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Incident at Hawk’s Hill
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Incident at Hawk’s Hill opens in 1870, on Hawk’s Hill, the farm of William and Esther MacDonald, set in the Canadian prairies about twenty miles north of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The MacDonalds have four children. The fourth child, six-year-old Ben, is “the greatest problem of the MacDonald family”. Highly intelligent but mute around most people, Ben especially loves his older brother John and mother, Esther. He feels more comfortable with the wild animals on the farm than with most people. The MacDonalds’ new neighbor is George Burton, a thief and bully who is always accompanied by his mean dog, Lobo. In the vicinity is a huge, pregnant female badger, which is preparing tunnels and a den in a rock outcropping, before the birth of her offspring.
One day, Ben follows a prairie chicken and becomes lost away from home. He shelters in a rocky area, where he encounters the badger sow. She is hiding after being injured in one of Burton’s traps. While she was trapped, her babies died for lack of food. She begins to bring food to Ben, and he begins imitating her movement and sounds. He starts to sleep by day and follow her hunting at night. One night when the dog Lobo attacks the badger, Ben bites the dog, distracting it, and the badger kills it. Despite the badger’s attempts to feed Ben, he begins to fade from starvation.
The search for Ben lasts two months. All but his family believe that the boy likely drowned in the nearby Red River. But Ben’s father vows never to stop looking, and the entire family hunts for the boy daily. John finally discovers Ben among the rocks; when he reaches toward him, Ben reacts like a wild animal, growling and biting. John subdues Ben and takes him home.
The mother badger follows, and eventually becomes uneasily accepted by the family as Ben’s protector. As Ben begins to talk about his experiences, he becomes more comfortable with people. He even looks forward to going to school. But as Burton comes to their homestead, he sees the family badger. Thinking he’s doing the right thing he shoots the badger injuring it badly. A show-down between his father and George Burton over the badger finally unites Ben and his father. Ben’s adventure is re-interpreted by local whites as a parable of God’s care for the lost, and by the First Nations as a tale bringing honor to their chief.
Little, Brown and Company
Allan W. Eckert