Overmountain Men

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The first volume in The Tennessee Frontier Trilogy, The Overmountain Men traces the settlement of the Tennessee frontier in pre — Revolutionary War America. A fascinating story and an inspiring record of the courage of the colonists.

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The Overmountain Men

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The first volume in The Tennessee Frontier Trilogy, The Overmountain Men traces the settlement of the Tennessee frontier in pre — Revolutionary War America. A fascinating story and an inspiring record of the courage of the colonists.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781581820973
  • Publisher: Turner Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 4/28/2000
  • Series: Tennessee Frontier Trilogy Series
  • Pages: 410
  • Sales rank: 696,621
  • Product dimensions: 6.01 (w) x 9.02 (h) x 1.31 (d)

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The Overmountain Men

A Novel of the Tennessee Frontier: 1757â?"1777

By Cameron Judd


Copyright © 1991 Cameron Judd
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-3088-8


Three years and seven months before Joshua Byrum gave the Roman coin to John Hawk, his life was still being lived far from the land of the Overhill Cherokees, and of their ways he had known nothing but what his father told him on his periodic visits home. And little enough that was; Jackson Bartholomew Byrum had no real affection for the Indians from whom he gouged his livelihood and talked only briefly of them.

Byrum's homecomings to the little clapboard house outside Charles Town, South Carolina, inevitably brought a mixture of blessing and tension to Joshua and his mother, Hester Byrum. For Hester in particular they were stressful times, for Byrum's habit was to get drunk and then make up for months without access to his wife's physical charms. Hester endured his rough, loveless molestations patiently and silently, even though she knew it was likely that Byrum was an unfaithful husband. He probably kept company with a Cherokee woman back across the mountains, the habit of many traders. She never asked him about it and would not as long as he came home with money in hand, for on that money and what food she could raise she and Joshua depended for life. As long as Jack Byrum provided sustenance, Hester would ask no more of him.

And her husband's visits, though trying, were after all brief enough to be endurable. After only a few weeks, sometimes just a few days, Byrum would be gone, heading back to the wilderness beyond the mountains, trailing behind him another string of packhorses laden with cheap trade rifles, beads, blankets, ammunition, knives, cloth, mirrors, kettles, and vermilion paint. Hester would watch him go, then kneel and kiss her son. "We have money and all is well," she would say. "We are together again, alone, and that is as it should be."

But one morning Jack Byrum rode home again, and matters were different from then on.

Joshua was the first to see him return. At age seven, the boy was already showing clear evidence of a special affinity for life outdoors. From dawn until Hester called him in after dark, Joshua spent most of his time outside the clapboard cabin, exploring the creek, the fields behind the farmstead, the weed-grown picket-fencerows, and the little cave out of which the spring bubbled. From time to time when he thought of it, he would lift his eyes toward the place where the road emerged between two low hills west of the farmstead and look for the approaching form of his father. Byrum's homecomings followed no obvious schedule and could come as often as three times or as few as one time a year.

Usually Joshua saw nothing but empty road between those hills, or some local rider, wagoner, or pedestrian. On this morning of Thursday, March 19, 1757, however, Joshua saw an approaching horseman that he recognized at once, despite the distance, and a second rider as well. For a full minute he stared, then turned and ran into the house. "He's coming, Mother! And there's another man with him!"

Hester put down the smock she was stitching and without a word followed her son outside. There was no need to ask to whom "he" referred. She stood in the front yard, her arm over Joshua's shoulder, and silently watched as Byrum rode through the crumbling picket gate. Her eyes trailed up and down the hefty length of her husband, then shifted suspiciously to the hulking slump-shouldered man with him.

Byrum nodded at his wife before he dismounted. "Hester," he said. Glancing down to Joshua, he said, "Hello, boy. Getting bigger all the time."

"I know how to set a rabbit snare," Joshua said, unveiling his latest accomplishment in hopes of praise.

