"I hope Kentucky stays neutral because I truly don't know what side to take."
At the beginning of the Civil War, Kentucky hasn't sided with the North or the South, but it seems that in Branson Mills everyone has taken sides ... except for Joseph Byers.
He knows that slavery is wronghe sees firsthand how his friend Hannah is mistreated because of the color of her skin. Yet at the same time he recognizes how much trouble speaking out against slavery can cause. His stepfather's abolitionist actions have put the whole family in danger of the vigilante violence that is sweeping the town.
Although Joseph admires his stepfather's bravery, he is afraid to stand up for what he has come to believe. But when the violence escalates, he is forced to take action. In this gripping adventure, Joseph reaches for his own courage to try to save the lives of the people he cares about.
About the Author
Bonnie Pryor thoroughly researched important periods of American history for each of her American Adventures. For Luke on the High Seas, she delved into seafaring in the nineteenth century so that the details of Luke Reed's journey would be accurate. She lives in Gambier, Ohio. In Her Own Words...
"I grew up in Spokane, Washington, the middle child in a family of three girls. Books were a part of my life from as far back as I can remember. I was often in trouble for reading at the wrong time. I would be caught reading under the dining room table when I was supposed to be dusting, or reading under the covers by flashlight late at night-even hiding a novel inside my textbooks at school.
"Not everyone thought I read too much. I remember a school librarian who saved all the new books for me to read first, and on several occasions she gave me presents of books. Perhaps she felt she should because I had read every single thing in her library!
"I was very shy, and, like Robert in The Plum Tree War, I spent a lot of my time hanging from my knees from a favorite plum tree, telling myself stories. Of course since I was raised in the West these stories were usually about wild horses and cowboys, and I was always the heroine who came to the rescue. The stories were long and involved, sometimes going on for days. I was always impatient to get to my tree each day so I could find out what was going to happen next, but I was too lazy to write the stories down.
"I think everyone expected me to become a writer, but it took me twenty years and a gentle nudge from my husband, Robert, to build up the courage to try. In the meantime I moved to Ohio, worked at a variety of jobs, and raised a family. I have four grown children, eight grandchildren, and two daughters still at home-Jenny and Chrissy. Many of my books are loosely based upon incidents in my children's lives, and they often appear as characters, in personality if not by name.
"My family recently moved to the country. When I'm not writing and visiting schools, we're busy building barns and fences and laying out flower beds. In addition, we all take part in caring for the four newcomers to our home: three horses and a bunny!"
Bert Dodson is the well-known illustrator of many books for young readers about the American past, most recently Grandpa Was a Cowboy, by Silky Sullivan (Orchard Books), and Buffalo Thunder, by Patricia Wittman (Marshall Cavendish).He lives in Bradford, Vermont.
Read an Excerpt
Joseph held the lantern high, but the underground cavern was so huge that the light barely penetrated the darkness. "Look at this!" he exclaimed to his two companions.
The nearest cave wall sparkled with thousands of crystals, like a fairy-tale castle from a book Joseph's mother had read to him when he was younger. All it needed was a princess. Or an ogre, Joseph thought with a little shiver as he stared into the darkness a few feet away.
"A discovery like this could make thee famous," David said. "Thou should share this with others."
David's family were Quakers. They were hardworking people who lived simple, quiet lives.Joseph was used to his friend's quaint speech, but it still made him smile. He knew David was right about the cave. Nevertheless, he was reluctant to share the discovery with anyone but his friends. Sheriff Underwood already knew about the big front cavern they used as a meeting place. A slave catcher had fallen to his death in a small tunnel leading off to one side. That tunnel had been sealed off. But bit by bit Joseph and his friends had dis
covered other passageways and explored them all. Some of the tunnels led nowhere, tapering off so narrowly that they couldn't be squeezed through. others simply stopped at a solid wall. But this time the passageway had led to a huge room, big enough, from the look of it, to hold everyone in Branson Mills.
