Based on extensive research, Blacksnake’s Path combines a compelling narrative with authentic history. This splendid novel about an unsung hero of American history is the product of twelve years of research and writing, yet it carries its prodigious learning lightly in order to tell vividly the story of William Wells’s remarkable life. Blacksnake’s Path recreates an entire period (1779-1812), showing how the Indians lived, fought for their homeland, and dealt with defeat. Because Wells was always a man in the middle, moving between two cultures, the novel also captures the lives of the men and women who settled the territory north of the Ohio River.
In 1784, when he was thirteen, Wells was captured from his home outside pioneer Louisville and taken to Snake-fish Town in present-day Indiana. There he was adopted by the village chief, The Porcupine, and was raised as a Miami under the name of Blacksnake. He experienced a vision quest, learned to hunt, went on the warpath, married, and fathered a son. On November 4th, 1791 he fought by the side of the great Miami war chief Little Turtle at St. Clair’s Defeat, the greatest victory the Indians ever won against the U. S. Army. His second wife was the chief’s daughter Sweet Breeze. Two years later he switched sides and became head scout for General Mad Anthony Wayne at the decisive battle of Fallen Timbers, August 20th, 1794. The following summer he was the translator between Little Turtle and Wayne at the Treaty of Greenville, which ceded most of Ohio to the settlers. For much of the rest of his life, Wells served as Indian Agent for the Miami, taking Little Turtle and other chiefs to visit Presidents Washington, Adams, and Jefferson in Philadelphia and Washington. In the early nineteenth century, he was often at the center of the conflict between Governor William Henry Harrison’s land greed and Tecumseh’s militant resistance. Wells died a martyr at the Fort Dearborn Massacre in 1812.
Praise for Blacksnake’s Path
Blacksnake’s Path tells the remarkable story of William Wells, an Indian captive turned Indian fighter-scout-spy-translator-negotiator-agent, in a way that alters our sense of American Indian history. As a man in the middle of two cultures, Wells gives us eyes into the powerful role Native Americans played in diplomacy as well as battle. Novelist William Heath balances his astonishing portraits of Indian fighters like Mad Anthony Wayne and William Henry Harrison with equally stunning portraits of Little Turtle and Blue Jacket and Blacksnake to show us less recognized but crucial ways that Indians forged the larger history of the United States. —Frank Bergon, author of Shoshone Mike and editor of the Penguin Classics edition of The Journals of Lewis and Clark.
William Heath’s story of the life of William Wells rescues from obscurity one of the most dramatic episodes in the long struggle for control of the North American continent. Heath ably combines the craft of the novelist with the deep research of the historian to make Blacksnake’s Path as informative as it is enjoyable. —Andrew Cayton, author of Frontier Indiana and The Frontier Republic
Extensively researched and written with a feel for the times, Blacksnake’s Path tells a compelling story of cultural contest and confluence and breathes life into a long-neglected but pivotal character in the struggle for the Old Northwest Territory. —Colin Calloway, author of The Shawnees and the War for America
Blacksnake’s Path: The True Adventures of William Wells, is one of the best books, perhaps the best book that describes the earliest, wild and bloody days of the American Midwest. William Heath portrays this area superbly from the point of view of the Indians as well as of the whites through telling the life of William Wells. The amazing Wells lived on both sides of the conflict from the first American settlement of Kentucky in the 1770s through the Fort Dearborn Massacre in Chicago in 1812. —Jerry Crimmins, author of Fort Dearborn (Northwestern University Press)
Born white, raised red, William Wells was a sometimes warrior, soldier, spy and agent provocateur who played on, worked both sides in the bloody, thirty year struggle between the allied Indian nations and the United States for control of the Ohio valley and Great Lakes country. Seemingly he was a complex character and had more picaresque adventures than Boone or Crocket. But in his own times he never encountered the sort of publicists who eventually turned Dan’l and Davy into semi-mythic figures. And so Wells has all but disappeared in the mists of the past. In his novel, Blacksnake’s Path, William Heath retrieves for the moment this gaudy, always-on-the-make frontiersman. —Bil Gilbert, author of Westering Man and God Gave Us This Country