Byrum did not listen. Dismounting, he waved back toward the big man with him. The latter had a full black beard, the bottom of which dusted his broad chest, the top growing out of his cheeks halfway up to his eyes, making him appear masked. "This is Henry Dorey, from North Carolina," Byrum said. "Him and me is partners together on a special job, and I've come from Fort Prince George to get you and Joshua. Henry, he came along with me for company."

"Get us? Why?" Hester asked.

Byrum led his horse to a rainwater rivulet, still filled from a dawn downpour. "I'm taking you and Joshua back with me," he said. "From now on, we'll be together. That's good, eh?"

Hester said nothing. Joshua, not sure whether to be excited or horrified by what he had just heard, looked up to his mother for guidance. She did not look back at him but stared wordlessly across at the western horizon. Henry Dorey was only now dismounting.

"It looks like another rain will blow in," she said at last. "Joshua, you help your father and Mr. Dorey see to their horses." She turned and walked back inside the house, having not yet kissed or even touched her husband.

Jack Byrum put on an expression Joshua could not read and watched her depart, then reached down distractedly to tousle his son's thick nut-brown hair. "You big enough to lead this horse into the barn, boy? Good ... water it some more and feed it some. I'm going to go in and talk to your mother."

Joshua felt proud to have been given an important job but a little frightened to be left alone, even for a few moments, with the stranger Henry Dorey. He watched the big North Carolinian from the corner of his eye. Dorey looked down at him, and the black beard parted along the line of his mouth as he grinned. Dorey's teeth were yellow and crooked, worn down like those of an ancient dog.

"Think you'll like living among the bloody Cherokee, boy?" He dropped the reins of his horse and let the animal wander away from him to a patch of new grass that it immediately began to crop.

Joshua mumbled a meaningless answer and led the horse across the dirt lot toward the barn while Dorey filled and lit a long clay pipe he had pulled from beneath the matchcoat that draped his shoulders. When Joshua came out of the barn, he was shocked to see that Dorey was emptying his bladder against the side of the house. He turned and grinned at Joshua as he did so, sending smoke out between his ripe-corn teeth. Joshua felt a great burst of disgust but didn't let it show. He had learned long ago to hide his feelings when his father was home.

"That makes a man feel better," Dorey said. "Put up my horse too, won't you, boy?" Rehitching his French fly trousers, Dorey walked around the front of the house. Joshua heard him stomp the mud from his feet onto the porch, then swing open and slam the door. Adult voices murmured inside; Dorey laughed at something Byrum said.

Joshua took Dorey's horse to the barn and did not come out again for a long time, even after he had finished tending the animal. Instead he walked to the open west door of the barn and looked out, staring at the horizon as his mother had, wondering what lay beyond it as he fingered the Roman coin hanging on the cord around his neck.

Jack Byrum took a long swallow of buttermilk and wiped the remainders of it from his beard onto a sleeve already thick with the residue of prior swipes. A tallow lamp sent pale, weak light across the slab table, which was spread with the remnants of a salt pork and hominy supper. Byrum resumed talking as Hester and Joshua listened silently and Henry Dorey picked scraps of meat from between his teeth. He had hardly spoken at all throughout the evening, but he had stared openly at Hester in a way that made Joshua feel defensive toward his mother.

"They're building a big diamond-shaped stockade and calling it Fort Loudoun, after the earl of Loudoun," Byrum said. "He's the new commander of all the British soldiers in the colonies, or some such. The Cherokees, they're happy as dogs in horsemeat to finally have a real fort there among them, and real soldiers. I'm happy about it too. Some of those red sods have been talking to the French on the sneak, trying to set up trade with them. We let that happen, and we're finished. The fort will go a long way to keep us and the Cherokees doing good friendly business.

"You'll like it there, Hester, don't you worry. The place is crawling with folks besides the Cherokees—South Carolina provincials doing most of the building and the British regulars keeping it all supervised. Unakas, the Cherokees call the white folk. A lot of the soldiers are bringing their families in, so there's other white women, plus all the Cherokee womenfolk.

