In her Newbery Honor Book, Indian Captive, and her Regional America series, six of which are collected here, author/illustrator Lois Lenski presents realistic portrayals of unforgettable young people facing hardships in a range of areas across the country.
Based on a true story, Indian Captive tells the compelling chronicle of a twelve-year-old girl kidnapped by the Shawnee in 1758 Pennsylvania. Beginning with the Children’s Book Award winner Judy’s Journey, Lenski depicted kids’ experiences in different regions of mid-twentieth-century America—from East Coast migrant workers to a Texas girl whose family is dealing with drought, from an eleven-year-old boy in oil-boom Oklahoma to the daughter of coal miners in West Virginia, from a family in a flooded western Connecticut town to an African American girl in the 1950s coping with moving north with the help of her loving grandmother.
Beyond changing the face of children’s literature, Lenski’s stories continue to endure because of their moving and believable depictions of young people from often overlooked communities. Through her art, Lenski gave these characters a voice that still rings loud and clear for modern readers.
This ebook includes Indian Captive, Judy’s Journey, Flood Friday, Texas Tomboy, Boom Town Boy, Coal Camp Girl, and Mama Hattie’s Girl.
About the Author
Born in Springfield, Ohio, in 1893, Lois Lenski achieved acclaim as both an author and illustrator of children’s literature. For her Regional America series, Lenski traveled to each of the places that became a subject of one of her books. She did meticulous research and spoke with children and adults in the various regions to create stories depicting the lives of the inhabitants of those areas. Her novel of Florida farm life, Strawberry Girl, won the Newbery Award in 1946. She also received a Newbery Honor in 1942 for Indian Captive, a fictionalized account of the life of Mary Jemison. Lenski died in 1974.
Read an Excerpt
Come What May
"Molly child, now supper's done, go fetch Neighbor Dixon's horse."
Molly looked up at her father. At the far end of the long table he stood. He was lean, lanky and raw-boned. Great knotty fists hung at the ends of his long, thin arms. His eyes looked kind though his face was stern.
"All I need is another horse for a day or two," the man went on. "Neighbor Dixon said I could borrow his. I'll get that south field plowed tomorrow and seeded to corn."
"Yes, Pa!" answered Molly. She reached for a piece of corn-pone from the plate. She munched it contentedly. How good it tasted!
Corn! All their life was bound up with corn. Corn and work. Work to grow the corn, to protect it and care for it, to fight for it, to harvest it and stow it away at last for winter's food. So it was always, so it would be always to the end of time. How could they live without corn?
The Jemison family sat around the supper table. Its rough-hewn slabs, uncovered by cloth, shone soft-worn and shiny clean. A large earthen bowl, but a short time before filled with boiled and cut-up meat, sat empty in the center. Beside it, a plate with the leftover pieces of corn-pone.
"You hear me?" asked Thomas Jemison again. "You ain't dreamin'?"
The two older boys, John and Tom, threw meaningful looks at their sister, but said no word. Betsey, tall, slender fifteen-year-old, glanced sideways at their mother.
Molly colored slightly and came swiftly back from dreaming. "Yes, Pa!" she said, obediently. She reached for another piece of corn-pone.
Inside, she felt a deep content. Spring was here again. The sun-warmed, plowed earth would feel good to her bare feet. She saw round, pale yellow grains of seed-corn dropping from her hand into the furrow. She saw her long, thin arms waving to keep the crows and blackbirds off — the fight had begun. The wind blew her long loose hair about her face and the warm sun kissed her cheeks. Spring had come again.
"Can't one of the boys go?" asked Mrs. Jemison. "Dark's a-comin' on and the trail's through the woods ..."
"Have ye forgot the chores?" Thomas Jemison turned to his wife and spoke fretfully. "There's the stock wants tendin'— they need fodder to chomp on through the night. And the milkin' not even started. Sun's got nigh two hours to go 'fore dark. Reckon that's time enough for a gal to go a mile and back."
"But it's the woods trail ..." began Mrs. Jemison anxiously. "'Tain't safe at night-time ..."
"Then she can sleep to Dixon's and be back by sunup," said the girl's father, glancing sternly in Molly's direction. He sat down on a stool before the fireplace and began to shell corn into the wooden dye-tub.
"Mary Jemison, do you hear me?" he thundered.
"Yes, Pa!" said Molly again. But she did not move. She sat still, munching corn-pone.
