The Kentucky Trace
A Novel of the American Revolution
Publication Year: 2012
A gripping portrait of life in the hard-bitten wilderness of Revolutionary Kentucky, Harriette Simpson Arnow’s The Kentucky Trace follows surveyor William David Leslie Collins as he struggles to survive. Collins finds his fellow settlers to be almost as inscrutable as the weather—at times, they are allies, and at others, they are adversaries. Collins battles nature, bad luck, and the quickly shifting political tides to make his way in a changing world. Showcasing Arnow’s ear for dialogue and offering a wealth of historical detail, The Kentucky Trace is a masterful work of fiction by a preeminent Appalachian writer.
Published by: Michigan State University Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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Introduction - Sandra L. Ballard
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Originally released in 1974 by Knopf, THE KENTUCKY TRACE is Harriette Simpson Arnow’s final novel published during her lifetime.1 It is the story of William David Leslie Collins, raised in a Virginia gentry family of loyal British subjects, but he is covertly involved as a rebel patriot in the American Revolutionary War. Having already written in her novels...
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The wind died to a whisper, the pine- knot torches blown
down to embers revived, and Leslie could again hear the about- to- die pray
for the already dead: “— do thou give them rest there in the land of the living,
in thy kingdom, in the delight of Paradise.”
The English officer stood tall on the tailgate of the wagon, taller- seeming than when they had ridden through the woods together. It was the rope around his neck made him hold his head so high, the hangman’s knot under...
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“Take off your hat and let’s have a look. You three men over
there doen nothen, bring up some torches.”
Leslie remained motionless. He’d fixed his hat low and tight to protect his eyes when he jumped; he didn’t aim to change it. The colonel stood on the low ledge above the shelving rock where he stood....
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The early sun was sending long yellow rays into the pines
above, but the narrow creek valley was buried in a cold, foggy twilight. He
checked Kate; she knew home with her stable and Beau the fine stallion
were less than two miles up the creek; but this was no place for fast traveling.
The creek valley was so narrow there was scarcely room between rock ledges and creek water for the trail. Worse, the rocks underfoot were slippery...
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Another fine day to ride through the woods; leaves coloring up on the higher hills, but still green in the valleys. He’d enjoy the ride more if the swing and jounce of his powder horns didn’t constantly remind him they were empty, along with his bullet pouch. His long search yesterday had yielded no powder, lead, sulphur, or whiskey; all gone like the meat in the smokehouse....
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Sunlight was still aslant the higher western slopes, but the
valley was thick with twilight by the time he reached his barnyard. He dismounted
to let down the drawbars. He let an end of each pole down, but
continued to stand.
He would, he reckoned, look through the house again; he might yet find a letter. No, he wouldn’t. Ought he then to strike out for French Lick on the...
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The sun was halfway to noon, and he was making no better time than yesterday or the day before. This was the beginning of his fifth day out, and he’d come only around a hundred miles, but this trace ought not to be measured in miles. Up and over Clinch Mountain; Clinch River to swim, Powell Mountain, Powell River, up and down over rocky- bottomed,...
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His wounded father, tied to a team of rearing, plunging horses, was being dragged to his death down a rocky mountain. Jethro astride one urged the horses on with a long black whip. Leslie screamed: “Jethro! Don’t, Jethro, don’t.” He could hear the crack of Jethro’s whip, but not his own voice. He couldn’t make a sound....
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He had, Leslie figured, followed the Indian for about five miles of rough going, and through it all they’d done almost no hunting for cow sign. The Indian had covered the ground in a kind of loping walk that never flagged; each time Leslie paused to look for cow sign in what seemed a likely spot, the Indian vanished or got so far ahead he had to run to catch up with him....
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He rode in fine October weather across wild meadows and over low hills, past familiar places, but had no heart to admire the great trees, most still holding their autumn- colored leaves; nor did he look for deer or elk sign. He gave the mares but little thought. They’d made this trace to Price’s Station three mornings ago, and were bringing him back no wiser than when he had gone....
