Now, this section starts with a good example of how skewed Cope’s priorities. While their first site was good for finding bones, the water was awful. You would think that that would be one of the group’s priorities, making sure that they have access to the thing they would die the quickest without. But then again, I’m no paleontologist, what do I know?
After a long period of working in relative isolation, Johnson realizes that they are being followed. At first, they have no idea who could be following them. There are no animals for fur traders to trap. Buffalo hunters would stay off of Sioux land. However, they get sidetracked from figuring out who else is around when they realize that the spring that they have been drawing water from is tainted. Little Wind identifies a plant that can cause extreme illness, if not death. Johnson and Little Wind, realizing that there was a real possibility of the plants being put there deliberately, decide to find their pursuers. Eventually, they find the others, and who else would they be but Marsh and his students.
Now, this is another plot thread that kind of tapers off without a really satisfying end. Crichton pretty clearly implies that Marsh and his group sabotaged the water source for Cope’s expedition. But Johnson just seems to forget about this attempt on their lives, when he meets up with them later. As much of a justified grudge as Johnson seems to hold towards Marsh, he seems to forget what I would consider to be Marsh’s greatest crime. Now, then again, Johnson certainly went through a lot in between then and when they finally meet again later.
When Johnson and Little Wind tell Cope that Marsh has been in the area and poisoning their water, he invites Marsh to dinner. Now, at first, that seems like a really weird decision. But then, Cope creates a fake skeleton from incomplete parts that they had excavated. Marsh doesn’t fall for this ruse forever, but it’s satisfying for Cope nonetheless. During dinner, Cope and Marsh passive-aggressively jab at each other. Once again, Johnson wishes things got a bit more dramatic (i.e. violent.). It seems that he would change his perspective later on, but he still has that bloodthirsty streak.
One interesting point is that a lot of characters recognize the immorality of invading and stealing native land. Not only that, but the commentary on the war that journalists on the East Coast write rightly annoys the people that are actually fighting the war. Rightly so, I might add. Regardless of an individual’s opinion on the morality of the war, it never feels good to be lectured at by someone that isn’t even there. That’s one of the things I really enjoy about Dragon Teeth, the acknowledgement of the immense complexity of relationships with native people as the United States moved onto their land. While it’s certainly not something that Americans should look back on with pride, it’s worth looking into the gruesome details about that period of history. I’m glad that Crichton’s take on the western genre was more nuanced than the genre might require.