Jane Jemison said no more. Instead, she looked down at her hands folded in her lap. Her hands so seldom at rest. She was a small, tired-looking woman, baffled by both work and worry. Eight years of life in a frontier settlement in eastern Pennsylvania had taken away her fresh youth and had aged her beyond her years.
Little Matthew, a boy of three, climbed into his mother's lap. She caught the brown head close to her breast for a moment, then put him hastily down as a wailing cry came to her ears. The baby in the homemade cradle beside her had wakened. The woman stopped wearily, picked him up, then sat down to nurse him.
"Ye'll have to wash up, Betsey," she said.
Molly's thought had traveled far, but she hadn't herself had time to move. She was still sitting bolt upright on the three-legged stool when her ears picked up the roll of a horse's hoofs.
Nor was she the only one. The others heard, too. As if in answer to an expected signal, the faces turned inquiring and all eyes found the door. All ears strained for a call of greeting, but none came. In less time than it takes for three words to be said, the door burst open and a man stumbled in.
It was Neighbor Wheelock. He was short and heavy. Like Thomas Jemison, he too had the knotty look of a hard worker, of a frontier fighter. It was only in his face that weakness showed.
Wheelock gave no glance at woman or children. He said in a low but distinct voice to Thomas: "You heard what's happened?"
The clatter of a falling stool shook the silence and a cry of fear escaped. Betsey, white-faced and thin, clapped her hands over her mouth. Mrs. Jemison, the nursing baby still at her breast, stood up. "Let's hear what 'tis," she said, calmly.
Chet Wheelock needed no invitation to speak. The words popped out of his mouth like bullets from a loaded gun.
"It's the Injuns again!" he cried, fiercely. "They've burnt Ned Haskins out and took his wife and children captive. They've murdered the whole Johnson family. They're a-headin' down Conewago Creek towards Sharp's Run, a-killin', a-butcherin' and a-plunderin' as they come. There ain't a safe spot this side of Philadelphy. I'm headin' back east and I'm takin' my brother Jonas's family with me."
Thomas Jemison looked up from his corn shelling, but his placid face gave no hint of troubled thoughts. A gust of wind nipped round the house and blew the thick plank door shut with a bang. The children stared, wide-eyed. Jane Jemison sat down on a stool, as if the load of her baby had grown too heavy and there was no more strength left in her arms.
"What are we a-goin' to do, Thomas?" she asked, weakly.
"Do?" cried Thomas. "Why, plant our corn, I reckon."
"You won't be needin' corn, neighbor." Chet Wheelock spoke slowly, then he added, his eyes full serious: "You ain't aimin' to come along with us then?"
Thomas Jemison rose to his feet. He thumped his big doubled-up fist on the table — his heavy fist that looked like a gnarled knot in an old oak tree. "We're stayin' right here!" he said.
"But, Thomas, if Chet says the Indians're headin' this way ..." began Jane.
Thomas stood up, tall and gaunt. He laughed loudly.
"I ain't afeard of Injuns!" he cried. "I've lived here for eight years and I ain't been molested yet. There's been Injuns in these parts ever since we first set foot in this clearing. We've heard tell of so many raids, so much plunderin' — I don't put much stock in them tales. No ... I don't give up easy, not me!"
John and Tom, the two boys, laughed too. "Who's afeard of Injuns? Let 'em come!" they cried in boastful tones.
Jane put the baby down quickly in its cradle. She caught her husband desperately by the arm.
"Don't you hear, Thomas? Chet says they've murdered the whole Johnson family ... We can't live here with Indians on all sides ... devourin' the settlement. Forget the corn.
"We're stayin' here, I said!" repeated Thomas. "Come what may, I'll plant my corn tomorrow!" His voice rang hard, like the blow of a blacksmith's hammer against the anvil.
In the silence that followed, Jane's hand fell from her husband's arm. Molly ran to her mother's side and put both arms about her waist.
Thomas's voice went on: "As soon as the troops start operations, the Injuns'll run fast enough. They'll agree to a treaty of peace mighty quick. Then our troubles will all be over. We've stuck it out this long, we may as well stay for another season. Leave a good farm like this? Not yet I won't! I'll plant my corn tomorrow!" His words were cocksure and defiant, but they brought no comfort to his listeners.
The baby began to cry and Neighbor Wheelock went out. In a moment he was back, addressing Mrs. Jemison.
