© William O. Steele estate, illustration © James Bernardin.
First published in 1952, William O. Steele tells a gripping adventure story of a pioneer family in Tennessee who plans to relocate from a farm that hasn’t produced well to another part of the state where farmland soil is richer. To get there, they build a large log raft and most of the family and their animals and belongings ride it down the Tennessee River through rapids, past hostile Indian villages, and with every shore stop fraught with danger from wild animals, wild terrain and wilder humans. Like the other Steele books I’ve read, this one is concise, with no padding. Every word is chosen carefully to carry the narrative further. It’s a short book by today’s standards, but the story seems long and eventful. Andy and his family are joined by neighbors, and their boy Isaac. Andy idolizes his woodsman/hunter uncle and wants to be just like him. Uncle Az gives the boy a buffalo knife for the trip, but somehow Andy loses it before they even start, creating great turmoil for him. Meanwhile, he and Isaac don’t get along well, as Isaac wants to become a merchant, something Andy can’t understand. Both boys grow a lot during the journey and it’s trials, in a historical setting that seems as real as today. Great stuff, highly recommended.