Young William Wyeth sets out from St. Louis as part of a fur-trapping brigade in 1826, hoping to prove to his family back East that his wandering, capricious nature can be put to good use. Wrestling with his insecurities spurs him forward into the relatively uncharted land west of the settled United States, filled with wild game, angry natives and endless potential.
On his first trapping trip, Wyeth nearly loses his life in a hunting accident. While healing at a nearby military fort, he falls in love with a newly widowed woman named Alene. As he prepares for a second trip west as part of a new brigade, he promises Alene he will marry her upon his return. However, he knows any number of things may keep him from fulfilling his commitment.
The mythology of the early American West is often monopolized by dramatic battles between cowboys and Native Americans, but Into the Savage Country approaches the era from a more somber angle. From horse races to buffalo hunts, Wyeth encounters much danger over his expedition, relying on friends in his brigade and a certain amount of good fortune to help him in his quest to return to St. Louis a rich man. Along the way, he discovers he misjudged many of his comrades, and as he begins to appreciate what they bring to the group, he forms friendships that are crucial to surviving the harshness of the unsettled West.
Tennessee-based writer Shannon Burke is the author of two novels, Safelight and Black Flies, and has worked on numerous film projects, including Syriana. Burke’s choice to write Into the Savage Country from Wyeth’s first-person perspective lends a realism to the historical, yet fictional account of his adventures, and his descriptions of the scenery and the native peoples encountered on his travels are striking. It’s a fresh take on the Western story.