THE AMERICAN WEST (mostly): Fact and Fiction (mostly fiction)

"NOBODY GETS TO BE A COWBOY FOREVER." -- Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) in MONTE WALSH (NG, 1970)

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

ELKHORN TAVERN (1980) by Douglas C. Jones

"The characters are unforgettable, the atmosphere wonderfully detailed, the action and suspense skillfully maintained." -- Dee Brown, author of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee 

Beginning with this book, Jones launched what would become a series of novels recounting the lives of the fictional Hasford-Pay families.  The major theme that runs through them is a sense of family loyalty and solidity, especially during times of stress and social change.  And what could be more stressful or cause more social change than the Civil War, especially if a major battle were fought in your very neighborhood?

It is 1862 and Martin Hasford is away from his home and family serving in the Confederate army in Virginia and Tennessee. Left at home in the Ozark hills of northeastern Arkansas is his wife Ora who must protect their few animals and possessions, but more important, their two teen-aged children, Calpurnia and Roman.

Among her many burdens is the necessity of fending off the depredations of roving bands of Jayhawkers and bushwhackers who are roaming freely around the countryside while indiscriminately stealing for their personal gain.

If that isn't enough, the battle of Pea Ridge, also known as the battle of Elkhorn Tavern, erupts on and around the Hasford farm.  Even though the family sympathizes with the Confederacy, Ora provides shelter for a young Yankee officer, Alan Eben Pay, who has been seriously wounded. Much to the dismay of Roman, it soon becomes evident that his sister is attracted to Allan and that the feeling is mutual.

It is also a coming-of-age story for young Roman, who, as the story progresses, takes on more and more of the responsibilities of the man of the house.

Modern day view looking from Pea Ridge toward a field where ferocious fighting occurred during the battle of Pea Ridge (Elkhorn Tavern)

A major portion of the battle was fought around Elkhorn Tavern, which served as a hospital during and after the battle.  If you look closely at the roof of the reconstructed building you can see the basis for the name of the tavern

"Douglas Jones brings two gigantic themes in American literature together -- the raw struggle for survival on the American frontier and the grand martial conflict of the American Civil War -- and he successfully weaves them into one seamless story." -- Jack Trammel, Civil War Book Review

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