Born on Emancipation Day, 1863, to a sharecropping family of African and Indian blood, Elijah Yancy never lived as a slave, but his self-image as a free person is at war with his surroundings: Spartanburg, South Carolina, in the Reconstructed South. Exiled for his own survival as a teenager, Elijah walks west to the Nebraska plains and, like other rootless young African-American men of that era, joins the U.S. Cavalry.
The trajectory of Elijah's army career parallels the nation's imperial adventures in the late nineteenth century: subduing Native Americans in the West and quelling rebellion in the Philippines. Haunted by the terrors endured by black Americans and by his part in persecuting other people of color, Elijah is sustained only by visions, memories, prayers, and his questing spiritwhich ultimately finds a home when his troop is posted to guard the newly created Yosemite National Park in 1903. Here, living with little beyond mountain light, cold rivers, campfires, and stars, he becomes a man who owns himself completely, while knowing he's left pieces of himself scattered along his life's path like pebbles on a creekbed.
Elijah's narrative voicepoetic, rhythmically cadenced, ranging freely through timemakes this novel a literary meditation on finding a self and a spiritual home, while unveiling a little-known chapter of America's past.