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Leslie stood on the shoulder of the ridge crest across the creek from his rockhouse. He listened again and took another look down into the next valley, but as before there was nothing to hear and nothing to see except the spires of cedars rising out of the creek fog. The only sign of humankind was the smell of boiling saltpeter coming out of the valley. He knew he was in the right place....
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Leslie, on the way to his second day’s work with Daniel, had
reached the garden when Yellow Eyes growled and showed himself. Leslie
smiled. “Yes. I’m later than yesterday. Daniel told me to be. I tarried on the
ridge to split that little hickory pole into four stout laths.”
Yellow Eyes sniffed his legs, growled, but made no move to bite. Leslie...
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Little Brother rode Cleo as if they’d been raised together.
Scorning Leslie’s offer of bridle and saddle, he rode bareback with a braided
thong to serve as bridle. Daniel gave many Gha’s of wonder as he rode up to
the saltpeter works and dismounted.
They took only time enough over dinner for Daniel to discuss his plan with Leslie. First, he was taking along plenty of food for supper, and breakfast...
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Last night while they were roasting and cracking marrow bones, Daniel had predicted more rain. He’d been only partway right; a man could hardly call this wetness rain. It was more like a heavy fog, coming down from the sky, rising from the creeks and the ground to make a wet blanket that hid the world and wet a man inside and out. And he had spent half the day riding in it....
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His world had changed. The world about him had not. The creek was still there. The hill across the creek no longer glittered in the morning sunlight; the frost was going, but the hill was still there. Leaves and nuts were still falling straight into their own eternities, no wind to carry them hither and yon to give them a make- believe life for a little while....
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Jethro had fed the horses, but Leslie spent a long time with them, talking to each by turn as he felt hooves, shoes, backs, and mouths. Satisfied that all were well and in good spirits, he walked slowly back to his rockhouse with many stops to study the stars. He was in no hurry to read the letters Jimmy had brought....
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Early next morning he found the cow grazing. She let him
get in a quick feel of her nose before running away, frisky as a pup. She was
Daniel, though not exactly frisky, was in fine spirits, singing or whistling while he worked— until he remembered Leslie was a man of sorrow.
Leslie also found it difficult to think of himself as a grieving widower...
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Cresting the hill next morning, Leslie heard Daniel singing down in the valley and stopped to listen. He soon decided it was a prayer song, something like the one he’d sung before going to hunt the buffalo. No different from other Cherokee warriors, Daniel prayed a good deal. Leslie wished he’d pray for William David; the little bastard needed all the help he could get....
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Leslie had washed all of himself, including his hair, in the sweet- smelling soap, and now whistled softly as he pulled on fresh nankeen drawers. He stopped the tune when he studied the fit of the drawers; too loose; that extra cloth would fold and wrinkle to make humps and bulges in his pantaloons. The weather was too warm for skintight knitted woolen...
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He’d heard his mother use the word. What was the word to
describe this upcoming business? Sacrilegious? Profane? Neither was strong
enough. Sinful? That was taken for granted as was desecration.
“Suh, I don’t know where your mind is, but it’s not on getten ready. I’ve begged you three times to get into your slippers, but there you stand in your...
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Daniel was waiting dinner for Leslie when he got there, so
he had to sit around, pretend to eat, and listen to the talk of the other three.
He didn’t mind; it was good to let other men do the talking.
Nooning finished, he and John Sawyer put charcoal through the crusher while Daniel dug niter dirt and McGee worked on the pirogue....
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He stood near the saltpeter cooker and watched John Sawyer cross the creek and start up the hill. His mother would get the letter if John got through alive. Would she believe what he had written and accept William David as her grandson? He shook his head. No use in looking back at the letter. It was finished and gone. There was worse ahead....
Page Count: 284
Publication Year: 2012