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James Carlos Blake is a masterful chronicler of the restless, outcast, the lawless, and the lonelyheart. His previous novel, In the Rogue Blood, was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction. Now he has written a powerful and rousing historical saga of family loyalties, blood feuds, and betrayed friendships; of bank robberies and bootlegging; and of a passionate love as wild at heart as the Everglades. It is the story of sworn enemies: John Ashley, a criminal and folk hero, the brightest star in a ...
James Carlos Blake is a masterful chronicler of the restless, outcast, the lawless, and the lonelyheart. His previous novel, In the Rogue Blood, was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction. Now he has written a powerful and rousing historical saga of family loyalties, blood feuds, and betrayed friendships; of bank robberies and bootlegging; and of a passionate love as wild at heart as the Everglades. It is the story of sworn enemies: John Ashley, a criminal and folk hero, the brightest star in a family destined to become the most notorious in south Florida; and Bobby Baker, a lawman born of lawmen, a violent, hard-hearted man driven by the searing memory of past affronts and the enduring hatreds the engendered. Ashley and Maker will clash many times over many decades. And as the twentieth century encroaches on their world—and the wildlands give grudging way to the rising boomtown of Miami—a feral, sensual mating will place one man in gravest peril...while his adversary contrives a dark, personal vengeance that could leave countless lives—his own included—in ruin.
The boy poled the skiff along the winding sawgrass channel and heard now a faint chanting through the bird cries from the hardwood hammock just ahead. He knew it was the Indian come to meet him and that he was drunk and not alone. He let the pushpole trail alongside the skiff and considered his circumstance as the boat glided slowly through the sawgrass that stood higher than his head. His father always said a drunk Indian could be the easiest delivery in a day's work or the most troublesome, depending on the Indian. The boy knew this Indian for the troublesome sort. But if he shied from making the delivery just because you never knew what a drunk Indian might do his father would mock him for a nancy forever. He spat into the sawgrass and leaned into the pole and pushed the skiff ahead, feeling the comforting press of the revolver at his back where it was tucked in his waistband under his loose shirt.
His name was John Ashley and he was eighteen years old.
In the west the high enpurpling sky showed streaks of orange and reefs of red clouds flanking the lowering sun. To southeastward rose a high black column of boiler smoke where a dredge was digging a canal. This earlywinter's day had begun dry and almost cool but had since assumed a hint of unseasonable rain. The air was sweet with the smell of swampwater and vegetation, with the redolence of the approaching hammock's ripe earth under the canopy of magnolia and gumbo limbo trees. Even if there had been some elevated vantage point as near as fifty yards of him from which an observer might scan the vast encircling vista of sawgrass and scatteredhardwood hammocks and pine islands (and the only such vantage points were the tops of the hammock trees where at this hour the birds were coming to clamorous roost), the observer would not have spied either the channel or his movement through it, so high was the grass and so narrow the waterway and so smoothly did he navigate it. Only a circling fish hawk high overhead bore witness to his progress.
The Indians' chanting ceased as he poled into the shadowed green light under the heavy hardwood overhang and the sawgrass fell away and the canoe carried into the natural moat of copper-colored water that girt the hammock. The roosting birds were quieting now. Their droppings shook leaves on the lower branches, flashed whitely to the ground, poked ripples in the pool. The hammock rang with the croaking of frog colonies. He made toward a rough-sloped mudbank where the root vegetation had been hacked away to shape a landing for canoes.
He smelled the Indians before he caught sight of them in their baggy white shirts and black bowler hats on the higher ground in the darkness of the trees. Two of them. Sitting crosslegged and watching him and passing a jug between them. At the edge of the landing a single long dugout was tethered to a jutting root and now the scent of the otter skins piled within carried to him under the smell of the Indians. The water surface shattered lightly as a school of fingerlings broke away from a rushing bass.
He pulled hard on the pole and the prow bumped up onto the muddy landing and the skiffs abrupt halt shook the wooden cases nestled toward the bow and there was a clinking of jug on jug. The smaller of the Indians grinned whitely. Mosquitoes raged at the boy's ears. A gray haze of them quivered about the Indians' heads without settling on their skins. He spotted a shotgun propped against a tree behind the Indians but saw only knives on their belts.
"We been hearin you from a mile off," the bigger Indian said. His voice was wetly raw. "Been hearin you comin like a fucken steamboat."
John Ashley doubted that. This big one-whose name was DeSoto Tiger and who resold to other Indians in the deeper Glades most of the moonshine he bought from the boy's father-was said by some to be a good man who took after his daddy and his uncle, both of whom were chiefs in local Seminole tribes. But John Ashley knew him for a mean drunk and had for years heard terrible stories about him. He was said to have beaten a wife to death for infidelity and to have cut the dick off the man who put the horns on him. He was said to have drowned a Negro in a creek for trying to steal his traps. The boy's father had told him that most of those stories were lies DeSoto Tiger had himself concocted to keep other Indians in fear of him. But other white men believed the big Indian was every bit the bad actor his reputation held.
John Ashley had known him only to nod to until almost a year ago when he and his buddy had come on him one day at Blue's store on Lake Towhee and the Indian asked the boy if he wanted to go for alligator hides in the Okaloosa sloughs with him on shares. He said he wanted a white partner so he could get a better price for the hides on the New River trading dock and he'd heard the boy was a good enough skinner to go shares with. John Ashley had turned to his father who affected to study the clouds in the distance. He did not really want to work shares with the Indian but he wanted to show his father he was not afraid of DeSoto Tiger. He told the Indian he'd do it if he would agree to take no whiskey on the hunt. His daddy had smiled without looking their way and DeSoto Tiger laughed and said that was fine, he anyway never drank when he was working.
They'd gone south with a string of four empty dugouts and over the next fortnight killed gators through the nights and skinned the carcasses through the mornings and slept through the afternoons and did not talk much the whole time. They piled three of the dugouts high with hides and another with the tailmeat, which they could readily sell in the Negro parts of town. En route to the trading docks they came upon a whiskey peddler and the Indian bought a quart bottle. John Ashley gave him a look and the Indian said, "Hell, boy, the work's done...
Posted January 16, 2013
Posted May 24, 2003
I take it as a personal insult that you have seen fit to not show my readers review on the 'Red River Grass' I shall show my digust by shunning your snobby web site and dealing with firms that likes ever ones opinion not just a chosen few. Jack L. WILCHER Macon Ga
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Posted May 17, 2003
Having been raised in the Florida Everglades, this book was a very interesting work. I remember reading stories and books about the infamous Ashley Gang ,when I was in grade school.I had often wondered why some one had not written a modern account on this tale ,tho it may be part lies, fable, history, or the whole truth it makes for a tremendous read. once you start you cannot put it down.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.