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The Canebrake Men [Book 3 of the Overmountain Men Trilogy] [MultiFormat]
eBook by Cameron Judd

eBook Category: Historical Fiction
eBook Description: The Canebrake Men is a powerful saga from acclaimed frontier storyteller Cameron Judd. Capturing the vision, the hopes, the heartache and the triumphs of the men and women who fought to forge a new nation in the wilderness. Following the American War for Independence from the British Crown, a group of Tennessee settlers is on a mission to carve out a new state as well as a new society within the fledgling nation. But this vision of a new Eden is fraught with adversity, as the federal government tries to centralize the newly-united states and the Chickamauga Indians object to the settlers' incursions into their territory. In this untamed land, men and women test their strength and face an uncertain future.

eBook Publisher: E-Reads, Published: 1993
Fictionwise Release Date: August 2001


13 Reader Ratings:
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1

It was morning, and snowing again. The frontiersman stood motionless in the gentle precipitation, sniffing the cold air. The scent he had detected was so subtle that even his experienced senses could easily have missed it. He turned his head, sniffed again, and confirmed his suspicion.

His posture was slumped and unstrained, his manner easy. He seemed unaware of the cold. Topping and completely hiding his linen shirt was a rifleman's coat made of deerskin. The shirt was caped and fringed, and bound closed around his narrow middle by a heavy leather belt, upon which hung a scabbard with a knife. From straps slung over his shoulder hung an ornate powder horn and a rifle bag his wife had decorated with beads. His hat was made of heavy felt and sat softly and comfortably on his rather shaggy head. He wore woolen trousers, leggins, and moccasins.

He tied his horse to a branch and checked his rifle's priming before he advanced, following the vague scent. He had been on the lee side of the hill that rose beside him, and when he moved into the wind, the subtle scent became much stronger. There was no questioning it now. The scent was that of blood.

He rounded the hill and looked about. A dark object in the snowy clearing ahead caught his eye. Lifting his rifle, he went toward it. Three steps further he stopped and looked more closely.

It was a corpse. A woman's corpse, half buried in new snow.

The frontiersman lifted his brows, took a deep breath, and went forward. He had lived on the bloody border country for many years, but such things as this still set his nerves on ragged edge.

There, a few yards beyond the woman's body, was another, that of a man. He lay in his blankets beside the smoldering remnant of a fire. It appeared his throat had been slashed while he slept. Looking further, the frontiersman saw a third corpse. An old man, this one had been. He was halfway out of his blankets, and it appeared he had been fatally stabbed in the chest while trying to rise.

The frontiersman shook his head in disgust and astonishment. It was evident this massacre had occurred hours ago. The odd thing was, it didn't seem to be the work of Indians. No bodies were mangled, no scalps missing. The horses hadn't been taken, and there was no sign that the travelers' packs had been rifled.

The frontiersman took another step, then stopped abruptly, tilting his head. There -- he heard it again. A man's voice, moaning as if in great pain...

Following the sound, he moved through the forest for about a hundred feet. He scanned the woodlands ahead until he saw a small, makeshift shelter, made of branches and evergreen boughs. He heard another moan.

"Hello!" he called. "Don't be afraid in there -- I'm coming in to help you."

He approached the shelter carefully. Whoever was inside might be injured, but he also might be armed. When he was satisfied there was in fact no such danger, the frontiersman crouched at the open end of the shelter.

The man inside was in a bad way, his chest bloodied, his hands mangled as if from turning aside the blade that must have inflicted his injuries. The pitiful fellow moved and groaned again. The frontiersman wasn't sure his presence had even been detected by the wounded wretch.

"My name is Cooper Haverly," the frontiersman said. "I don't know what's happened here, but I'll lend whatever aid I can."

The man coughed and cried out. He groped the air, blindly clawing down some of the protective branches above him.

"Who built this shelter for you, friend?" Cooper asked, not really expecting an answer. "Is there somebody else still about?"

"Don't move, or I'll shoot you dead."

The voice came from behind. It was the voice of a young boy on the fringe of maturity. Even so, there was iron in it.

"I won't move," Cooper said. "And don't you shoot. I'm here to help."