"The man in charge is named Demere, Captain Raymond Demere. Regular British and a soldier all the way. He put up with a lot from the man who designed the fort—a German, name of DeBrahm. Demere called him a madman to his face one time, and he's right. Demere and him argued all the time—it got so bad that DeBrahm moved out to one of the Cherokee towns and give out his orders from there. But things are better now. DeBrahm is gone. He run off this past Christmas. The big chief Old Hop took to calling him Warrior Who Ran Away in the Night."

Joshua asked, "Is it DeBrahm who hired you to bring the cannon to the fort?"

"No, that's Demere. Hell, DeBrahm didn't even want cannon in the place! But Demere's ready to pay me and Henry good wages to haul several in from Fort Prince George, though I don't believe he thinks we can really do it. And it's going to be a devil of a job, that's God's truth. The damned things weigh three hundred pounds and upward apiece, and there's no way to get a wagon through those mountains. But Henry and me and a string of good packhorses could move them mountains themselves if the money was good enough."

Hester spoke for the first time in an hour. "Why must you take me and Joshua with you? Why can't we stay where we are?"

Byrum's expression made it clear the question was not well taken. "You don't think a family should be together, Hester?"

"You've never thought so before now."

Byrum's face flushed so that it was evident, even in the feeble lamplight. "This is naught that we should be talking about before a guest, Hester. I'll charge you to keep your mouth shut about such matters."

Hester looked down at her plate. Joshua felt vaguely sick to his stomach.

Byrum smiled at his son, seeking to relieve the tense atmosphere. "You think you'd like to be raised among the redskins, boy?"

Joshua glanced at his mother, then nodded, fearing to do anything else. But there was more than forced agreement in his answer. The truth was that the idea of traveling across the distant mountains and away from this port-city area he had always known did have much appeal. Joshua knew little about Indians except that they were reputed to be the finest of woodsmen and hunters, and that was exactly what he hoped to be someday. To live among the Overhill Cherokees would mean exposure to their knowledge and skills, and probably, when he was older, access to their rich hunting grounds.

"See there, Hester? Joshua wants to go," Byrum said, and Hester nodded compliantly.

That night, before retiring to the barn—for he had given up his bed to Henry Dorey—Joshua found his mother alone behind the house. He crept up to her so silently that she was startled when he touched her arm.

"Jack, please—can't you allow me even a moment's peace?" She looked surprised, pleasantly, when she saw it was Joshua.

Joshua said, "Don't worry about going over the mountains, Mother. I'll be with you."

"Aye, and that's the one comfort to me," she said. "You're God's blessing in a life that's had few of them." She knelt so her face was level with Joshua's and smiled at him. "Only seven years old and already so much a little man, ready to go into the wilderness. What a brave son I have!"

"Why don't you want to go, Mother? Haven't you ever wondered what might be there?"

"I know what's there—wilderness and heathens who strip the hair from those they murder. The land across the mountains will be the death of me, if I go."

Joshua was chilled. "Don't talk so, Mother!"

Tears pooled in her eyes. "Forgive me for it, but I can talk no other way. The wilderness is a fearful place for me. I should never have married a man as drawn to it as Jack Byrum is." She stood, drying her tears, and took a deep breath. "But marry Jack Byrum I did, and go with him I shall, though I know as well as I know my own name that I shall not return. Now, be off to bed. The morning will come early."

That night Joshua lay awake a long time, thrilled at the thought of the adventure before him but afraid because of the grim way his mother had spoken. At last he went to sleep, nestling down in his blankets in the barn loft, listening to mice scampering in the straw.

After that night, Joshua seldom saw his mother shed tears about the change that had come sweeping into their lives. She became ever more resigned and quiet. Even when Jack Byrum went into Charles Town and sold the farmstead, Hester kept her emotions masked. When the family, along with Henry Dorey, rode away from their South Carolina home for the last time, Hester did not even look back.