"I brought my sister-in-law and her three children along with me, ma'am. Her husband, my brother Jonas, is with the troops and I'm takin' her back east. She won't stay in the settlement longer. Our horse was half-sick before we started and can't go no farther. Can ye give us lodgin', ma'am, for a day or two, to git rested up?"
None of the Jemison family had looked out or seen the woman. She stood by the horse, waiting patiently, with a boy of nine beside her and two small girls in her arms. Mrs. Jemison hurried out to bid her welcome, calling back to Betsey to put the pot on to boil.
"Boys, the chores!" called Thomas. Then he added, "Go fetch Neighbor Dixon's horse, Molly-child, like I told you.
Molly and her father walked out the door together. Despite his stern ways and blustering words, he had a great affection for his children and Molly was his favorite. He put his great, knotty hand on her head and rumpled her tousled yellow hair.
"Pa ..." Molly hesitated, then went on: "Ain't you ever afeard like Ma?"
"Why should I be afeard?" laughed her father. "There's nothin' to be scared of. The Injuns'll never hurt you, Molly-child! Why, if they ever saw your pretty yaller hair, a-shinin' in the sun, they'd think 'twas only a cornstalk in tassel and they'd pass you by for certain!"
Molly laughed. Then she turned her head and looked back — in through the open cabin door. She saw her mother and Betsey with Mrs. Wheelock and her little ones busying themselves in the big room. She saw the thick oak timber door, battened and sturdy. She knew it turned on stout, wooden hinges and was secured each night with heavy bars, braced with timbers from the floor. She wondered if, even then, it was strong enough to keep the Indians — the hated, wicked, dangerous Indians out.
Her blue jeans gown flew out behind her, as past the barnyard, on long, thin legs she ran. She passed Old Barney, her father's horse that had the devil in him and liked to kick, making a circle wide of his heels. She passed the grindstone and the well-sweep with the grape-vine rope. Then she ran the full length of the rail fence that bordered the field where the corn would soon be growing and rustling in the breeze. She flew past the bee-tree where, the autumn before, her brothers had caught the bear, his claws all sticky with honey.
Molly Jemison was small for her age. She looked more like a girl often than the twelve she really was. Her blue eyes shone bright from her sun-tanned skin and her hair was yellow — the pale, silvery yellow of ripened corn. She ran swiftly, her whole body swinging to the free and joyous motion.
Molly was glad to go to Neighbor Dixon's — anywhere, anywhere to get out of the house. There was always a load of anxiety there, reflected in her mother's face and her father's stern words. A load of worry which pressed down upon her naturally light spirits and brought sadness to her heart. This latest news of the Indians would only make things worse.
Then, too, there was always a fever of work in the house — so many things that had to be done. She wondered sometimes if her father and mother ever thought of anything else but work. It seemed to keep them busy from morn to night getting food and clothing for their large family. Had they no time for happiness?
Out-of-doors, Molly could get away from it all. She could forget there were such irksome duties as spinning and weaving, cooking and sewing; and worst of all doing sums and reading in books. Betsey could do these things. Betsey "took to them," as their mother said. She did not bungle as Molly did.
But out-of-doors Molly could watch the birds, the butterflies, and all the wild things. She could be one with them. She could pretend she was as wild, as free, as happy as they. When she had work to do out-of-doors she worked willingly enough. She thought now of the happy days to come — working in the corn, plowing, planting, weeding ...
Molly ran on. Soon she was in the woods. She knew every inch of the trail, each stone, each stump, each tree. She ran fast and reached the Dixons' cabin before the slanting rays of the setting sun were blotted out by the trees.
"Tell her to make me a cambric shirt, Without any seam or needlework.
Molly's voice, thin and piping, broke through the quiet of the forest. Her heart sang, too, as her lips formed the words. The song was an old one of her mother's. Many songs her mother had used to sing. Why was it now she sang no more? Was it fear that had stopped her singing?
It was early the following morning and Molly was on her way back from the Dixons'. The sun had not yet risen. In the woods, the light was dim and uncertain — the early light before dawn. The morning air smelled clean and freshly washed. The birds were awake, chirping and singing. A gentle breeze stirred, rustling the branches of tender green.
The trail wound in and out among rough, jagged tree stumps. The borrowed horse slowed down from a trot to a walk. His hoofs beat gently on the soft dirt trail. Molly bent her head, pressing her nose into the horse's mane, as an overhanging branch scraped her shoulders. She straightened her back again.