"Who are you? Where did you come from?"

"My name is Haverly. I was hunting and I walked in on all this by accident. Now you tell me who you are."

"I'm Owen Killefer. That's my father in there. His name is Aaron."

"Was it you who built this shelter for him?"

"Yes."

"I want to turn around and see you, Owen. Can I do that without you killing me on the spot?"

A time of silence, then: "Yes. Move slow, and slide that rifle out first."

Cooper complied, then pivoted with some difficulty on the balls of his feet. He was still crouched, and feeling rather foolish to have been surprised by a mere youth.

The boy he saw looked smaller and more frail than he had anticipated. He didn't look nearly as authoritative and strong as his voice had sounded. His face was pale, and he trembled badly, making the end of the muzzle of the musket he held waver in an irregular circle. Cooper swept his gaze up and down the slender form, noting clotting blood on the boy's left leg.

"Boy, what happened here?" Cooper asked.

Owen Killefer gave no answer. The musket drooped downward as if it had suddenly become too heavy for him to hold. The young white face became even whiter, and the boy fell forward in a dead faint, landing atop his own weapon.

Inside the shelter, Aaron Killefer groaned and thrashed again, tearing down more of the branches above him and dumping snow onto his own face.

The weather had broken before daybreak, and the sun rose in a clear sky, warming the air and turning the snow to dripping slush. The road that led two riders to the door of the Pinnock Inn was an expanse of mud that splattered beneath them, clung to their Chickasaw horses from hooves to underbellies, and speckled the riders' legs to the knee. Both men rode with long rifles in their left hands.

Joshua Colter and Cooper Haverly dismounted together, while to the inn door came the stoop-shouldered form of Salem Pinnock, clad in elkskin breeches that reached to just below his knees, wool stockings, buckled shoes, and a loose linen shirt beneath a wool waistcoat and very dirty apron. Pinnock swept his big hand across his sheened pate and through what remained of his hair, and nodded greetings to the new arrivals.

"How are they faring, Salem?" Joshua asked as he strode forward. He was a tall man in his mid-thirties, muscular and fine-featured. Dressed, like Cooper, in the simple garb of a frontier hunter, Joshua Colter was graceful of motion and authoritative in bearing. His dark hair was swept back and queued at the crest of his neck, around which hung an ancient coin on a thong -- an old Roman coin, a boyhood gift from his departed father-by-blood, the late Indian trader Jack Byrum. Byrum had fathered Cooper Haverly as well, in the physical sense if in no other way. Both Joshua and his brother had been abandoned by their father, adopted and raised by others, accounting for their differing surnames.

Salem Pinnock shook his head. "The boy is hardly hurt at all. The man is a different tale altogether. I fear for his survival."

Pinnock stepped aside to let the pair enter, then followed them to the rough staircase leading to the second floor. The frontiersmen stood their rifles against the wall at the base of the stairs. Pinnock led them up the stairs, opened the door to one of the two upper rooms and waved Joshua and Cooper inside.

Aaron Killefer was on the corn-shuck bed closest to the fireplace. The trundle bed on the far side from the fire had been occupied by Owen Killefer, but at the moment the boy was seated at his father's bedside, his face white and grim of expression.

"Hello, son," Joshua said. "My name is Colter. You must be Owen."

A quick nod. The boy's eyes were wide, making him look scared and small.

Joshua reached down, patted Owen's shoulder and felt the boy tense at his touch. He turned his attention to Aaron Killefer. Apart from the labored movement of his chest and an occasional twitch of his tightly shut eyelids, Killefer gave the impression of a laid-out corpse.

"Any rifle balls in him?" Joshua asked Pinnock.

"No. Knife wounds. Deep ones. Young Owen here was the only one of his party to be shot, and to his good fortune the ball plowed its way clean through and didn't lodge."

Joshua leaned close to Aaron Killefer and studied his face. When he straightened, he nodded. "Owen, your father is in a bad way, but I see life in him. With Mr. Pinnock's care he may live. Mr. Pinnock is a fine bleeder, and a good healer of the wounded as well. Cooper was wise to bring you and your father to him."

