The Medicine Line: Life and Death on a North American Borderland

Beth LaDow, Author Routledge $125 (272p) ISBN 978-0-415-92764-2
Crossing the U.S.-Canadian border today is a simple, uncomplicated process. But as LaDow shows in this earnest and lively account of the frontier during the 19th and early 20th centuries, crossing the border was not always so trivial. LaDow, a historian and commentator for National Public Radio, focuses on a 100-mile stretch between Montana and Saskatchewan, called the ""medicine line"" by Native American tribes because of its seemingly magical potential to correct wrongs and reverse fortunes. For example, after the Battle of Little Big Horn, LaDow writes, Sioux chief Sitting Bull and many followers fled across the line into Canada, securing the personal freedom and political asylum they lacked in the United States. Nevertheless, because the buffalo were as scarce in Canada as they were to the south, Sitting Bull and his starving tribespeople eventually had no choice but to cross the border again and surrender to U.S. troops. During Prohibition, bootleggers (including the father of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Wallace Stegner) loaded barrels of Canadian whiskey into model Ts and drove them across the border to thirsty American cities. In the 1880s, tycoon James Hill pushed the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway across the prairie into British Columbia; just a decade later, he crossed the border to build the competing Great Northern Railway just 100 miles south in Montana. LaDow leaves no aspect of life along the medicine line unexamined, addressing everything from folklore and literature to economics and political leadership. Sometimes this leads to an overload of distracting details; on the whole, however, this a well-written and thoroughly researched history uncovers the forgotten dramas that once played out along what is today the most peaceful border on the planet. Illus. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/18/2000
Release date: 12/01/2000
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Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-415-92765-9
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