Home Graphic novel An overlooked perspective of the Iowan brought to light – the Simpsonian

An overlooked perspective of the Iowan brought to light – the Simpsonian


Book Review: “Moon of the Snow Blind: Spirit Lake” by Gary Kelley

In high school, I remember hearing about the Spirit Lake massacre, but I was only ever taught the story of Abigail Gardner. When I learned of the massacre, my teacher used various slurs to refer to the Dakota.

What I was never taught was that the Dakota had been starved, murdered and kidnapped by settlers in the years leading up to the massacre. What I have never been taught is the struggle and the immense pain that Chief Inkpaduta himself faced. Inkpaduta has lost his wives, mother and children. He had lost almost everything.

I picked this graphic novel by accident while on a trip to Barnes and Noble. One of the employees set it aside on a display stand with a note describing how the book detailed an important piece of Iowan history from an Indigenous perspective. Immediately I was intrigued. I want to thank this employee for showcasing this graphic novel, as I would never have seen it otherwise.

For Native American Heritage Month, I challenged myself to read books written from Indigenous perspectives or by Indigenous authors. The idea came from a friend of mine, who told me how, for Black History Month, she bought something from a black small business owner every time she got paid. So far I have read ‘Winter Counts’ by David Heska Wambli Weiden and currently read ‘Firekeepers Daughter’ by Angeline Bouley.

“Moon of the Snow Blind” was my fastest read for me this month. The Graphic Novel is a short 184-page graphic novel, detailing the events leading up to the massacre at the famous Gardner Hut by the Great Lakes of the Iowan. “Moon of the Snow Blind” is the first graphic novel by author Gary Kelley. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Kelley is a resident of Cedar Falls – a town 45 minutes from my own hometown.

The graphic novel is a collection of several historical documents, including Abigail Gardner’s autobiography, “History of the Spirit Lake Massacre”.

It is impossible to minimize the death toll at Spirit Lake; however, the insight provided by Kelley’s novel is extremely helpful in providing context and clarity to the situation. In my own educational experience, Inkpaduta and his gang of Dakotas have been portrayed as brutal with no motive for doing so. This book provides crucial context for the situation – the author begins the novel by stating that there are two sides to every story.

Aside from the story, I really enjoyed the illustrations and the style of the book. Kelley breaks each month of history with the name Dakota for the month – that’s where the title of the book comes from. The Snowblind Moon is the month of March when the massacre took place.

Kelley does a great job of displaying the morbid nature of the incident through her art and dialogue. Kelley never sheds light on the situation. The entire graphic novel is drawn in black and white, which in my opinion adds another sense of gravity and loss.

I would definitely recommend anyone interested in learning more about the natives of Iowa, or the history of Iowa in general, to read this graphic novel. It took me a weekend to tear up the graphic novel, and I was engaged from start to finish.

For Native American Heritage Month, I would encourage the people of Iowa to take a look at the history of the state from an Indigenous perspective.