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Sixteen-year-old Jeff, a Union scout behind Confederate lines in Indian country, realizes he must either escape—or join—the enemy he admires.
Sixteen-year-old Jeff, a Union scout behind Confederate lines in Indian country, realizes he must either escape—or join—the enemy he admires.
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.
Posted April 25, 2014
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.
Posted February 22, 2012
Posted September 28, 2010
"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!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 22, 2009
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!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 8, 2007
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 8, 2006
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 3, 2006
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....Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 21, 2005
Posted October 4, 2005
Posted July 15, 2005
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 30, 2005
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 20, 2005
Posted February 24, 2005
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 11, 2004
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 21, 2004
Posted August 21, 2004
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 20, 2004
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 2, 2004
Posted February 8, 2004
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 13, 2004
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 meanWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.