"Thank you," the boy murmured. He fidgeted and scooted his three-legged stool a couple of inches closer to his father's bed.

"I'm told this was done by a white man," Joshua said.

"Yes," Owen replied. His voice was so soft, Joshua could hardly hear him. "He told us his name was Thomas Turndale."

Joshua's brows rose and he spun to face Cooper, who stood near the fireplace, hands extended to the blaze. "Turndale! Why didn't you tell me that, Cooper?"

"I didn't know it," Cooper replied. "Owen didn't tell me that before. Turndale... is that who I think it is?"

"Aye. Tom Turndale. I'll be jiggered! Mad Tom himself!"

"Who is this Tom Turndale?" Pinnock asked. His deep voice resonated in the little room.

"I can answer that," Cooper said. "A British defector from the war years. Supposedly he was wounded, abandoned his commission, and remained among the Cherokees. It was my understanding he lives near the Overhill towns."

"Not anymore," Joshua replied. "He's been among the Chickamaugas for the last two years or so, somewhere about the Five Lower Towns. I had no idea he had ranged up this far."

"No? Well, I'm not surprised," Cooper said. "I was told by Jim Squire that Mad Tom was seen as far up as the upper Holston not a year ago. They say he's quite a case. Very dangerous and hard to predict. Most think it was that head wound that did it to him. Others declare he was mean long before that, and brags of men he killed in London as a young fellow."

Joshua knelt and looked into Owen's face. "Tom Turndale took your sister -- is that right?"

"Yes."

"Did he hurt her?"

"No. I don't think so."

"Did you see which way he went?"

"No."

Joshua stood and rubbed his stubbly beard. "Tom Turndale! I never would have thought it."

"Why would he take the girl?" Pinnock asked.

"If I had to guess, I'd say he's taken her to wife."

"He's said to live with a squaw already," Cooper said. "What need would he have of another female?"

"Who can say? Maybe his woman threw him out. Maybe she died. There's no way to know."

Owen's eyes were beginning to grow red and wet. His voice trembled when he spoke. "Will he kill Emaline?"

Joshua probed his mind desperately for some reassurance to give the boy, and could find none. As unpredictable a man as Thomas Turndale indeed might kill the girl, if he tired of her, or she resisted him. "We'll hope not, Owen," he said. "I suppose that if he wanted to kill her, he would have done it at the same time he killed the others." He put his hand on the boy's knee. "How many of your people did you lose?"

"My mother, my uncle. And my grandfather."

"I'm mighty sorry. I've lost close kin myself. God bless you, son, I know how it feels."

Owen turned his face away and wiped his forearm over his eyes. Not wanting to embarrass him, Joshua stood and joined Cooper beside the fire.

"Where are the dead ones?" he asked in a low voice.

"Outside, in Salem's stable. Now that the snow has quit, maybe we can get them buried."

"It'll be a hard job in this cold ground, but it'll have to be done. Salem, you can see to it, yes?"

"Aye, indeed."

"Did the boy say what brought them here this time of year?"

"Mr. Killefer yonder is nephew to old Ben Simms. Ben left his land to him, and they were coming to claim it in time to get in early spring crops. They're a poor family."

"I'd heard Ben speak of a nephew a time or two," Joshua said. "Lord a'mighty, what a sad thing to happen, especially to a poor man! When a poor man loses his people, he's lost all the treasure he's likely to ever have."

"Do you really think Killefer will live?" Cooper asked.

"There's a look of strength left in his face. I've not seen a man die yet with that look still about him. With Salem's care and providence, I'm hopeful Owen will escape being orphaned."

Pinnock drew up close and thumbed subtly toward Owen, who was still valiantly trying to avoid crying in front of the men. "Let's go back down and give the boy some privacy," he whispered. "Not all our talk needs hearing by his ears."

In the lower portion of the inn, where Pinnock ran his tavern, selling the product of his partner and distiller Matthew Barton at six pence a half pint, Joshua filled one of Pinnock's churchwarden pipes. Cooper took a flaring twig from the fire and held it out so Joshua could light with it. Rich tobacco smoke rose toward the ceiling, which was merely the underside of the second-level, hand-riven floorboards. They creaked above the men's heads as Owen limped around his father's bed.

