Rifles for Watie

Rifles for Watie

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by Harold Keith

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Jeff Bussey walked briskly up the rutted wagon road toward Fort Leavenworth on his way to join the Union volunteers. It was 1861 in Linn County, Kansas, and Jeff was elated at the prospect of fighting for the North at last.

In the Indian country south of Kansas there was dread in the air; and the name, Stand Watie, was on every tongue. A hero to the rebel

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Jeff Bussey walked briskly up the rutted wagon road toward Fort Leavenworth on his way to join the Union volunteers. It was 1861 in Linn County, Kansas, and Jeff was elated at the prospect of fighting for the North at last.

In the Indian country south of Kansas there was dread in the air; and the name, Stand Watie, was on every tongue. A hero to the rebel, a devil to the Union man, Stand Watie led the Cherokee Indian Na-tion fearlessly and successfully on savage raids behind the Union lines. Jeff came to know the Watie men only too well.

He was probably the only soldier in the West to see the Civil War from both sides and live to tell about it. Amid the roar of cannon and the swish of flying grape, Jeff learned what it meant to fight in battle. He learned how it felt never to have enough to eat, to forage for his food or starve. He saw the green fields of Kansas and Okla-homa laid waste by Watie's raiding parties, homes gutted, precious corn deliberately uprooted. He marched endlessly across parched, hot land, through mud and slash-ing rain, always hungry, always dirty and dog-tired.And, Jeff, plain-spoken and honest, made friends and enemies. The friends were strong men like Noah Babbitt, the itinerant printer who once walked from Topeka to Galveston to see the magnolias in bloom; boys like Jimmy Lear, too young to carry a gun but old enough to give up his life at Cane Hill; ugly, big-eared Heifer, who made the best sourdough biscuits in the Choctaw country; and beautiful Lucy Washbourne, rebel to the marrow and proud of it. The enemies were men of an-other breed - hard-bitten Captain Clardy for one, a cruel officer with hatred for Jeff in his eyes and a darksecret on his soul.

This is a rich and sweeping novel-rich in its panorama of history; in its details so clear that the reader never doubts for a moment that he is there; in its dozens of different people, each one fully realized and wholly recognizable. It is a story of a lesser—known part of the Civil War, the Western campaign, a part different in its issues and its problems, and fought with a different savagery. Inexorably it moves to a dramatic climax, evoking a brilliant picture of a war and the men of both sides who fought in it.

Winner, 1958 Newbery Medal
Notable Children's Books of 1957 (ALA)
1964 Lewis Carroll Shelf Award

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Product Details

HarperCollins Children's Books
Publication date:
Age Range:
12 - 14 Years

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Chapter One

Linn County, Kansas, 1861

The mules strained forward strongly, hoofs stomping, harness jingling. The iron blade of the plow sang joyously as it ripped up the moist, black Kansas earth with a soft, crunching sound, turning it over in long, smooth, root-veined rectangles.

Leather lines tied together over his left shoulder and under his right arm, Jeff trudged along behind the plow, watching the fresh dirt cascade off the blade and remembering.

Remembering the terrible Kansas drouth of the year before when it hadn't rained for sixteen long months. The ground had broken open in great cracks, springs and wells went dry, and no green plant would grow except the curly buffalo grass which never failed. That drouth had been hard on everybody.

Jeff clutched the wooden plow handles and thought about it. He recalled how starved he had been for wheat bread, and how his longing for it grew so acute that on Sundays he found excuse to visit neighbor after neighbor in hopes of being invited to share a pan of hot biscuits, only to discover that they, too, took their corn bread three times a day.

A drop of perspiration trickled down his tan, dusty face. It was a pleasant face with a wide, generous mouth, a deep dimple in the chin, and quick brown eyes that crinkled with good humor. The sweat droplets ran uncomfortably into the corner of his mouth, tasting salty and warm.

But now the drouth was broken. After plenty of snow and rain, the new land was blooming again. Even his mother was learning to accept Kansas. Edith Bussey had lived all her life in Kentucky, with its gently rolling hills, its seas ofbluegrass, its stone fences festooned with honeysuckle, and its stately homes with their tall white columns towering into the drowsy air. No wonder she found the new Kansas country hard to like.

She had called Kansas an erratic land. Jeff remembered she had said it was like a child, happy and laughing one minute, hateful and contrary the next. A land famous for its cyclones, blizzards, grasshoppers, mortgages, and its violently opposed political cliques.

Jeff ducked his head and wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his homespun shirt, never taking his eyes off the mules. He would never forget the scores of covered wagons he had seen, during the drouth last fall, on the Marais des Cygnes road that went past his father's farm as one-third of the hundred thousand people living in Kansas Territory gave up, abandoning their claims and heading back to their wives' folks.

