I have to admit that after seeing the movie, the book version of Soldier Blue is certainly not what I had expected. There are no long, drawn out violent episodes. Nor are there harrowing scenes of massacres or atrocities committed on both sides. Soldier Blue is however a different type of western story and well worth reading.
The story begins with a troop of cavalry crossing the southern plains to deliver an Army payroll to Fort Reunion. This part of the territory, though once wild, is now considered relatively peaceful and hitching a ride along with them is a young woman, Cresta Lee. She is en-route to see her Lieutenant fiancé after having escaped from a band of Cheyenne with whom she has been a captive for two years.
The convoy is attacked by renegade Indians led by a chief that Cresta Lee knows only too well and the resulting battle leaves her and a young trooper, Honus Gant as the only white survivors. Hiding out till the Indians withdraw they salvage what they can from the battle scene and decide that the only course left open to them is to try to reach Fort reunion on foot but with scant supplies and neither of them being a good shot the journey proves to be a daunting task.
At the outset this unlikely pair are as incompatible and mis-matched as one could possibly imagine but the difficulties , both natural and man-made, that they face gradually bring them closer together although neither of them know it, or indeed, would admit it. After a run-in with a seemingly innocent prospector Honus is wounded in the leg and using the skills learned in her two years of captivity, Cresta Lee tends to his wound until the danger is passed then sets out alone to reach civilisation and bring back help.
She soon learns of a slow-moving cavalry detachment close by and decides to intercept it. The second-in-command is none other than her fiancé Lieutenant John McNair to whom she relates the whole story so far. The troop commander however, while praising her courage and that of Trooper Gant, refuses to jeopardize his mission by releasing any of his men to go on a mercy mission.
A few more twists and turns and the story ends as it began – on the battlefield. This time Cresta Lee and all three men whose lives are inexorably tied up with hers are involved. Chief Spotted Wolf whose wife she lived as before escaping and whose pride and reputation have been sorely dented. Lieutenant John McNair who is still adament they will marry despite the whisperings of her having been an Indian’s woman. Trooper Honus Gant who suddenly realises that his life seems somehow incomplete now.
Who, if any, will live through this final battle? Will anyone emerge as a winner? Will the U.S. cavalry and Trooper Honus Gant be on the receiving end of another defeat by the renegade Cheyenne warriors?