In Blacksnake’s Path, William Heath dresses the dry bones of history with the richly colored story of a man living both in the raw new country of America and the ancient one of the Miami Indians. Exquisitely detailed and written with convincing grace, William Wells, as well as the flesh and blood of neglected events in American history, come alive in these vibrant and compelling pages. —Toby Olson, author of Seaview, Write Letter to Billy, and Tampico
With his encyclopedic grasp of the era and the territory, William Heath takes the reader back to the frontier Ohio Valley in the midst of its bloodiest war. As scenic and action-packed as the best adventure novels, Blacksnake’s Path is a rousing, brutal use of American history. —Stewart O’Nan, author of A Prayer for the Dying and Songs for the Missing
Mr. Heath respects readers. In Blacksnake’s Path, he doesn’t tell us what to think of his remarkable story and allows its moral implications to fall where they may. This admirable reticence of both language and tone sets off, by contrast, the violent beauty of his subject matter, the series of conflicts between Native Americans and European-Americans in Ohio and Indiana after the Revolution. Heath uses this war to explore the cultural differences between white and Indian society and the psychological tension of a man who belonged to both cultures and therefore wasn’t always certain where his loyalties lay. The result is a great read, an accurate and vivid fictional biography, and a sobering reminder of the tragedy at the root of America’s westward expansion. —John Vernon, author of Lucky Billy and The Last Canyon
Any good piece of historical fiction introduces us into the strangeness and particularity of earlier worlds and this is what William Heath does in Blacksnake’s Path. Both the real William Wells, and the William Wells imagined here, moved between two worlds, and Heath recreates those worlds and what was at stake when they clashed. —Richard White, author of The Middle Ground
Heath’s portrayal of the man torn between his two cultures is moving, and his description of the aftermath of battle is horrifyingly precise. Best is the way he shows the determination with which the frontiers-people—settlers and natives alike—go about the exhausting process of simply living. With hunting, trapping, building, birthing, how did they find time to make war? —Akron Beacon Journal, 2/1/09
Diplomats rarely get their due. Caught between two cultures, Wells as a middle man for the Americans and Native Americans during the beginning of the nation’s start as a country. Heath paints a fine picture of what Wells dealt with throughout his career. Blacksnake’s Path is a fine and educational read, for those who want history with their entertainment. —The Midwest Book Review, March 2009
With clear, vivid prose, William Heath has crafted a remarkable novel that contains elements of humor, romance and suffering, depictions of friendship, betrayal and heroism; and portrayals of wise actions, foolish decisions and personal tragedy. The life of William Wells deserves such attention. His exploits and contradictions are the stuff that fiction captures best when based on solid historical research. —Clyde A. Milner II, History Book Club
William Wells, named “Blacksnake” by the Miami, was a seminal figure in the Northwest Territory and one of Indiana’s most fascinating pioneer figures. Yet no one has dedicated an entire book to his life until now…. “This isn’t costume-drama escapism, this is a valid interpretation of history,” Heath said of his work. “History buffs will enjoy this novel as well as people who like good fiction.” —The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne, 18 September 2009
Wells lived between two worlds, Heath says. What is implicit in that is that he was fully in neither. “He really captures what that era was all about,” Heath said. “People were uncomfortable with someone who could see both sides…. “When you look at the frontier period, Wells was more important than Washington or Jefferson or Adams because he understood both perspectives…. None of those presidents really did.” —The News-Banner, Blufton, Indiana, Vol. 80, No. 264, September 2009
Heath is clearly capable of efficient and effective characterization…. His prose is clear and flows smoothly, and his descriptions of natural scenes can be quite beautiful…. Heath has written one of the best historical novels on the post-Revolutionary Ohio Valley and on the wars for the Great Lakes…. The book takes more effort to read than it should, but will repay that effort, whether it is invested by scholars, amateur historians, or fans of historical fiction. —David A. Nichols, Northwest Ohio History