ELKHORN TAVERN by Douglas C. Jones
Kirkus Star


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Another high-quality American historical from the author of The Court Martial of George Armstrong Custer. This time Jones celebrates the almost unknown battle of 1862 called the Battle of Pea Ridge, which took place near the Missouri and Kansas borders of Arkansas. And the personal focus is on the rough survival of a family in that area--the Hasfords, whose farm is being worked by mother Ora and teenagers Calpurnia and Roman while father Martin is off fighting for the Confederacy. The family is beset by bands of marauding jayhawkers and bushwhackers, men out to rob and steal for personal gain, who seem to be led or at least given directions by a local informer, Spider Epp, who is also ready to sell his services to the Yankees. Worse yet: the Hasfords' farm is not far from Elkhorn Tavern, the scene of battle where the Southerners waver (they circle the Union troops and attack from behind) and fall back in rout into what is now Union territory, a logistic which keeps the farm right in the flux of contention. So young Roman is nearly impressed into Union service; and then a Cherokee deserter from the Southern army, Spavinaw Tom, brings a wounded Northern officer to the Hasford farm, young Allan Eben Pay, whose gangrenous hand is amputated by Ora with an ax. As Allan recovers, he and Calpurnia fall in love get engaged--and then hooded Spider Epp makes a grotesque rape attempt. While focused on the Hasfords and their scrabbling to stay alive (there's a fantastically bloody scene between Ora and a maddened sow), the story roves about the countryside and opposing armies, observing locals and outsiders, absorbing skirmishes that ripple with authenticity and nightmare. And though likely to be overshadowed by Thomas Keneally's richer and deeper Confederates (p. 860), this is a fine, uncompromising, unusually angled piece of Civil War fiction--from a master of gritty historical horrors.

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1980
ISBN: 0451231856
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston