In the immediate wake of the Civil War, a family heads to Montana in search of gold.
Annabelle loses her husband in the Civil War, and all her brothers die fighting for the Confederate side as well. Federal tax collectors ravage her considerable inheritance, and she decides to leave Charleston, South Carolina, for Montana with her family to start a new life. Her clan is led to Montana by a former Union colonel and Josey Angel, a Union soldier infamous for his proficiency in killing his adversaries. The colonel decides to lead the wagon train along the Bozeman Trail, a passage that counts as a shortcut but remains notoriously dangerous. They risk encountering deadly snakes, hostile Native Americans, and vicious bandits—Josey’s primary task is to keep the group safe. At first, Annabelle is intimidated by his dark reputation and aloofness but is overwhelmed by curiosity; there seems to be more to this man than a knack for violence. He can be not only gentlemanly, but thoughtful as well, and he is clearly burdened by the memories of savage conflict, of things seen and done. Debut novelist and career journalist Catron poignantly captures Josey’s wounded soul that resists a full plunge into cynicism: “Josey never much questioned the morality of the killing because he never expected to outlive the war. The way he saw things, a number needed to die before both sides lost their taste for it.” Annabelle is haunted by her own loss, and gradually she and Josey develop a bond that flirts with romance. And Josey’s skills as a soldier are sure to be tested soon—a band of mysterious horsemen furtively tracks the group, promising an imminent confrontation. The story takes place in 1866, barely a year after the end of the Civil War, and the resentment that remains is palpable. Annabelle is bitterly unforgiving of the sacrifice of her husband and brothers and of the destruction caused by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s ferocious march through the South. Affectingly written, the bond between Annabelle and Josey is a first gesture toward forgiveness and a hopeful sign of the possible reconciliation of the two battle-weary halves of the nation. This is an unsentimental but moving tale, composed with emotional intelligence and historical insight.
A timeless tale of love and adventure on the American frontier.