"Should we gather the rangers and go after Turndale?" Cooper asked.

Joshua blew out a thick white cloud and thought it over a few seconds. "I think we owe it to the boy to give it a try. But I don't think we'll do much good. Turndale is a canny man.

"How could a madman be canny?"

"Why, sometimes a madman is the canniest kind there is, Cooper. Mad like a fox is mad, you know. Turndale has been too long among the Indians not to know how to cover his tracks. He's been chased before, and no one has ever even caught wind of him."

"Where will he take the girl?" Pinnock asked.

"To the Five Lower Towns or thereabouts, more than likely, if that's still his roost."

"He came a long way just to find a woman, if that's truly his motive," Cooper said.

"He's a far-ranging man, as you yourself said. He'd be clever enough not to steal a female too close to his own range. That would make it too easy to track her down and get her back, you see."

Cooper sighed wearily. "Salem, have you any food to spare? If I'm to be out fetching rangers and chasing madmen, I don't want to do it on an empty belly."

Pinnock fed them cold beef, bread, and boiled beans. They ate quickly, with no talk. When they were filled, they stood.

"I'll go with you, if you think I can help," the innkeeper said.

Joshua Colter smiled his thanks but declined. "You've got enough to do with caring for Killefer. Besides, Salem, you're too fat and slow for what we'll be doing."

Salem Pinnock smiled. Joshua Colter's words were always frank, but never carried any intent of insult. "You're right, as always, my good captain. Now be off with you, and Godspeed. Find that Turndale -- and be sure you take a rope with you. I can think of a good use you could make of it with this Mad Tom."

They took their rifles, left the inn, mounted, and rode off down the muddy road. Pinnock watched them until they were out of sight, then closed the door. Gathering a plate of food for Owen, he climbed back up the stairs.

Joshua's skepticism was quickly vindicated. He, Cooper, and seven other capable woodsmen rode the mountains and found no trackable sign of Tom Turndale and Emaline Killefer. The renegade Englishman had covered most of his tracks, and the melting snow did the rest. To attempt tracking him was so futile that Joshua soon ordered the men home.

Returning to the Pinnock Inn, Joshua found Salem Pinnock with quill in hand, writing in the great volume in which he kept an ongoing journal of life and events in the region he typically called the "Land of the Rifle and the Canebrake." Pinnock, after the death of his wife back in his home city of Wilmington, North Carolina, had come with Matthew Barton to the Tennessee country less than a year before, in the summer of 1784. The inn he built between Limestone and Little Limestone creeks was so new that the popular logs comprising the building still put out a strong but pleasant fresh-timber scent. He had purchased the land from Joshua himself.

Joshua stood in some awe of Pinnock, for the man was remarkably knowledgeable, though he had never enjoyed the privilege of formal schooling. All he knew he had taught himself. Pinnock was fluent in Latin and Spanish, spoke some French, had a small but excellent library of classical volumes, and expounded political views heavily influenced by Thomas Paine. Joshua appreciated Pinnock, not only for his self-discipline and learning, but also for the fact the portly tavern keeper didn't feel superior to his generally uneducated Overmountain neighbors. Indeed, Pinnock often expressed sincere admiration of those around him, whom in his journal he had declared a "civilizing army of the self-reliant, bowing the knee to no tyrant and standing unflinching before the dire threat of the savage." That was from one of the few entries Pinnock had allowed Joshua to read; normally he guarded the volume closely, considering it private and too frank in some of its commentary to be viewed by other eyes. Someday, Pinnock told Joshua, the journal would provide the basis for a history of the region that he proposed to write and publish.

Joshua had thought occasionally it was regrettable that his old clergyman friend, Israel Coffman, had migrated off to Kentucky before Pinnock had come here. Coffman and Pinnock would have shared many interests. On the other hand, the two would have also differed on much. Coffman, though gentle and unabrasive with all, was a staunch and persuasive Presbyterian; under Coffman's influence, Joshua and his late adoptive father, Alphus, had adopted that same confession back in the 1770s. Pinnock, on the other hand, declared himself a "rational Deist," believing in a rather abstract, distant deity that set the world into motion and then left it to run itself, like "an intricate, perpetual clock," as Pinnock explained it.

