Imagined places and characters: Louise Erdrich’s Recasting of “The Plague of Doves”

The Killer

Erdrich transformed the race, identity, and character of the murderers. While there remain some unanswered questions about just who killed each of the Spicers and how they did it, there is almost no question that the Winona killers were Standing Rock Indians. After having been seen leaving the Spicer farm on the day of the murders and having been discovered in possession of certain items stolen from the Spicer house, Paul Holy Track and Philip Ireland confessed their own part in the Spicer murders and implicated the other three Indians. Instead of inebriated Indians seeking money in the home of a white farm family and in the process of stealing it killing an entire family, the Indians who visit the Lochren farm in The Plague of Doves are sober and innocent of evil. They visit the farm not to steal money or whiskey but to offer their baskets for sale. Asiginak, his great- nephew Holy Track, Cuthbert Peace, and Mooshum are all good people. Two of them go to the Lochren farm merely to sell their hand-made baskets. The other two tag along. They arrive a day or more after the murders have been committed. Far from murdering the family, they save the life of the surviving Lochren infant, Cordelia, and relieve the suffering of the unmilked Lochren cows. To ensure that the infant Lochren girl will survive, they find a way to send a note notifying the authorities of the presence of the surviving baby without revealing their own identity. They do so in the full knowledge that if they reveal openly what they have seen at the Lochren farm, they will surely be accused of having committed the brutal murders themselves.

Whereas whiskey had been largely responsible for the Spicer family murders, it plays almost no role in The Plague of Doves. The Indians who come to the Lochren farm are sober. The only mention of whiskey is that Mooshum hopes that his old friend Asiginak will “spare enough of his basket money to get his old friends drunk” (PD 60). The only other mention of drunkenness is that while drunk, Mooshum later mentions to a white man that he and the others had been at the Lochren farm. Sister Mary Anita tells Evelina Harp: “I believe your grandfather used to drink in those days. Your Mooshum told Eugene Wildstrand that he and the others were at the farmhouse. Mooshum told how they had found that poor family” (PD 250). Evelina replies, “He must have been stinking drunk to tell that” (PD 251). In Winona, whiskey had caused the Indians to murder the Spicers. In Pluto, whiskey had caused one of the Indians to reveal that they had found the Lochren family already murdered.