Then suddenly the horse stopped. He stood still, his whole body quivering. Molly's song died on her lips. Her face turned pale. She leaned forward and gave the horse a pat. The sharp, sweet tones of a bird song rang out through the quiet. A fallen branch crackled beneath the horse's feet, as he stirred nervously. Then all was still.
Underneath the oaks it was black and dark. Molly stared into the blackness. The trunks of many trees crowded close and seemed to press upon her. Was something moving there? Her breath came short, as her happiness faded away. The forest had changed from a world of beauty to a world of fear.
The girl glanced back quickly over her shoulder, as if a glimpse of the Dixon home, which she had so recently left, might give her comfort. Here, between the reality of the neighbor's log cabin and the unreality of the unknown dark forest she paused, sensing danger. Here anything might happen. Here wild animals prowled, Indians hid, and evil lurked.
Molly went white about her lips. She turned her head and looked on all sides. She saw no movement, heard no sound. The sharp, strident bird song rang out again, piercing in its sweetness. Was it a note of warning or a word of comfort?
Then strangely, a vision of her home rose before the girl's eyes. She saw her tall, lanky father in the big kitchen with her mother — and her mother was scared as she had been last night, as she always was when there was talk of Indians. Molly pulled on the horses bridle and urged him forward. Keeping her eyes on the trail ahead, she rode on, faster and faster, as fast as the trail would permit. She was fearful now — not for herself, but for her family. What if the Indians had come in her absence?
It was sun-up when she came out of the forest and entered the clearing. She circled the barnyard slowly, staring at the unchinked log out-buildings as if she had never seen them before. She saw her two older brothers grinding a knife at the grindstone; her father shaving an axe-helve at the side of the house. She rode up close to the cabin and bent her head to look in through the torn paper of the kitchen window. She let herself stiffly down on the door-log.
A scene of bright happiness confronted her. Everything was just as she had left it. Mrs. Wheelock was dressing her children in the corner. Her mother and Betsey were starting breakfast. Nothing had happened. The world was a beautiful place after all, and all her fears were groundless.
Neighbor Wheelock came out of the house, stamping on the door-log.
"There, gal! Let me have that horse!" he cried, taking the bridle from Molly's hand. "Mine's sick — no better this morning. Got to go back to my house to fetch a bag of grain I left there."
"Better wait till after breakfast, Chet!" called Molly's mother from within. Her voice sounded cheerful as if her fear were gone.
"I'll be back 'fore the corn-pone's browned on one side, Mis' Jemison," replied Wheelock, with a laugh.
"Take your gun along then," called Thomas from beside the cabin. "Might be you'd meet some of them Injuns you was a-tellin' us about. Might be they'd git a hankerin' for your scalp!"
"Don't know but I will ..." Wheelock disappeared inside, then came out, gun in hand. "It's not the Injuns so much," he answered. "They ain't come this fur yet. But I might pick up a wild turkey for the women-folks to cook. With all this big family to feed, they'll need all the game they can get." He mounted the borrowed horse and rode away.
Molly entered the cabin and closed the door behind her.
The window paper, once slick with bear's grease, had split from drying. The morning sun came through the torn openings and brightened the dim interior. It rested on the tousled quilts on two large beds at the end of the room, on the great spinning-wheel and the small, on the home-made loom in the corner. It lingered on the somber homespun and soft deerskin clothing hung from wooden pegs in the wall. It made spotty patches on the uneven puncheon floor. It was traveling toward the fireplace where the corn-pone lay tilted up on a board. Soon the light of the sun would mingle with the shooting gleams of fire.
Molly stood motionless, watching. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she was suddenly conscious of her mother's actions. Time seemed to stand still as she waited. She saw her mother walk across the room, carrying a stack of wooden trenchers toward the slab table. She saw her mother open her lips, as if about to speak. She knew what she would say before the words came. She had heard them often enough before: "Stop your dreamin', Molly, and git to work!" But this time the words were never said.
Excerpted from "American Journeys Volume One"
Copyright © 2017 Open Road Integrated Media.
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.
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Table of Contents
INDIAN CAPTIVE: THE STORY OF MARY JEMISON,
BOOM TOWN BOY,
COAL CAMP GIRL,
MAMA HATTIE'S GIRL,
A Biography of Lois Lenski,