Pinnock's Deism was a scandal to the region's leading clergyman, the well-educated Reverend Samuel Doak, at whose Salem Church the Abingdon Presbytery had been created the prior year, and who several years before that had established a full-fledged academy on what was still a wild frontier. Joshua and his family had joined the Salem congregation late the prior year, even though distance kept him from attending very often. Doak initially had encouraged Joshua to break off his association with "the infidel Pinnock," to which Joshua had gently replied to Doak that he himself was a good friend of John Sevier and many others who professed no religious affiliations. Besides, Joshua noted, Jesus himself had spent most of his time among sinners.

Doak had seemed impressed with Joshua's arguments, and actually changed his approach to the matter of Salem Pinnock. He began to occasionally visit the inn to argue philosophical and theological issues with Pinnock. Though each struggled valiantly to purify the thinking of the other, Joshua had detected no shift on the part of either, both of whom were about evenly matched in intellect.

"Tell me, Mr. Pinnock," Doak had once challenged the Deist in Joshua's presence, "in this 'clockwork' world of yours, do you hold your opinions because of the free exercise of reason, or because you, as merely one more piece of the clockwork, are compelled by the determination of blind forces to believe whatever you do, whether it be true or false?" To which Pinnock had replied: "I will answer that, my dear reverend, when you tell me whether you believe in your religion because you have freely reasoned your way to a comprehension of its truth, or merely because your sovereign God has predestined you to believe it, whether it possesses good grounds or whether it does not?" So went the typical arguments between Doak and Pinnock, flying like arrows over Joshua's head and drawing blood from each combatant, but without moving either one inch off his prior position. At least it was entertaining, even if unpenetrable to the uneducated inn patrons who were audience to it.

Pinnock put down his quill as Joshua entered the inn. Joshua had come alone, Cooper and the others having already gone home, and there was no one but Pinnock in the lower level of the inn. "Well?" he asked.

Joshua shook his head. "Just as I had thought. No sign left to follow. Mad Tom is long gone, and the girl."

Pinnock exhaled loudly. "Then I'll so inform young Owen."

"How is Aaron Killefer?"

"Looking a mite stronger, I think. I'm more hopeful now than before."

"Go on with your writing; I'll go up and tell Owen," Joshua said. "Since I'm the one who has failed to find his sister, it seems more my duty than yours."

Owen stood when Joshua entered the room, his expression asking his unspoken question. Joshua's own expression must have answered it, because the boy lowered his face and slumped back to his seat.

"Don't be discouraged, Owen," Joshua said. "I didn't expect to succeed, though we were obliged to try. The thing for you to do now is to give your attention to your father. Get him well, and worry only about what you have the power to control. All other worry is wasted."

Owen looked up into Joshua's face, his lip trembling but his eyes fiery despite their sheen of tears. "I'll go get her myself, if I have to. She's my sister."

Joshua smiled. Hearing the boy propose such an impossibility was touching. "You've got the right spirit about you, son. That will do well to get you through this time of trouble. Tell me, has your father stirred much at all?"

"A little. But it hurts him."

"It will hurt him for some time to come. But you watch him for the next several days, and you'll see him getting stronger."

"When he's well, he'll go with me and get Emaline back."

Joshua stepped forward and put his hand on Owen's shoulder. "I like you, Owen. There's strength in you." Joshua turned to go. At the door, which was so low he had to stoop to get through it, he stopped and looked back. "In a day or so, I want to take you to my house. Let you meet my family and share a meal with us. Will you do it?"

"I can't leave my father."

"When he's better, then."

Joshua went out the door and down the stairs. Salem Pinnock was scribing in his journal again, the quill making a steady, pleasant scratch as it applied polkberry ink to paper. Joshua said his farewell, pledged to return within a couple of days to check further on Killefer's progress, then left the inn and began the ride back to his stockaded home on Limestone Creek.

Copyright © 1993 by Cameron Judd


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