The journey across to Fort Prince George, built four years earlier as South Carolina's westernmost outpost, was uneventful and finally dull, despite Joshua's initial eagerness. The negative impression made upon Joshua by Henry Dorey did not mellow with time, and the boy stayed close to his mother, feeling instinctively that the ever-staring Dorey was a threat.

Arrival at Fort Prince George itself was a time of excitement and welcome respite from long and uninterrupted travel. Even Hester seemed revitalized. But Byrum and Dorey grew more somber and intense after reaching the fort, for here their real job began, and they knew far better than Hester or Joshua how difficult it would be.

Soon enough it was clear to all. Joshua found the journey to Fort Loudoun heartbreaking, for he had inherited his mother's concern for animals, and the method Byrum and Dorey contrived to carry the cannon proved brutal to the packhorses they purchased. The two traders placed the cannon atop individual packsaddles and lashed them tight with belts around the straining animals' midsections. Then they drove the horses as hard as they could along the hundred and fifty miles of narrow mountain trails that led to Fort Loudoun.

The trails were often almost impossible for the cannon-laden horses to maneuver, and on several occasions a horse would fall, its back snapping with a sickening pop as the heavy cannons shifted. Joshua would cry when that occurred, and Hester would comfort him as his father or Dorey shot the hopelessly injured animal and shifted the cannon to a spare horse. Then they would proceed, leaving the carcass to the carrion birds. So went the grueling six-miles-a-day journey from its beginning until its welcome end, weeks later.

Arrival at Fort Loudoun, a large palisaded enclosure that stood on an elevation south of the Little Tanisi River where it met the Tellico River, so overwhelmed Joshua that he almost forgot the rigors of the journey. The fort itself was far more elaborate than Fort Prince George, and Captain Raymond Demere, in his officer's uniform, greatly impressed Joshua. Demere enthusiastically welcomed Byrum, Dorey, and their artillery. It was one of the few moments in his life when Joshua was truly proud of his father, despite the horror he still felt at Byrum and Dorey's brutality to the horses.

The cannon had been nailed up with steel spikes and were placed that evening into a large fire to soften the spikes for drilling out. Joshua, watched by his silent mother, danced in his excitement by the fire in the center of the fort, as lively as the sparks the flames spat skyward.

Everywhere Joshua looked he saw amazing things and intriguing people. The British soldiers looked dashing in their Prussian-style uniforms of red coats marked with the facings of the Forty-second Regiment. They wore tricorn hats, pipe-clayed white breeches, and gaiters. Scores of them circled in the light of the fire, some leaning on their eleven-pound Brown Bess muskets and watching the blacksmith tend to the heating of the cannon. Others were seated or reclining on the ground, smoking or picking their teeth with twigs. But soldiers Joshua had seen earlier at Fort Prince George. The Cherokees, who came into the fort from the nearby Overhill towns, were the people who truly fascinated him.

The younger Cherokees, those Joshua's age and even several years older, were brown-skinned from head to toe and wore no clothing at all. The men wore breechcloths, some with tasseled sashes that hung down their thighs. Most also wore leggins and had chests decorated with intricate gunpowder tattoos impressed into their skin, symbolizing valor and wartime achievements. A few men wore moccasins, but most were barefoot. Several of the oldest men had ornaments of silver hanging from their earlobes, which had been stretched and cut ornamentally.


Excerpted from The Overmountain Men by Cameron Judd. Copyright © 1991 Cameron Judd. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


I. The Overhill Towns,
II. Carolina,
III. Haverly Fort,
IV. The Dragon and the Hawk?,

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 3 of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2012

    Well written

    Very good historical novel. Cameron Judd has come a long way since his first book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2003

    Cameron Judd is an outstanding writer!!!

    The Overmountain Men is the first in a great trilogy! If you ever wanted to know more about the history of Tennessee this trilogy is a must read. As always Mr. Judd adds just the right amount of history, excitement, and adventure to his novels. The trilogy has to be my favorite set of books, and Cameron Judd my favorite author.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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