Curious, he had leaned on his father's corral fence of peeled cottonwood logs and asked some of them where they were going.

"Back to Ellinoy," or "Back to Injeany," they replied in their whining, singsong voices. "Don' wanta starve to death here,

Although Jeff had felt sorry for them and their families, his father, a veteran of the Mexican War, was disgusted with their faint-heartedness. Emory Bussey believed that in one respect the drouth had been a blessing to the new state.

"We got rid of the chronic croakers who never could see good in anything," he maintained. Emory was a Free State man in the raging guerilla warfare over slavery that had divided people on the Kansas-Missouri border into free and slave factions. It was a political dispute that was far more serious than the drouth.

Jeff yelled at the mules and whistled piercingly between his teeth to keep them going. He liked the new Kansas country. He meant not only to live and work in it but also to go to college in it. His father had told him that the first Kansas constitution, made in 1855, contained a provision saying that "The General Assembly may take measures for the establishment of a university." Jeff wondered if the drouth would delay its coming. At the end of the row he halted the mules.

He took off his hat to cool his brown head. His mother had made the hat from wheat straw she had platted with her own hands at night, shaping the crown to his head and lining it inside with cloth to keep it from being scratchy. While Jeff stood bareheaded, enjoying the warm breeze blowing through his hair, his dog Ring trotted up, panting, and nudged Jeff's leg affectionately.

Jeff reached down and pulled Ring's ears, and the big gray dog's plumed tail waved in slow half-circles of delight. Ring was half shepherd and half greyhound. He had big shoulder muscles and a white ring around his neck. Although the dog weighed almost ninety pounds now, Jeff recalled how six years ago he had brought him home in his coat pocket. His father and mother hadn't wanted him to have the dog; they already had a collie and a feist. But Jeff begged so hard that they relented on condition that he keep the animal at the barn.

However, that first night Jeff had heard the pup crying lonesomely for its mother. He slipped out of bed in the dark, walked to the barn, and brought the pup back to his bedroom. The next morning his father and mother discovered the dog in bed with him. When they scolded him, Jeff hung his head and took his reprimand without speaking. Now he and Ring were such good friends that Jeff couldn't wrestle' with the other boys at, the three-months district school without Ring taking his part.

He put his hands back on the plow handles and looked around, smelling the freshly turned sod. The morning was alive with a soft stirring and a dewy crispness. Jeff heard the sharp, friendly whistle of a quail from the waving bluestem beyond the plowed space, and from somewhere in the warm south wind his nostrils caught the wild, intoxicating whiff of sand-plum blossoms. But the boy felt strangely out of tune with the beauty and freshness of the morning.

His mind was filled with a restlessness and a yearning. At breakfast his father had told him that six Southern states had seceded from the Union and that a war would probably be fought between the North and the South, a big war that might easily spread to Kansas.

