, and this brave young half-breed becomes the first love of Emma’s young life. The story is essentially told in two interrelated tales. The first tale describes Emma’s life between the time of her parents’ deaths and Shea Hawkshadow’s death. In the first half of the book, Gibbs includes such issues as racial prejudice, violence against women, grief, and betrayal. The second tale relates Emma’s life after Shea’s death. In this second half, in addition to the issues formerly mentioned, Gibbs explores drug abuse, mental illness, and Emma’s struggles to come to terms with the ghosts from her past.

The strength of Gibbs's first novel is in her character development. The reader is constantly amazed at Emma’s sense of self, her belief in justice for all mankind, and the support she is able to give to those she loves. Shea Hawkshadow, Emma’s half-breed husband, is also a very strong character. His love for Emma enables him to leave his tribe and, with Emma, strike out on a long journey in search of a better life. Many of the characters in this novel are stronger or better than most people in real life. The men who fall in love with Emma would meet any woman’s criteria for “best husband/friend ever.” This novel will appeal to readers of romance novels because this story has all of the elements commonly found in the genre--love, sex, and betrayal.

Reviewed by Wanda Maynard of, June, 2005 

The Bend In The River opens in the late 1800's. Emma is wandering on the cold prairie by herself after her parents died of fever. Suddenly, Shea comes along to her rescue. He finds her barely alive and takes her to the Cheyenne reservation to stay for the winter months. During Emma's stay, Red Leaf comes to think of Emma as her daughter.

Shea and Emma fall in love with each other. Will it work? Shea would have to make a decision, he being a half-breed and Emma a white woman. Will the two be able to find happiness staying together, or will the two have to part once she reaches the fort? If Emma chooses to stay with the Cheyenne and there is trouble or war because of it, she and Shea would have to leave the tribe to wander on their own.

Will Emma and Shea wind up hurting each other because of the differences in their race? Will Shea lie to Emma to spare her feelings? Will Emma learn the truth from someone else?

Neither Shea nor Emma realized there would be no place they could have peace or hide from the Cheyenne and the white man if they should marry. Both could be hurt or killed because of their decision. It could also mean danger for the Cheyenne. In the spring, will Emma let the soldiers take her back to the fort? Read the story to find out.

Susan Gibbs has put together a true-to-life story of what could happen between two people. She has weaved together a string of trouble for these two throughout the book. The terrific knowledge of history during the time of the pioneer days and the heroic deeds alone deserves a five star rating.


  The Compulsive Reader, February 7, 2005 (

A review of The Bend in the River by Susan Gibbs

Reviewed by Roberta Austin The Bend in the River: A Novel by Susan Gibbs Paperback: 444 pages, Publisher: Hawkshadow Pub. Co.; Hawkshadow edition (May 1, 2002) ISBN: 097146670X


Emma Jorden has to make adult decisions at seventeen after her parents' sudden deaths. She leaves the sod house they lived in on the Kansas prairie and heads for a trading post. It is 1877, so there are no rest stops and little shelter. Emma becomes lost in a freak fall blizzard and would have died, but is rescued by Shea Hawkshadow, a half-breed Cheyenne warrior. Shea takes Emma to the Cheyenne reservation, where they eventually marry. Emma grows to love not only Shea, but the Cheyenne people. Shea and Emma are forced to leave after intolerance and racial hatred lead to violence. Although Emma and Shea are separated at times, they are always together in hearts and minds. Their journey to the West begins an epic saga of the triumph of the human spirit over trials and tribulations.


The author has done a masterful job of research and brings history to life. Although love plays a big part in the plot, The Bend In the River is more evocative of Larry McMurtry's historical Westerns rather than a typical romance. Violence was a fact of life in the West during the last quarter of the 19th century, so it is an integral part of the plot, but is never gratuitous. Ms. Gibbs shows both sides of the battles between the United States government and Native Americans and the tragic results. Doing this on a smaller scope, with characters who are engaging, makes for a powerful and emotional story. The whole novel is rich in vivid detail.


In Emma, the author has created a strong, but flawed heroine. Her situation will resonate with modern readers as Emma has to deal with issues such prejudice, addiction, guilt, and grief that still surround us all. Her story is ultimately one of hope and redemption as she grows from a young girl to a woman who is a survivor on many levels.


Shea is a complex man, too, who must wrestle with his mixed heritage. The author's ability to show his faults and all make for a more authentic story. Ms. Gibbs said she chose to write about the Cheyenne because the values they represented. She gives us a glimpse into everyday life of the tribe during the 1870's & early 1880's.


The Bend in the River is a debut novel. With a compelling blend of fact and fiction, it is a book that can be enjoyed by all readers. Ms. Gibbs has a unique voice and she is wished much success in her writing career.