Zachary was squatting at the edge of an underground stream. His hand shot out, and he held up his prize to the light. "It's a lizard," he said. "Look, it doesn't have any eyes."
The boys gathered around the light. The lizard wiggled helplessly in Zachary's grip. It was a milky-whitecolor, and as Zachary had said, the creature did not have eyes.
"There's another one!" Joseph exclaimed. "It doesn't have eyes either. I guess, living in the dark all the time, they don't need eyes."
"We'd better go," Zachary said, reluctantly releasing the lizard. Blind or not, it wriggled instinctively under a damp rock, where it remained motionless, hiding. "Pa has a big order for flour to be shipped to the army down in Tennessee. There will be trouble if I'm not there to help load the wagons."
Joseph and David stood up to leave immediately. Zachary's father owned the old mill that had given the town its name. He was a hard, cruel man. Although Zachary seldom spoke of it, he was often bruised from Mr. Young's temper.
Joseph sighed. Even here in the quiet coolness of the cave he couldn't escape the coming war between the states. There hadn't been much fighting since Fort Sumter had fallen in April, but now it was June, and both the Union and the Confederacy were training huge numbers of men. So far Kentucky had managed to stay neutral, but it was in a dangerous position between the southern
states that wanted to leave the Union and the
northern states determined to stop them. The tension was high as everyone waited for the fighting to start. In town, friends looked at one another with suspicion. It was too bad everyone could riot
be Quakers, like David's family, Joseph thought. The Quakers believed it was wrong to fight. In Branson Mills, however, some people seemed eager for the fighting to start. Most of the townsfolk took the Confederate side, but a few men and boys bad gone North to join the federal army training near the nation's capital.
"I must go too," David said. "My parents have
planted a very large garden this spring. They are afraid there will be food shortages this Winter. It looks like I will be spending all summer weeding and hoeing."
"Mr. Byers did the same thing," Joseph said glumly. "I hate hoeing weeds."
"Do thou still not call Mr. Byers Father?" David asked. Joseph shook his head. "My stepfather and I get along pretty well now," he said, "especially after we helped those two runaway slaves escape. But I can't
make myself call him anything but Mr. Byers. Even my mother calls him that."
David chuckled. "The only time my mother does that is when she is unhappy. "'Mr. Baker' "-he imitated her-" 'are thou going to stay in bed all day?'"
David did sound uncannily like his mother. The other two laughed; then, holding the lamp, Zachary led the way. Joseph and David followed close behind him, trying to stay in the faint circle of light. The big cavern at the front of the cave was their meeting place. They had made it cozy with crates for chairs and a table, lanterns, and even an old rag rug. The entrance was here. it opened onto a steep part of the riverbank. Joseph had discovered it a few months ago when a storm blew down a tree. The brush in front of it kept the entrance nearly invisible.
Joseph neatly stacked the lantern and ropes on a ledge by the entrance. Zachary pushed aside some of the brush, checking to see if anyone was close by. "All clear," he announced. Then he held up a hand. "Wait. There are some men working on the railroad bridge."Joseph peered out where Zachary pointed. The town of Branson Mills was around the bend of the river and hidden by tall trees along the riverbank. Even though it was on the same side of the river, the only thing visible from where he stood was the highest church steeple.
People and wagons crossed the river on a bridge at the end of the town's main street. But far grander was the railroad bridge that was a short distance from the cave. From the bridge, the tracks followed River Street to the station at the edge of town.
Although the river was not very wide, the banks on either side were steep. Joseph could see two men underneath the trestle. "What are they doing?" he asked.
in reply Zachary put his finger to his lips and scrunched down to get a better look without being seen. I don't know, but they are acting mighty suspicious," he whispered.
Zachary was always ready to turn things into an adventure, but in this case Joseph had to agree. The men were not working with saws and hammers, as one would expect on a wooden trestle. They kept bent over in a way that hid whatever they were doing. Every now and then one of them stood up and looked around as though to check that they had not been discovered. Neither man noticed the boys hidden in the cave entrance.
Table of Contents
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