Rifles for Watie. Copyright © by Harold Keith. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Rifles for Watie 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 73 reviews.
bru888 More than 1 year ago
This is the book that began my lifelong interest in history. Why it is not available as a Nook Book is somewhat puzzling. Along with "Johnny Tremain," which also won John Newbery Medal and IS available as a Nook Book, "Rifles for Watie" is a book that I hope to interest my grandson in (unfortunately, my own kids never took an interest in history). To that end, I just purchased it for the third time in my life.
Pentax_Pastor More than 1 year ago
I read this book shortly after it came out when I was in the 7th grade. I loved it then and have since purchased it for my own library. I even read it to my children when they were young and they loved it too. Wonderful story and told in an extremely entertaining and fascinating way. Superb book about a significant period of American history and told from a very different perspective than most other books about the American Civil War.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book ,I thought, was very boring in the beginning but got more exciting later in the end and middle!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Rifles for Watie", in my opinion, is the best book ever written. At the beginning of the story the main character, Jeff Bussey, is on his way to sign up for the union army. He thinks he is going to get glory and fame, but he has no idea what he is in for. The war actually makes him stronger because he has to think on his toes constantly, forage for food, and watch his new friends die from war. He is sent to the confederate army as a union spy. He did not expect to make friends with the rebels, but he finds out that the whole war is basically just normal people fighting about their opinions. While with the the confederate army, Jeff falls in love with a southern girl named Lucy Washbourne. This isn't your typical war book. It is sort of an action/ romance novella in a civil war setting. Harold Keith, the author, did a great job of telling about the Civil War from both sides. He captured a good idea of what would've been going through the soldier's heads. I admit that I was lost once or twice throughout the story, but I was never lost for long. Harold Keith did very well when it came to making sure the readers don't get bored. It is one of those books that are hard to put down. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the all time great books. Not "just another Civil War" book. Truly shows how complex this conflict really was. The best way I have found to show people that there were no "good guys" and "bad guys" in the Civil War. Truly makes the point that it was not black and white!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an extremely excellent book to read for all ages. I personally dislike historical books, but after reading this book it has definitely changed my output on historical books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book! Even though I mostly read books of the fantasy genre, when I started reading Rifles for Watie I couldn't put it down!! This book is a must read for all ages! My friend and I both agree it should be made into a movie....
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book talks about a young man going through war and how he perceives everything around him. I have never been good with understanding history which did not help when reading this book. I would highly recommend having a good amount of knowledge of the Civil War before reading this book. Although I did find it an interesting read when I read the parts about their day to day lives. I would also suggest reading the author's comments about the story in the back of book afterward. I would recommend this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved the adventure in this book. The best part of the book is when Jeff is escaping from the Confederate Army.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book back in Junior High, but unto this very day I still remember Rifles for Watie. I my own opinion this book is a classic.
Guest More than 1 year ago
rifles for watie is a historical book. I personally do not care for these types of books but since it was adventureous it was kind of enjoying. i recommend it to any body who enjoys the civil war.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great book. I loved every page and couldn't put it down until I was finished. It has the old Disney theme to it. If you are good and honest then good things will happen to you. This book is also uplifting in the attatude toward people. There are good people out there no matter what side they are fighting on. The world doesn't always have to be the dark horrible place that we often think it to be.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought that Rifles for Watie was an interesting mix between adventure and a little bit of a love story. Thankfully, the adventure overshadowed the love part. I thought it had good historical accuracy and was a very good book. I think that it was very deserving of the Newbery Medal.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great book! If you have to read a war novel for an English class this is the one for you!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
i think that the book Rifles for Watie is an okay book. I am almost done with it. My english teacher told us to read it. It's not the best book, but if you like reading about histrical stuff, this is the book for you! I'm not saying this book is bad, I am just saying that I personally don't like it a lot.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was a very desctiptive and an interesting book... i've read it twice and want to read it again... no wonder it won an award!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Praise to Harold Keith for including extraordinary depth within his literature. This novel was not just a story line, but a explanation of the main character, Jefferson Davis Bussey, and his personality. Keith continued throughout the story to have Jeff's decisions be consistent with his personality which lead the reader to experience everything Jeff was going through, and that, is what truly makes a great novel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! I read it at school, and even though most books you read at school get boring, this one didn't. It is definitely one of the best books I've ever read, and I read A LOT, so that's saying something. Amazing. I would recommend it to anyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My fourth grade teacher read it to the class back in 1967. I've never forgotten it. What a wonderful book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I recently read the outstanding book by Harold Keith, called 'Rifles for Watie.' This book was an historical fiction phenomenon. This book received every bit of the 5 stars for its remarkable plot, description and intensity. I live in a North Carolina and I am a middle school student who loves to play soccer and talk with friends. 'Rifles for Watie' is superior story centered around the Civil War. Jefferson Davis Bussey, the main character, is a courageous farm boy whose only dream is to support the North by joining the Union. Harold Keith's descriptions of the war practically put you inside a soldier's boots. Jeff met some very trustful friends and enemies through his adventures with the Union. The plot of 'Rifles for Watie' was mainly about the story of how Jeff coped with all of the adversities of war. Throughout the war, Jeff had to cope with death of friends, homesickness, and being yelled at by a sergeant with personal issues. Keith describes Jeff's emotions and feelings so well, you can compare Jeff's thoughts and actions to how you would react in his situation. I would highly recommend this book to historical fiction readers and people who have an interest in wars. I would also recommend these titles: 'All Quiet on the Western Front, Watership Down, The Swiss Family Robinson, and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book rules! i had to read it for a book report and i just kept on reading and was done in like 3 days. The book makes you feel like you sre right with Jeff and his friends in the civil war action! the author makes the book come alive for all the readers! read it and see what i mean
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had to read this book for a civil war project. At first it seemed really boring but I ended up liking it! It's an ok book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
one of the best books i read
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I first started reading this book I just couldn't put it down. So I would suggest this book to anyone who asks for a good book. So if you want a good book to read pick up a copy of rifles for watie and find a comfortable spot where you can be alone and Just Read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book! I had to chose a book about the Civil War for a book report in fifth grade. I hadn't really read a lot about the Civil War before I read this book but I had learned some about the war in school. A lot of the reviews said it was boring but I decided to read it anyway. I was expecting it to be somewhat boring!! I am so glad I picked it up and read it!! It was very informative and from what I had learned accurate as well.